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Repetition

In which art is repeated, repetitively


In amongst the brief list of things we did last weekend, I realised there’s something of a gap, one thing I missed out on listing. It was, though, one of the most distinctive things of the weekend. An exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery: Fabiola, by Francis Alÿs.

Fabiola is, in essence, a fairly simple idea. Two rooms filled with closely-packed paintings, green walls with not much room for the green to show through. Each piece of art is made by hand, and each shows the same image: a woman in profile, usually facing left, veiled, usually in red. Most are paintings, some are works of cross-stitch or embroiders; one is a collage of seeds and beans.

It’s a simple idea, a collection that Alÿs has gathered over the past couple of decades and is still adding to. But, there’s something ever so unsettling about the whole thing. The same image, repeated over and over and over but never the same. The same image, tiling every wall. The same image, with so much effort put into its repetition. As I said, it’s unsettling. Like something from an M. R. James story, or possibly from a more-creepy Doctor Who episode. Of all the things we did last weekend, Fabiola is the one most likely to haunt my dreams many years from now.

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