La­ti­fa Echakhch Bet­ween De­po­si­tion and Dis­pos­ses­sion

Art Press - - ALLÉGORIE -

Dis­pos­ses­sing a work of its anec­do­tal content and for­mal ri­gi­di­ty so as to keep on­ly the in­ten­si­ty of the al­le­go­ri­cal di­men­sion: the work of La­ti­fa Echakhch oc­cu­pies the gap bet­ween poe­tics and politics, dis­pos­ses­sion and reap­pro­pria­tion. As win­ner of the Prix Mar­cel-Du­champ, she is ex­hi­bi­ting at the Pom­pi­dou Cen­ter’s Es­pace 315 from Oc­to­ber 8, 2014 to Ja­nua­ry 5, 2015.


A fal­ling thea­tri­cal sky, bow­ler hats filled with black ink, a crum­bled brick wall, a po­sed tigh­trope wal­ker’s bal­loon, a lawyer’s gown and a sans-cu­lotte’s clo­thing sus­pen­ded from a han­ger, a go-go dan­cer’s out­fit thrown on the floor, a fair­ground tar­get, a row of sports shoes, walls co­ve­red with car­bon pa­per, bro­ken Mo­roc­can tea­cups, prayer mats hol­lo­wed in the middle, jas­mine gar­lands han­ging from a shirt, a col­lap­sed cir­cus tent, stones scat­te­red over the floor—these dis­pa­rate ob­jects are all lin­ked by a cer­tain kind of ob­so­les­cence. Most are re­mains, the lef­to­vers of ac­tions, re­lics of tech­niques, ruins of si­tua­tions. Ta­ken out of their usual context (whe­ther music hall, jus­tice, do­mes­tic life, the cir­cus, or religion, his­to­ry), these ob­jects live ano­ther life, a life that is at once poe­tic and po­li­ti­cal. Echakhch’s works all have a two­fold in­ten­si­ty. They are es­sen­tial­ly al­le­go­ri­cal, but ne­ver illus­tra­tive. This al­le­go­ri­cal qua­li­ty is pa­ra­doxi­cal in that they usual­ly play on a form of li­te­ra­li­ty. To make Dé­gra­da­tion (2009), for example, the ar­tist car­ried out me­ti­cu­lous re­search in­to in­si­gnia, me­dals, epau­lettes, but­tons, brai­ding and swords in the time of Cap­tain Dreyfus. “When I got the ma­te­rial, there I was in the gal­le­ry, sit­ting on a chair with the cos­tume on my knees, ha­ving to tear off the but­tons and the or­na­ments. […] Even if my po­si­tion was com­for­table, I found this ac­tion of strip­ping ex­tre­me­ly violent. The ques­tion I as­ked my­self was what was left af­ter this kind of ce­re­mo­ny.” The same kind of ques­tion lies be­hind Sto­ning (2010), a work that im­pli­cit­ly re­fers to a sto­ning scene. “The ques­tion I as­ked my­self was fair­ly simple, both naïve and stem­ming from a kind of guilt: what does a sto­ning scene look like, when you take away the vic­tim?” By eva­cua­ting the vic­tim from the crime scene, Echakhch re­doubles the vio­lence of the ori­gi­nal si­tua­tion (again, a kind of wren­ching). But the stones thrown by the ar­tist are not found stones. They were made out of old bricks and sculp­ted in­to pebble shapes—a way of dis­tan­cing the work from the pa­thos of the si­tua­tion evo­ked. Echakhch plays on these am­bi­gui­ties: “I thought this piece might look like a Ri­chard Long sculp­ture that so­meone had thrown a fi­re­cra­cker in­to. But thin­king that up­set me. Still, I did make it in the end.” Ins­tead of the art of dis­pla­ce­ment, of the rea­dy­made, ty­pi­cal of the 1980s, Echakhch de-

ploys an art of de­po­si­tion. It is a ques­tion here not of reap­pro­pria­tion but of dis­pos­ses­sion: pieces are usual­ly pla­ced on the floor or sus­pen­ded, off their bases, off their pe­des­tal. There is no as­sump­tion, no ele­va­tion. As in a rea­dy­made, the ob­jects cho­sen are cut off from their ori­gi­nal context, but they are not ele­va­ted (this is not the aes­the­tic of the found ob­ject, but the prac­tice of the wres­ted ob­ject). Bur­ned tires ( Smoke Ring, 2008), a set of playing cards scat­te­red on the floor ( Ei­vis­sa, 2010), trails of gun­pow­der ( Sans titre [Gun­pow­der], 2008), col­lap­sed walls ( Tkaf, 2011), flag­poles wi­thout flags ( Fan­ta­sia, 2011), prayer mats with no cen­ter ( Frames, 2001), crum­pled world maps ( Glo

bus, 2010)—all the ob­jects in Echakhch’s work are down­gra­ded and de­te­rio­ra­ted. Echakhch’s art in­volves a kind of mi­ni­mal ro­man­ti­cism. It has ro­man­ti­cism’s pri­vi­le­ged re­la­tion to li­te­ra­ture and the poe­tic (Paul Ce­lan is one of her fa­vo­rite au­thors); from mi­ni­ma­lism, it takes an acute sense of form and eco­no­my of means. “I grew up on the edge of the lake dear to Al­phonse de La­mar­tine, a ro­man­tic land­scape par ex­cel­lence. La­ter I mo­ved to Pa­ris, af­ter the crea­tion of the Re­vue de Littérature Gé­né­rale. It was su­blime!” The whole of Echakhch’s art lies bet­ween these two poles. The ar­tist links her de­sire to make art to her child­hood rea­ding of Charles M. Schulz’s cartoon What Have

