Notes on the exhibition
News from nowhere
Intissar Belaïd, Moritz Hagedorn
Nidhal Chamekh, Atef Maatallah
"The only intact, and the oldest thing on earth,
All that it touches is ruin;
All that it abandons is new (...)".
Paul Valery, Inscription on the sea¹.
Because it is the oldest of the globe, the sea opens up temporal horizons that go beyond the blinkers through which we limit ourselves to perceiving our small existence, as the only history that is. From the sea, and even more from this Mediterranean², still sounds the myth of a primitive ocean from which emerged life on an immemorial land. In front of the vastness, the eye senses that on the scale of geological time, human history is a blink of an eye. One remembers then that beyond the circle of the human navel, a larger universe bears us, carries us away. It is, because it was and will be, while we would have been - without having been sure to be.
There, therefore, the times are conjugated. The I am, of the present of anthropocentrism, is replaced by an I am-in-the-world, of the present of the ambient. Perhaps it is the entry towards a certain modified state of the conscience³ that provokes the experience of the oceanic feeling, dear to Romain Rolland, where we participate, if not of an eternity, at least of an extent "without perceptible limits"⁴. In short, in front of the sea, the human time undergoes an overflow and we are submerged in a geological time - and even more vast perhaps -, of which we perceive only the incommensurability.
This time which opens is also the fact of the ruin and the newness that Valéry evoked. The asperities are eroded by the sands which flow and on the polished stone, time does not seem to have any more grip. Worked by the waves, the most contemporary fragment of faience has no more age. An untiring erosion blurs the lines. With this flow which ruins, operates an ebb which, it, coats these wrecks under the mineral and alive concretions, in a gangue, as to preserve them, to assimilate them. Also, curious hybrid objects, half-human, half-natural, take on the appearance of fossils and archaeological artifacts. Associated with the mineralities of the sea, the screen of this very recent telephone, the piece of plastic of this clapper, do not seem to date from yesterday, but from another era. An era that may be over, their status as wrecks whispers to us.
This mise en abyme of times, the sea delivers it to us by vomiting at our feet, on the beaches, the objects of our decay. They are, in a way, bottles (in plastic) in the sea: the blindness of man would have thrown them there and, so that a conscience can recognize itself there, it was necessary for the sea to revise their message, by joining a temporal density to it, by inscribing there the traces of our very present end to come. These objects are finally these letters that the sea sends back to us to give us news of what we have become, of our power to compete, from now on, with the geological dynamism, by inscribing our own stratum, by creating a 7th continent. This immense floating mass of plastic waste," Nicolas Bourriaud reminds us, "drifting in the oceans, is a concrete reflection of the Anthropocene⁵," and more legitimately, of the Capitalocene.
This backdrop was sensed in the Open-Studio that Instissar Belaïd and Moritz Hagedorn proposed in September 2020. They presented there the works of their first research which seems to point towards this "outdoor", that Tristan Garcia evoked (in reference to the "Great outdoors" of Quentin Meillassoux) which "was manifested by the reappearance in the current aesthetics of a Nature without men, by the figure of the postapocalyptic (to represent the world such as it will be once we will not be there any more, once culture will have ceased⁶)". An aesthetic thus being built on "a certain weariness in the human subject with regard to the contemplation of its omnipotence⁷". In this exhibition, News from nowhere, the two artists continue their exploration and invite two artists to join the reflection: Nidhal Chamekh and Atef Maatallah.
In the continuation of the temporal experience that the sea suggested to us, the project of Belaïd and Hagedorn works on the distortion of time. The pieces they present tend to disrupt the long quiet river where we enjoy living with no trouble. In front of these works, temporalities are superimposed, crossed and telescoped. By archaeological evocations, Instissar Belaïd installs the traces of a present in a past that we consider, from then on, through a future where our glance is projected. These traces are the ecofacts, artifacts and facts of a hybridity that the artist collects on the beaches. She samples and organizes them like the rebus of a strange statement that tells what man was. Notebooks collect the traces of various extracted elements which, by rubbing, acquire a mineral dimension evoking the fossil. Other experiments try to draw a future towards a present by accelerating the processes of mineralization: the crystallization of salt around objects and bones simulates the inescapable end, ours, of which the anthropocene is the catalyst. Through these sample tables, we are not simply projected between a present and a future, but rather between a before and an after the end. After the fall, however, there is no one and, undoubtedly, it is up to us to be the archaeologists of ourselves, of our way of being in the world and to excavate this here and now.
