Exhibition of Neïl Beloufa entitled “Soft(a)ware” is on display at K11 Art Foundation.
Works by Neïl Beloufa are on display at K11 Art Foundation Shanghai until 8 December 2016. Art Radar takes a look at the artist’s practice and talks to curator Victor Wang about “Soft(a)ware” and the exhibition’s use of retail display modes.
Neïl Beloufa (French and Algerian, b. 1985) is a Paris-based artist known for his films and installations that express “anti-authoritarianism” at the level of content and form. His current exhibition at K11 Art Foundation Shanghai highlights features of the artist’s practice that seek to offer political and economic analysis of the current moment. “Soft(a)ware”, curated by invited independent curator Victor Wang, explores how the digital introduces changes of scale and dimension in power systems across neoliberal capitalism. Talking to Art Radar about the genesis of the exhibition, curator Victor Wang stated:
Developed over the span of a year, Neïl Beloufa and I had many discussions about the exhibition, the context of both the museum and the current instability of our geo-political environment. Which led us to really focus on issues surrounding technological expansion and neoliberal hybridization.
Neïl Beloufa: “I don’t believe in democracy, I just display what it means”
The video at the centre of the presentation, People’s passion, lifestyle, beautiful wine, gigantic glass towers, all surrounded by water (2011) (which forms part of the installation Superlatives and Resolution, People Passion, Movement and Life at K11) features a group of people in an unnamed city enthusiastically describing their experience there. Beloufa often works collaboratively, and in this instance he teamed up with actors to generate scripts that imitate popular genres, including infomercials and science fiction films.
In one of his earliest works, the 14-minute video Kempinski (2007) shot in Mali, Beloufa lights his subjects with neons that are visible onscreen while he asks his interviewees to talk about the future in the present tense. The effect is a rupturing of cinematic, linguistic and aesthetic expectations as science-fiction meets documentary, the present meets the future, static meet voyage. Kempinski clearly subverts traditional “ethnographic” documentary logic whereby the relationship between subject and camera, interviewer and interviewee is stable. Thus the work could perhaps be read in the context of a lineage of experimental ethnographers looking to transform what is traditionally the passive subject of documentation into an active theme that subsequently has a determining influence on the form the film takes such as early cine verite projects Jean Rouch’s Chronique d’un été or Guy Debord’s Critique de la Séparation.
Yet Beloufa’s Kempinski is of a slightly different breed: it is not the self-reflexivity of the interviewer (or artist) that is foregrounded in order to give way to the agency of the interviewee but rather the artist finds an equation through which the interviewee can explore the grammar and logic of futurity of film itself. As Beloufa stated in artspace in reference to another work entitled LA Production (in which the artist worked with minority communities in Los Angeles who were each given the same budget to make a film of self- and collective representation),
In that way it’s a democratic movie, but I don’t believe in democracy. I just display what it means.
A trailer of Kempinski (2007) can be seen here.
Neïl Beloufa and the Palais de Tokyo imbroglio
Sometimes Beloufa’s subversions of exhibition, film and neoliberal logics fails, his circuit breaker trips: for his solo show “Les inoubliables prises d’autonomie” at Palais de Tokyo in 2012, he challenged himself to integrate the conditions of making the exhibition (the institution, the budget, the PR requirements, the communication) into the exhibition itself. Beloufa attempted to fashion a pirate economy out of the traditional events and practices involved in producing a medium-scale art exhibition. Yet the project didn’t quite work: Beloufa organised a party with around 700 people who were invited to destroy a set constructed by the artist with the idea that the people at the party would be working for free to create the artist’s materials.
The idea was that the drink sales of the party would generate the money needed to finance the work the artist would subsequently do with the materials destroyed in the party. From that money the artist thought he would have enough cash to bribe the director of Palais de Tokyo and attain an image of the bribe for display in the final exhibition. However, the artist ended up in debt. The institution were not allowed to sell the alcohol so there was a password system, which people began to understand and take advantage of. Most people at the party had been drinking for free, which meant that the artist had to repay the institution the money spent on the party. Speaking about the project to artspace the artist stated:
It was an attempt to create sustainable development from a corrupt, Facebook-style participation economy where people think they’re having fun while they’re actually working for me, and it was a complete failure.
Victor Wang’s curatorial research into retail display for “Soft(a)ware”
Beloufa’s exhibitions often integrate installation and film, embracing strategies of installation to challenge the authority of the black room/white screen theatrical convention and deny the lure of the cinematic or simply photogenic. He integrates and fragments his videos into environments littered with Plexiglas, plywood, foam walls and industrial materials. Precarious sculptures, pop-culture references and everyday objects become the frame and setting for his films. In an interview with Myriam Ben-Salah of Kaleidoscope magazine, Beloufa noted:
We’re in a world in which there is no more hierarchy between images, content, and sources. My shows should be a mess where you can decide what you want to look at.
Talking to Art Radar about the curatorial strategies employed in the current exhibition, curator Victor Wang explained:
I decided to divide the exhibition into three parts: ‘Life as Data’; ‘Real Estate’ and ‘Soft(a)ware’. Each section showcases earlier and newly commissioned artworks that are presented for the first time in China. These different exhibition stages explore how sovereignty and the digital interrelate under the pressure of technological expansion and the acceleration of neoliberalism and capitalism.
The curator further explained:
For example, the first space in the exhibition, ‘Life as Data’, we decided to show for the first time Beloufa’s work Data for Desire (2014), a video work where a group of mathematicians attempt to predict attraction and the actions and decisions of a group of people through mathematical formulas. A method increasingly used by corporations to track consumer choices and preferences, both online and offline. Because of this, I began to research retail display models, and how these systems of display could be incorporated into the exhibition – which gave rise to the current style of display you see in gallery one.
Neïl Beloufa’s work moves between the critical and the fatigued, the anti-authoritarian and the apathetic. As the artist moves between the two, he creates projects that successfully map the contours of the materials and grammars of systems of exploitation, currently couched in the vocabulary of software (that which we can’t see, as opposed to the visible hardware) and hidden in the language of clouds.
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