artcore journal

artcore journal

Home: An Imagined Place in the Work of Yael Bartana, Nari Ward, and Zineb Sedira by Erin Dziedzic

It is, therefore, a source of great virtue for the practised mind to learn, bit by bit, first to change about invisible and transitory things, so that afterwards it may be a able to leave them behind altogether. The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong man has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his. –Hugo of St. Victor[i]

The idea of ones home is often thought of as a determined site—a point of origin or an ideal, destined place to settle—and located within the greater context of a homeland, country, or geographical region. These nodals, or intersection points, lie within in a network of varied periphery distinctions that are identified as modes of territorialization or regionalization and power.[ii] Home becomes synonymous with an identity articulated through a preeminent nationalism. These restrained aspects of territoriality and nationalism perpetuate a conception of home that is linear, relying heavily on the chronological distinctions of cultural identity imbedded in a historical past. This linearity stifles ontological critiques of the concept of home situated rather precariously between nationalism and exile in an exilic state. This essay will consider an expanded concept of home in contemporary art—one that embodies an intertextuality of being through visual critiques and explores varying degrees of exile and immigration—to serve as a deterritorializing counterpoint to a homogenized notion of home, a topic addressed throughout this issue of artcore journal.

This essay focuses on works by artists Yael Bartana, Nari Ward and Zineb Sedira, who each explore notions of unsettled nationalism through the guise of real and imagined perceptions of home in their work. Using individual modes of recontextualizing place, these artists critique the nationalistic constraints of home and create imagined realms of placelessness. In this way, they represent expanded, intertextual concepts of home that function in the interstices between nationalism and identity to inform and constitute one another in the present.[iii]

The first work that will be examined is …And Europe Will Be Stunned, a video installation by Israeli-born Bartana. In this three-part series, she explores a utopian idealization of home that centers on a reunion between Poles and Jews in Poland. By proposing this union, Bartana attempts to interlace national ideations and exilic ironies as part of her prospect for envisioning a hybrid identity for Jews and Poles in Poland. Next, this essay will review ways in which Jamaican-born Nari Ward, who recently became a U.S. citizen, reconciles images and memory from Jamaica and other urban landscapes by appropriating materials from disparate locations to form a hybridized space. In his most recent solo exhibition, Sub Mirage Lignum, at MASS MoCA, Ward created new sculpture and video works that reflect on experiences of emigration. Lastly, Paris-born Zineb Sedira’s filmic works explore exile by using movement as a central theme, orbited by her personal experiences of living between cultures and traditions, Sedira channels personal occurrences of divergent languages and geographical barriers into universal explorations of cultural identity and homeland, mediated by nationalistic tendencies and exilic experiences. A shared, deterritorialization of home emerges from these artists’ oeuvres; their investigations of the notions of home resonate with nomadic, restless, and transitory themes; their concepts and works imbued with burgeoning potentialities and imagined prospects for new perceptions of home and homeland.

Marxist theory elevated time to the apex of social being. Karl Marx’s assertion—time over space in union with history—forged a deep divide between ontological considerations of space and time. This fissure contributed to the homogenized view of space, one predicated on materialism, capitalism, and expressions of political and idealized power.[iv] In Postmodern Geographies, theorist Edward W. Soja examines the ontological and epistemological existence of space as a transformative process, reasserting space and time beyond the paradigm of ideological historicisms. Soja reflects the sentiments that French philosopher Michel Foucault expressed in a 1967 lecture stating, “The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space.”[v] Moving further from Marx’s ideological separation of space and time, Foucault continues to address that “We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed.”[vi] Foucault concedes to release space from the single dimension of time by stating “We are at a moment when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skein.”[vii]

French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, transitions space even further into an ontological realm by considering our states of being in space, where the creation, existence, and dissolving of space parley with those who move through it. He states that “space is what is at once created and exhausted or annihilated in the creation of an event,” which counteracts the tendency of Deleuze’s predessesor, Henri Bergson to position the existence of space only to its nonexistence.[viii] Deleuze critiques Bergson’s division of duration and space further by positing that, “duration is always the location and the environment of differences in kind; it is even their totality and multiplicity,” extending space beyond being simply a location.[ix] Instead of space being recognized only as a place—constituted exclusively by its measured area, unaffected by existential interaction, and abandoned by a traveler, or what Deleuze determines as an ‘any-space-whatever,’—a conception of home is more fully understood as an in-between space, one which functions in a state of ‘difference’ or is activated by infinite dialogue and perception, thus making space an active realm imbued with infinite potentiality.[x] Literary and cultural theorist Edward W. Said’s thorough examination of the dialectic between nationalism and exile in Reflections on Exile delves into the exile experience as a way of more fully envisioning a pluralistic notion of home.[xi]