Shaking the reassuring thread of time that we hold on to, this is also what transpires from Morritz Hagedorn's photographic practice, which goes against the current of technological progress. From digital photography, the image seeks the ways that will lead it to the field of the argentic. It finds the densities of the paper, it becomes matter modelled by the hands. It is in reverse that the image crosses its technical devices in search of its physical and chemical origins. In connection with the practice of Belaïd, the artist tries to inscribe the image on natural elements; one would almost think of a will to reconduct the light that the camera captured towards an original film made of earth and rock. Beyond its destinations, when it is a question of a negative, it seems that the photograph gets rid of what it represents to find its plastic value, its status of photograph as such, of quasi photometric document where the spectral traces of a disappeared humanity are still read.
Around the field of a median sea, between a deluge and its drying, between the strata of time, its distortions and its deployments, Nidhal Chamekh and Atef Maatallah are inscribed by the questions that respectively work them. A certain look at the relationship to history and its memories is installed by Nidhal Chamekh. It is to break with the thread of time, its traditional linearity and, by the same token, its one-sided narrative of history that the artist undoes the unique plan that conditions the graphic work and the gaze that perceives it: he mounts the traces of a historicity, no longer for an eye enslaved to its sole point of view, but for a moving body around the work that gives itself through its multiple layers, its various perspectives and its montages. The scattered matters of a story that are here the images borrow the ways that Aby Warburg liked to follow: per monstra ad astra, giving on "the unsettling duality" of all the facts of the culture⁸". In Warburg's Mnemosyne Atlas, Didi-Huberman writes, "the play of astra and monstra reveals (...) human history at its most cruel and violent. The samples of the spatial - or figural - chaos testify of a psychic chaos itself indissociable of its historical and political incarnations. It is that the knowledge by assemblies or by reassemblies always engages a reflection on the disassembling of times in the tragic history of societies."⁹.
For his part, it is towards the ancient mosaics that Atef Maatallah directs his drawings. If it was earlier about spending time with the sea, it is now about spending it with the stone. A stone that, by the patterns it represents, evokes the sea and, we would be tempted to say, a stone that, even, remembers: of Thuburbo Majus where the artist draws his images, the sea is now indeed only present by the drawn evocations but also by the nature of the tesserae. For what are these marbles and other lime stones but the mineral expression of a multimillennial underwater life? By the arrangement of the fragments, by finding the undulations and contours of a wave, a fish, the stone goes back to its geological origins. By the hands of the mosaicist, she remembers. By the hands of the artist, she remembers us.
By opening the horizon of time and its narratives, by awakening a memory that goes beyond the simple memories of a human existence, the project of Belaïd and Hagedorn extends the reverberations of the sea. The pathways in dialogue that they take, lead to the manufacture of a material and spectral memory of the anthropocene pointing thus its ruin and its shipwreck. By making themselves archons¹⁰ and by presenting us these becoming-archives, the artists send us back to this horizon without perceptible limits. The archive has something of oceanic, reminds us Arlette Farge: "Because disproportionate, invading as the tides of equinoxes, the avalanches or the floods. The comparison with natural and unpredictable flows is far from being fortuitous; the one who works in archives is often surprised to evoke this journey in terms of diving, of immersion, even of drowning... The sea is there.¹¹". Starting from the sea, it seems that we return to the sea. By sliding our eyes towards these vanishing points, the news from nowhere reminds us that we are already drowning, while persisting in believing that after us will be the deluge.
Paul Valéry, Œuvres, Paris, Gallimard, Pléiade, tome II, 1977, p. 663.
²The Mediterranean Sea is the remnant of the ocean of the Paleozoic era, the Tethys; even more ancient, the Paleo-Tethys ocean and the Pacific basin constituted this global ocean: the Panthalassa.
3André Comte-Sponville, The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, Paris, France, Albin Michel, 2007, p. 161.
⁴Romain Rolland, Un beau visage à tous sens: choix de lettres de Romain Rolland 1886-1944, Paris, Albin Michel (coll. « Cahiers Romain Rolland »), 1967, p. 265.
⁵ Nicolas Bourriaud, Inclusions. Esthétique du capitalocène, Paris, Ed. Presses Universitaires de France / Humensis, Coll. « Perspectives critiques », 2021.
₆ Tristan Garcia, « Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy de Graham Harman », Spirale, n°255, hiver 2016, p. 32. (Cité aussi dans N. Bourriaud, Op. cit.)
₇ Ibid., p. 31-32.
₈ Georges Didi-Huberman, The Surviving Image: Phantoms of Time and Time of Phantoms, Paris, France, les Éditions de Minuit, 2002, p. 286.
₉ Georges Didi-Huberman, « Échantillonner le chaos. Aby Warburg et l’atlas photographique de la Grande Guerre », Études photographiques, 15 mai 2011, no 27.
⁰ This is how Jacques Derrida designates the guardians of the archives (Archive Fever: a freudien impression, Paris, France, Galilée, 2008, p. 13 et sq.).
Arlette Farge, Le Goût de l’archive, Ed. du Seuil, 1989, p. 10.