Berlin Biennale artist and curator Kader Attia.
Artist and curator Kader Attia.
by Patricia Rousseaux and Fabio Cypriano
Kader Attia
Kader Attia during the interview given to arte!brasileiros

Generous, Kader Attia spoke with us at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, headquarters of Berlin Biennale, in what he called “an excellent meeting, more than an interview”. French artist, curator and thinker, born in 1970, Attia grew up between France and Algeria, making this experience of belonging to different cultures her practice. He stages a sensitive work, in the search for an aesthetic and ethical result in his relationships and in his production. He is an unconditional supporter of the need to bring to light the impact that colonialism had on modernity, and his research focuses on different forms of reparation in the face of Western cultural hegemony. Winner of awards from Fundação Miró and Marcel Duchamp, in 2016, and from the Yanghyun Art Prize, from Seoul, in 2017, Kader Attia has, among his most recent solo shows, The Museum of Repair, at the State of Concept in Athens (Greece), and Irreparable Repairs, held in 2020/2021, at Sesc Pompeia, in São Paulo.

ARTE!✱ – We have, in Brazil, an important ongoing discussion regarding the erasure that governments and Brazilian society made of racism and the brutal inequality that characterizes us as a colonial country…

I believe that decolonial discourse and dialogue is a conversation that needs to evolve permanently. Fundamentally in the field we are talking about, that of art. Capitalism tries to recover, through culture and art, by appropriating political messages, such as that of decolonization, and with that we run the risk of them becoming institutionalized. In other words, we have to be able to take care of the rhetoric, to invent a language, always new, almost new vocabularies, who knows how to abandon the word “decolonial” and create another one, for example, “demodernize”, because decolonial does not include feminism, for example.

Capitalism tries to recover, through culture and art, appropriating political messages, such as that of decolonization

You are an artist and you have curated several exhibitions. What was the biggest challenge of thinking about a Biennial?

For me, a biennial is not an art fair, it is a laboratory in which we have to invent the world. And in this invention, we need to preserve the history from which we came, which precedes us. Because amnesia is not good. I know feminists, like Paula Bacchetta, who told me the other day how young people today say that there were no black or Arab feminists in the 1970s. young people of Maghreb origin born in France]. And Paula also told me that there were feminists in the 1980s who collaborated with the Puerto Rican independence movements as well as the Black Panthers. I mean, feminism was already decolonial, much earlier than we thought.

That's why I included many files in the biennial. We have, for example, very specific projects, such as the Israeli Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, The Natural History of Rape, and in other places are objects in shop windows, such as books from the Archive of the Avantgarden, by Egidio Marzona, and the book Djamila Boupacha, by Simone de Beauvoir, which talks about the young Algerian militant who was raped by French soldiers and echoes with the incredible painting Grand Tableau Antifascist Collectif, which is at the Bienal.

We also had meetings with amazing people who have come to speak here, such as Françoise Vergès, Felwine Sarr, Joseph Tonda and Stefania Pandolf.

I would say that, as an artist, I found it easy to relate to other artists, because I understood certain difficulties. It helped my sense of space and how to work with limited savings. As an artist, we work with other artists, which are other intellectual and emotional universes. It's a huge responsibility, which works with the trust that artists give you, and to create this message and share it with the public, you have to think a lot about spaces that separate the works. Interstitial spaces, and then create dialogues between the works, like what happens between Calida Garcia Rawles' painting and video Erasing the Green, by Dana Levy.

Artistic team of the 12th Berlin Biennale
Artistic team of the 12th Berlin Biennale; left to the right, Ana Teixeira Pinto, Noam Segal, Kader Attia, Đỗ Tường Linh, Rasha Salti, Marie Helene Pereira

In other words, as an artist, creating a space for dialogue to share a vision and thus open the public's thinking. Because especially we, who work with the topics of reparation, decolonization, modernization, do not do it for our own community. We agree with their importance, but the exhibitions – I don't know how many people will come to the Bienal, around 100 thousand – play a very important political role in society, because the public, in my view, is lost in a world where information and opinions are constantly being manipulated by political means.
When creating an exhibition space like this, where it's about giving another vision of a society full of wounds that haven't been repaired, that's where other interstitial spaces are important, because viewers have to build a narrative.

