EMILIE McDERMOTT [on] FERIEL BOUSHAKI

292 Repositionnements
A 2011 performance installation in Bordeaux, France

{ Space is not an obvious or monolithic category. It can be a city or a building, but it can be, among other things, an identity or a discourse. } -Rosalyn Deutsche, Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics

EMILIE MCDERMOTT

Feriel Boushaki’s performance 292 Repositionnements {2011} Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux, France

Bordeaux, France’s ninth largest city, has known considerable restoration in recent years. Its old stone buildings, blackened and damaged by decades of soot, carbon dioxide, and other atmospheric pollutants, have been cleaned to give them back their original light stone grandeur. Vast projects, from creating a pedestrian friendly walkway along the Garonne to building an elaborate tram system, have transformed it into France’s top city in terms of real-­estate investment and the second most dynamic city in terms of business location1. However, Bordeaux – and France in general – still struggles to make visible a less attractive side of its history, i.e., its dark past as one of France’s most important slave trading ports. Only two small testimonies to this past, which honor the hundreds of thousands of African slaves who were shipped through the harbor, exist in the city. One is the statue of Toussaint Louverture – father of Haitian independence – along the Garonne. The other is a small commemorative plaque on the Quai des Chartrons. However, no official memorial has ever been created, much to the dismay of Karfa Diallo, chairman of The European Memorial Foundation for Slave Trade. He has said that: {[The city] is so concerned about [its] image that it can’t bear to talk about its slave-­trading past.}2

EMILIE MCDERMOTT

In 2011, French-­Algerian artist Feriel Boushaki, who emigrated to France during her childhood and now lives and works in Paris, was asked to participate in Bordeaux’s cultural festival, Evento. The artist, who creates context-based performance installations, did a lot of research on Bordeaux and particularly on its history. This place’s past was so blatant and present, yet so invisible, that the idea to make an artwork related to the slave trade became more and more obvious to her.

EMILIE McDERMOTT

On a cold September morning she arrived at Bordeaux’s Place de la Bourse, the city’s imposing square designed by Gabriel, Louis XV’s architect, to perform 292 Repositioning. Basing her piece on sketches and documents describing slave boats that transported slaves from Africa to the city and then to the Caribbean islands, she started outlining on the square’s cobblestones, in full scale, the areas of the boat where slaves were not confined. Once her outline was traced on the ground, she meticulously placed craft paper on these areas, delineating these negative spaces. Only then did the endurance part of the performance begin. Following her research and calculations, Boushaki proceeded to perform the 292 possible human positions upon the remaining areas of the boats, on the Place de la Bourse.

EMILIE McDERMOTT

Feriel Boushaki’s performance 292 Repositionnements {2011} Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux, France

{I felt vulnerable, scared…Especially as a woman, laying on the ground, in these positions…it’s a very intense experience. The question of the displacement of bodies is extremely important to me as an artist, and I wanted to highlight that aspect in this piece: I remember during my history classes of accounts of thousands of men, women and children transported by train to concentration camps during the second world war…the extreme situation to which they had to adapt their bodies, and consequently their minds…}

EMILIE McDERMOTT

Feriel Boushaki’s performance 292 Repositionnements {2011} Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux, France

What is striking about her piece is indeed its vulnerability: her body, laid out on the floor, in the middle of the grandiose square, has a kind of majesty yet fragility. It provokes in the viewer a feeling of discomfort. The slow movements from one position to another, the metaphorical boat that is suggested and can only be imagined, is like a commemoration, akin to a silent rhythmical trance. Furthermore, the fact that the performance is by a female Algerian artist, using her body, in France, is particularly interesting as the country has been grappling with its own colonial past, and in recent years has tried to impose laws forbidding the Muslim female population from wearing their headscarves. The body is a geopolitical stake in post-­colonial France. As Bernard Andrieu – a French philosopher specializing in questions regarding the body – recently wrote:

{I will not give up my body to become the body you want me to become. Every body in the world is as singular as a face. The living body that animates us gives us information. Let us bring the live body to clear consciousness: it creates trouble, disturbs public order, precipitates the perception of self and others in the sensory intensity of pain or pleasure}3.

EMILIE McDERMOTT

Feriel Boushaki’s performance 292 Repositionnements {2011} Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux, France

Boushaki subtly met le doigt là où ça fait mal (in French it translates as : puts ones finger where it hurts) and places the body at the center of the city and the public arena, generating a shift in consciousness. The inherent transient nature of Boushaki’s performance metaphorically points out the fragility of collective memory, and as Nietzsche says, that {all will to truth is a will to power}. In 292 Repositionnements, the otherwise hidden vulnerable body brings to the surface its own truth and reconfigures our perception of public space and history.

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1 Explorimmoneuf, May 2012, CSA poll for BGI, 2012, with 305 foreign business owners.
2 Cody Edward , In Bordeaux, a Struggle to Face Up to Slave-­‐Trading Past, September 26, 2009, Washington Post Foreign Service
3 Andrieu Bernard, Il faudra vous habituer à nos corps métis, hybrides…, November 20, 2013 , Liberation

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

FERIEL BOUSHAKI is a French-Algerian artist based in Paris. See more of her work online at http://ferielboushaki.com/

EMILIE McDERMOTT Emilie McDermott is a French-American visual artist currently based in Paris and Helsinki. She spent her childhood dancing at the Washington School of Ballet.  In 2008, she undertook her art studies at the Sorbonne University where she graduated with a Bachelor and Master of Arts suma cum laude in 2011. She completed her MFA (DNSEP) in June 2013 at The Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Arts de Paris-Cergy, where she worked alongside art critics and artists such as Frederico Nicolao, Bernard Marcadé and Sylvie Blocher. Her work concentrates on moving images and performance art. For more information about McDermott and her work, visit her website by clicking on her name.

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