Ce vide, Voilà ma réponse

The void, is my answer

Solo exhibition | Curatorial statement
B7L9 Art Station - KLF | Tunis | 17-03>30-04-2022

The void, is my answer presents a set of drawings and an audio-visual installation that centre around a primary school in the El Kef region of Tunisia. These ghostly works circle around ideas of time, and of abandoned spaces, pointing to a moment in which a crucial change had taken place; in which the era of promises and possibilities had ended, supplanted by the depopulated world of an immaterial technological future. It is at this moment that we can sense a world after people. The title of the exhibition itself, drawn from a poem by Henri Michaux, alludes to an overwhelming silence and emptiness that is offered in response by modern monuments of ruin.

The Eddir primary school, built circa 1961 and eventually abandoned in 2017, is the central protagonist of the exhibition. It was constructed in the heady period of the Bourguiba presidency, when education was the means of producing a new kind of citizenry for the modern nation-state. Yet, in its later years, this school was ill-equipped to survive its trajectory into our current moment.

Eddir School, 1972.

The year 1996, when the internet became available in Tunisia, also points to the height of a new set of promises. Rather than the utopia of the modern state, of collective welfare, education, and independence, this era loudly proclaimed the speed and freedom of technology, the internet, of a globalised future that was without place or body. Yet this promise was broken twice, first with the severe restrictions placed upon internet flow in the country, and then through an unrealised IT room that was to bring internet connectivity and then new technologies to students in what was considered a periphery by a Tunis-centric Tunisia already suffering gradual depopulation towards the capital. A fatal move, and a failure to extend the lifespan of a school.
This work is composed of two perspectives, a fragment of which can be seen and heard from the other but not the whole. This work brings into focus a crucial aspect of the exhibition, that of time. Through long, deliberate shots of the school, carefully coloured and composed, a scale of time beyond that of the dailiness and lifespan of human life beings to emerge. As the school gradually falls into ruin, it stands as a mediator between our rapid rate of change, and the scale of time that extends far beyond the end of humanity.

This sense of a deeper time is counterposed with two generations long-term school workers, Abdelhamid, Saliha, and Essia Fadhlaoui, whose testimonies were recorded through conversations with the artist. Interspersed with moments of radio broadcasts, reminiscences, and numerous details from a decades long life of caring for the institution and witnessing generations of students passing through. This human dimen- sion brings together the audible (but not visible) memories of those who lived at this school, with the inaudible memories of its walls and spaces which can only be sensed through long, deliberate, and sensitive engagement.

The second aspect of this exhibition comprises a selection of drawings from 2020-2022. These works, which are at first re- miniscent of technical or architectural drawings, are produced through a set of what the artist refers to as ‘protocols’, a strict set of parameters that recompose and synthesise numerous images into a new work. Both this term, the process, and the distant and ghostly qualities of these works hint at an image that is closer to a kind of machine vision than a mode of re- presentation.

Instead, these delicate graphite drawings manifest rather than represent what has been lost in a post-internet uni- verse of neglected landscapes and monuments that reveal slow erasure and extinction of humanity. ‘Before we sail off to the www’ alludes to that moment just before the encroachment of a digitally mediated human life.

Aspects of time in the past and present are evoked in the ‘archive’ works, such as the years ‘1971 : an archive’, just after the construction of the school and the height of twentieth century modernity, and ‘2021 : an archive’, a period of isolation and abandonment in our current post-internet era. ‘Ce vide, voilà ma réponse’, which shares the title of the exhibition, manifests a ghostly landscape, as though seen and remembered by non-human vision.

These two interrelated works embark the viewer on a journey to see and imagine a sense of time beyond our own. In them, the moment in which all began to change, and a sighting of a coming future can be seen in the ruins of a world just passed.

other documention
Ce vide, Voilà ma réponse - Ali Tnani | Exhibition Commentary by Karim Sultan - Youtube link (audio).