Living Pictures


Video installation 2003 / 55 minutes / Floating screen 4mx3m / French and English text
/ Collection départementale d’art contemporain de la Seine-Saint-Denis, France

The video I&Us was filmed with 100 residents from Beaudottes, a suburb in the town of Sevran where many immigrants live. Beaudottes is one of the poorest towns in France and lies next to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport. The conditions I set for the filming were as follows: ‘Write a sentence on solitude or beauty, topics we usually keep silent about, and have the courage to be in front of the camera wearing a T-shirt with the sentence printed on it’. No sentence was censored. Another condition for the filming: imagine someone on the other side of the camera whom you will address in silence through your gaze. The local residents knew that the work would be shown at the Venice Biennale and that the viewers would not, in reality, ‘see’ them. That gave the video lots of presence and dignity.
I especially remember that after putting the announcement in the newspaper, no-one sent through their sentences. Many of the residents are Muslim, so going in front of the camera is a difficult act, and even impossible for women. For a month, I went to all the local courses in literacy, cooking, dressmaking, family rights, hair removal and so on, so as to find participants. Nothing happened. Eventually, when I went to a dressmaking class, I was told by the veiled teacher that the situation had loosened up. She told me that the residents had nothing to do with my presence there and that their preoccupations were of much greater importance than art, especially given the sewing machines hadn’t worked for weeks and needed repairing. I immediately suggested that we go ahead with the repairs, because back when I was a child in the valley where I lived, I would always fix my mother’s sewing machine. The next day, the residents heard what was happening and the inscriptions started to come to me.

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