The Curators of the French pavilion, Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, Interview artist Zineb Sedira on her upcoming Solo Presentation, Dreams have no titles, at the French Pavilion in Venice.
Having each other’s backs, the curator/artist friendship. The talk begins with the curators and the artist mentioning a working relationship and a friendship that included “conversations, dinners, laughters” going back to twelve years prior their work for the Venice Biennale. “When we started approaching the pavilion, we already had a really solid starting base and a great sense of trust”, reinforces Till Fellrath, and adds “our role as curators of this national pavilion is perhaps much more one of supporting you in creating this project, putting structures in place, and giving you that safe place to create the work that you need to create. It’s a very exposed exhibition, it’s a big solo project that comes with a lot of expectations” adds Sam Bardaouil. He then shows catalogues of previous exhibitions they worked on, as “a little evidence of all the crimes that we have committed together in the past” and the many different steps in their on-going conversation, which places their collaboration on the pavilion within a long process of exchange, nurturing, and being springboards for each other.
Multicultural representation and identity politics. “This question of ‘do I deserve representing France’ was an interesting one, because that was exactly the right thing to be doing, to show that the French pavilion can also be Algerian and can also be British as much as it can be French” says Sedira who was born in Paris to Algerian parents but has been living in London since a very long time (“I’m French, I’m British and I’m Algerian, also”). She mentions that there is no purity when it comes to identity in European demographics, and identity is not a fixed concept anymore. Of course the curators agree, Fellrath adds that it is true even for those who subscribe stronger to a single identity. (This openness is shared by a very large majority people in the art world, which unfortunately is not enough to stop the rise of populism in Europe, including in France at the moment).
Film as a medium, from personal to larger contexts. Sedira grew up going to the movies watching peplums, Egyptian movies, art and political movies, and retained the storytelling aspect of the medium and the power of sound. Overt time she explored several formats either involving real people or actors, and looking through the lenses of archives, documentation, militancy, biographies, interviews, humour, etc. She also highlights Algeria as a historical place of cinema, and mentions “The Battle of Algiers”, the film that won the Golden Lion at the 27th Venice International Film Festival in 1966. Fellrath acknowledges the larger political context of Venice then reorients Sedira towards more personal inspirations, how she has very lovely and warm parents (that the curators met) and how that relates to the subject of activism where in her work she departs from a personal point of view to describe wider political contexts (the Algerian war, the experience of immigration and so on)—“talking political via the personal” as she says. She also recalls her show at Jeu de Paume where she brought her entire living room into the exhibition.
We are family. Publication for the pavilion. The artist was the one who decided on the form of the publication for the pavilion, which she didn’t want to be a traditional end-of-show catalogue. Sam Bardaouil speaks about it, and shows the first issue, titled “Algiers, Forms of Desire”, one of the three journals/newspaper planned in lieu of catalogue that merge the world of cinema with curatorial and artistic discourse, understood in a wider sense and context. “The visual language of the issues of the journal is very much inspired and kind of appropriating the imagery of some of these militant journals or manifestos or reviews that were connected to film that were connected to music to Africa to festivals like the Pan-African festival and to certain biennales [in the 60s] that were starting to circulate in the region” says Bardaouil eagerly. The publication is in English and in French and will be presented during the biennale in a box, not unlike an archival box, and will include documentation of the artist’s research, rich contributions by voices from the artist’s “extended family”, i.e. friends and colleagues, with a central spread as a poster, and the inclusions of other voices who would give context to the general topics invoked in the show. “A very heterogeneous collection of texts, images, reprints, and reproductions” says Bardaouil who resumes the spirit of this three-part collaborative journal as one defined by solidarity and community, where artistic and intellectual voices, marginalised or discarded by colonial dynamics, are brought forth. A publication that is opening up towards larger narratives departing from a microcosm formed around Sidera’s practice.
This talk features curators Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, directors of the Hamburger Bahnhof and curators of the French pavilion for this year Vencie Biennale (along with Yasmina Reggad who wasn’t present during this talk). They interview the artist who is representing France at the Venice Biennale, Zineb Sedira, all the while trying to keep what the exhibition will be, a secret. (The conversation didn’t feature a Q&A session). Full talk on FIAC’s Youtube platform here.