Quarterly

Winter 2013 | ArteZine

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The Daily Route

By , Editor

This issue marks the second installment of a six-quarter cycle of the Virtual Gallery that spotlights artists from the Maghreb leading up to the 2014 edition of the Marrakech Biennial. Each subsequent gallery will showcase artists who deal with the every day in their work to reveal the conceptual threads and regional connections that underlie the expanding North African art scene. Previously, Alya Sabti focused on Morocco with Younes Baba-Ali, Everyday Activist. Following Wafa Gabsi’s focus on Tunisia, Yasmina Reggad (/A.R.I.A/) will look at Algeria with The Economy of Hope [Working Title],  and Alya Sebti and Holiday Powers will further explore the intricacies of daily life in the Maghreb with Poetics of the Everyday.

 

History innovates, drifts, staggers. It changes of rail, it is routed: the counter-current generated by a current mingles with the current, and the confusing, becomes current.

Edgar Morin, Entering the 21st Century (2004)

Fragmented. That is how the construction, in sequences, of Tunisia’s recent History appears to us. Sequences that seem stacked together. On the other hand, the most poignant, imminent and thorough attempt that could have examined the current context, that of the historical, and even the political, intellectual and aesthetic in which emerge a reflection on the concept of the fragmentation, bewilderment and defeat, that can be contained through artistic expression and art history. This approach awakens the life of the mind and forces it to question powers of calm and disorder.

Here I want to highlight the power of the images (after the revolution) as a tool of cultural consumption. Indeed, in its political transition, Tunisia has resorted to an influx of images that arose unexpectedly. This “politicized” representation, while masterfully constructed, is redundant and effectively reverts to a cumbersome structure that accentuates the slow passage of time, the image of a revolution still in motion.

The revolution will end with an image of the beginning: a meaningless and absent image, replete with an imaged presence which can only maintain and reactivate the “old” snapshots of revolt. Such works do not feed the concept of representation or reflect on new theories and aesthetic approaches. Despite this, they give a kind of extension in time and a lilting structure to creation.

How then to re-awaken the power of productive and constructive creativity? It seems that re-evaluating simple gestures from the daily life of Tunisia could provide guidance, and the artist could draw a dam, albeit fragile, to withstand the leveling and lack of differentiation.

This line of inquiry into a society that contains our daily reality and its fixed and worn representations has nevertheless the power to “confuse” us, allow us to build our own imagination and make our own creative world. To do so, the artist conspires with an image. This one literally acts on the condition of his existence, because “the individual trapped in his image (…) is sentenced to defend himself, un-split himself.”[1] As such the fragmented and confusing universe of art, and especially of the artist in Tunisia, would be provided with a function that divides to conquer.

The mass of challenges inured in the past and which persist to the are reflected in the representations of the artists who debate in order to exist in this complex society. The artist strives, for a moment, to “fasten” for us, echoing Baudelaire’s poetic that first requires seeing and describing.Investigating the generic relevance of route nested in the Tunisian artist daily life is a priority. But it is also necessary to question the relevance of the iconography associated with representations of the daily.

Photography functioned in this regard, its role in the artistic landscape comprised of different images, among those the revolt in Tunisia and the news related to the Arab world. It managed to produce meaning in response to stereotypes, and also to get rid of the aesthetic and ideological legacy of press reports so as to give rise to a genuine plastic, aesthetic and poetic laboratory. Alternating black and white with color photos, the diverse series of photographs chosen for our theme of “The Daily Route” approaches the circumstances of the ill-being, anxiety, lack of life and absence effects. They could reflect what illustrates daily life in Tunisia.

The effect is striking and it scrutinizes expression’s reversal of order and the representation of bodies and objects.

In this regard, “body and photographs. Faces and images [sic]”[2] resonates in the representations of photographer Fakhri Ghezal. The artist captures characters in various places and delicately photographs their bodies and objects in neutral yet intimate universe. He casts the viewer close to the bodies as they face the fascinating and delicately intolerable neutrality of the image.

In the first SIDI (S) series bodies and everyday objects are charged with black and white interlaced patterns against the shores of dreams and fiction. The artist delves into an intimacy that leads the eye to the objects’ visible political signs. The image is a metaphor for itself: the image of everyday politics.

The second series is called HOSTAGE where the image of politics becomes an ironic icon of everyday life. What are we viewing? A “hostage setting” comprised of characters who manipulate the fate of media images and trivialize historical memory and the inner workings of politics. This recalls the vast corpus created by photographer Muntadas, “where a discourse on systems of power, the visible and the invisible is developed in a society dominated by mass media entertainment, consumerism and constant advancement of technology.”[3]

Moreover, the essential gesture of the artist-filmmaker Ismaël would be to make a surgrical intervention of “captured” media images, that is the political reality thus recreated and transformed into an object of aesthetic surgery.

