Pioneering Azerbaijani visual, sound and performance artist Ali Hasanov’s artistic career is both compelling and intriguing. Educated in Baku and Moscow at Azim Azimzadeh State Art College, Azerbaijan State University of Culture and Art in Baku, and Moscow School of New Cinema respectively, Ali’s training in art and film is evident in his densely layered and complex artworks; his practice plays across genre, media and experience. He began his career almost two decades ago focusing on painting, graphics, performance and video art, and he has exhibited work in Russia, Georgia, France, Norway, Greece, Italy, and Azerbaijan. Ali was one of the members of the Wings of Time group, which formed in 2000, and has worked closely with Yarat. In his work, he often creates characters or avatars of different aspects of the human experience through which he conveys his artistic vision. As a musician, he was the founder and front man of the musical collective PG Large Used Project, and music and sound feature heavily in his work.
Much of Ali’s artistic oeuvre focuses broadly on themes of struggle and perseverance. In 2007, at 52nd Venice Art Biennale, Ali’s video documentation and installation of the performance Keelcoushe (2006) gained him wide international acclaim. In Keelcousche, Ali inhabited the persona of a superhero-like individual who was bound with strings within a large dense black web-like fabric, which he struggled against as he tried to break free from the constraints of the material. The large field of fabric magnified his labor as it carried the waves of his movements across it to dramatic and mesmerizing effect. His fascination with sound as a crucial element of his work is also evident in the performance, which is set to melancholic electronic music as a complement to the themes of bondage, resistance, and ultimately, freedom.
Ali’s later work integrates various media in complementary ways, creating experiential installations in which performance is accompanied by electronic sound and animation. This genre-defying vision was evident in the piece ‘Arsenium’ for the 2012 Baku Public Art Festival, which was a public performance combined with visual and audio elements to create a large-scale artistic production. Ali was inspired by the visionary Soviet avant-garde composer Arseny Avraamov, whose work ‘Symphony of Factory Sirens,’ was staged as a public performance across Baku for the 5th Anniversary of the Soviet Republic in 1922. Avraamov’s performance incorporated Soviet military machinery, soldiers, artillery guns, and all of the factory sirens in Baku alongside professional and amateur vocal performers, integrating early technology with human creativity. Avraamov’s influence on Ali’s work is clear in his fascination with the convergence of humanity and machine. In ‘Arsenium,’ Ali staged this large-scale performance of video art and a live choir and orchestra on the waterfront of Baku, with the animated elements drawing upon both nostalgic and futuristic science fiction imagery to express his vision.
In 2013, Ali’s work was included in the seminal exhibition ‘Love Me, Love Me Not,’ displayed at the 55th Venice Biennale as well as in 2014 at the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku. In the exhibition, his installation ‘Masters’ (2012) was an installation of densely stacked traditional hand-held sweeping brooms; the brooms form a fortress-like structure, defiant in their ongoing resistance to encroaching modernity and globalization. In 2013, he also mounted the solo exhibition ‘Vise Versa’ at Yay Gallery in Baku, this time showing yet another facet of his practice by presenting minimalist black and white paintings and graphic work. This conceptual exhibition used the frame of the painting as a metaphor for perception. His painted characters manipulated the space of the canvas as well as the perspective of the viewer to suggest that the larger story of the subjects of his paintings occurs beyond the line of sight. His use of visible and invisible space encouraged viewers to integrate their own thoughts and experience into the artworks. The exhibition was a synthesis of many of the Ali’s ideas about reality and perception, themes which he continues to explore through sound and digital animation as his compelling conceptual practice evolves. In his current practice, he creates visual art and music with Farhad Farzali as part of the electronic duo Naschkatze, which has performed throughout the Caucasus and just released their first EP to a worldwide audience in August 2018.