Israeli filmmaker and artist, Yael Bartana, attempts to reconcile the exilic experience and form a new utopian vision of home in her film trilogy, …And Europe Will Be Stunned (2007-2011). In the films, Bartana asks Jews and Poles to not only return to the nation of Poland, but to also adopt a combined Israeli and Polish nationalism, and does this by filming imagined events that convey the utopian prospect of Jews returning to Poland, where the people from both nations work together, mourn together, and combine their efforts and experience to built a unified nation.

Yael Bartana, Mur i Wieża, 2009, RED transferred to HD, Color/ Sound, duration 15 min. Courtesy Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam and Sommer Contemporary, Tel Aviv

Yael Bartana, Mur i Wieża, 2009, RED transferred to HD, Color/ Sound, duration 15 min. Courtesy Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam and Sommer Contemporary, Tel Aviv

Despite her vision for a utopian union between cultures, Bartana is conscious of the historical and contemporary social setbacks in Poland that present a challenge. However, by implying an imagined reunion between Poles and Jews in Poland, Bartana hones in on the potential within these utopian ideas. Bartana puts herself in the position of speaking on behalf of exiled Jews. In the then-fictional, and now very much put into practice both artistically and politically manifesto of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP) that accompanies the films, she writes: “We want to return! Not to Uganda, not to Argentina or to Madagascar, not even to Palestine. It is Poland that we long for, the land of our fathers and forefathers. In real-life and in our dreams we continue to have Poland on our minds.”[xii] Although Said sees such “reconstitutive projects” of attempting to assemble nations out of exile as potential self-assertions that dominate over a general concern for positive ethnicity, there are instances within Bartana’s films which weigh more heavily on her expressions of an alternative vision of home; not an indication of institutionalized nationalism but investigations of new potential modes of coexistence.[xiii]

In the first film of the trilogy, Mary Koszmary (Nightmares) (2007), a young Polish man leads the renaissance movement with a powerful and concise plea to the Jews: return to Poland. In the second film, Mur i Wieża (Wall and Tower) (2009), Bartana envisions a community being rebuilt and rejuvenated by Jews and Poles. And in the third installment, Zamach (Assassination) (2011), Bartana continues to merge the real and imagined by interlacing historical tropes and the utopian vision presented in the first two films to create an unsettled and enigmatic vision of home. Throughout the trilogy, she continually questions the mythic, and utopian concepts of home and homeland, which permeate as fragile and impermanent idealized locations, realized only as a possibility or even a dream.

Moving throughout the film trilogy, Bartana presents prospects for change amidst the dialectic of nationalism and exile, using a fictional idea to shift towards a new concept of how we perceive home. Sławomir Sierakowski (b. 1979), a contemporary Polish left-wing activist plays the protagonist; portraying a fictional leader who guides the mission of the movement within the series. Rivka, a fictional, ghost-like female figure navigates amongst scenes throughout the trilogy. As a symbol of liminal space, she emphasizes the condition of second-and third-generation exiled Jews, whose situation is that of a perpetual impermanence. Bartana utilizes Rivka as a way to critique Zionism’s possession of the ghosts of Jews, who were thought to have been killed, and kept in a memorial in Jerusalem. The accompanying manifesto for the JRMiP states, “We are revivifying the early Zionist phantasmagoria. We reach back to the past—to the world of migration, political and geographical displacement, to the disintegration of reality as we knew it—in order to shape a new future.”[xiv] In Bartana’s films, a newly unified group assembled of second-and third-generation Jews and Poles are shown gathering, working, and mourning together.

In the first film, Mary Koszmary (Nightmares), Sierakowski delivers an arresting call to the Jews in an abandoned and dilapidated Warsaw Olympic Stadium shouting, “Let the three million Jews that Poland has missed… return to Poland, to your country.”[xv] The determination in his voice recalls painful sentiments of the past, such as the authoritarian declarations broadcast by fascist leaders from totalitarian propaganda films of the early 20th Century. However, his words acknowledge the absence of millions of Jews that were killed and exiled during and after WWII, while simultaneously conveying a message imbued with hope. Bartana’s message draws our attention to a precipice of possibility not yet realized: a notion of home that exists in-between and engaged, amidst national history and exilic memory.

