Exhibition explores flight and surveillance in East and West


A show at the Boghossian Foundation in Brussels links flying carpets with modern-day drones, playing on our fascination with flight and the feeling of being watched

Watching us watching you

Artists have been quick to make the connection between drones, the remote-controlled flying machines that haunt the skies of the Middle East, and the flying carpets in tales dating back to the Arabian Nights. Taking this work as a starting point, the Boghossian Foundation in Brussels has put together Heaven and Hell: From Magic Carpets to Drones, a wide-ranging exhibition that explores the fascination of flight, the fear of surveillance and a number of related themes that resonate in Eastern and Western cultures.

Visitors are under surveillance from the start, with “Drone #8” by German artist Björn Schülke, suspended from the ceiling of the entry hall in the Villa Empain, the beautiful Art Deco building that is the foundation’s home. It rotates slowly, beaming pictures to a video screen below. Nearby is “Rising Carpet” by French artist Moussa Sarr, a combination of drone and prayer mat that unites the two main themes of the exhibition.

Naturally the connection feels strongest in artists from the East. Farhad Moshiri from Iran has cut outlines of a fighter jet from a stack of Persian carpets, connecting the business of conflict and the business of cultural heritage, while Mahwish Chishty paints drones in the bright colours of traditional Pakistani miniatures, covering them with intricate patterns and shapes.

Ahead of his time

Artists from outside conflict zones use drones in a more playful way, without losing sight of the darker implications. American artist Addie Wagenknecht, for instance, has a drone flopping and floundering in a pool of black pigment, creating a series of oily action paintings. Japanese performers Eleven Play dance with drones, while the Italian collective IOCOSE imagine “Drone Selfies” from a future where the machines have retired.

The carpet theme stretches from a 16th-century Persian miniature through popular book illustrations to film posters for The Thief of Bagdad. Artistic reworkings include digital carpets by Samuel Rousseau and Macoto Murayama, and Pravdoliub Ivanov’s “Fairy Tale Device Crashed”, a flying carpet shattering against a wall.

Flanders is represented by Panamarenko, a drone builder long before they hit the news. The exhibition has a generous selection of his work dating back to 1979, including plans for a flying carpet.

Until 6 September, Villa Empain, Franklin Rooseveltlaan 67, Brussels 1050

Photo: Panamarenko, Magic Carpet, 2005, mixed media. Courtesy the artist and Deweer Gallery, Otegem