We Lear­ned, Char­lie Brown, which it­self was ins­pi­red by a poem by John McC­rae, In Flan

ders Fields, writ­ten during World War I, in which it is said that be­fore the slaugh­ter the pop­pies were white, and were red­de­ned by all the blood­shed. Her so­journ in Le­ba­non in 2011 reac­ti­va­ted this am­bi­guous fee­ling: “We spent five days vi­si­ting the war ar­chives, a Pa­les­ti­nian re­fu­gee camp. We saw some pret­ty har­ro­wing things. Wal­king around the ci­ty I no­ti­ced that there too the earth was ve­ry red. Ob­vious­ly, I re­la­ted the co­lor to the sto­ries people told me about the ci­vil war.” If politics (Pa­les­tine an­ti-Se­mi­tism, fun­da­men­ta­lism, the Arab spring) is present in ma­ny of her works, this is ne­ver ob­vious or fron­tal but al­ways oblique. Echakhch is ca­re­ful to keep the right dis­tance bet­ween re­ferent and form. Form is the an­ti­dote to the illus­tra­tive ten­den­cy that is one of the pit­falls be­set­ting po­li­ti­cal art. The re­ferent is what keeps the work from lap­sing in­to for­ma­lism. De­po­sing an ob­ject is not the same thing as laying down one’s arms. It means get­ting rid of its su­per­flui­ty, let­ting the anec­dote go so as to keep on­ly the li­ving in­ten­si­ty. Echakhch’s art dis­pos­sess the art­work of its gran­di­lo­quence, of its suf­fi­cien­cy, in or­der to high­light its sim­pli­ci­ty, or even its nai­ve­ty. The col­lap­sing thea­ter sky ( La Dé­pos­ses­sion, 2014) is a per­fect al­le­go­ry of this pro­cess of

de­su­bli­ma­tion and dis­pos­ses­sion in Echakhch’s work. Is not the sky the tra­di­tio- nal seat of Ideas, of trans­cen­dence, of the Su­blime? This fal­ling thea­ter set is an image of illu­sions col­lap­sing, in the spi­rit of Re­né Ma­gritte and Mar­cel Brood­thaers (Ma­gritte of course comes to mind when we see her bow­ler hats filled with ink ( Chapeau d’encre, 2011). This is a melancholy way of in­di­ca­ting that art can­not real­ly trans­form the world, that the most it can do, in the best case, is help change the way we look at the world.


Once again, the ar­tist is pla­cing thea­tri­cal no­tions at the cen­ter: backs­tage, thea­ter set, and trace. Al­though made up of se­ve­ral sculp­tu­ral ele­ments, the ex­hi­bi­tion im­me­dia­te­ly comes across as a whole. Echakhch sets out to cons­truct a dra­ma­tic stage. By playing on what is be­hind the scenes, the en­semble of­fers a range of mea­nings and in­ter­pre­ta- tions, from di­sap­poin­ting ma­te­ria­li­ty to images of men­tal land­scapes. Bet­ween sky and earth, she trans­forms the place in­to a dense, onei­ric land­scape, in a kind of twi­light zone. Wal­king through the space, the vi­si­tor dis­co­vers dif­ferent frag­ments of his­to­ry, ob­jects that are al­most ri­di­cu­lous, child­hood me­mo­ries dred­ged from the depth of a me­mo­ry and im­mer­sed in black ink.

Trans­la­tion, C. Pen­war­den

De haut en bas / from top: « Tour de Ba­bel ». 2010-2011. Bois. Ex­po­si­tion « Out of the col­lec­tion: La­ti­fa Echakhch », Kunst­mu­seum Liech­ten­stein, Va­duz, 2012. (Ph. Al­ten­bur­ger, Zu­rich). « Mer d’encre ». 2012. Cha­peaux me­lon, ré­sine, encre Ex­po­si­tion « Tkaf », ka­mel men­nour, 2012 (Ph. F. Seixas). “Sea of Ink.” Bow­ler hats, re­sin, ink

De haut en bas / from top: « Fan­ta­sia (Emp­ty Flag, White) ». 2011 Porte-dra­peaux blancs en fibre de verre, bases en acier. Ex­po­si­tion « ILLUMI­na­zio­ni / ILLU­MI­na­tions », 54e Bien­nale de Ve­nise, 2011. (Ph. R. Ma­ros­si) (Court. kauf­mann re­pet­to, Mi­lan). Flag­poles, steel bases « Les San­glots longs », Do­cu­men­ta, Kuns­thalle Fri­de­ri­cia­num, Cassel, 2009. (Ph. Nils Klin­ger). “Long Sobs”

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