Yael Bartana, Mary Koszmary, 2007, 16mm film transferred to DVD, color/sound, duration 10' 50". Produced with support from Hermès and Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw. Courtesy Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam

Yael Bartana, Mary Koszmary, 2007, 16mm film transferred to DVD, color/sound, duration 10′ 50″. Produced with support from Hermès and Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw. Courtesy Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam

Bartana’s series captivates in redefining a generation of people within a country that stands upon a homogenized foundation. Sierakowski delivers this message for change and lets it linger throughout the film series and after. Bartana instills a burgeoning potential within this proposal for the reunification of nations, torn from one another through exile and death. Homi Bhabha expresses this interlude of uncertainty and unhinged variables as “moments where the private and public touch in contingency.”[xvi] “They do not simply transform the content of political ideas; the very ‘place’ from which the political is spoken—the public sphere itself, becomes an experience of liminality which questions what it means to speak ‘from the centre of life.”[xvii] Bhabha provokes us to question what is the center of our life, where does it resonate from, and whether the establishment of a physical location has significant bearing on our national, cultural, and/or political progress.

In the second film, Mur i Wieża (Wall and Tower), Bartana fuses sentiments of irony and the uncanny to emphasize the liminal prospects of joining nationalistic and exilic lives and experiences into one location. Jewish and Polish actors and participants are dressed as Jewish immigrants to Palestine from the 1930s. Together, they build a fictional settlement located in a park on the actual site of the former Warsaw Ghetto. The tallest structure raised within this fabricated village is a tower that resembles a Nazi concentration camp watchtower. Here, Bartana’s film works in a Deleuzian mode of repetition and difference as Adrian Parr explains, to articulate “a power of the new” where these historicizing images “call forth a terra incognita” or expression of unknown territory “filled with a sense of novelty and unfamiliarity”.[xviii] Accompanied by Bhabha’s notion of the unhomely, where “private and public, past and present, the psyche and the social develop an interstitial intimacy that questions the binary divisions through which such spheres of social experience are often spatially opposed,” and help us envision ways in which this series projects a transitory notion of home.[xix]

Yael Bartana, Mur i Wieża, 2009, RED transferred to HD, Color/ Sound, duration 15 min. Courtesy Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam and Sommer Contemporary, Tel Aviv

Yael Bartana, Mur i Wieża, 2009, RED transferred to HD, Color/ Sound, duration 15 min. Courtesy Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam and Sommer Contemporary, Tel Aviv

The final film, Zamach (Assassination), is ironically the most idyllic in terms of Bartana transitioning the fictional mission of the JRMiP into reality. As Hugo of St. Victory expressed in his poem at the beginning of this essay, one cannot reach perfection or an ideal home until it is understood as an enigmatic concept that may perhaps exist within us. The assassination of Sierakowski’s character reinforces the condition of home as a placeless, exhausted, or absent realm. By having the final stage of the film series represent a gathering to honor the death of Sierakowski, Bartana raises further questions concerning the next steps for this fictional mission. Primarily, whether it is even possible to unite nationalism and exile to create a new conception of home. In this questioning, Bartana’s practice reveals that this utopian idea has yet to be fulfilled, and for now, home maintains a boundless, evasive, and limitless presence.

Yael Bartana, Zamach, 2011, RED transferred to HD, Color/ sound, duration 35.00 min. The film was commissioned by Artangel, Outset Contemporary Art Fund, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, The Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, The Netherlands Filmfunds, Zachta National Gallery of Art.

Yael Bartana, Zamach, 2011, RED transferred to HD, Color/ sound, duration 35.00 min. The film was commissioned by Artangel, Outset Contemporary Art Fund, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, The Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, The Netherlands Filmfunds, Zachta National Gallery of Art.

