Depth of Field
April 23rd – August 28th, 2016
Depth of Field, a solo exhibition by Mounir Fatmi, features a series of new work and site-specific installations created specifically for the grand opening of Labanque Bethune Contemporary Art Center.
The ghost of Georges Bataille haunts the exhibition, and connects the underlying themes found in the work presented: the powerlessness of language, the multitude of perceptions, and the divisions between the body, sex, history and religion. Depth of Field questions the relevance of looking at a work of art in a world full of violence and current media fascination.
Entering the exhibition, Mounir Fatmi questions our relationship with the sacred through the installation Commercial, in which bottles of holy water are stacked in shopping carts, ready for mass consumption.
In the absence of evidence to the contrary, an installation made up of dozens of neon lights hanging from the ceiling to the floor, bathes the viewer with light. Caught in a visual trap, the viewer's eye moves from one language to another, unable to focus on the words written across the neon lights. In The Paradox, Fatmi once again confronts the idea of the sacred. On this obsolete sharpening machine, religious text has now become just an abstract form, which cannot be read at all and has lost its sacred message, finding its critical soul and becoming a free form not associated with any concept.
The de-sacralisation of meaning and language continues in the room titled, Dead Language, where fragments of calligraphy are hanging on barbed wire, caught between two glass cabinets, and communicating with each other like ruins, which should be preserved. This muted violence is also present through sculptures, which rise up in front of the viewer, such as Defence 01. Originally intended to separate neighbouring apartments or homes, in this context these pointed, metal structures not only separate the work itself but also physically confronts the viewer.
In the series Evolution or Death, begun in 2004, eroticism and violence come together in one image. A heavy belt made of books, meant to suggest an explosive belt weighs on taut, naked bodies. Is it about violence or knowledge? Can knowledge serve as an escape from violence? In Archaeology, Fatmi presents a darker conclusion. The bones of two skeletons lie on the ground, a broom with a black banner pushes them against the wall. An excavation site or a battleground, the remains are there, the flesh is no more.
The sculpture The Dog's House, consists of a glass window held together by two blocks of stone. It stands alone as an architectural representation of the ruins of an entire civilization. Male and female genitals are carved in bas-relief onto the blocks of stone. The objects of fantasies, here the genitals are like the frozen remains of desire, they have become erotic myths. We Are Here – Confessions, a minimalist piece installed directly on the wall, represents the intercom of an imaginary building. Onto the intercom panels are the names of literary and artistic personalities who share an affinity with Georges Bataille around ideas of eroticism, obscenity, death, violence, cruelty, sadism and religion.
In the former bank vault, Fatmi has installed a series of four videos made between 2007 and 2016. In a sound piece made for the archive room, we hear the voices of men and women listing numbers of pages taken from the phantom book of Wittgenstein in random order.
The exhibition ends with the sculpture Dark Memory. VHS tapes, obsolete objects now doomed to extinction, have become a monument and seem to contain the memory of a dark past. The black film swamps the structure and forces us to look at everything that we want to hide or forget in our memories.
Through the violent nature of the work on view and its aggressive relationship to the viewer, in Depth of Field, Mounir Fatmi confronts ideas about the loss of language and the body.