The renovation project of La Friche La Belle de Mai in Marseille, which aims to turn this underground artistic place into an edgy cultural centre, was waiting for more than ten years. It has finally been implemented for the needs of the Capital of Culture and its international programme. With thirty-eight renowned artists, the Here, There show is the first to take over the 2400 m2 of the brand new Jobin Tower.
"Here, There is an ambitious show proving that Marseille can host an artistic event of international stature. Its theme is voluntarily broad and simple: let’s invite our neighbours!"says Juliette Laffon, curator of the exhibition, hence the long list of artists coming from the Mediterranean basin, Arab countries and the Diaspora. One might be surprised by the presence of works by such artists as Anette Messager, Gloria Friedman and Orlan, but Laffon explains: "I did not want to lock the artists and their works in a territory nor to give a panorama of the current artistic scene or make an exhibition about Arab art in the Mediterranean area. The concept of the show is more like an exploration of the idea of plural identity, of non-clenching and hybridising, that is why all the selected artists work in a perspective of openness. Through their work, their history and their mobility, all of them bear witness of this unrelenting travel and this moving identity in perpetual progress."
The show leads the spectator up through four floors thematically structured quite like a museum – not a particularly surprising fact, considering that Laffon used to be Director of the Bourdelle Museum and curator at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. The works shown on the first floor deal with ideas related to travel, displacement and exile, while the second floor approaches politics and societal issues. The third floor explores the concepts of memory and transmission, and the fourth floor – the new Panorama art centre constructed on the roof of the building – presents large-scale pieces. Although this setting allows for a didactic approach that accommodates numerous schools attending the show on a daily basis, one could argue that this does not help to establish a vivid dialogue among the pieces, an impression that is reinforced by the presence of many video works shown in black boxes. Even though they rightly allude to the prominence of video and film practices in the Arab world, their consecutive display tends to compartmentalize the experience of the viewer. Nevertheless, some of them, such as The End of Time byAkram Zaatari, are particularly worthy of interest.
The End of Time shows a series of scenes depicting three male characters evolving in a succession of dual relationships against a white and impersonal background. In each scene, two male individuals in their late thirties face each other in a silent confrontation. With an immobile pointing finger, one of them directs the other to undress. Close-up images of their changing expressions display the complexity of their relationships, which seem to oscillate among admiration, tenderness, intimidation, power and domination. The film makes us think about the ambiguity of love, apprehended here as a composite and evolving tension between two beings. Subtly hinting at homosexual issues, this well-polished piece manages to generate near-global implications. Indeed, the acclaimed Lebanese artist considers his work "an universal fable inspired by the desire to preserve love and the ageing human body".
Despite its fifty-nine minutes’ length, the film The Path to Cairo by Egyptian artist Wael Shawky deserves to be viewed in its entirety. The work is the result of Shawky’s double residency at the Ceramic School in Aubagne and at the Sound and Audiovisual Department of Provence University during which, with the assistance of an army of volunteers, he created more than a hundred puppets following the traditional technique of santons (traditional Christmas crèche figures from Provence). Reinterpreting Amin Maalouf’s book: The crusades seen by the Arabs, The Path to Cairo is an immersive and extremely detailed fresco allying a miniature puppet theatre with cutting-edge cinema techniques. The piece was shown at Documenta 13, and a solo show will be devoted to the project in La Chapelle des Pénitents Noirs in Aubagne in the coming months. Marseille 2013’s team considers the critically acknowledged The Path to Cairo an emblematic piece alluding to the deep engagement of the organisation within the territory. In fact, more than twenty-nine artworks were produced especially for the Here, There exhibition, including five within the framework of the Ateliers de l’EuroMéditerranée, which is a unique concept of artistic residencies in the private sector, provoking unexpected and fruitful collaborations between artists, industries and companies.
Double Bind by Djamel Kokene is another accurate example of such a successful partnership. The ten-meter wooden sculpture is the outcome of the Paris-based Algerian artist’s residency at the Trade Court of Marseilles. For Here, There Kokene recreated a pan of the trial room and its furniture cut in their diagonal, accompanied by a linear wall drawing that recalls simultaneously the Stock Exchange graphics and the mechanical drawing of an electrocardiogram. He says: "The court is an institution that aims to judge, separate and divide. The justice line is abstract and symbolic; it classifies things on one side or another. In this sense, art and justice are similar because they imply a judgement that is necessarily linked with subjectivity."Drifting from a concrete situation to conceptual considerations while remaining visually appealing, Double Bind is among the most challenging pieces of the exhibition that also features Hrair Sarkissian’s magnificent Unexposed series: photographic chiaroscuro portraits of "Tunkun" (Armenians who converted to Islam to evade the 1915 Armenian genocide) and notable pieces by Mona Hatoum, Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, Ymane Fakhir and Adrian Paci.
But the highlight of the show is undeniably the Shelter piece by Sigalit Landau. Installed on the outside roof of the building, Shelter overlooks the northern area of the sprawling beige city nesting between the blue Mediterranean Sea and the greenish surrounding Provencal hills. The monumental bronze staircase, like sculptured verticality, responds to Marseille’s sole skyscraper, the CTM tower designed by the famous Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid. This somewhat ominous work is a cast of an Israeli antiaircraft shelter, recalling the tensions agitating the artist’s native country and their concrete repercussions on the inhabitants’ lives. However, Landau’s Shelter does not take us to an underground hideout, but to the sky, thereby suggesting the promise of a possible escape.
Here, There. Two words only and a comma form the title of the main contemporary art show of Marseille 2013 European Capital of Culture. Two words only and a comma that are not as hackneyed as they might seem at first. Located at the core of a popular area belonging to the most multicultural city of France, which, however, still struggles to consider this ethnic mix as its main strength, the Here, There exhibition presents a particular pattern. It reminds us that "here" and "there" should never be considered in opposition to one another – for someone’s "here" is always someone else’s "there"…
French independent curator, lives in Marseille. As co-founder and Director of the Trankat Art Residency in Tétouan, she is heavily involved in Morocco.
12 January - 7 April 2013
Friche La Belle de Mai
Access 1 (pedestrian only):
41 rue Jobin - 13003 Marseille
12 rue François Simon - 13003 Marseille
Curator: Juliette Laffon
Part of Marseille-Provence 2013
European Capital of Culture