Bartana’s proposed revival of a diaspora culture in … And Europe Will Be Stunned unfolds in an uncanny aesthetic; reaching toward defining a concept of home by employing a performative fiction that ironically seems all to real or possible, where there are still many questions that arise and currently remain unanswered. Said confirms the slippery slope in Bartana’s attempt to unite peoples. He sees home, like exile, as a discontinuous state of being; and since nationalism—which is an asserted condition rooted in a fixed place—is intrinsically tied to exile “the prospect of reassembling an exile’s broken history into a new whole is virtually unbearable, and virtually impossible in today’s world.”[xx] The question of whether this artistic social fiction can transition into social fact was discussed by Daniel Miller, acting Deputy Director of the JRMiP at the Spielart Festival in Munich.[xxi] Bartana’s project encourages this question, over and over again. Henceforth, supporting the notion that the dislocated status of home continues to vibrate between the dialectics of nationalism and exile, whether in fiction or reality.

At this juncture it is important to note that although anyone forbidden from returning home is an exile, there are “distinctions that can be made between exiles, refugees, expatriates and émigrés.[xxii] Expatriates and emigrants typically transition to a new country by choice, yet Said notes that even though they “may share in the solitude and estrangement of exile, they do not suffer under its rigid proscriptions.[xxiii] Taking a closer look at Jamaica-born, New York-based artist Nari Ward’s works the unique complexities in his visions of home through transitions of memory, material, and place, while keeping exilic distinctions in mind, also present an unsettled notion of home.

Ward emigrated from Jamaica to Brooklyn at the crucial age of twelve, a vulnerable time where one’s memories are fragile and can take on alternate perceptions at a later age. Ward explains that his work is often a result of the urge to situate memories of the past in present life.[xxiv] This idea is similar to the Deleuzian concept of ‘memory’ as Ward “sees the process of making the work as aligned with experiencing a movie,” since he was “thinking of creating a world which could exist between the space of memory and invention.”[xxv] In many ways, Ward attempts to harmonize national identity with his experiences as an emigrant through sculptural installations that conjure a mythical resonance of home. In the recent exhibition, Sub Mirage Lignum, Ward assembles visualizations of memories, history, and place as an imagined view of home in the present.

Ward gleans materials from disparate places that recall an historical past; he makes objects and exhibitions both with great consideration and specificity in his choice of materials and sites. He feels an overpowering need to engage and connect physically with the work for extended periods of time, which he mentions is a method that reflects the work ethic instilled in him by his mother.[xxvi] Interestingly, Said mentions in his essay, “Reflections on Exile,” since exiles spends such an incredible amount of time and effort “compensating for disorienting loss by creating a new world to rule,” that they often take up occupations, such as novelists, chess players, and intellectuals, which “requires a minimal investment in objects and places.”[xxvii] Ward’s emigrant experience, however, has provided him with a more profound connection to physical materials, which predominantly informs his art making practice.

Ward’s way of recollecting the binary oppositions of nationalism and emigration—rather than exile—in his experiences is to present works that marry these divergent aspects of his life within a present context. The magnificently sprawling work, Nu Colossus (2011), is comprised of two objects. The first, a massively-scaled cornucopia-like form that represents the small minnow traps found throughout fishing villages in Jamaica that rests monumentally on the floor in conversation with the second, an elevated Chris Craft boat from the 1950s that Ward found in nearby Williamstown, Massachusetts, which ‘floats’ nearby, elevated by large plexi-glass sheets. Together, these objects signify an intertextual conception of home, which joins polemic signifiers of national/cultural identity and the exilic/emigrant experience.

Nari Ward, Nu Colossus, 2011, boat, metal, wood, metal chimney, copper drum, furniture, plexiglas and rubber roofing membrane, 720 x 336 x 168 inches (approximately) 1828.8 x 853.4 x 426.7 cm. In collaboration with MassMoCA North Adams, MA. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York

Nari Ward, Nu Colossus, 2011, boat, metal, wood, metal chimney, copper drum, furniture, plexiglas and rubber roofing membrane, 720 x 336 x 168 inches (approximately) 1828.8 x 853.4 x 426.7 cm. In collaboration with MassMoCA North Adams, MA. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York

In the gallery at MASS MoCA where these works were first shown, the colossal objects face one another, creating an ontological juxtaposition that leaves the viewer exposed and existing literally and metaphorically in-between. Pairing the wide-open abyss of the mouth of the minnow trap and the depiction of the boat elevated above the viewer, Ward’s works suggest movement and passage that are inherently exilic. Amidst this perplexingly transient environment and the evocations of memory and history that these objects recall, Ward’s exhibition invites viewers to consider aspects of the work that illuminate the liminality of the concept of home.

