The half-life of a memory is frustrating. Precious details – the scent of a lover, the sound of laughter – fade away. You can embrace its impermanence or chase its ghost. But memory is an unreliable construct, and there is no omniscient authority to seal the cracks. Now, up the stakes: tell the story of a country, when its details are pockmarked by time and vulnerable to perspective. Is this an impossible exercise? This is where the art of Zineb Sedira and Latifa Echakhch begins.
In “For a brief moment […] Many times”, a collaborative exhibition presented at Kunsthaus Baselland, the two artists play cartographer, tracing their respective paths through personal and collective dramas. It is a tactile experience for the viewer: a soft woolen rug is spread out on the floor of the gallery. A spatial installation in the form of a living room invites the viewer to take a seat.
This makes it easier to dwell on the ephemera nailed to the walls. There are vinyl records, postcards, empty cigarette packets, concert tickets, harmless objects loaded with meaning by the presence of two wine glasses. Echakhch, a Moroccan-born installation artist, said they were remnants of a love affair that ended. Zineb, an Algerian-born artist raised in France, created the 16mm film projected on the back wall. It broadcasts a short and stammering sequence of images taken from the Algerian independence movement.
This is the first collaboration between the longtime friends and colleagues, who are both featured at the Venice Biennale this year – Sedira represents France and Echakhch represents Switzerland. It’s tempting to frame “For a brief moment […] Several times” as a coda to the national presentations, but as its commissioner, Ines Goldbach points out, it is only a continuation of investigations throughout the career.
Zineb, who became the first Algerian-born artist to represent France in Venice, was born in 1963, a year after Algeria ended more than a century of French occupation. His films and photographs combine documentary, fantasy and autobiography to capture the complexity of postcolonial identities. In Venice, she presented “Dreams Have No Titles”, a 25-minute film composed of clips produced in post-war Algeria mixed, in a meta-movement, with documentation of her artistic process. She often makes cinematic spatial installations to accompany her films, and the French Pavilion includes a recreation of the Jean Vigo Cinema, her usual teenage haunt in the Parisian suburb of Gennevilliers.
Echakhch, an installation artist, approached her pavilion like a budding musician: she took voice and piano lessons, and immersed herself in sound theory. Percussionist and composer Alexandre Babel and curator Francesco Stocch, an authority on experimental music (and former dubstep DJ), were recruited as collaborators. The result was a red dream: visitors wander through a maze of humanoid sculptures. The Swiss pavilion is dark and cast in a fiery palette of orange, black and amber, reminiscent of ancient rituals honoring the cycle of life. The musical score dips and soars before settling for several heartbeats.
To learn more about the show, ART news spoke with Ines Goldbach, curator of the exhibition, via email.
ART news: What was the process of organizing a collaborative exhibition like?
Ines Goldbach: It was very appealing to me to think of a project with the artists, who both have a multicultural background and each represent a national pavilion in Venice. Instead of thinking about what separates them, think about what could be in common, knowing full well that the two artists have known and appreciated each other and their respective work for a long time. The development of a unifying artistic language within the framework of an exhibition was a great gift.
And of course it was also a challenge for the artists, shortly after Venice, to create a collaborative work in the large annex of the Kunsthaus Baselland – more than 40 meters [130 feet] long, it both gives them the space they need and also shows what unites them.
How, if at all, does this exhibition dialogue with the artists’ respective presentations in Venice?
The moment of connection, to me, is the form of memory and the work of memory. While Latifa’s very intimate work recalls a particular month in her life – a month of falling in love, where fragments arise, others fade, where memories are reassembled, edited and remixed -, with Zineb Sedira, it is a look back at a time in Algeria, the country of his parents, in the 1960s. A time when the country represented a high degree of creativity, awakening, energy and cosmopolitanism, and in 1962 had gained its independence. The personal connects to the collective, the present to what can only be experienced from the archive; but what remains is the fragmentary character of a memory, a calculation, a narration. Archives, too, reproduce only what is present and not what is absent.
How do the practices of Sedira and Echakhch complement and oppose each other?
Cinema and music are two central moments in the work of Zineb and Latifa, forms that can bring us emotionally into a certain state. When I think of Latifa’s contribution to Venice, it’s this question of reverberation, of the persistence of an experience, of a music, of a concert, of a feeling. What remains in me once the experience is over? It’s similar with movies – we can’t remember everything, we can only remember question segments, but we can also remember feelings that a movie triggered, for example.
Our memory plays tricks on us – it’s not a CD that we can just recall, but we have to try again and again to reconstruct the fragments into a whole. This is also the theme of the two artists: Memories, personal and collective, are incomplete; Zineb found much of her storytelling of a country not in archives, but also at flea markets. What is missing from the archives, what has been cut out from the films to arrive at another narrative? And with Latifa: what in a memory goes into the light, what stays in the dark? This is experienced in a very impressive way in both works.
Can you elaborate on the importance of the tactile elements of the exhibition?
Latifa’s mat is above all a measurement that corresponds to her own body measurement. It also immediately conveys the association, the warm and warm invitation; with what was said before and looking at the objects – vinyl records, running shoes removed, glasses, concert tapes, etc. The association of sitting together on a mat, talking, listening to music, hanging out, comes over you very quickly. A visual invitation to share the memory and at the same time awaken your own.
In Zineb’s case, the tea mat is part of her living room, which she has moved into the exhibition – also a gesture of invitation, to settle down, to leaf through and read books, and so on. acquire and share knowledge. There too, I see an important link in the artistic attitude of the two artists: to invite the other to invite themselves, to become an actor in a situation and therefore to be part of it.