Through his Photoshop work, he returns to “[the] idea, dear to André Bazin, that photography is an imprint or mold of reality, and that cinema develops its ontological virtue when, instead of manipulating the reality through editing, insists on recording it so as to experience the depth of his advent, his sense of time.”[4] That’s how Ismaël proceeds through his creative process; he operates and in so doing questions the generic relevance of the imaged representation of politics. Indeed, the artist uses the status of the “captured” image that does not isolate the real snapshot but replaces it within his “new” context, telling the viewer what to see. In this process, the artist reminds us that “the truth of the picture may not lie in deframing the ostensibly neutral but rather that all deframing inevitably produces other cropping, which begs the question of power in any assembly operation.” By making the read-write of realistic, poetic, ironic and sometimes surreal fragmented images the artist reduces this political imprint that is a continual embodied image of our everyday life.

In their works, the artists Ismaël and Fakhri Ghezal highlight the visible and invisible systems of authority in a society that has long been dominated by a silence that remains engulfed in doubt, a disorder that fails to find a fair alchemy between movement and stillness. Today in Tunisia photographic history could offer a subtle listening that enhances both the images and the paradoxes created by this schizophrenic society.

The way to apprehend this evil is an integral part of the work of Marianne Catzaras. Behind her images (as poetic and disturbing as they are) lies a feeling of loneliness, anxiety, trauma and marginal beings. Characters, “fellow-travelers” (in the words of the artist) are torn away and placed in unfamiliar spaces. Each piece incorporates the work of Marianne Catzaras in a specific spatial configuration that features a new staging. Through a process of photocomposition, the artist extends her images through a connective tissue that runs along the imaginary photograph. In this respect, the works seek to go beyond their reading. They are yet to highlight a specific set of iconographic motifs: the surrealistic reflections, bodies reduced to simple masses different volumes of tissue suggesting drifted body parts, both minimalist and colorful decors with an ambiguous harmony.

Loss, sadness, emptiness, confusion, ambiguity… words drawn through poetic images from the artist’s imagination in her video “I forgot my name.” Enclosed within a purely private and personal world, the artist reveals herself to herself.

She seeks this identity, history, memories…and drowns herself in a state of melancholy loss, lying in silence. This video is a “real laboratory of memory alternating images and sound presence, showing the impossible place abroad in a place of her mother tongue and its various transformations, its numerous transmutations.”

There is a clear desire by the artist to reconstruct a transcendent realm by reviving his pain. Hence, the origin persists in this state of anxiety, pushes the author to constantly reconstruct his past and to create the present.

Following Derrida’s notions between presence and absence Bouderbela Meriem’s work is likewise painted in pain, anxiety, emptiness and loss. The artist draws most of her inspiration from her relationship with her country as she wanders a familiar territory and a foreign land, photographing her body and absent bodies that she reveals in different states of alteration, deformation and degradation. She portrays an image of her daily life corresponding to an allegory of her personal experience and the relationship between appearance and identity, illusion and belief.

In the first two shots of “Corruption,” the artist reveals to us the source and the limit of an originary plastic force contained by the work’s photographic universe in which bodies crumble and disappear, demonstrating Meriem Bouderbala’s eye for detail. As the artist highlights hand positioning, expression, body posture and light she produces meanings that refer to the suffering of the body. All these elements cohere into (why is erased?) an inner journey that the artist measures with her emotions which, in her metaphorical conception, invites the viewer into a world wavering between life and death

The following artworks “earth-sea” and “Harbord” are radioscopy that convey this dual notion of presence / absence, life / loss but with a new intonation. This time, Bouderbala designs her photographs as a political tool to create a national identity and to describe the robust history of youth in Tunisia. Her interest is closely related to the recent but “eternal” history of Lampedousa migrants. She scrutinizes abandoned places of departure that exude feelings of absence and through the disappearance of shipwrecked beings. This is a reflection on the complex process of exhumation that these migrants face, and offer a vocabulary through which Meriem Bouderbala builds an archive of frozen images that overlay facts, fiction and personal narrative. It is a poetic and photographic essay on the struggle which invites access to images of a desperate time.

“Construction Deconstruction” is an artwork that remains unresolved, demonstrating a refusal of the concept of totalitarianism in art. A confused photographer’s testimony on a colonized land of route.

Through these galleries agonize in front of an artwork by a Tunisian artist who must try to glimpse and understand the part of his body that is buried under daily perpetual disorder. Casting our gaze further afield, the artist’s work may also be a daily psychoanalysis (referring to Freudian thinking) that extends to the darkened area of the horizon where its image becomes indistinguishable, sometimes even deleted. today, it is the infernal cadences of cultural consumption that relegate redundant images of a revolutionary phase to the margins of society.

 

Notes:

[1] Chollet, M. quote Bertrand Leclair for his book Théorie de la déroute.http://www.peripheries.net/article250.html

[2] Ismaël. (2012). TRACES. Photographic work of Fakhri Ghezal. Tunis. p. 2

[3] Augatis, D. (2012). Muntadas. Entre / Between.http://www.jeudepaume.org/index.php?page=article&idArt=1507&lieu=1

[4] Bellour, R. (2012). LE REGARD, L’ÉCOUTE. http://lemagazine.jeudepaume.org/2012/11/le-regard-lecoute-un-texte-de-raymond-bellour

 

 

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