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Younès Rahmoun: Wahid

Performance and video by the Moroccan artist in the context of his development and current work.
By Abdellah Karroum | Jan 2006

The work of Younès Rahmoun is not born of a reaction against globalization through "nativism" or identity withdrawal [repli identitaire] [1]. It is far more the expression of a "presence in the world" and of an appropriation of the media, technological, or linguistic tools, accessible where he is, as of now. Depending on the cultural references of the reader of this commentary, it may seem absurd to "justify" the tools that the artist uses. But there is an idea going around artistic circles according to which the use of new technologies represents an act of resistance versus identity withdrawal in Islamic countries and Islamic extremism.

Younès Rahmoun's works are an extension of his as determined as peaceful gestures. Fascinated by Sufi thought and practice, Younès Rahmoun adopts repetition, incantation, insistence, concentration, finishing, un-finishing, presence and co-presence in his practice. Some of the drawings are related to architectural and mathematical practice; this, in its turn, can easily be associated to universal spatial and ornamental practices in which Byzantine and Andalusian artist-craftsmen excelled.

In 2001, the piece "Subha" (Rosary) marks the beginning of a consciously spiritual approach. Form variations (Nakhla), constructions (millstones in the Rif mountains), and objects (glass frames and paper objects) have enabled him to develop a sharp sense for sculptural materials and drawn objects. "L'objet désorienté" ("The disoriented object") [2] was Younès Rahmoun's first exhibition outside of Morocco. It is from that point on that he began to build up his oeuvre.

Wahid (One), hyper-material prolongation of the immaterial

Younès Rahmoun works within a context in which bodily representation is conventionally "prohibited". A video image does not have the same definition of prohibition as painting. For one, this is due to the fact that video did not exist at the time when these "laws" were formulated. For the other, a video image is only a testimony, an illustration, and not a creation in the sense that it could rival God's creation (religious power doesn't consider video as a creation and in fact makes use of it in its sermon…).

In order to realize the "Wahid" performance, the artist is physically present in the exhibition space and acts in real time. He places himself in the centre of the space, in front of the public, facing towards Mecca (to the East), sitting cross-legged on a square of black cloth, dressed in a black djellaba with a hood over his head and face. In the perfect silence of the space, he begins the incantation of the word "Wahid" 99 times, generally for precisely 99 seconds. His experience of the "here-now" state cannot faithfully be described since the "documentation" will always only be a translation. If not experienced at the actual time, the encounter with the immaterial work bears testimony only, is only a hyper-material document finely transcribed by neurons acting in order to electronically reclaim memory of the experience.

The video takes over the relay from the gesture. Its use here is more symbolical than technical. Video is a tool that enables the amplification of the artist's gesture and the multiplication of his presence. The film – trace of the artist's presence after the performance is over – is produced from a fixed point and frames the hands with fingers moving to the count of the voice's rhythm. The video is characterized by an effect of symmetry, on both the visual and sound levels. With this first video piece, the artist interrogates the memory of the performance, a kind of sculpture that is endeavoring to meet up with time through meditation.

The history of "Wahid" begins in Paris during a residency in 2001 when Younès Rahmoun gets interested in new technologies, video, and sound… Initial experiments surrounding the "Wahid" performance consisted in sound recordings. Even if they have not been shown, they represent the "technical" prerequisites for the use of video image and of its power of "reproducibility".

In the era of the "diverse", multiple and multicultural, Younès Rahmoun interrogates the unique, the Self, the absolute reference. So doing, he is alien or "original", depending on the context.

"Wahid means one, the only, the unique. For me, 'One' also means Allah (God). In Islam, God has 99 names; the Muslim rosary has 99 grains. My position in this performance however refers rather to Buddhism (Zen). The repetition of this "multi-sense" word in this sitting position of universal connotation carries a message of peace and tolerance. The video performance symbolizes the opening to other world cultures and religions." [3] (Younès Rahmoun)

In 2005, Younès Rahmoun decides to reconstruct a space for work and meditation inspired from the "ghorfa" (little room below the staircase which is the artist's studio) and to put it at the disposal of the public. In "Al-ana / Hona" (Now / Here) [4] the artist will create one or several living spaces, identical to his "ghorfa" in the family house in Tétouan, to anyone who wishes to experience "Space for Work, Exhibition, and Meditation".

Beyond formal and spiritual questions, the artist proposes the experience of the work and invites the public into a "recreated" intimate space. In this identical reproduction of his workspace (ghorfa), we may also perceive the care for symmetry that is so present in the Arab arts and sciences. Younès Rahmoun claims this practice, donating his imaginary and exchanging his workspace for a time of encounter with the other.

Notes, links:

  1. The practice of the young generation of Moroccan artists is not situated within the problematic of post-colonial detachment as was the case in the 1960s and 70s with the use of Berber signs and Arab calligraphy.
  2. In 1999, when still a student at the Institute of Fine Arts in Tétouan, Younès Rahmoun was invited to participate in the exhibition "L'objet désorienté" organized by Jean-Louis Froment at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and at the Villa des Arts in Casablanca.
  3. Statement by Younès Rahmoun, collected by Abdellah Karroum, published in the book "L'œuvre plus que jamais" (minutes of the conference of the same title), éditions hors'champs, 2005, p. 120.
  4. Younès Rahmoun's work proposal for the project Co-présences that will be realized in February 2006 at L'appartement 22 (Morocco) and in April 2006 at the École des Beaux-Arts in Aix-en-Provence (France). www.copresences.net

Abdellah Karroum

Independent curator and art critic. Founder/director of L'appartement 22 in Rabat, Morocco. Lives there and in Paris, France.

(From the French by Helen Adkins)

Younès Rahmoun:
Wahid. 2003
Video, 1'39''

The video was produced by "hors'champs" in an edition of 99 copies, each accompanied by an original drawing.

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