Critics’ Picks

Neïl Beloufa, Kempinski, 2007, still from a color video, 15 minutes.

Los Angeles

Neïl Beloufa

Ghebaly Gallery
2245 E Washington Blvd.
September 9 - October 24

Language has the capacity to root or to displace; degrees of understanding can make the difference between profound ease and deep anxiety. In Kempinski, 2007, the video at the center of Neïl Beloufa’s second solo exhibition, the artist’s strikingly simple linguistic twist—the future in present tense—sets into motion a stream of lyric, mysterious, obscure, and beautiful texts. The French-Algerian artist made the work in Mali, asking people to speak about the future as if it were occurring now. If one is to take him at his word, a slippery proposition given Beloufa’s penchant for fusing fact and fiction, he did not script nor direct the video but let it flow freely from the premise, Imaginer le future au present.

In the work, several Malians stand in the dark night, often holding a bright white neon light, speaking with equal parts grace and gravity of fantastic visions—bovine orchestras, talking cars, thoughts that transport us from one place to another—as if they constituted the current state of things; their dreams of the future craft a rare and exciting present. Surrounding the video are a series of cobbled-together objects—a bench for viewing, a plastic palm tree sheltered from a blowing fan by a Plexiglas sheet, a mechanical sculpture in which a panel of fake grass rises to a peak and then falls with a crushing bang—that together evince a survivor’s optimism and know-how in the face of great tragedy.

That the artist, who lives in Paris and was educated in Europe and the US, organized this exhibition around thoughts of the San Andreas Fault adds another, more incidental layer to the complexities of language and culture folded into his work. From this vantage point, the disquieting threat of California’s cracking earth seems to hold romantic promise.