In her installations and video works, Moroccan artist Latifa Echakhch (born in Khnansa, 1974) critically examines socio-political issues brought about by globalisation, the way national symbols are used, as well as cultural differences and social phenomena, without however assuming a cautionary or rhetorical stance.
At once poetic and political, gentle and yet critical, intimate but public, Latifa Echakhch removes articles of daily use, culturally defined objects and national symbols from their original context to put them in a different light. Moroccan tea glasses and carpets, airmail envelopes, sugar, worthless carbon paper, as well as legal and political documents take on a new and broader significance under the artist’s gaze.
She deconstructs the material she selects, but does not destroy it completely, so that viewers can distinguish more precisely the social codes and stereotypes resonating within it. In fact, it is this very act of de- and recontextualisation that enables us to decipher and get beyond the social encoding.
This is the case, for example, in Erratum (2008), which features fragments of broken Moroccan tea glasses scattered on the floor in front of a gallery wall. The motif that once adorned these glasses is no longer distinguishable, and the glasses themselves have lost their usefulness. The effect is to reveal semiotic systems that lie outside our everyday perception of relationships, inviting viewers to come up with their own, farther-reaching, interpretations.
A similar approach can be readily traced in Echakhch’s installation Fifty Fifty Fantasia. In this work she installed numerous identical flagpoles in a labyrinthine structure. unlike the clearly arranged rows of flagpoles we are accustomed to seeing, these ones were mounted on the walls, crossing and intersecting one another. the flags themselves were missing and, with them, the “messages of hopeful optimism in international cooperation” that national flags are capable of suggesting when flying before the relevant buildings.
Echakhch’s more intimate, but nevertheless public, explorations of the cultural differences that have shaped her own existence as a Moroccan immigrant in France are sensitively realised and yet possess an imposing presence. In her selfportrait French Touch (2004), for example, she half-ironically, half-critically displays her fingernails as a symbol of what she defines as “natural integration”. Referencing here the French aesthetic code of the French Manicure, she shows that she has no need for this cosmetic assistance: the tips of her fingernails are naturally white!
In Principe d´Economie 1 (2005), several sugar loaves imported from Morocco are arranged on the floor. the phallic shapes of the cones into which the luxury foodstuff has been moulded have the character of aesthetic sculpture in this exhibition context, while in Principe d´Economie 2 (2005) sugar cubes randomly scattered across the floor contravene the former neat arrangement. with these two different ways of industrially processing sugar, Echakhch is alluding to two contrasting social structures.
Echakhch’s multimedia installation Les sanglots longs, conceived expressly for the Kunsthalle Fridericianum, presents the artist—and indirectly us, the viewers— with a new challenge. Variations/Résolutions is a further development of the work Résolution, the artist’s contribution to the 1st Thessaloniki Biennale in 2007. There, she painted the words “Décide de demeurer saisi de la question” in large letters on the wall of the exhibition space.
In English this phrase can be roughly translated as “Decides to remain seized of the matter”, words that are appended at the end of many undecided UN resolutions. Decontextualised in this form, the sentence sounds like a “poor translation”, the artist thus referring also to Deleuze’s interpretation of Herman Melville’s character “Bartleby” and his constant repetition of the phrase “I would prefer not to”. Here Echakhch calls into question not only the role of international organisations in dealing with global crises, but also the role of the artists who must “remain seized of” these events.
In Les sanglots longs at the Fridericianum she tackles the Israel-Palestine conflict. the years and numbers of the corresponding iN resolutions are displayed on the walls, and they are then in turn converted into a musical score for piano, which can be heard playing in the background. This musical interpretation of a political document, as one possibility for translating it into another sensory realm, serves at the same time to expand the artist’s own understanding to a different level. The installation is completed by tapered-wise sculptures made of insulation foam that form islands commanding the entire space.