Nari Ward, Nu Colossus, 201, boat, metal, wood, metal chimney, copper drum, furniture, plexiglas and rubber roofing membrane, 720 x 336 x 168 inches (approximately) 1828.8 x 853.4 x 426.7 cm. In collaboration with MassMoCA North Adams, MA. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York

Nari Ward, Nu Colossus, 201, boat, metal, wood, metal chimney, copper drum, furniture, plexiglas and rubber roofing membrane, 720 x 336 x 168 inches (approximately) 1828.8 x 853.4 x 426.7 cm. In collaboration with MassMoCA North Adams, MA. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York

All of the works in Sub Mirage Lignum are complex, intertextual, and inventive objects, mediated by memory, history, and the present, and underpin an interstitial sensibility of home. Ward states that the challenge for him is in “translating the mental stream, which is rich in reflection and visual undertow, into physical reality,” which becomes what he refers to as metaphors of transformation. [xxviii] This idea is particularly illustrated a work like Mango Tourist (2011) where a series of ten, ten-foot tall snowmen-like figures, made from long rectangular pieces of yellow foam that are bent, layered, and entwined with one another, suggest visual associations that resonate with Jamaica and North Adams and are made to alter the space in which they presently exist. The way in which the foam is intertwined resembles the complex woven patterns of highway interchanges that are synonymous with movement and redirection. Their bulbous snowmen-like shapes originated from Ward’s memories of hearing childhood stories of massive snowstorms in the U.S. These aspects combined, Ward’s Mango Tourist elicit shifts between memory and invention and embodying themes of movement, passage, transition, and change through interwoven, complex exchanges of material and metaphors of conductivity.

Nari Ward, Mango Tourist, 2011, foam, battery canisters, Sprague Electric Company resistors and capacitors, mango pits, 8 figures, each approximately 120 inches. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York

Nari Ward, Mango Tourist, 2011, foam, battery canisters, Sprague Electric Company resistors and capacitors, mango pits, 8 figures, each approximately 120 inches. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York

Each Mango Tourist is embellished with several battery canisters and Sprague Electric Company resistors and capacitors acting as metaphors for adaptive energy. The Sprague Electric Company (1942-85) existed at the site where MASS MoCA now resides, and is most known for creating the “capacitor,” which is a small mechanism that synchronizes film technology by temporarily holding, then releasing a high voltage electric charge.[xxix] By applying these “capacitors” to the large snowmen-like forms Ward is in a sense metaphorically infusing their otherwise static bodies with symbolic bursts of energy. There are also large, roughly textured mango pits from Ward’s home country of Jamaica tucked sporadically and snugly into spaces within the network of packed foam. The placement of mango seeds into the foam bodies acknowledges a sense of history and origin, while their location set outside of their native country simultaneously alludes to aspects of transition and migration. Imbued with materials and metaphors of the past and the present, Ward transforms the Mango Tourist characters into harbingers of energy and potentiality that neither have a fixed location nor a point of origin.

Ward’s works help us to arrive at a notion of home that is not predicated upon one centralized location. Instead, he represents a hybridity, a difference ‘within’, a subject that inhabits the rim of what Bhabha refers to as an ‘in-between’ reality.[xxx] For instance, in Ward’s films Jaunt (2011)and Sweater (2011), the subject of water facilitates notions of malleability and movement. In both films, Ward uses the visual reference of a frame to highlight water’s resistance to contained spaces. Jaunt is divided into two scenes. The first is of Ward framed within a car wash bay in North Adams and spraying water into the sunlight, where exploding drops of mist scatter beyond the bounds of the built structure. In the following scene, a fisherman in Jamaica rhythmically glides a square wooden box-like frame with a glass bottom over the surface of the ocean, creating a tiny movable window that allows him and the viewer visual access below the water. In each mirage, Ward poetically gestures to a fluid condition of space. The uncontainable water works to articulate fluidity within the context of location, reminding us that our individual cadence, rhythms, and experiences are created and dissipate in the interstices of these spaces.

In Sweater, Ward’s body represents the frame. Sweat droplets develop, quickly swell, disburse over the surface of his skin, and eventually fall away. The body’s osmotic frame represented by the surface of his skin stresses the malleability, transformative, and uncontainable condition of water. Ward mentions that the surface of his body becomes the frame and the production of sweat droplets take on the performative aspect. By using the subject of water in these two films, Ward emphasizes the fluidity of space, inferring that it exists as an infinitely malleable process, and not just a material. The intangibility of memory and consistent employment of transformative materials that make up Ward’s oeuvre underscores the overarching sensibility of a vibrating space of home.

