mounir fatmi
• Heba Mostafa
• Marc Lenot
• Pierre-Yves Theler
• Régis Durand
• François Salmeron
• Ali Akay
• Thierry Raspail
• Lillian Davies
• Julie Crenn
• Megan Croutch
• Aoife Rosenmeyer
• Barbara Polla
• Hatice Ahsen Utku
• Laura U. Marks
• Paul Ardenne
• Jean de Loisy
• Ariel Kyrou
• Frédéric Bouglé
• Michèle Cohen Hadria
• Tarek El Haïk
• Marc Mercier
• Evelyne Toussaint
• Naomi Beckwith
• Marie Deparis
• Pierre-Olivier Rollin
• Thomas Flagel
• Leila Slimani
• Ma Zhong Yi
• Régis Durand & Barbara Polla
• Véronique Rieffel
• Oscar Gomez Poviña
• Jérôme Sans
• Axelle Blanc
• Michèle Cohen Hadria
• Nicole Brenez
• Christophe Gallois
Naomi Beckwith
Essai à l'occasion de Flow, exposition au Studio Museum Harlem, New York, janvier 2008.


Essai à l'occasion de Flow, exposition au Studio Museum Harlem, New York, janvier 2008.

Essay for the exhibition Flow, exhibition at the Studio Museum Harlem, New York, January 2008.  



Though he declared his own death as a painter in 1993 (not to be confused, mind you, with declaring the death of painting), Mounir Fatmi, who was born in 1970 in Tangiers, Morocco, has created a series of cityscape installations that barely exist beyond two dimensions—much like paintings. In his “Skyline” series, Fatmi arranges black VHS tapes on a wall in shapes vaguely reminiscent of the skylines of the cities in which they are presented, creating hybrid mural-sculptures. Fatmi further flattens the city-image in Save Manhattan 01, 02 and 03 (2005–2007) by arranging clusters of books, VHS tapes and speakers so that, when dimly lit, they cast shadows of the achingly familiar shape of the pre-2001 New York skyline. In her most recent book, architect and critic Anna Klingmann proposes a new way of looking at and conceiving of cities. Recognizing the need of municipalities and real estate developers to create iconic buildings, Klingmann proposes that skylines should no longer be seen as mere landscapes but as brandscapes—visual icons akin to logos that evoke memories for tourists and signify economic viability to investors. Before Klingmann wrote about the concept, Fatmi’s cityscapes—as evocative of Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s shadow play as they are of Nari Ward’s strong sense of materiality—were visual precursors to brandscapes, illustrating that urban life had diminished in relation to urban iconography. The “Skyline” series, in particular, are generic and indistinct; they are mere suggestions of “city-ness.” Viewers see whichever city we desire—most often the city in which the installation is located—just like a Rorschach test. Each new context becomes a new representation, emptied of its specific qualities. These cityscapes combine two significant features of Fatmi’s conceptual practice, which spans video, text, installation, sculpture and performance: that image-making is synonymous with object-making, and his insistence on the reiteration of work from site to site. Fatmi frequently and specifically uses media materials such as VHS tapes, books, speakers and coaxial cables uses to create cityscapes and other works. To make images, Fatmi strips these materials of their functions as repositories of, or conduits for, images and information. Thus his practice negotiates the necessity to create an image with an interrogation of the information contained in the image. This image-fabrication/interrogation process is best displayed in Fatmi’s 2001 Ovalproject, realized in the dense, suburban-Paris public housing complex Val Fourré. Rioting there in the early 1990s fueled the current xenophobic policies of Nicholas Sarkozy. Val Fourré’s largely immigrant residents, dissatisfied with their representation in the French media, collaborated with the artist to create radio and video broadcasts to be seen in France and in their respective native countries. On one hand, Ovalproject was an exchange with a homeland. On the other hand, it allowed immigrants to offer a counter-representation of themselves to their adopted home because, as Fatmi states in his writing on the project, “The immigrant does not have an image.” What does it mean to have a representation but no image? For Val Fourré residents, not having an image means exclusion from the political process. And what else is the most recognizable political image of the French people if not that of a strike? Whereas immigrants are represented politically by the riot—violence and chaos, as opposed to the supposed order and solidarity of a strike. But violence and chaos have been critical to the development of French democracy. Fatmi’s Double Strategy (2007), a pile of crutches in a corner belligerently aimed at the viewer like rifles, recalls the barricades of France’s second revolution. Double Strategy, as a title, hints at language games operating in Fatmi’s work. Like Marcel Broodthaers, Fatmi uses materials as metaphors, only to then subvert the metaphors. Crutches are for support; their display as weapons is designed to disrupt our perception of their meaning. I consider this practice a mode of reiteration. Fatmi’s works exist on multiple linguistic registers or under the same title in multiple guises. In the “Skyline” series, site or context gains significance. Subjects and objects have different lives in different places. The horse-jumping poles used in Fatmi’s “Obstacles” series since 2003 have been mobilized in twenty different versions of one work. And when they are painted in stars and stripes, such as in I like America, tribute to Jacques Derrida (2007), they evoke Joseph Beuys’s performance as a stranger in a strange land. This work, however, lacks Beuys’s self-assured rejoinder, “. . . and America likes me,” as if the matter is still up for question. Whether America likes “me” is an immigrant’s question. Fatmi’s installations show personal concern for the political image of the immigrant and mimic the immigrant condition—when one moves from one place, he or she takes on a new image, a new mode of representation. Fatmi recognizes that the immigrant’s condition, which he also inhabits, and makes it a productive aesthetic model.

Naomi Beckwith, January 2008

Catalogue essay from Flow, collective show at the Studio Museum Harlem, New York, 2008.

Anna Klingmann, Brandscapes: Architecture in the Experience Economy (Cambridge, Massachusettes: The MIT Press, 2007).