The MiddleSea. Video installations by Zineb Sedira
Claudia Zanfi - 24/09/2009
Zineb Sedira – among other artists such as Meschac Gaba, Maria Magdalena Campos Pons, Ursula Biemann, Maria Thereza Alves, Yto Barrada and many others, has been involved in the international project Going Public’08 Port City Safari , organised by the Italian association AMAZE cultural lab, where she presented her recent videos.
Saphir, MiddleSea, Floating Coffins are the titles of three videos conceived by the internationally celebrated artist Zineb Sedira. They represent a sort of trilogy, a meditation on the sea as a site of transit and migration, departure and arrival.
Saphir (2006), a video installation with two projections establishes a dialogue between the sea, two protagonists and a colonial style hotel situated in the port of Algiers. These binaries are explored throughout the video using a combination of framing, along with the exploitation of the dual screen presentation. The port becomes a stage where notions of arrival and departure, stasis and transition, belonging and not belonging are played out.
MiddleSea (2008) is a single screen video projection exploring the transitional nature of the sea not only as vessel of movement but also as a barrier between North and South, East and West. The sound, composed by Mikhail Karikis, creates a brooding, possessed presence, while the imagery depicts the somnambulant journey of a lone figure between France and Algeria.
Floating Coffins (2009), the most recent film, is a fourteen screen video installation shot in Mauritania. The area is known for its stunning habitat for migratory birds. There is yet another sinister aspect to the location: the departure of sub-Saharan Africans to Europe, who often return, rejected by the system or by the sea. The place is also renowned for its surreal epic cemetery of ships. Eroded and corroded by harsh weather conditions and plundered by local residents, the vision of these beaches filled with wrecks, unwanted objects and bodies, men transiting and foreign birds visiting is poignant. In the artist’s own words, “Floating Coffins is a space where life, death, loss, escape, abandoned and shipwrecked journeys meet. It’s both a toxic graveyard and a source of survival and hope.”
We have asked Zineb Sedira to describe the relation between the 3 videos, the concept of “transit” and the sea:
Your artistic work is mainly related to films and videos which explore diaspora, identity and the movement between borders. Are themes such as provenance, separation and return central to your practice?
Yes, of course all these themes are central to my practice. My work uses, as a starting point, my parents’ as well as my own displacement. My parents left Algeria and emigrated to France in 1962 and settled back there 24 years later. I moved from France to England in 1996. Consequently, I travel frequently between France, Algeria and the UK.
The concept of “journey”, physical or metaphorical, is often related to your origins, to your family’s journey from Algeria to France and vice versa, and to the mobility of immigrants. But is it also the journey of an artist towards autonomy and creativity ?
It is true that initially my work was using primarily my parents’ emigration to explore issue of immigration. However, recently my work has also included the broader notion of ‘travelling’ and modes of transport. As an artist, travelling is an essential part of my work. I began to explore places of transit, departures and arrivals such as airports, ports and train stations. Obviously, this ties in with the issues previously explored.
In the recent videos Saphir (2006) and MiddleSea (2008) your questions on the concept of “return” (to the origins, to Algeria) are described with the melancholic estrangement of a boat ride. Do you think that MiddleSea plays a role of division between the Mediterranean cultures?
Saphir and MiddleSea are not just about return but also about arrivals and departures. In MiddleSea , there is an uncertainty as whether the journey starts or ends in Algiers or Marseilles. For me, the Mediterranean Sea is a site of historical, cultural and contemporary ‘movement’ but also a connection and separation between South and North.
The ports portrayed in both films become stages where notions of arrival and departure, stasis and transition, belonging and not belonging are played out.
In these recent works you have moved from the “family tree” towards a more inner perspective, where a lonely figure in an expansive space, represents a silent narrative. Is this an inversion of “route” in a more mature and suspended future?
Since 2003, I have produced works with the aim of creating a distance between personal, political and historical issues. I wanted to expand my work from the specificity of my parents’ experience in order to include others because I recognise the international relevance of these themes. My work no longer centres the family and my role as an observer is more removed, less narrative, more spatially expansive. I developed a visual strategy: an ‘abstract narrative’ using a poetic and subtle approach. I believe that this is the journey an artist makes towards maturity, autonomy thus creating a distinct voice.
How do you see the future of the Euro Med’s extension of open trades and exchanges? Do you think that a new world without boundaries could be possible?
The question for me is, who will benefit from this extension? With laws on immigration getting stricter, especially for African residents, I feel that the Euro Med would only benefit traders, businesses and tourism from Europe. Inevitably, this will create a deeper cleavage for the southern countries.