The French-Algerian artist was announced as the winner of the Prix Marcel Duchamp 2016 on Tuesday, 18 October 2016 at Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Presented by ADIAF in partnership with Centre Pompidou, the Prix Marcel Duchamp honours a French artist or artist residing in France, who is representative of his or her generation, working in the field of the plastic and visual arts.
This year in February, Gilles Fuchs, President of ADIAF (Association for the International Diffusion of French Art), revealed the four nominees of the Prix Marcel Duchamp 2016, which for the first time would exhibit the work of all four artists in a group show at the Centre Pompidou, a partner of ADIAF since the foundation of the Prize in 2000.
The four artists nominated by an international jury include French-Algerian Kader Attia, who was announced as the winner of the 16th edition of the Prize last night (18 October 2016), French-Moroccan Yto Barrada, Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo and German-born, Paris-based Ulla von Brandenburg.
ADIAF brings together more than 400 art collectors “committed to raising the international profile of the French scene”. The organisation is led by private collectors, sponsored by art-patron companies and works in partnership with public institutions with the aim of raising the profile of the French art scene and develop contemporary art collecting. In 2000, ADIAF founded the Prix Marcel Duchamp, organised in partnership with the Centre Pompidou, with an award of EUR35,000.
Since 2005, the Prize is also run in collaboration with FIAC, who helps develop exposure to collectors locally and internationally. Now at its 16th edition, the Prize’s past laureates include among others Thomas Hirschhorn (2000), Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster (2002), Latifa Echakhch (2013) and Melik Ohanian (2015).
For the first time since the Prize’s launch, in 2016 the Centre Pompidou holds a group exhibition of all four finalists, as opposed to the traditional exhibition featuring only the winner. Inaugurated on 12 October 2016, this year’s Prix Marcel Duchamp exhibition runs until 30 January 2017 in Galerie 3 of the Paris museum and is curated by designated curator Alicia Knock.
The Prize celebrates the modernist and ‘father of conceptual art’ Marcel Duchamp and his view, which he articulated thus:
I believe that art is the only activity thorugh which man can manifest himself as a true individual. (Je crois que l’art est la seule activité par laquelle l’homme se manifeste comme véritable individu.) — Marcel Duchamp, 1956
The winner: Kader Attia
Kader Attia (b. 1970, Dugny, Seine-Saint-Denis) lives and works between Paris and Berlin. Of Algerian origins, Attia spent his childhood between France and Algeria, immersed in two very different cultural, social and religious milieus. His work embraces a range of media from sculpture and installation to photography, performance and video, with each new series of work employing different materials, symbols and scale.
This diversity is a reflection of Attia’s continued look at the poetic dimensions and complexities of contemporary life. His research focuses on the concept of ‘Repair’, which is a constant in human nature, and whereby any system of life is in an infinite process of repair. As Edge of Arabia writes in his profile, his work explores
the impact of Western cultural and political capitalism on the Middle East and North Africa, as well as how this residual strain of struggle and resistance to colonisation impacts Arab youth, particularly in the banlieues (suburbs) of France where Attia lived.
Attia is not new to awards, having won the Cairo Biennial Prize in 2008 and the Abraaj Group Art Prize in 2010. On 17 October, Attia inaugurated La Colonie in Paris, a restaurant and art space founded with partner Zico Selloum and their families. The launch date was a tribute to those who died demonstrating for an independent Algeria in Paris on 17 October 1961. On the Facebook page, La Colonie is described as “a space for “living-knowledge” and “knowledge-sharing” […] a friendly place that, remaining independent, engages in thinking about living and sharing ideas together”.
At the award ceremony on 18 October, Serge Lasvignes, President of Centre Pompidou, commented:
I warmly congratulate Kader Attia on this award. I really appreciate his work. I particularly have in mind one of his works, Ghost, conserved in the Centre Pompidou’s collections and currently on show in the Centre Pompidou Malaga. With that prescience so often signing major works, in 2007 Kader Attia had fixed a vision that was to be cruelly embodied in our collective history over these last few years: a vision of the vast migratory phenomenon affecting our Mediterranean world today. Art sometimes has that talent of premonition, that capacity to grasp the vibrations of a world in mutation. Kader Attia’s work has that fascinating power.
For the Prix Marcel Duchamp, Attia has presented an installation with five works comprising sculpture, objects and film. Shattered mirrors, art objects in ancient wood from the Ngbaka ethinicity of Central Africa, digital photographs, Algerian bread called ‘Matlouh’ and wrappings of objects manifactured in papier mâché are among the various elements of the installation, which pivots around the central piece, a 40-minute video entitled Reflecting Memory.