While Ward is largely concerned with evoking perceptions of home through memory and history and their direct or indirect relation to objects, London-based artist Zineb Sedira uses a process of layering memory and history that reflects on the concepts of home and homeland through experiences of exile and identity. Born in 1963 in Paris, France, to Algerian immigrant parents, Sedira was educated and now resides in London, England. In her film and video works, Sedira utilizes her own personal experiences to underpin universal questions concerning the formation of ones identity through history, culture, and geography.

Using two different film styles—documentary and French cinema—Sedira infuses poetic sentimentality to create concise visual imagery that wavers between real and imagined spaces. She evokes a sense of unsettled identity using visual negotiations between memory and invention, reality and myth, and absence and presence, ultimately arriving at universal notions of a transformative perception of home.

Sedira’s films elucidate the experiences of lingering between a past and present that are consumed by the conditions of exile. In her early documentary-style films, she illuminates personal experiences of a second-generation exile with storytelling devices and conversational techniques. These methods demonstrate the varying degrees of disconnect that occur through generational shifts and successive migrations. By using personal experiences of exilic conditions Sedira traces the universal impact that it has on identity via a home or homeland.

For example, in Mother Tongue (2002), presented as a three screen installation, Sedira shows three consecutive generations of women in her family attempting to converse with one another in their respective “mother tongues.” In the first scene, Sedira speaks in French to her mother who responds in Arabic; in the second, Sedira speaks in French to her daughter who responds in English; and in the third scene, Sedira’s daughter speaks in English to her Arabic speaking grandmother. Sedira says that lack of communication in Mother Tongue is also a way of conveying meaning. She explains,

“My mother never learned French properly because she wanted to show her rejection of the French language and behavior after the war of independence, even though she and my father lived in France for economic reasons–North African immigrants were used as cheap labor. They experienced a lot of racism, and my parents felt a sense of failure that they had to bring up their children in that culture. They were angry that the French had managed to divide their Arab identity too, setting Algerians against each other by giving French citizenship to Algerian Christians and Jews but not Muslims, so that Arabs and Algerians would turn against each other.”[xxxi]

Said’s essay “Reflections of Exile” sympathizes with this shared experience. In it he wrote, “we take home and language for granted; they become nature, and their underlying assumptions recede into dogma and orthodoxy. The exile knows that in a secular and contingent world, homes are always provisional.”[xxxii] The verbal communication between each of the women progressively breaks down as the generation gap visible in these films widens. It seems as though Sedira and her mother catch moments where they understand one another, but by the time we arrive at the third dialogue, between Sedira’s mother and daughter, it is clear that they do not understand one another at all. Their ability to interface through language diminishes as their body language becomes more pronounced. At several moments throughout the third vignette, where Sedira’s mother and daughter attempt to converse, there are frequent looks of confusion that progressively glean over their faces, and in many instances they look back at Sedira who is behind the camera with expressions that call for assistance; Sedira becomes the language connection between the disparate generations of grandmother and granddaughter. Perhaps more vividly, Sedira represents the transitional figure between amongst varying iterations of the notion of home.

Zineb Sedira, Mother Tongue, 2002, A - Mother and I (France), B – Daughter and I (England), C – Grandmother and Granddaughter (Algeria), video-projections on screens, 5 min (each. video) © Zineb Sedira. Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris

Zineb Sedira, Mother Tongue, 2002, A – Mother and I (France), B – Daughter and I (England), C – Grandmother and Granddaughter (Algeria), video-projections on screens, 5 min (each. video) © Zineb Sedira. Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris

Their gazes extend beyond the bounds of the monitor’s frame. Like the visual framing techniques that Ward constructed, the monitor’s showing Mother Tongue are no longer able to function as a contained units within the dimensions of the screen. As dialogue dissolves, the subtle glances from each of the women projecting out into the viewing space, syncopate with the viewer in the present. The subtle audible and visual slippages in communication throughout Mother Tongue evoke the transitional and unsettled experiences of residing in the interstices of exile through generation, successive migration, culture, and tradition that inherently destabilize a sense of origin.

