Massinissa Selmani’s work aims to create drawn forms mingling a documentary approach with fictional constructions and animations, while taking as its point of departure contemporary political and social issues from press cuttings. Through confrontation, juxtaposition and even the superposition of actual elements, whose contexts have systematically been concealed, the artist creates enigmatic, ambiguous scenes unlikely to happen in reality.
Richard Bright: Can we begin by you saying something about your background?
Massinissa Selmani: I grew up in Algeria (Algiers and Tizi-Ouzou) where I studied Computer science. In 2005 I moved to Tours (France) to study Fine arts. I live between Algeria and France.
RB: Have there been any particular influences to your art practice?
MS: As a teenager, I was very fascinated by cartoonists. As I got older, I discovered artists such as Saul Steinberg, Tacita Dean, Adrian Piper and the Belgian surrealist Paul Nougé as well as others who inspired me. Algerian francophone literature also has an important influence on my work.
RB: What is the underlying focus of your work?
MS: My practice is related to drawing and its various fields of experimentations in terms of aesthetic or graphic approach. I am interested in drawing as it relates to the documentary form, drawing as movement, the media coverage of events in the print media as well as more fictional modes. This body of research results in what I call drawn forms.
RB: The subjects feeding into your work originate in current social and political events. Would you say your work is political and/or documentary?
MS: Many of my formal sources come from newspapers and from press photography. I take fragments of these stories as a point of departure by drawing. I am particularly interested in the construction of those stories that are related to historical or social events. The event itself—in epistemological terms—can act as an object of research. My work is at the crossroads of these questions.
RB: Can you say something about the concept of simplicity in your drawings, that is, of making work with the minimum of materials and components?
MS: My work is constituted by very little and is characterized by fragility or lightness. I have always worked in this way because I try to get to the point, to the essential thing. This process generally produces light forms as opposed spectacular ones. Conflict is inherent in the subject matter of my work, but it does not appear immediately. Instead, it is revealed slowly at different levels of encounter. My exhibitions are sometimes conceived as investigations linking different graphic elements. The content of the investigation is revealed in the overview or by making associations between drawn forms. This way of working allows me to remain independent and to be able to work in all kinds of circumstances.
RB: What can you say about the concept of space in your drawings?
MS: My drawings generally create unlikely situations. This construction of space is linked to a question of context. The drawings are constituted with graphic elements from different sources with different contexts. Drawing these disparate forms together provides them with a new context that is dissociated from their original one. I try to occupy the space in such a way that everyone can project themselves into its mental space. I usually say that my work is made up of absences that need to be filled.
RB: A mix of the comical and the tragic is very much present in your work. How do you reconcile the two in your drawings and how important is humour in your imagery?
MS: In the environment in which I grew up, comedy and tragedy were often entangled. Humour is a defence mechanism against violence, a way to live through or deal with it. As I mention above, my first sources of inspiration are the cartoonists in the daily newspapers. Their state of mind partly shaped the way I work with material.
RB: Can you say something about your project 1000 villages?
MS: At the beginning of the 70’s, the Algerian government launched a large public-works project known as the 1000 “socialist villages.” The initiative aimed to relieve the rural population’s isolation and poverty and to return land to them that had been taken away during colonization. This project also aimed to encourage the rural population to adopt modern agriculture techniques and to involve it in the Algerian socialist project via agriculture.
Despite a laudable initial intention, the project could not be fully implemented because the implementation and construction of these villages, with few exceptions, often involved ideological or administrative considerations that imposed standards of production at the expense of the farmers’ real needs. The population gradually lost interest in the project, which was terminated a few years later.
The related body of work is composed by twenty drawings on two-page spreads of note book paper. They are arranged narratively as elements confronting each other: house plans, furniture drawn on tracing paper; drawings of spaces, agricultural land and animals. The images, reproduced using the transfer technique, are drawn from newspaper clippings from the 1970s. They are increasingly illegible as the series moves towards the collapse of this utopia. The last image is almost a ghost image. The only way to read these images in light of their context is by a caption printed on tracing paper, which restores the mental space of the original newspaper article.
A drawing on the cover of a notebook is based on illustrations sold in the 70s-80s in Algeria that promoted the Algerian agrarian and industrial revolution.
RB: What projects are you currently working on or have coming up in the future?
MS: Currently I am working on a new body of work exploring the landscape through graphic research based on the “disappearance” of the outline. I will be in a residency at the Civitella Ranieri in Italy and at the Fayoum Art Center in Egypt, in addition to several exhibitions projects.
To read the full interview click here