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Les mille-et-une nuits

Installation / Biennial of Alexandria / Gold Medal of the Biennial

I used the book The Thousand and One Nights, banned in many Arab countries, with four nights completely censored in Egypt. Two genies do battle to find out who is the most beautiful: the young prince, or the young princess. And despite the ordeals to which they subject the young man and the young woman, and despite the god’s counsel, they do not manage to decide between one or the other, and go crazy over this lack of response. I had those four nights calligraphically reproduced beneath the huge glass ceiling of a room with a white marble stairway around it, for the Biennial. It talked about people who want to rule the world under the pretext of a sole truth. Broaching that head-on in a Muslim country was not possible, except in the form of a provocation, which is another form of power. I think that infiltration is a good way of upsetting normal proprieties. Looking as if you’re not touching upon them in the guise of beauty, and shifting. A lot of inhabitants of Alexandria saw that work and I had quite a lot of feedback. It used the imaginary quality of an ancient text to confront a complex artistic and political situation. People talked officially about the work’s beauty and unofficially, under the table, about the meaning of the text. When I got to the museum, two veiled women, who had been watching me work for a week, laughing as the text gradually appeared, carried me in their arms up the stairs. I had just been awarded the Gold Medal at the Biennial. Something between them and me was being shared, all of a sudden. The calligrapher, who was proud of our prize, told me with a twinkle in his eye that he had changed a word in the text. I watched the visitors reading the tale which unfolded on the walls, like so many whirling Dervishes, and I couldn’t find that word. My infiltration had been wonderfully infiltrated. Interview Hou Hanru, Sylvie Blocher and

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