Léa Gauthier

This book is undoubtedly a monograph in the traditional sense of the word, considering it contains reproductions of the majority of Kader Attia's body of work since his early career. Within it, you'll discover the multiple facets of his work. And yet, for every installation he also produces films, photographs, collages, drawings, and objects, and if you ask him to define himself in one word (which he does only grudgingly) he would say that, above all, he's a sculptor. Throughout this multiplicity of media, it's actually the plasticity of realities, histories and identities that he explores as material.
We decided to structure this publication not along chronological lines but with an emphasis on the organic, pre-existing relationships between projects. The book contains nine sections, entrances into his body of work that converge as both reflexive lines of thought and critical standpoints. Kader Attia wanted to “use” his work to initiate (or continue) conversations with people who, in some cases, are quite distant from the art world. He hoped to reveal the elaborative process within his plastic research, which draws a great deal on exchange, association and displacement. Each section contains archive pages where visual and textual documents gravitate as satellites to his work. These archives have no didactic intent, nor are they exhaustive, rather they contribute to exploding the narrative, or more precisely the attempt at narrative. And even here, it's a sculptural act: from this flow of documents, Kader Attia extracts certain ingredients to shape a unique history of his artistic process and commitment.
The work in this context is a manifested source for investigation that attests directly to the function and power of art today, also operating within the fields of architecture, medicine, psychoanalysis, natural science, political science and the methods along which their respective histories are built. In a way, this publication acts as an invitation from the artist for you to enter his mental studio. It not only speaks to scholars of the art world or of his body of work, but to all those who consider themselves wardens of the present. So the term “monograph”, though not exactly false, does not entirely articulate the intention of this book: the voices expressed here within are multiple, the angles are open, the approaches complex.
Perhaps, in the spirit of introductions, I should start at the beginning, with the title: RepaiR. And, to shed light on this word, it seems fitting to share an anecdote, an origin story or perhaps the triggering event. More than 20 years ago, while Kader Attia was finishing his service in the Congo (in France at the time, people who refused their “military service” were called “conscientious objectors”), a friend gave him an old loincloth that once belonged to his great aunt and had been patched together with bits of Vichy fabric (). Kader Attia held on to this object without really looking at it, until one day he realized that the repair done to the cloth was in fact a powerful and assertive act of cultural reappropriation. His friend's great aunt made an exogenous item her own, an item belonging to a culture that, by way of colonization, had repressed hers, and yet she managed to mark this object with her own individuality. Double wounds: insects had eaten the cloth, colonizers had devoured her country, and by using Vichy fabric to repair the cloth, the old woman had engaged in a double reparation, that of the object and of her own identity. On a symbolic and concrete level, she in turn devoured the other. I'm using the word “devour” here intentionally, to echo the Manifesto Antropófago written by Oswald de Andrade in 1928 (2). The poem is an assertion of Brazilian singularity in the face of Europe, a case in favor of the anthropophagy practiced by the Tupi indians (original inhabitants of the Brazilian coast), who devoured their enemy to access their power, literally incorporating and becoming the other. Thus the great aunt of Kader Attia's friend succeeded, through a traditional method of cloth repair, in incorporating an otherness, assimilating and, in a sense, digesting it.
Continuing his investigation, Kader Attia understood the fundamental difference between the idea of reparation in the modern West and reparation in the non-Occident. Western modernism (introduced by the Quattrocento) advocates reparation as an ideal and ideological return to the same: it strives, then, to retain the integrity of the original object. On the other hand, most non-Occidental cultures value the act of repairing in and of itself and make these repairs visible rather than hide them. These cultures have no pretensions about returning the object to a pseudo-original, perfect state. Was Western expansionism (through conquest and colonies), led by concepts of progress and humanism, not legitimized by an ideology of reparation? Is reparation not at the very heart of so many exchanges between the West and other countries, be it in regard to restitution, compensation or recognition? While we live in a word where Western-centrism no longer applies and a new definition of humanism in a post-colonial context is required, the polysemic dimensions of reparation take ethical, political and, yes, aesthetic turns. In one of the texts you will find quoted in the archive pages, Achille Mbembe writes: “Restitution and reparation therefore lie at the very heart of a possible construction of a shared consciousness of the world, that is to say the accomplishment of universal justice. The concepts of both restitution and reparation are founded on the idea that there is an intrinsic part of humanity under the protection of every human being. This irreducible part lies in every one of us. It enables us to be objectively different, yet the same” (3). Indeed, because reparation, be it material or immaterial, challenges the most individual and the most universal simultaneously, it is a choice approach for an artist such as Kader Attia.
Another major specificity in reparation is its unique relationship to time. Any repair involves a link between the past, history (individual and/or collective) and the present. Any repair is a contemporary reading/writing of history. In this sense, a repair is the past reincarnated and offers a chance to rebuild foundational narratives. Repair is therefore the here-and-now of a storytelling gesture that recounts history. Arthur Danto wrote that one of the characteristics - and perhaps opportunities - of contemporary artists is their access to the past, which they can grasp as they please since the course of things no longer obliges them to follow the dictates of novelty, progress or manifestos, as was the case for the modernists (4). Kader Attia takes full hold of this opportunity in this book, just as he does in his work in general.
RepaiR addresses the different aspects of reparation/reappropriation that operate in Kader Attia's artistic research, but it is also an act of repair in itself. It manifests the plasticity of the world and speaks to our present, to place, to the responsibility we can create foundations for and even vindicate, especially now, through a historical conscience and the need for transdisciplinarity and dialogue. This publication is two years in the making, and stands now as a direct invitation for discussion and reflection, a call addressed personally to you.

(1) See photo p.73.
(2) Oswald de Andrade, “Manifesto Antropófago” in Revista de Antropofagia, 1928.
(3) Achille Mbembe, Critique de la Raison Nègre, éditions La Découverte, 2013. Cf. p.82 of this book.
(4) Arthur Danto, After the End of Art. Contemporary Art and the Pale of History, Princeton University Press,1997.

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