Nicole Brénez : Mounir, can you tell us where your images come from, your discovery of video while in Morocco?
mounir fatmi: Where do the images come from? That's a good question. It's as if it was something within me. I always thought that images could only come from the inside. And of course they come from the brain. If we look at the image on the DVD cover... it's in the brain. It's inside the brain; something that escapes and that we try to let out. It always surprised and sometimes even horrified me: the images that leave and then we see them and they start to exist.
NB: From a western point of view, when we discover your films we are reassured by the existance of an radical arab avant-gare. Are you alone or is there a whole generation with you? What is the context of your artistic circle?
MF: But in relation to Moroccan culture, there really weren't any images. At home there was calligraphy, the king's photo, by the way until I was older I thought he was a member of the family, then I discovered it wasn't so, it was a nice picture in black and white, magnificent. Then there was the book, the Koran that we were not allowed to touch because we were never clean enough and as soon as we touched it, careful... I think that in relationship to Moroccan culture, I think it's that, a political image of someone that we must respect and of a book we can't touch because we're not clean enough. The images come between the two.
NB: This body of work that you've chosen to represent with Lowave for Hard Head follows 10 years, from 1999 to 2008. How would you characterize these past 10 years? What made you decide on these films?
MF: Creating these images was like making medicine, because there was a need for something to relieve pain. There was a need to create new images, almost like starting a fire to fight an existing fire or the fire that was out.
But the problem is when we make the medicine and test it on ourselves, it's terrible.
I will not show to anyone the first videos that I made. I was not a filmmaker, nor in a framework where I could show them. There were two or three videotapes in the house and I understood that my father thought that they were porn and he said that in any case it was a lost cause and that there was nothing to recover. The first time I showed them, it was an encounter in Casablanca with Marc Mercier. I saw an ad on television for the first video festival in Casablanca and so I left to meet Marc with my three tapes. I met him in a hallway, I remember, he had arrived with Jean-Paul Fargier and Gianni Totti. And I said, I want to show you something, I told him I was a video artist and he looked at me and I saw a big question mark in his blue eyes. We entered the room and I played the tapes, he watched them. He didn't say anything, such as I shouldn't have done this, and afterwards he told me : we are going to show them straight away. He entered the projection hall, we walked down, and there were probably about 300 people there. So in one afternoon I ended up showing my work and then talking about it. It was an overdose. In a single moment I found myself with people who were saying: ah that's interesting what you are doing, that it can exist.
NB: Amongst your films there is also the montage that you did with Scissors of censored scenes by Nabil Ayouch. Can you tell us about the process?
MF: Yes there was also this sort of filmmaking because Nabil Ayouch's film was censored in Morroco because of a certain erotic scene and he had a lot of problems, not only him but also the actors, and so at one point I thought of these images that were censured by these people that must have seen them, they had the right to se them in order to censor them, and so the equation came together in my head, so I said OK I will look at this images chosen by these people for the first time, so it was almost a collaborative effort.
NB: The whole of your work is characterized by the way you go from one medium to another with ease. Your discovery of video at flea markets is this a source of your creativity?
MF: It was the beginning of the 1980s, there were a lot of cameras that arrived at the flea markets, cameras that came from Europe and that worked more or less, with a white balance that didn't work or a technical problem that created a desired effect. I didn't have a camera and when I saw these cameras I became interested in format. There were several different formats: 8mm, super- 8, VHS, S-VHS... I didn't have the means and so I bought some tapes. So each time I would try out the tapes. It was a chance for me to try out the cameras. That was the image that I managed to create. But afterwards there was no way to watch them. I had several tapes like this. It took me a while to edit them. I found another way, it was still the early 1980s, the fashion for wedding films had just arrived in Morocco. There was an entire middle class and a bourgeoisie that started to discover wedding films. So there were some small studios that would edit. And that's were I started working on wedding films and every once in a while put a few images together. One of these films, I think it was Survival Signs, stayed in two parts for several years until I could finally assemble them in the wedding studio. So this impossibility of making images pushed me into making images like making films, tracking time, trying to cheat... and even now I don't film very much. I can create a one-hour tape from just a few seconds of filming. It's never the motions of life, they rarely interest me. If there's no emotion, I rarely film. I filmed a lot in Algers; I thought that the city was magnificent, almost like a white canvas. I was surprised to find myself taking out the camera and filming. Otherwise it's rate that I film a lot.
NB: Your film Manipulation, will be one of the most emblematic of its tim because it combines two antagonists. Religion, capitalism, and petroleum in a simple way in only a few minutes. How do you articulate these two fronts in words?
MF: Manipulation is an equation for video. The more and more complicated it became, the more beautiful it would be. It was in this sense; we had to start with something that was worrying and with lots of colors and that would finish with something even more stressful and dark. At the same time there was this question that came up, who's manipulating whom and why and how?
Everytime that there were these elements that came into the equation and that would draw itself and at one point this shape, manipulating this cube, this shape that is one of the oldest shapes in architecture.
NB: One of your brain's hemispheres all of a sudden explodes into multiple, diverse, and critical images. How did this happen? Did you need medicine?
MF: The fight, that's the word in fact. The fact that I always kept a very childish side. It's my childish side that dares confront God. It's not my adult side that's living through many things like other people that suffered and made others suffer. That side is rather rational; I can make it a strategy to tell myself how I can fight with God knowing that I won't win. But it's my childish side that has a hard head. That is really "I don't give a shit" and that does not easily accept things. Thus the question of God, because we cannot accept God and I even think that that God can't be happy if we accept him this way because God is a question that remains unanswered. And it's in this sense; it's about trying never to find him and go about in such a way that he can't ever find us. To stay like this lost in him and him in us, it's in this sense. The problem is now whether the question of God has escaped its religious context and into a political context. God has become a political project for some; we will soon see God people for president.
I don't think that there's a lot of us in the shadows and that's good because I think that the time it takes for things to change is interesting, but there are difficulties associated with living in the Arab Muslim world in general and that created this resistance, I will speak of resistance again, I swore to myself this morning that I would not longer speak of resistance, and here it comes.
Interview by Nicole Brenez, may 2008