Bouchra Khalili: The opposite of the voice-over
Update 2016: Bouchra Khalili at MoMA New York
From 9 April to 28 August 2016 Bouchra Khalili's The Mapping Journey Project is on view at MoMA in New York. The exhibition, curated by Stuart Comer, presents the project in its entirety with individual screens positioned throughout MoMA's Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium. The Mapping Journey Project is a series of videos (2008 - 11) that details the stories of eight individuals who have been forced by political and economic circumstances to travel illegally and whose covert journeys have taken them throughout the Mediterranean basin.
Excerpts from a conversation between Bouchra Khalili and Omar Berrada, published in "Story Mapping", the first monograph about the artist.
Bouchra Khalili works on the borderline between visual arts and cinema. Her films – installations or movies – relating to documentary essays, in the fragmentary sense of the term, deals with the notions of movement, relation and distance, between physical and imaginary geographies. With the form of short stories, these short movies establish systems of notations, as visual phrases, involving writing and language, meant to decipher signs found in urban spaces or in landscapes. The notations are articulated with descriptions, as tools for decoding and interpreting with images.
Omar Berrada: When we ask you what your job is, you answer that it is "to make images", rather than movies, videos, cinema...
Bouchra Khalili: It is simply a way both proud and modest to answer. To make an image means filming it, but also articulating it with a territory, with sounds, with editing. It does not exist by itself, disconnected from the place where it was taken, from the narrative it carries, from its relationship to the sound, including the sounds "of atmosphere" which are never accidental. There are lots of different layers, with passages from the infra-thin to a certain obviousness of the signs. And it happens that the modalities to show the work are also part of the conception of the images. It is the case with installations for example.
O. B.: Where do you find your images? They are linked to a territory but you still have to do something for the images to shape up.
B. K.: I find them in reality. If your question is: are they prepared, so that their making would be the reflection of a preliminary conception, the answer is no. I never know what kind of image I am going to make before making it. Of course, there is a process of selection that flows from the geography: I say "That’s it". If there is an attempt at shaping the image, it is exactly in the process of selection and extraction that it is situated. Obviously, my perception of the place has an influence on what is shown, especially since I generally try not to make the place immediately recognizable...
O. B.: What you show is not necessarily what you saw.
B. K.: It is very complicated to explain. It is what André Bazin called "the immanent ambiguity of reality". For example the reason why I go to Istanbul is because of the strata. The conventional cartography shows that Istanbul is separated into two banks, on the one side is Europe, on the other side is Asia, and in the collective imagination, Istanbul is the Orient, but Istanbul is also a part of the Balkans. It is also a place of passage, in particular clandestine. How should the passage be shown? How should we show what is never shown? The idea of passage with all its ambiguity, because the Bosphorus is an extremely unstable area: a physical border, an imaginary border, and a border precisely without a border-post.
It is always very surprising to see how disappointing the route between the European bank and the Asian bank is. It lasts 10 minutes, nothing changes, and at the same time I find it fascinating. Same thing in Ceuta: when you go across the border, you are in Spain and it is one hour later. Then you go back 10 meters, you are in Morocco and it is one hour less. At the same time nothing changes. It is this type of ambiguity I am interested in.
This has nothing to do with it but it is just to describe this nebula of little things which makes a place begin to interest me. However what becomes an image in all of this, is at the same time the distance and the collision between all the pre established representations and what I try to show. It is not very clear...
O. B.: Yes, it is a good start, because it says that the image is a distance.
B. K.: Indeed I think that the image is a distance. It is also the meaning I would like to give to the word editing. When we speak about editing, we don’t always speak about a distance but about "a splice", which is the suture between two pieces of film that have been taped to one another. However, the splice is exactly the place for the image. It is the theory of the interval by Dziga Vertov which I have always found fascinating, because it is based on the idea that the movie must be built on the relationship between separate images, and in particular distant ones. It is exactly what Breton means when he quotes Pierre Reverdy in the Surrealist Manifesto: "An image is not strong because it is brutal or fantastic, but because the association of ideas is distant and accurate". What makes the image is then the collision between what’s close and what’s distant. It should be completely operative, and in reality it is the most ambiguous and the most complex thing because it says exactly the opposite of what a movie is: it is not a succession, but a discontinuity and a gap. After all the image is not within the images that are shown, but in this gap. By definition, it is not visible and nevertheless it is the one which exists the most.
O. B.: There is a gap also because the work is not only made of images. You said that the image included the sound and many other things. And there has to be an editing between the strata.
B. K.: It is a rather fundamental question. In 80 % of the movies, the editing binds everything. When you are afraid of spoiling a sauce, you sprinkle a thickener to set it, to bind it. For me the editing has the opposite function. Indeed, it is not used to bind but to loosen, to reveal the fragility of things, their ambiguity. But for me the word "editing" is very problematic, because there is hardly any editing in my works from a technical stand point. Several videos are built from sequence-shots or are sequence-shots. It is the reason why when I speak about editing, I speak in particular of how a very specific place articulates with a very singular human experience and the sounds relating to these experiences, whether they belong to the expressed words or to the various direct sounds. And there is also the exhibition space, which I see as a kind of editing room where videos interact between them, where their presentation reveals the connections which I try to create. All these elements must be "edited" to make the image.
O. B.: It reminds me of the composer Georges Aperghis’s work. He makes musical sentences by putting end to end syllables in French. It begins like a word, a sentence, we expect to understand, and then we hear a succession of unexpected syllables, making no sense. It’s the rhythm that directs. Aperghis talks about wanting to "disconnect the psychology".
B. K.: When he talks about disconnecting, this implies that it used to be connected. Disconnecting also means to connect, except that they are no longer the factory made connections (male plug into female socket, etc.). We use a plug which is not adapted and nevertheless it works. It is like alternating current: it must go in one direction then in the other. In the same way, we must have the feeling that the image and the sound go in opposite directions to be able to understand that it is not the case. I would say that in my work, the sound is the opposite of the voice-over. The sound does not explain the image, it participates in the making of the image. The editing is here: there is an image on one side, a sound on the other, and when you move them closer it creates a third image, inhabiting the video in making. It is not a clear image, but it slowly appears, building up with the video and hopefully beyond, with a capacity to resound with imagination. From there, the spectator’s point of view becomes fundamental, because he can put things together between what he sees, what he hears, what he imagines, and what he pictures.
Bouchra Khalili (*1975 Casablanca, Morocco), studied cinema at the Sorbonne Nouvelle and Visual Arts at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Arts de Paris-Cergy.
Her work has been shown extensively around the world, including recently at The Liverpool Biennial (2010); The Studio Museum, New York (2010); The Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit (2010); INIVA, London (2010); Gallery 44, Toronto (2010); The 2nd Thessaloniki Biennial (2009); The Reina Sofia National Museum, Madrid (2009); The Queens Museum of Art, New York (2009), among others. She also has received several prestigious awards, including this year the Cultures France Hors Les Murs Award.