Casting a Vision

Gathered in the living room with warm cups of coffee pressed between their palms, a group of women, deep in conversation, sip as they talk until the liquid in their cups has drained. In the base of their cups lays a wet bed of coffee ground, diluted in parts and concentrated in others. As is tradition, the women flip their vessels, one by one and watch as the dark sediment forms distinct patterns, each a stranger to the next. The ‘reader’ of the group – the woman versed in the language of these sedimentary distortions – translates the shapes in each cup to offer the women insight into their futures. Laughter reverberates through the home as the women learn of their impending fate, taunting one another over their ensuing fortunes. In the late afternoon, once the guests have left, their cups are stacked beside the kitchen sink. The coffee ground has dried and begun to cement at the base of the precariously balanced ceramic vessels. 

Rmsina Daniel's practice, as the artist explains, is “born from a coffee cup”. Unable to decipher the symbols of tasseography (a fortune telling method that interprets tea leaves or coffee ground) herself, Daniel documents them with pencil and paper. She scans the shapes and patterns formed through the practice of coffee cup reading as one might read the formation of clouds or stars in the sky. Commonly practiced in the Middle East but part of a wider form of practices that unveil teachings of the future, the custom of coffee cup reading has been a ritual in Daniel's family home since she was young.

Less interested in the divination of this practice, Daniel is captivated by the hidden figures and referential forms within the cups. She traces the language of these disparate coffee stains into flat sheets of steel to create sculptural, wall-based assemblages. Through the repetitive act of collecting and reconfiguring marks, Daniel writes a language that she is not able to fully comprehend. Softly and subtly interweaving her own personal experiences, Daniel introduces alternative narratives to that of the ‘coffee reader’.

Reminiscent of swarms, maps, constellations and crowds, Daniel's sculptures demonstrate a compelling sense of collectiveness. As a close observer of the day’s rhythms and rituals, she describes the many ant hills dotted nearby her studio and the movements of the resident ant colony – likening their collective and at times chaotic tracks to those she observes in pedestrian traffic. Daniel's interest in the mechanics of moving bodies and the energy these masses generate may in part reference her own movements across oceans and land mass, from Baghdad to Australia. Her sculptural silhouettes appear as though they chart territory and trace coastal borders where the land dissolves into the water. They are observations of movement from above or at a distance.

While Rmsina Daniel's practice may begin at the bed in the bottom of a coffee cup, it extends far beyond. Her work exists in the connections between those whose palms grip the cups, the conversations shared, the collective movements of passersby and the distance travelled to be present.

Nikki van der Horst