The sculptures and the found objects coexist with the space of the film, which is a poetic essay consisting of interviews with surgeons, neurologists, psychoanalysts about the phenomenon of the phantom limb – the sensation that after amputation a limb is still attached. This feeling is experienced by approximately 60 to 80 percent of amputees. This symptom seems to be provoked by mirror neurons, tied to man’s instinctual actions.
Attia’s labyrinthine installation takes this phenomenon as a point of departure to amplify the experience from personal, intimate and individual to collective, from material to immaterial symptoms, from phantom limbs to ghosts of modern and contemporary history – slavery, colonisation, communism, genocide – and the question of their repair. Bernard Blistène, President of the Jury, declared about Kader Attia, as quoted in the press release:
The ambition of his intention as well as the diversity of his approach and practices and the great relevance of his work have convinced the members of the Jury. Combining continuous reflection on the opposition between individual and collective consciousness using the metaphor of loss that is embodied by the notion of the “phantom limb” in his current practice, Kader Attia leads us to a personal reflection on the situation of a world more divided than ever. By way of a labyrinth bringing together the most diverse forms of representation and attempting to stitch together the fragments of an atrophied world, Kader Attia proposes a portrait of the artist as bonesetter and healer.
New York-based, French-Moroccan multimedia artist Yto Barrada (b. 1971, Paris) presents an installation entitled Unruly Objects (Suite for Thérèse Rivière) (2016), which explores the singular destiny of Thérèse Rivière, a French ethnologist of the interwar period, with a collection of images and objects from her missions in North Africa before being interned. The work is composed as a rebus, with flowers, toys and children’s drawings, searching for biographic form, a portrait of the artist ethnologist, here Rivière’s double, with the construction of a room, extending from a mental to a museum space. The “excavation” of this forgotten figure condemned to internment in a mental institution allows the artist to activate a process of symbolic healing through art.
Barrada has also received important awards before, namely the Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year for 2011 and the Abraaj Group Art Prize 2015.
Ulla von Brandenburg
Paris-based multimedia artist Ulla von Brandenburg (b. 1974, Karlsruhe, Germany) presents a video installation entitled It Has a Golden Sun and an Elderly Grey Moon (2016), conceived as a platform for a contemporary ritual, putting into play film and architecture. The focal point is a stairway, which functions as a symbolic architectural element, where gaze, action and transformation can take place. For the artist, who normally uses black and white film, the piece is also an exploration of colour and its significance, here active as a social message and sign of exchange. For instance, yellow, historically the colour of the marginalised, becomes a narrative device that transforms the stairway into a social ladder by which individuals can climb up or down, as the performers do in the video carrying and exchanging coloured blankets. The aesthetic becomes political, through a ritual performed by the work.
von Brandenburg’s practice uses black & white film, installation, performance, drawing and painting. The artist uses approaches and methods of the theatre, the stage and rules of performance to address cultural or social issues from different times in history and explore how past stories, rituals and symbols have constituted our societies.
Paris- and Bandjoun-based Barthélémy Toguo‘s (b. 1967, Cameroon) installation is dedicated to two epidemics that plague the world, and particularly Africa: AIDS and Ebola. Realised in close collaboration with the scientific teams of the Pasteur Institute, it represents a clear example of the ties between art and science. The drawings and the monumental vases made in China were designed after microscope observation of infected cells and from data taken from scientific documents.
The virus is presented through a poetic vision, at times resembling self-portraits, as intimate appropriations of the scientific and political project. The vases, vessels that can contain liquid, symbolise an ambivalent relationship to water, purifying and regenerating as well as a source of contamination and pollution.
Toguo is a multimedia artist, who works in a range of media from watercolour and sculpture, to photography, film, performance and installation. Recently, he has turned his attention to the realm of the stage and the theatrical arrangement of space.
Prix Marcel Duchamp 2016: Art in dialogue, art as regenerative
This year’s Prix Marcel Duchamp realised its ambition of dedicating an exhibition at the Centre Pompidou to all four nominees instead of just the winner, giving voice and visibility to the artists in a communal space, where their oeuvre is in mutual dialogue. Quoted by the museum, winner Kader Attia explains this significance of this intent:
The 100 to 120 square metres we have each been given motivates us to emphasise the essential, the poetic, and to develop a precisely judged and intimate relationship with the viewer. A space in which we have no right to make mistakes, unless the mistake is part of the scenario, and in Art, everything is possible… Especially when it’s set in dialogue with other stories, with the other “libraries” represented by the other artists selected and by all those who make this museum such an essential agora of murmured conversation, of free speech!
The synergies generated present the viewer with contemporary art under the aspect of its raison d’être, as regenerative: the quest and uncertainty of artistic discovery. Art has to recover its complex, absolute, unexpected aspect, far from the annihilating cacophony of a world saturated with false desires and false certitudes.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
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