April 15, 2013

Words and Places: Etel Adnan

CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts
Etel Adnan, Five Senses for One Death, 1969. Courtesy
the artist. Photo: Heidi Rabben.

Words and Places: Etel Adnan is curated by the graduating class of the Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts.

It is the first large-scale institutional exhibition of work by the Lebanese writer, poet, and painter Etel Adnan, spanning six decades of her artistic practice. Born in Beirut in 1925 to a Christian Greek mother and a Muslim Syrian father, Adnan has spent her life between places—Beirut, Paris, and the Bay Area—negotiating their different cultures and languages, as well as her distinctive position among them. This experience of displacement deeply informs her work, which similarly ranges between mediums and formats. Her work has recently been included in dOCUMENTA (13) (Kassel, Germany, 2012) and the Serpentine Gallery Map Marathon (London, 2010).

The exhibition explores Adnan’s complex negotiation between verbal and visual forms of expression. Some of the featured paintings include elements of geographical specificity—for instance a series of paintings of Mount Tamalpais, just north of San Francisco, a place that she says “orients” her—whereas others are ambiguous paintings of envisioned “non-places.” Adnan’s leporellos, or folding books, offer a compelling fusion of written texts and painted or drawn images. Their unique design is intended to accommodate narrative, and they connect the immediacy of her gestural paintings with the extended durations of her writings.

The exhibition also includes selected articles written by Adnan for the francophone daily newspaper Al-Safa, as well as film and video works by Chris Marker, Rabih Mroué, and the Otolith Group that relate directly or obliquely to Adnan’s practice. Marker’s eerie footage of sculptures at the fringe of San Francisco Bay; Mroué’s conflations of destruction and construction, future and past in an unspecified city; and the Otolith Group’s portrait of Adnan reading her own poetry in her Paris home: all present a melancholic counterpoint to Adnan’s work, deepening the exhibition’s logic of place and displacement.

The accompanying publication, titled The Ninth Page: Etel Adnan’s Journalism 1972–74, collects and translates some of Adnan’s contributions to Al-Safa. The articles document the rich cultural scene of Beirut on the brink of civil war, a political cataclysm addressed with great force in Adnan’s landmark books Sitt Marie Rose (1978) and The Arab Apocalypse (1980). These writings have an immediacy that is distinct from the rhythms of her poetry and prose. The publication also includes newly commissioned essays that respond to Adnan’s journalism and its fraught sociopolitical context.

The opening reception will feature readings by the poets Norma Cole and Joanne Kyger.

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About CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice
Founded in 2003, CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice offers an expanded perspective on curating contemporary art and culture. Alongside traditional forms of exhibition making, this two-year master’s degree program emphasizes the momentous impact over the last half-century of artist-led initiatives, public art projects, site-specific commissions, and other experimental endeavors that take place beyond the confines of established venues. It is distinguished by an international, interdisciplinary perspective, and it reflects San Francisco’s unique location and cultural history by placing a particular importance on the study of curatorial and artistic practices in Asia and Latin America. For more information, visit

About the CCA Wattis Institute
The CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts was established in 1998 in San Francisco at California College of the Arts. It serves as a forum for the presentation and discussion of international contemporary art and curatorial practice. Through groundbreaking exhibitions, the Capp Street Project residency program, lectures, symposia, and publications, the Wattis Institute has become one of the leading art institutions in the United States and an active site for contemporary culture in the Bay Area. For more information about the Wattis Institute, visit

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CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts
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T 415 355 9670

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California College of the Arts
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