Zineb Sedira, Mother Tongue, 2002, C – Grandmother and Granddaughter (Algeria), video-projections on screens, 5 min (each. video) © Zineb Sedira. Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris

Zineb Sedira, Mother Tongue, 2002, C – Grandmother and Granddaughter (Algeria), video-projections on screens, 5 min (each. video) © Zineb Sedira. Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris

In 2004, Sedira returned to Algeria from France after a fifteen-year absence during the civil war. At that time, she made a poignant shift in her oeuvre, which greatly affected both the content and context of her video works. She revisited locations that were both familiar and unfamiliar to her and began filming the landscape of Algiers, particularly in the Southern region where the Mediterranean Sea divides France from Algeria. She continues to focus on this area and body of water as a way of expounding on more universal, rather than primarily personal, examinations of exile and identity.

Her subjects transitioned from close family members to films that depict imagery of the Mediterranean Sea from the opposite coasts of France and Algeria. These—along with films capturing moving ships, panning scenes of the coast, and anonymous figures—have become new metaphors for contemporary issues of exile. Adopting a filmic quality rather than an experimental and documentary approach that she used in earlier pieces like Mother Tongue, Sedira hones in on the concept of movement to stimulate ideas of transitional spaces.

The concept of movement perpetuates fluidity, unrest, and passage in Sedira’s newest films and provokes a sense of unrest that substantiates an unsettled and broadened notion of home. American art critic and theorist Rosiland Krauss described the uncategorized nature of sculpture in the expanded field as an “infinitely malleable” condition. The depiction of water in various states of movement found throughout many of Sedira’s works since 2004, acts as a metaphor for the “infinitely malleable” condition of the notion of home and/or homeland. Sedira’s personal experiences of exile have inspired this theme in her work, which form the substructure of her continued investigations of universal perceptions of home.

A poignant example of this is in Sedira’s film MiddleSea (2008), a concise sequence of shorter and longer duration still shots depicting shorelines, a body of water, and a man inside a boat. Sedira’s choice to film in the Mediterranean region and body of water represented in MiddleSea is specific and intentional. She shows the Balearic Sea that touches the coastlines of both France and Algeria. This body of water represents the spatial, national, social, and geographical divide between France and Algeria, is a symbol of the condition of the terminal loss of identity through exile, and is personally significant to Sedira.

Zineb Sedira, MiddleSea, 2008, video-projection, sound, film super 16 mm,16/9, 16 min, Vues de l’exposition “Shipwreck : The Death of a Journey”, kamel mennour, Paris © Zineb Sedira Photo Marc Domage. Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris

Zineb Sedira, MiddleSea, 2008, video-projection, sound, film super 16 mm,16/9, 16 min, Vues de l’exposition “Shipwreck : The Death of a Journey”, kamel mennour, Paris © Zineb Sedira Photo Marc Domage. Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris

The ways in which Sedira attempts to reclaim or question the conditions of exile are manifested in her filmic depictions of movement in spaces that combine real and invented visual sequences. The changing scenes in MiddleSea are infused with movement that takes place within a projected frame. In one scene, Sedira shows a still, hushed surface of the sea foregrounding a hazy, vibrating horizon line that intersects horizontally over glass-like waters. In the next, there is violent churning water that spits out from behind a moving vessel. Amidst these scenes that show the varying intensities of the water’s movement, Sedira pauses on moments within the ship’s cold and static interior for elongated periods. She suspends these intermittent still-frame shots so that we can see that movement caused by vibrations from the boats engine, as well as a lone male figure that passes quietly throughout the ship impregnates the spaces. These harbingers of movement recall exilic conditions emphasized by the sensations of unsettlement amidst collective imagined memories and history.

Floating Coffins (2009) comprises a series of fourteen various sized LCD screens, which are set at different heights spanning three adjacent walls of a gallery. The viewer is situated in between the screens to experience a quasi-panoramic view. Each screen shows varying angles and perspectives of mammoth, decaying trade vessels that rest atop ocean sands like enormous beached whales. Like Ward’s inanimate relic ship, the immobile vessels only signify, rather than literally exempilfy passage and movement. Sedira creates movement by continually changing the views on multiple screens. In addition, unlike Ward’s mounted boat, Sedira’s static vessels are accompanied by waves of birds and of ocean tides in situ that perpetuate constant motion. These visual elements are also infused by the sounds of trains, motorbikes, and cars racing past at high speeds, providing added emphasis to active transition and movement. Despite having visual and audio stimulation staging an assault of emotive stimuli on the body, viewers may also experience waves of presence and absence, or feeling simultaneously located and displaced as images and sounds continuously appear and disappear. This echoes Said’s reflections on the absence and presence of home where “plurality of vision gives rise to an awareness of simultaneous dimensions, an awareness that— to borrow a phrase from music—is contrapuntal” or counterpoint, which positions home in an exilic state, locked in a perpetual state of transition, and situated between notions of nationalism and exile that permeate throughout Sedira’s oeuvre.[xxxiii]

