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As the red city of palms welcomes a group of distinguished artists, critics, writers and film makers for the third Arts in Marrakech Biennale, an exceptional artistic and literary fusion is brought to life through the sagacity of the participants and the quality of the exhibited works.
The art of thought in a complex mould: this is how the installations of the ambitious artists from around the globe appear on their visit to Marrakech as part of this event. While the visual arts programme is the central attraction, this edition of the biennale also features literature and film programmes. A Proposal for Articulating Works and Places, curated by Abdellah Karroum, is one of the group exhibitions at the Biennale. The works are distributed across numerous locations such as the Ecole supérieure des arts visuals (ESAV), Riad Magi and Kssour Agafay. In the Palais Bahia where the majority of the works are installed, contemporary art meets the intertwining mosaics and ornamented wooden ceilings of authentic Andalusian architecture.
Rarely does an aficionado of conceptual art get the opportunity to enjoy the works of Seamus Farrell, the Irish born artist who lives and works in the Paris suburb of Montreuil, in such a setting. His work UN Circle Gwangju – Marrakech, an installation of used car doors in the centre of the palace courtyard, resembles a time travel machine. Most of Seamus Farrell's work readapts objects that look like they are no longer functional, giving them a second life, but also calling into question the role of the artist and the work of art. One corner of the gallery is occupied by the work of Moroccan artist Mustapha Akrim who lives and works in Rabate-Sale. Chantier, or Building Site, had some spectators believing that it was a real construction site for the restoration of the palace. Akrim, who finds his inspiration in his lived reality, explores the paradox of work and what sets it apart from, and connects it to, the work of art. Not far from there, the insect drawings of Sofia Aguiar permeate the walls of one of the palace rooms. Aguiar who lives between Lisbon and Tangier creates works that reflect her real life fears and manias. "I am terrified of insects, I hate them; so I draw them obsessively to subdue my dread," says the artist. Her resplendent miniatures harmonise with the ornamentation of the large, wooden doors as though they were embellishments decorating the Palais Bahia. They recall the clamourous life of the past inhabitants of the palace and a time before tourists began arriving here, in this glittering city of the Moroccan south.
One of the most incandescent installations featured in A Proposal for Articulating Works and Places is a work by the Italian artist Loredana Longo titled Nothing is as it seems. The installation, exhibited at ESAV, is a solitary cell with its walls cloaked in mirrors, illuminated by a flickering light. It appears like a raucous chamber of extravagant amusement. The cell's base rests on the concrete even though it is suspended by metal chains. The mirror reflects the image of the spectator to infinity, giving the impression of beauty and freedom. "Counterfeit beauty and illusory freedom," says the artist, "despite the aesthetic allure of the installation, it is still a cell, the primary purpose of which is the deprivation of freedom". She adds that the flickering light, although it appears radiant, is nothing more than an instrument of torture in the cell of the captive. After a series of works influenced by mafia violence in her native Sicily, Longo says that the inspiration for this work was the political situation in Morocco. "I arrived in Morocco before undertaking this installation," says the artist, "I met with numerous journalists and human rights activists and learnt that people are still struggling for the most basic freedoms and that they face punitive impediments simply for expressing their opinion so I decided to present a work about the question of freedom."
Longo is not alone in producing work that demands ethical engagement. Most of the participants tackled social, political and economic problems in their installations. Batoul S'himi for example, a Moroccan who lives and works in Martil, exhibited an installation titled World's Pressure. While this installation originates from the quotidian life of a Moroccan house wife, it intersects with pressing global issues like war and famine. S'himi transforms ordinary household items, like cooking and cleaning appliances, into tools of resistance. A pressure cooker in the shape of a world map, or colours made from Moroccan condiments: recycling creates powerful works of art that comment on the violent course that international politics has taken.
The work of Francis Alÿs, born in Belgium and living in Mexico, produced on his last trip to Morocco, is also inspired by the local situation. Don't cross the bridge before you get to the river is a two screen audio-visual installation. One screen represents the southern shore of the Strait of Gibraltar and the other the northern shore. A line of children leaving Africa cut across the ocean as they head towards Europe. They hold small ships made of shoes in their hands. The same line leaves the shores of Spain heading towards Morocco until the two meet at the horizon. This is a highly symbolic work, especially given the breadth of social disparities in this narrow geographical passage between the legions of African immigrants who board dangerous boats trying to escape violence, destitution and despair, and the affluence of the lavish consumerist societies that have become a mirage under the shadow of stringent immigration policies that guard the walls of Europe.
Joseph Kosuth, a global pioneer of conceptual art and an honorary guest at the Biennale, says that any work of art necessarily has political connotations. Perhaps Kosuth, who was the first to disentangle art from its aesthetic dimensions on the premise of tautology, that is to say a process that produces outcomes much like maths or theoretical physics, might find a practical synopsis for his theoretical principles on the art of thought, or conceptual art, in A Proposal for Articulating Works and Places. In this programme, the material work in itself is not as important as the thought it embodies and the manner in which it coexists with the place where it is exhibited, especially since most of the works on offer are heading somewhere else.
Journalist, based in Casablanca, Morocco. She is co-founder of MALI (Mouvement Alternatif pour les Libertés Individuelles).
AiM International Biennale
(Arts in Marrakech)
19 Nov. 2009 -
20 Jan. 2010