At the Center for Contemporary Art in Brussels, Candice Breitz plays the “Extra” for Mehdi-Georges Lahlou

“White Face”, by Candice Breitz, in the “Extra” exhibition, at the Centrale, in Brussels, in April 2023.

Violence is the leitmotif of this exhibition by Mehdi-Georges Lahlou at the Centrale: it reveals itself alternately explosive or diffuse, almost invisible, stemming from great history as well as from its most intimate imprints. The artist was invited by the contemporary art center of the city of Brussels, to invite a colleague or a colleague for a duo exhibition, according to one of the established formats of the venue, and it is with Candice Breitz that he has chosen to put his work in dialogue.

The two have in common to use their bodies to understand the way in which identities and self-images are shaped in societies marked by colonial impact. “She is a white, South African woman, who experienced the apartheid regime and who lives in Berlin. Me, I am a racialized man, of Moroccan origin, French living between Brussels and Paris. Candice Breitz’s work has hardly ever been shown in Belgium, and it’s rare in the Brussels landscape to see an exhibition addressing issues of race in such a frontal fashion.”notes the 40-year-old artist.

Mehdi-Georges Lahlou is also a performer and director, and this is reflected in the scenography he imagined at the Centrale. The entrance is through a dark room, where we discover a series of videos with identical framing, in a gradation of colors ranging from yellow to green. The artist, shirtless, is filmed frontally breathing. He had created this installation entitled Spicy, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Ginger, Henna, in 2015, at the museum of Ypres, in Belgium, dedicated to the First World War. Here, the air is saturated with particles of spices and the evocation of mustard gas summons the senses to replay a more sinister reality.

Large blackboards

The rest of the exhibition immediately resonates, with a bronze bust of the artist covered in exploded grenades on edge. Painted white, the sculpture is surrounded by large blackboards. The use of lethal gases was the occasion for scientific studies for the Germans, resulting in hundreds of photos of the dead. On the front, the gassed French were soldiers from Brittany, Normandy and others from the colonies. The artist found nine photos of North Africans in the Ypres archives. He covered them with a velvety cloud of charcoal, revealing shades of black in the light that gradually hint at a reality erased from collective memory. “Looking by whom and for whom archives are made allows us to better understand what is forgotten in history. This is what the work of Mehdi-Georges questions”analyzes Tania Nasielski, the exhibition curator.

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