© Copyright 2017 artforum. Sylvie Fortin
Ismaïl Bahri’s first major museum exhibition features eight subtle yet epic video works. Ligne (Line), 2011, opens the show. A drop of water on a white man’s forearm trembles to the subcutaneous rhythms of the body-cum-machine. Precariously hosting two tiny air bubbles, the drop dramatizes interdependence. In Source, 2017, a pair of hands hold a sheet of white paper. A tiny dot appears in its center, growing into an incandescent circle that consumes the page. Similarly durational, Sondes (Probes), 2017, is also unexpectedly sculptural: Against terra-cotta tiles, an indeterminately gendered middle-aged white hand extends a welcome or a supplication. Sand trickles into the palm, building an hourglass-like mound. The hand adapts, seeking to maximize its harvest. Eventually, it is overcome: The hand gives up, releases the sand, and disappears.
While the aforementioned works pay homage to durational, task-based early video art, Revers (Reversals), 2017, extends the Pictures generation’s legacy. In its sequence of six short videos, a white male’s hands repeatedly crumple and flatten pages ripped from glossy magazines, one at a time, until all images disappear. He is left with stained hands, a battered sheet, and pigmented dust deposits. In “Film,” 2012, a series of seven videos, strips torn from newspapers unroll vertically, revealing one side as they hide the other. Film, Revers, and Source all enact erasure, calling on a ghosting strategy extending from pentimenti through Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing, 1953. In Foyer, 2016, and Esquisse, pour E. Dekyndt (Sketch, for E. Dekyndt), 2017, his experiments with light open up a space for the formation of political community.
Bahri makes his generic, one-noun titles pointedly specific just as he casts his common materials—such as water, paper, and light—as the understated actors in radical events.