Le pas de côté : Lina Ben Rejeb

12 January - 15 March 2020

Selma Feriani Gallery is pleased to present Le pas de côté, the second solo show by Paris based artist Lina Ben Rejeb. The exhibition occupies the three main spaces of the gallery and showcases new works which comprise prints, embroidery, compositions, projection, multimedia work and installation. This solo presentation responds to a recent exhibition at La Boîte in Tunis, Nous vivons trop près des machines, which included research trips to India. The title of this exhibition refers to the act of interrupting a system, a method or even an image, and in doing so, Ben Rejeb invites the spectator on a journey that questions the very essence of order and convention.

To perform the many techniques employed: embroidery, photography, sculpture and print, the artist positions herself in unfamiliar territories. She plays between her own capabilities of applying these methods or crafts and the tool’s parameters of function. There is an exchange between artist and machine, whereby a perpetual inquiry into the exhaustion and technological limits of production is established, exploring the relationship between artist and machine. As such, in modifying protocol, the artist engineers an alternative methodology, in her attempt to reveal the spirit of the mechanism or material. 

In the series Peintures domestiques II, Ben Rejeb embroiders onto the inverted surface of a floral-patterned textile. Through this gesture, the pattern of the textile is counteracted, as an act of revealing both sides of the cloth surface. This question’s the conventions of the mode of production. The artist investigates the departure point in which a craft is executed; the intention here is not to master the craft itself, but rather to investigate determining components of the material, technique or action. Approaching the fabric from the reverse disrupts the tones, forms and colour of the intricate floral pattern. By embroidering onto the fatigued surface, the artist simultaneously obscures and enhances the image, allowing for the surface to manifest alternative materiality. Such a gesture of disrupting the textile and technique, examines the essence of the object and the act of labour. 

Through repetitive gestures, Ben Rejeb demonstrates an engagement between the elements involved; material, craft, machine and spectator. In such works as Les petites mains II, she further speaks of the redundancy of craft and tradition of woodblock printing in India, where she collected abandoned stamps, that once saw the production of ornately decorated surfaces of textile. Woodblock stamps are installed in the chapel gallery; they occupy a part of the surface of two walls. Positioned side by side in a repetitive manner, the individual pattern of each stamp is disrupted; the motifs fade into each other. 

The spectator’s gaze is exhausted, presenting an opportunity for interpretation of the artwork. The printing stamps in this context transform into a sculptural installation; they become an image of themselves. Moreover, the artwork corresponds to La part manquante and emphasizes the element of exhaustion of a certain labour and tradition, which has since been replaced by machine. Les petites mains II speaks of the complexities of vision and references the pursuit of addressing this by artists throughout art history. 

The artist provokes questions concerning the distinction between modes of production. In La part manquante we are presented with a painting that manifests the gesture of a sculpture.

This artwork reveals multiple surfaces which are revealed in sequences, encouraging the artwork to extend and manifest unfamiliar traces. The artist here questions both the parameter in which an artwork can exist between mediums and beyond the boundaries of its display. The surface of this work, originally served as underlay cloth, was used in traditional sari cloth manufacturers in India to soak up excess pigment and dye. This material is usually redundant, yet for Ben Rejeb, it captures a history and tradition replaced by machines. The repetitive sequences and layers of patterns and colours, manifested on the surface, presents multiple viewpoints. They become memories of a bygone cultural tradition, which the artist investigates through presenting them as an alternative language, encompassing ambiguous forms that transcend defined understandings of materiality and method. 

Nous sommes de cette étoffe dont les rêves sont faits II focuses on ‘pictorial coat detachment’, a procedure engineered by the artist over a year-long period, which involves applying restoration techniques onto the surface of an object. It signifies a moment in which the repetitive gestures applied by the artist, permits the form and medium to surrender and adopt an other attitude, therefore marking an invention of materiality. The invented material, presented in epistemological display boxes, are contained behind reflective glass, allowing the spectator to be conscious of their presence in the gallery space, the onlooker’s reflection becomes a layer superimposed onto the surface of the object. One sees themselves as impressions on the artworks. 

Copie à revoir II is a projection sequence of 81 slides depicting the sky. Ben Rejeb photographed three images of the skyscape during a flight, the timing of which coincided with the blue hour, it occurs twice a day, it is a period that interrupts rhythm, it marks the transition of day to night and vice versa. The three photographs of the sky were reproduced using a Xerox printer; every printed image would produce another copy: a copy of a copy of the sky. Distancing the image further and further away from its original representation. This method of copying an image of an image, allows for depictions of the picture to be distorted, thus permitting alternative images of the sky to be revealed. The repetitive action of printing an image of an image exhausts the printer, causing a confusion in the machine. This reveals a mechanical interpretation of the sky. 

Abstract skyscapes are exposed onto the wall; redundant ink cartridges played a role to replace tones and colours. Accordingly, this reveals a sky bleeding magenta, alongside faded traces of clouds. As such, it examines the viewer’s perception and questions the circumstances in which the impressions depicting the image were captured. Was this the state of the sky during the blue hour or a mechanical interpretation? Beside the projected image sits a frame that holds a collage depicting forms and shapes merged together. It generates a skyscape textured by layers of paper and numerous shades and grains of colour. Moreover, the contrast of the collage alongside the projection, demonstrates a further transition and engagement between still and moving image. 

Faire continent can be seen as a development of Copie à revoir II, images of the cloud-filled sky are taken from a separate flight, which the artist recently took between Tunis and Paris. The original photographs are copied repetitively onto A4 sheets of paper. They are assembled to construct an alternative skyscape. This piece disrupts the space, bringing the outside inside. One can observe that the artist’s exhaustively repetitive gestures allow for an immersive experience to be shared, while concurrently interrupting the boundaries between spaces.