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Towards a history of the vanishing present
Orient Palace (Collection)
Et jamais devient:
Series of photographs presented on a modular cube display
Doublures (machinerie des accessoires)
Fabriques focuses on the ornamental elements that have proliferated in recent years on private homes of the new residential districts around Msaken – glaring manifestations of economic success and social prestige in a region marked by high emigration towards Europe. These decorative elements are signs that reveal the global mobility, the marks of this phenomenon reshaping the local townscape.
The sequences composing Fabriques were filmed around Msaken (city of the Tunisian Sahel nicknamed “Little France” or “Little Nice” due to the large number of its inhabitants living in Europe) in several factories producing decorative elements. The video focuses on the spaces of these workshops, depots, shops, and the activities that occur there. It details the ornaments, the stages of their manufacture, the surprising associations of styles resulting from their storage and display. New manufacturing techniques, in particular the use of polyester molds and alloys with cement, have replaced the traditional technique of stone carving, contributing to the mass production of these ornaments and the repetition of the same forms that indistincly combine references to ancient Greco-Roman, Arab and colonial architecture. The video concentrates on the ornamental elements and on a few people working in the factories, as well as on the music they listen – a popular genre in an other parts of the country, from where they migrated. The presence of decorative architectural elements in the background was a trope in Orientalist photography in the 19th-early 20th century. In Fabriques ornaments are not exotic accessories, but manifest a production process in which tradition and modernity, aesthetic values and tastes are negociated and transformed. The protagonists in front of the camera are not living in an immemorial past, outside of history, but are firmly grounded in the globalised present, in a world structured by international mobility, internal migration and exploitation of cheap labour. Ornaments become operators for a critical investigation of the Orientalist iconography inherited from the 19th and 20th century, of the sexist and racist colonial imagination it perpetuates – the markers of an hybrid cultural identity.
The video is presented together with a series of photographs showing details of promotional portfolios of various sellers of prefabricated ornaments. Those booklets contain images shot by the sellers themselves: the pictures are focused on the ornaments and serve to promote their best work and their expertise. The portfolios offer a specific vision of the new residential areas of the region, visualized and documented during various phases of construction. Our photographs capture both the specific point of view of those amateur documentary images and their functional commercial purpose.
An architectural display consisting of modular cubic elements organizes the different elements constituting Fabriques. Its schematic form refers to an ornamental detail of the architecture visible in several photographs.
Two frames complement Fabriques. They present a collection of historical photographs and postcards by Lehnert & Landrock produced in the early 20th century in Tunis. Expositions (2010) thematizes the progressive museumification of ornamental archaeological remains and their display. Doublures (machinerie des accessoires) (2010) decomposes a series of Lehnert & Landrock postcards dating from 1906-1912, highlighting the use of ornemental architectural elements as exotic accessories that are instrumental for the sexist and racist colonial imagination these depictions perpetuate.