Ismaïl Bahri closely observes the details of everyday life in order to explore concepts of duration, scale and transformation.
Art Radar takes a look at some of the key themes of Ismaïl Bahri’s poetic work, on show at Jeu de Paume in Paris from 13 June to 24 September 2017.
The exhibition “Instruments” at Jeu de Paume in Paris includes a set of eight video works by Tunisian artist Ismaïl Bahri that track themes of movement from the intimate to large-scale landscapes. Bahri explains this process as
a gradual broadening […] like an opening going from a sealed chamber to the light, from the centre to diffuseness, from close observation of things to blank abstraction.
Paris-based Ismaïl Bahri (b. 1978) works with video as well as drawing, photography and installation. His practice focuses on everyday life and the interactions between basic elements. By shining attention on these details of life, such as a drop of water reacting to pulsing veins or the fibres in a sheet of paper becoming soaked in ink, Bahri tests them and endeavours to look at them from a different perspective. Through the close focus Bahri directs to everyday objects, he often takes them back to their basic shape, such as round, rectangular, cylindrical or flat.
This is a big year for Bahri, with his work included in the Sharjah Biennial and the IFFR Rotterdam International Film Festival. Previously he has exhibited at places such as the Centre d’art contemporain, the Espace Khiasma, the Ateliers de Rennes Biennale d’art contemporain and a previous exhibition at Jeu de Paume. His videos have been shown at a number of festivals, such as the FIDMarseille, the TIFF Toronto Film Festival and the NYFF New York Film Festival.
Attention on the everyday
It is perhaps not surprising, given Bahri’s focus on the objects in everyday life, that he also investigates the significance to the hand or touch. Hands are the connection between the person and the things in the world around them, and they communicate through a caress, a touch or through actions of protection (or violence). They are also ever present in the domestic sphere, a space of much interest to Bahri.
As exhibition curator Marie Bertran comments,
Ismaïl Bahri’s rigorous, delicate, condensed work is reminiscent of the haiku […] an attempt to share an emotion inspired by the transience of nature while, at the same time, encouraging reflection. Bahri’s work also seeks to celebrate impermanence and to sharpen our attention to the things that surround us.
Bahri is intrigued with themes of duration, scale and transformation and pays attention to the enigmatic details, capturing the mystery of his surroundings. As Jeu de Paume director Marta Gili observes,
Calmly and poetically, Bahri’s work touches on issues such as the awareness of the fragility of life and the fleetingness of passing time, the prejudices of the eye, the conductivity between ideas and emotions, the power of resistance and the porosity of boundaries.
Bahri’s work can be abstract and poetic, drawing on the other senses even through the visual medium of video. In Foyer for example, he walks the streets of Tunis with his camera lens covered by a piece of paper. The objective was to capture the lights of the streets, but through the process people approached him and started conversations about what he was doing. Through lack of clear images, these conversations became an intriguing and alternate view of the streets. The conversations reveal conditions of daily life there, with one person observing that in Tunisia “The sun burns us. Misery burns us. Drugs burn us. Prison burns us.”
This intersection of elements or senses is a familiar method in Bahri’s work. He is intrigued by “how one element actually shows what is happening to another”. In the piece Ligne, he uses water on a person’s skin to reveal the steady rhythm of blood flowing through veins. The water reveals an internal process that is otherwise invisible, and it is through movement that he often does this.
In another poetic musing on duration and scale, the film Source shows two hands holding a piece of paper that is gradually consumed by a glowing point that expands from the centre. The paper disappears, but so too does the growing circle, the two acting on one another until there is nothing left.
Bahri’s videos are often quite short, some no more than a few minutes, but their resonance extends beyond the simple action on the screen. Through this minimalistic approach, the viewer searches for symbols or signs as access points into the work, and at times Bahri withholds these clues until the last moments of a work. However, it is this very restraint that allows his poetic works to stay with the viewer and adjust their perception of the world around them.
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