Dans l’intervalle entre monument et document

Solo exhibition | Exhibition text by Aziza Harmel | Elmarsa gallery | Dubaï | 2018

“An internet of things describes a world embedded with so many digital devices that the spaces between them consists not of dark circuity but rather the space of the city itself. The computer has escaped the box, and ordinary objects in space are carrier of digital signals.”

Keller Easterling, “An internet of things”, Eflux journal: the internet does not exist, (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2015)

“When you ultimately succeed in listening to the place in its entirety, you will find that the distance between yourself and the space’s sounds has dimini- shed, and that you have become part of the place. You will find that no one around you notices your presence; everyone will pass by without seeing you.”

Haythem El-Wardany, How to disappear (Kayfa ta, 2013)
It is a well known truth that the world is connected as never before. It therefore comes as no surprise that we are obsessively trying to keep up with a relentless flow of incoming data. Our efforts to do so are in vain, however information is somehow almost immediately neutralized or displays only a short term impact, due to the fluctuating nature of the internet. There are informational tombs, lost in the cyberspace. Ghosts that materialize in traces.

It is precisely this spectral trace around which Ali Tnani's exhibition L’intervalle entre monument et document gravitates. Documents are artifacts or traces of human making, action, or thought surviving into the present. Monuments are documents that have a certain notion of urgency in our present and demand a recognition. Monuments are also related to an urgency in the past that we wish to evoke in order to remember or to neutralize the trauma that was caused.

The drawings, photographs and installations in this exhibition conjure up the document and the monument. Moreover they evoke the crossings and the traffic of what moves in the spaces between. These spaces are the artist’s materialized reflections on Other Spaces or what we could name Heterotopia. Heterotopia is a concept developed by Michel Foucault describing places that are simultaneously real and imaginary. These are spaces of an ambiguous utopia, with the ability to physically manifest.

The exhibition starts with a series of photographs titled Other Spaces (2012), where Tnani captured blow holes magically illuminated by an unknown source - suddenly made visible, yet out of reach and therefore beautiful. These spaces break with real time: they are suspended within a margin of our temporality.

This suspension of time is also apparent in the media installation Data Trails (2014/2017). This installation consists of a screen showing random and continuous renders of information about the miraculous and sudden emergence of the lac de Gafsa. Until today it remains unclear how this lake was formed, which has prompted people to call it the 'Mysterious Lake'. The most likely explanation is that it is connected to pollution, due to its proximity to phosphates mines. It might also be a result of a minor earthquake that ruptured the rock above the water table, causing water to be pumped up to the surface. The ghostly character of the lake is the starting point of this installation, though the content of the display is hardly comprehensible. We see a never ending accumulation of articles that overlap in a way that is almost impossible to read. The shape of the text become as ghostly as its content. 

In the work of the artist there is a clear link between data and sound: data tend to vanish, while still defining the rhythm of our lives. The technological environment is much faster than our over-solicited cognitive responsiveness. In fact, the human brain can’t adapt to or expand beyond its organic nature, in order to keep up with the vertiginous rhythm of the information sphere. It is precisely this rhythm that the Crackling data machine (2014/2017) is offering resistance to. Realized in collaboration with the sound artist and composer Lukas Truniger, this strange instrument consists of a computer connected to the internet, a printer, suspended steel plates and a sound system. The information, randomly rendered from the internet, is printed and gathered into an absurd roll of paper full of cryptic information that becomes part of the sculpture. The movement of the printer creates a sound which translates the vertiginous speed of the information's flux into a slow jerky and spasmodic melody.
A melody mostly defined by the silences in between, similar to the way Tnani's drawings are defined by the blanks and the empty spaces between remainder and erasure.
His series of drawings Nécessité du monument (I&II) and Space of exception (2014-2016), are made out of traces of pigments and lead-mine residues, which create landscapes by vanishing from the surface of the paper. We are aware that something is missing: out of our reach or outside of our comprehension. Aside from their aesthetic purposes, these blanks also function as political spaces: they are the spaces to remember. Here, the border between documents and monuments gets blurred. Most of all, these spaces are an acknowledgment of the invisible.

Nécessité du monument II (Torbaa) is a series of drawings based on a photograph of the tomb of the artist's father, taken in order to remember the location of the monument. This notion of memory as a trace confronts us with the fact that every form of art must be impregnated by the latest (also past and coming) events. We are unable to forget, even though the monument we built is already a ruin.

Tnani’s latest video, Even The Sun Has Rumors (2017), takes place in the Economat of Redeyef, an abandoned store where employees of the Compagnie des phosphates de Gafsaused to do their groceries. The artist interviews Taieb, the son of one these employees, who evokes both the memories related to the space and the current situation of the country. Redeyef is a small town in the Governorate of Gafsa, with an industry that is mainly based on phosphate mining. Its population suffers from unemployment and severe poverty, despite the presence of the mines. The narrative of Taieb oscillates between the past (the struggle against French occupation) and the present (the struggle of the population to survive the current crisis). This way of narrating allows an interesting entwinement and overlapping of two temporalities. The footage we see, are fixed shots of the interior of the Economat. These shots show us traces of a glorified space, othered because of its isolation and abandonment, yet still symbolizing a glimpse of prosperity.

As the exhibition unravels, the viewer discovers the presence of the remote: the remoteness of a trace that resists time, yet is unable to escape its destined disappearance. Nevertheless Ali Tnani's traces are more and more tangible. They escape their metaphorisation to enter the realm of social and subjective realities in the present.

other documention
Dans l’intervalle entre monument et document | Exhibition catalogue (PDF, 3.8 MB) | Texts by Marie Cantos (France, french) & Aziza Harmel (Tunisia, english) | 2018