On WhatsApp, on Twitter, groups relate to each other in communities that are closed echo chambers, fascists without them knowing

One of the things that draw a lot of attention is the interdisciplinary participation within the show…

I think Jean Lassègue, a philosopher friend, told me that he knew a mathematician, David Chavalarias, who had done a project analyzing 82 Twitter accounts between Macron's two elections. I found Chavalarias and told him that what I found interesting about his work was that it was showing the vulnerability of people's opinions today. Well, you in Brazil know that, with the election of Bolsonaro. According to Chavalarias, Gabriel Taub said, at the end of the 19th century, that the charisma and magnetism that a politician can exert over groups reaches a maximum of 500 people. The process of influencing public opinion belongs to the subjects, among themselves. And what algorithmic governance is doing today is scaling that up, which is technically possible.

On WhatsApp, on Twitter, groups interact in communities that are very closed echo chambers, fascists without them knowing, where people go to hear what they want to hear, isolated. In this sense, for me, what seems important in the idea of ​​interstitial spaces for the spectator and with the spectator is, for example, what I said to David Chavalarias when I met him: the main thing would be how to show this work to the public. How to make it possible. For me this is fundamental, and I believe it is the work of the curator, not just the artist. The job is to show the public how we become anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, homophobic, transphobic, without realizing it, with a kind of rage, when we are manipulated by data that circulates at the speed of light.

I invite people who go to an exhibition to just be alive and present, not to Instagram their lives.

In your opinion, what is one of the biggest dangers we are facing?

The real danger is the data collection that is transforming us. First, we have to understand what would be the thing that this techno-liberal capitalism most wants, what are the future markets that capitalism is exploring and, from there, develop strategies of struggle. In short, what is this neocolonialism? It is neocolonialism that is collecting data by a simple process that is to get attention: when your attention is on, algorithmic governability is collecting information.

Yesterday, I saw an artist saying that he hates the word surveillance. So I said it wasn't actually surveillance, but that's how [American writer] Shoshana Zuboff talks about it in her book. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. It's about extracting data, which actually constitutes this attention market, this attention economy, and makes it extremely powerful.

But the process of extracting data at these big companies, like Facebook and Google, is only the most visible part of this extraction of data, which is then sold. What we produce constantly, every day, this is behavior that is salable in this attention market. We are the guinea pigs of this attention economy. How could we fight this? The artists, the art lovers, those who believe in it?

I turned to the studies of Marshall McLuhan, who once said something very important: at the end of the day, a work of art operates only with attention. And the artist is stealing attention. So I decided that I wouldn't work with digital art at the biennial because that would be a trap too. You want to criticize this idea, but you end up presenting the work of someone you admire. There are artists who work with it, like mathematician David Chavalarias, Omer Fast and Zach Blas, who talk about digital surveillance, but there are also works from the past, which are telling the same story. So it's probably very important for us to be connected with the physicality of art. Because it is a field of creation, produced by humanity, which leaves much more space for the observer than computer surveillance.

When you are looking at a work of art, even for a second, you are learning. It is active, not passive. The work is not extracting anything from us.
For me, it's extremely important to understand that if I care about the present, I actually care about attention. I invite a reappropriation of attention.

I invite all people who go to an exhibition to just be alive and present, and not to Instagram their lives, thinking they are consuming something, but they are not. They are just feeding the machine. The speed with which Instagram is manipulated is based on our trust. Everything is trust.

So I think we have to go back to space as a common ground, where we really meet, a space where a person is emotionally touched by a work. Getting angry at a work, for example. It means you are alive. You are not passive, disabled by a governance that tries to extract from you.

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