published in The Benin Project (London: future perfect, 2007)
Dispersed across the gallery space, a constellation of video monitors map the different phases in the process of brass casting by contemporary sculptors in the city of Benin in present-day Nigeria. Filmed images of the sculptors pouring the hot wax into clay casts buried into the earth or polishing the brass castings are punctuated by the irregular sound of radios playing and the intermittent noise of sculptors hammering and fi ling their artworks. Avoiding the medium-shot portrait of the anthropologist’s gaze, Orlow’s camera lingers on the hands of the sculptors, moulding, shaping and sculpting their raw materials into contemporary artworks. Lost Wax is one element of Uriel Orlow’s complex installation made up of discrete but interconnected parts which continue the artist’s preoccupation with questions of collective memory and restitution. Taking as his starting point the British Punitive Expedition of 1897 (a military excursion by British forces in which the British invaded, burned and ransacked the ancient West African Kingdom of Benin), Orlow’s installation is, amongst other things, a meditation on the contingent relationship between the past and the present and between different geographical and cultural spaces that remain inextricably linked, tied together by the metal cast artefacts that have erroneously become known as the Benin Bronzes and which are now distributed in more than 500 museums and collections across the world. Orlow’s suite of works, scattered across the spaces of the Fri-Art contemporary art centre are similarly connected to each other by the artist’s journey: his physical journey from England to Nigeria; but also his artistic journey from the present to the past and back. Travelling through the installation of artworks, the viewer moves between disparate historical moments and physical locations mapped out by the different constituent parts of Orlow’s Benin Project (2007), mirroring the journeys undertaken by the artist and the Benin Bronzes across geographical space and historical time.