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Noam Toran | We Crave Blood

February 16 - March 25, 2023

Curator: Maya Bamberger

Opening: Thursday, 16 February, 20:00
Gallery Talk featuring the artist and the curator: Friday, 17 February, 12:00

*The discussion will be held in English.


It’s alive, and yet it looks so dead…it’s alive and waiting out there for you, ready to kill you if you go too far…the sun will get you, or the cold at night, or the insects, or… there’s a thousand ways the desert can kill!

— from the film It Came from Outer Space (1953)


Can we envisage a reality beyond the myths we have absorbed? For Noam Toran’s second solo show at RawArt gallery, the artist presents an installation addressing the pervasive imprint of settler mythologies and imaginaries onto desert landscapes. The ‘origin’ desert for the work is the Chihuahuan desert where the artist was born, a territory that encompasses present-day northeastern Mexico as well as the states of Texas and New Mexico.


Through mixed-media montage, personal memoir, and the haunted remains of a set, We Crave Blood materially, sonically, and cinematically explores the phantasmagoria of a region and landscape that exists within the Western European imagination more as ‘myth’ than as ‘place.’ In its literary, theatrical, and cinematic projections, this is a region whose topographies and ecosystems are framed as desolate and hostile, thus enabling and staging Anglo-European civilizational reproduction and rebirth. If the ‘desert’, according to this fabulated construction, is empty and threatening, a place of inward and outward brutality, it is also empire’s ever-expanding rehearsal space, nightmarishly, both its canvas and womb.

Toran traces and evokes key encounters with the ‘American desert’ as a space of mythic and imperial projection, which include early depictions of European ‘contact’ with indigenous peoples of this region; Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show; the adventure stories of the German writer Karl May (beloved by Adolf Hitler); the imagery of Post-Hiroshima Horror and Science Fiction B movies of the 1950s; and contemporary first-person video games. This traversing and layering of genres, media modalities, and narrative forms reveals the ‘desert’ as a place of ideological projection, one that ‘travels’ allegorically, transnationally, across earth and space.


Throughout their history here, most white men have moved across the North American continent following the fictive coordinates of their own self-affirming assumptions. They have followed maps, memories, dreams, plans, hopes, schemes, greeds. Seldom have they looked beyond the enclosure of preconception and desire to see where they were; and the few who have looked beyond have seldom been changed by what they saw. Blind to where they were, it was inevitable that they should become the destroyers of what was there.

— Wendell Berry (1971)


For nearly two decades, Toran’s practice has sought to reckon with what the artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah describes as ‘the monstrosity of the historical narrative.’ His installations consistently draw out silenced or neglected historical materials through fictional dramatizations, inviting visitors to listen to the silences within the historical archive.


The current show at RawArt is the most recent iteration of an ongoing process of historical, artistic, and personal research initiated by the artist in collaboration with his friend, the poet and scholar Keith Jones, in 2012, during a residency in West Texas and the Chihuahuan desert. The residency not only returned the artist to his birthplace (Las Cruces, New Mexico). More significantly, it instigated an excavation (and exorcism) of sorts regarding the settler-colonial histories and imaginaries he had internalized since childhood through popular culture. This in turn led to what the artist identifies as an attempt at ‘unknowing’; a process of misreading and misinterpreting, of becoming disoriented within the political, geographic, and psychic dimensions of the region in order to see and belong to it (and the world) differently.


‘The desert looks like…something from another life…serene and quiet, yet strangely evil, as if it were hiding its secret from man.’

‘You make it sound so creepy!’

‘The unknown always is.’

– from the film Tarantula! (1955)


The installation in the gallery appears as  a kind of living, haunted set, perhaps from a low-budget movie where the production has gone decidedly bad and been taken over by spectral forces; a desert landscape comprised of facades and flats, painterly expressions of plants, animals, and geological formations, but also of deformed creatures, of eternally repeating historical moments and figures rendered in monstrous, mutated forms; a zone of material and sonic ruins and detritus that invoke a phantasmal geography. Nestled within the installation are commissioned works made by young artists and recent graduates from the schools where Toran teaches, adding new perspectives and aesthetics that further distort and complicate the ‘reading’ of the space. High and low cultural signs and symbols collide, repeat, and become misshapen in a mise-en-abyme of assembled images, hidden dioramas, fragmented film sequences, and GIFs. These distortions of scale, time, frequency, and perspective seek to rupture, caricature, problematize, and re-imagine this mythic space, in turn bringing the long and ongoing histories and continued power and violence of the settler imaginary into view.


Commissioned works by Clara Schweers, Tanguy Benoit, Nick Williamson and Sam Conran. This text was written collaboratively by Maya Bamberger, Noam Toran, and Keith Jones.


Born 1975 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Noam Toran lives and works in Rotterdam. He teaches at HEAD, Geneva and DAE, Eindhoven. His work had been exhibited and screened internationally, notably at the CNAC Pompidou (Paris), Kunsthalle Wien (Vienna), Victoria & Albert Museum (London), Israel Museum (Jerusalem), Kunstinstituut Melly (Rotterdam), MuHKA (Antwerp), Schirn (Frankfurt), Museum of Modern Art (NYC), Lisbon Architecture Triennale, Musée d’Art Contemporain (St Etienne), Baltic Contemporary (Newcastle), Arnolfini Gallery (Bristol), Center for Contemporary Art (Tel Aviv), Musée D’Art Moderne (Luxembourg), Kulturhuset (Stockholm) and Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin). Collections include CNAP, Paris, FRAC Ile-de-France, Paris, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and MoMA, New York.


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