Adel Abdessemed

Adel Abdessemed, an Algerian artist now working in Paris, uses a wide variety of media without revealing a preference for one over another or a hierarchy among them. This show included staged photographs, drawings in colored marker on ripped-out sheets of notebook paper, animated films, a video, and sculptures. There is, nevertheless, a common point that unites all these apparently disjointed practices—the simplicity of the materials (paper, polystyrene, terra-cotta) and of the methods employed (folding, rudimentary animation techniques). This allows the viewer immediate contact with the work, which moreover heightens its playful quality (wordplay, exuberant gestures) and recourse to explicit symbolics: universal brand names (Coca-Cola), money (the dollar sign), widely diffused images (NASA’s Mars rover, Spirit), symbols of various religions (the Star of David).

The title of Abdessemed’s exhibition, “Holidays,” offers a potential pathway through his protean work: Religious themes are omnipresent here but lodge in the prosaic dimension of daily gestures, as in the animation of a woman in prayer, Les Douleurs de ma mere (The Sorrows of My Mother; all works 2005), and of decoration (the animated film, God Is Design, sets motifs borrowed from various types of religions to the rhythm of Arabic-Andalusian music). In the referential universe thus created, the real and the symbolic undergo an intense exchange. Brands, currencies, and raw materials (the black marble of the sculpture Travaux [Works] takes the form of gigantic drill bits) constitute objects of contemporary worship that dare not speak their name, while in Spirit the engines of the conquest of space suggest a limitless imperialism, eager for new territories; and in Ocean View a dollar folded into the shape of a small boat floating above sheets of blue polystyrene, by its very economy of means, says much about immigration and North-South relations and the hopes, sacrifices, and violence endemic to them.

Abdessemed’s work is permeated by a way of thinking that does not intend to demonstrate a specific point of view but nevertheless carries within it a light, amused critique of the contemporary world. The symbols invoked, through their plurality and the rivalries we imagine to exist among them, weave a substantial dialogue between globalization (starting with the economic sphere) and religious—or, more broadly, cultural—particularisms, between universalism and relativism, focusing on the deviations and excesses of each of the positions, without ever taking sides. The echoes linking the works come together to describe the “global mess” that, according to the artist, characterizes our current situation, where blends and mixtures allow integration while at the same time threatening identity, where nationalist fervor leads to the will for domination. At the heart of this generalized confusion, Abdessemed makes a case for the value of smiling and dreaming, like the woman (reduced to her veiled silhouette) in The Sorrows of My Mother, whose prayer rug is transformed into a magic carpet.

Guitemie Maldonado

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.