Bartana, Ward, and Sedira do not depict exile in their multimedia works, but instead share in an exploration of the inevitable impossibilities of identifying a static home or homeland, an exhaustive and extinguishable state where “expression or activity in the new environment inevitably occur against the memory of these things in another environment,” infinitus.[xxxiv]

Erin Dziedzic is the founder/editor of artcore journal and curator at the Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art.


[i] Hugo of St. Victor quoted in Edward W. Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, 2000), 185.

[ii] Edward W. Soja, Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (Verso: London, New York, 1989), 149.

[iii] Edward W. Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, 2000), 176.

[iv] Soja, Postmodern Geographies, 119.

[v] Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” translated by Jay Miskoweic, Diacritics Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring, 1986): 22.

[vi] Ibid., 22.

[vii] Ibid., 22.

[viii] Tom Conley, “Space,” in The Deleuze Dictionary edited by Adrian Parr (Columbia University Press: New York, 2005), 257.

[ix] Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Zone Books: New York, 1991), 32.

[x] Gilles Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco (University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 1997) 165.

[xi] Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays,186.

[xii] The Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP): A Manifesto. http://labiennale.art.pl/en/texts/item/133-the-jewish-renaissance-movement-in-poland-a-manifesto. Accessed Feb. 19, 2012. From the website of the 54th Venice Biennale.

[xiii] Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays,184.

[xiv] The Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP): A Manifesto.

[xv] Words spoken in Polish and translated into English subtitles in Bartana’s first film, Mary Koszmary (Nightmares), 2007.

[xvi] Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (Routlege: London and New York, 1994): 21.

[xvii] Ibid., 21.

[xviii] Adrian Parr, “Repetition” in The Deleuze Dictionary edited by Adrian Parr (Columbia University Press: New York, 2005): 224.

[xix] Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 19.

[xx] Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, 178.

[xxi] Daniel Miller, acting Deputy Director of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland spoke at a talk called “we shall be strong in our weakness” for the Social Fictions III programming as part of the Spielart Festival in Munich, Apr. 4, 2011. He was speaking on behalf of Yael Bartana who was unable to attend.

[xxii] Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, 181.

[xxiii] Ibid., 144.

[xxiv] Phong Bui, “Nari Ward with Phong Bui” The Brooklyn Rail, May 2012. http://www.brooklynrail.org/2012/05/art/nari-ward-with-phong-bui, accessed May 31, 2012.

[xxv] “Interview: Nari Wards Speaks With MASS MoCA Director Joseph Thompson,” in Nari Ward: Sub Mirage Lignum catalog published in conjunction with the exhibition Sub Mirage Lignum at MASS Moca, Apr. 4, 2011 – Mar. 4, 2012.

[xxvi] “Nari Ward with Phong Bui.”

[xxvii] Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, 181.

[xxviii] “Interview: Nari Wards Speaks With MASS MoCA Director Joseph Thompson,” Nari Ward: Sub Mirage Lignum

[xxix] Denise Markonish, “Let them See You Sweat: Gleaning the Memory of Nari Ward,” in Nari Ward: Sub Mirage Lignum catalog published in conjunction with the exhibition Sub Mirage Lignum at MASS Moca, Apr. 4, 2011 – Mar. 4, 2012. Markonish notes that many of the historical facts about the history of the MASS MoCA campus come from the book: ed Jennifer Trainer, MASS MoCA: From Mill to Museum (North Adams: MASS MoCA Publications, 2000).

[xxx] Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 19.

[xxxi] Description of Sedira’s Mother Tongue, Brooklyn Museum, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Feminist Art Base: Zineb Sedira. http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/feminist_art_base/gallery/zineb_sedira.php?i=691. Accessed May 31, 2012.

[xxxii] Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, 185.

[xxxiii] Ibid., 186.

[xxxiv] Ibid., 186.

One comment on “Home: An Imagined Place in the Work of Yael Bartana, Nari Ward, and Zineb Sedira by Erin Dziedzic

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