Kamel Mennour

Zineb Sedira

08 Sep - 08 Oct 2011

© Zineb Sedira
La Montée..., 2011
Still du film, 12’’ 32’.
Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris.
Beneath The Surface
8 September - 8 October 2011

For her third solo exhibition at the galerie kamel mennour, Zineb Sedira presents a new body of works, Lighthouse in the Sea of Time (2011), for the first time in France. This series, which gathers video installation, single-screen projections and photographs, takes as starting point two lighthouses on the Algerian coast: the Cape Sigli’s lighthouse, perched on a rough stretch of shoreline in Kabila, and the Cape Caxine’s lighthouse, in the suburbs of Algiers. These lonely places of surveillance allow the artist to navigate simultaneously Algeria’s past and its contemporary reality.
The four-screen installation Lighthouse in the Sea of Time pays homage to the lighthouses’ majestic beauty, and to the nature acting as their backdrop. One can easily imagine that this is how the lighthouses appeared to the artist when she first went there in 2009. In any case, it is how she wants us to discover them: superb, “miraculous”, writes poet Tahar Djaout in the Cape Sigli’s lighthouse’s visitors’ book. But the artist isn’t only concerned with landscape aesthetic. The history she presents is first and foremost a human one. The furtive shadow of a hand briefly comes into view, a door opens. The keeper of the Cape Sigli’s lighthouse, Karim Ourtemach, known as Krimo, patiently polishes the lantern’s great glass surface. Later, we see him writing in the lighthouse’s logbook, with meticulous, almost sacerdotal attention.
Krimo is given a voice in the film The Life of a Lighthouse Keeper. His eyes sparkle as he explains his daily activities: beginning of the watch, verification of the machines, meal, watch proper, short night, painting in his idle time. Krimo is a sailor of terra firma, and the lighthouse is his home base of which he talks about with deference and tenderness. In an age of mechanisation and radio-controlled lighthouses, Sedira portrays a man happy to accomplish a simple but vital task. With nostalgia, she records the last days of a trade doomed to disappearance.
This series of works also allows the artist to continue her research on Algeria’s colonial past. All of the country’s lighthouses were built during the period bookended by the invasion of Algeria by the French in 1830 and the independence in 1962. The lighthouses are, for the artist, the witnesses of this history. And when, in the film La Montée..., she slowly goes up the stairs of the Cape Caxine’s lighthouse, Sedira enacts her own creative process: she goes up the stairs like, in her work, she goes back in time. Calm and determined, she walks in the steps of her foregoers.
Names Through Time: A Keeper’s Logbook and Handwriting Through Time: A Visitors’ Book are part of the same historical process. The keepers’ logbook is an administrative document where eepers record the tiny events essential to the lighthouse’s good functioning. Page after page the years unravel: the column headings – “light-on and light-off” times, “lamp consumption” and “supplies received” – are invariable, but come independence in 1962 and the names Duclaud, Bonnefont, and Fischer are replaced by their Algerian counterpart names: Mehleb, Sidane, and Chouqui. The names in the visitors' book also change, and not only people’s name. Guyotville, Bougie, and Philippeville become Ain Benian, Béjaïa, Skikda. The cities that they represent are the same but their reality has just been transformed.
The last chapter of this series of films, A Museum of Traces, is perhaps the most unsettling because it subtly highlights the ambivalence of the relationship Algeria maintains with the colonial period. The camera films the Cape Caxine’s lighthouse’s small museum, which gathers old measure instruments as well as objects that once belonged to the daily life of the keepers during “French Algeria”: ornate crockery, crystal carafes – each item carefully labelled in French, as if it was still the country’s official language. Sedira’s work permeates history’s interstices so often excluded from official discourses.
Born in 1963, Zineb Sedira lives in London and works in Algiers, Paris and London. Her work was shown in several solo exhibitions including at the Photographer’s Gallery (London, 2006), at Wapping Project (London, 2008), at New Art Exchange (Nottingham, 2009), at Pori Museum (Finland, 2009), at BildMuseets (Sweden, 2010), at Kunsthalle Nikolaj
(Copenhagen, 2010), at the Palais de Tokyo (Paris, 2010), at the [mac] musée d’Art contemporain of Marseille (2010), and at Prefix - Institute of Contemporary Art (Toronto, 2010)
Her work was also shown in many group shows in institutions such as Tate Britain (London, 2002), Centre Pompidou (Paris, 2004, 2009), Mori Museum (Tokyo, 2005), Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (Gateshead, 2005), Musée d’Art Moderne of Alger (2007), Brooklyn Museum (New York, 2007), Mathaf - Arab Museum of Modern Art (Qatar, 2010), the Contemporary Art Center (Thessaloniki, 2011), as well as in biennials and triennials, including the Venice Biennale (2001 and 2011), the triennial for photography and video at the Institute of Contemporary Photography in New York (2003), the Sharjah Biennale (2003 and 2007) and the Folkestone Triennial (2011).

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