Regen Projects is pleased to present Kader Attia’s Los Angeles debut, The Valley of Dreams. The exhibition will present a selection of new and preexisting works in various media including a lightbox photograph, ceramics, sculptures, and a large-scale installation that continue his material and philosophical investigation of the notion of repair as a global, cultural phenomenon in response to historic, collective trauma. This marks Attia’s first show at the gallery.
Born in Paris and raised between France and Algeria, Attia’s practice is informed by his experience of living within two cultures. His rigorous, research-based works examine the lasting and wide-ranging effects of Western colonial hegemony on non-Western cultures. Attia says, “I have always felt a strong analogy between California, New Mexico, Texas, and North Africa. They are indeed located on the same latitude, their climates are similar (desert and sea), and, most importantly, they are the areas thousands of migrants attempt to cross despite the danger.” The exhibition’s title, The Valley of Dreams, offers a critique of ideologies that proffer Western modernity and progress while so often taking a devastating human toll — places like Hollywood, where, in Attia’s words, “hopes and dreams are nurtured and then confronted with harsh reality.”
The opening of The Valley of Dreams features Rochers Carrés, 2007/2020, a lightbox photograph depicting two boys standing on a breakwater beach near Algiers’s Bab el Oued neighborhood. Nicknamed by the young people who go there to smoke, fish, and hang out for hours, the Rochers Carrés refer to huge concrete blocks reaching up to 4 meters in height. The boys in the photograph stand with their backs exposed as they gaze out at the Mediterranean Sea — the point of departure for many refugees and the ultimate boundary separating them from their dreams of a better life.
“Do these young people, who scrutinize the horizon hoping to find an answer to their misery, know what kind of environment they will end up in when they have accomplished the journey through the Mediterranean Sea? The boundary embodied by this beach is not only physical; it is also psychological. The hard existence of these young Algerian people reminds me of that experienced by young people in the French banlieues: the same lack of hope in the future, same sexual misery, same frustration, same lack of social acknowledgement, same feeling of failure and same suffering.”
— Kader Attia
Attia’s 2007 installation Untitled (Skyline) makes reference to the “promised land” embodied by many Western cities, where “hopes and dreams are nurtured and then confronted with harsh reality.” Composed of a looming group of refrigerators overlayed in mirrored tiles and lit against a dark background, the work is transformed into a glittering metropolis — a mirage that gives way to underlying associations of consumerism and basic human need.
A large-scale installation comprised of piles of blue garments lifelessly strewn across the gallery floor, La Mer Morte [The Dead Sea] takes its title from the geographical site bordering the West Bank and Jordan. A play on words, the work conjures imagery of a desolate landscape practically incapable of sustaining life. In its formal sense, the installation features a sea of clothes conspicuously absent of the bodies they once contained, silently memorializing the destruction left in the wake of the migrant crisis.
For Attia, injury is as important as repair, and he finds meaning in the ways non-Western cultures highlight or preserve the trace of injury, as opposed to the Western obsession with erasing the mark/injury as a brutal denial that often leads to more trauma. Here, Attia has repaired broken African Berber pottery using blue epoxy in reference to the vibrant indigo notably worn by the Tuareg people, marking these dishes as emblems of a homeland rife with heritage. Displayed on metal plinths, they are further transformed from utilitarian vessels to objects of art worthy of consideration in terms of their beauty and signification.
“Repair is an oxymoron, because ‘injury’ is its raison d’être. One cannot think about repairing something that hasn’t been injured. The state of the injured thing (the failure) and the state of the repaired thing (the repair) are forever bound in a causal layout that runs in an ethical and aesthetic loop of repair. This is true for all metaphors of repair: natural, cultural, political, immaterial, and so on...”
— Kader Attia
Carved with the likenesses of various animals such as a rabbit, bird, and monkey, these wooden West African masks not only represent the rich cultural traditions and rituals of their origins; they are affixed with shards of mirrors which cast back a fractured view of their present surroundings. This distortion, not unlike 20th century cubist artworks that purported to resemble the art of so-called “primitive” cultures from which they borrowed freely, are a reminder of the cultures the West has historically exploited for the sake of modernity and progress, and questions who benefits from such progress.
“The mirror masks come from seemingly arid territory — the desert — yet one that is rich in heritage, cultures, rituals, myths, beliefs. It is important for me to talk about the Valley of Dreams as the territory one comes from, the territory one crosses, and as the territory one hopes to reach.”
— Kader Attia
The sole painting in the exhibition is quasi-abstract, though shapes and forms begin to crystallize as it is scrutinized from a variety of distances and angles. Composed of henna, an earthy pigment native to Northern Africa, the painting assumes a cultural dimension with ties to the Middle East, India, and Asia, while visually reflecting the tones and textures of the desert. Seen from afar, shapeless bleeds and splatters morph into an arid landscape. Up close, it becomes a rough, muscular, genderless back marred by scars. Through these two dimensions — the cartographic and the corporeal — a narrative of the desert’s brutality and the body’s vulnerability begins to take shape. The story equally applies to those crossing the Sonora desert bodering Central and North America as it does to sub-Saharan migrants who set out to cross the Sahara.
Employing a technique similar to the one he used to create the ceramic works, Attia applies blue paint along the creases of crumpled paper dehydrated milk bags, which are suspended from the ceiling in Plexiglas boxes. Like physical features on a map, the creases trace sites of stress and trauma that can also be seen as a strategy or pathway through the terrain. The brown paper can be taken to resemble sand or skin, recalling deserts and the mortal risks many migrants take to cross them.
These photographic collages on paper incorporate images of Hijra, a centuries-old community of third-gender people living in India. Half priestesses and half pariahs, venerated as well as feared, Hijra combine tradition with modernity in a rapidly changing country caught hard in the flood of globalization and modernity. These collages are in dialogue with Attia’s body of photographs, La Piste d’atterrissage [The Landing Strip], 2000, which documents the experiences of a dwindling population of transgender Algerian immigrants living in Paris. Seen together, these series of works attempt to voice the stories of two groups connected by their perpetually liminal positions in society, yet separated from one another by time, distance, and culture.
Kader Attia (b. 1970 Dugny, France) grew up in Paris and Algeria. He has received degrees from the Ecole Supérieure des Arts Appliqués Duperré, Paris in 1993, La Escola Massana Arte i Disseny, Barcelona in 1994, and Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, Paris in 1998.
Attia’s work is the subject of Irreparable Repairs, currently being presented at Sesc Pompeia in São Paulo through January 2021. A significant solo exhibition of his work, Remembering the Future, was recently organized at Kunsthaus Zürich, where it was shown until earlier this month, and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art will stage a solo presentation of his work in 2021. Past solo exhibitions have been organized at the Hayward Gallery, London (2019); Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley (2019); Fundació Joan Miró, Centre d'Estudis d'Art Contemporani, Barcelona (2018); Power Plant, Toronto (2018); Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH (2018); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2018); The Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2017); Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL (2017); Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2017); Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main (2016); Musée Cantonal des Beaux Arts, Lausanne (2015); KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2013); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2013); Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2012); Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2007); and Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon (2006).
Attia has participated in multiple biennial exhibitions including the 12th Gwangju Biennial, Gwangju, South Korea (2018); 12th Shanghai Biennale (2018); Manifesta 12 (2018); 4th and 6th Marrakesh Biennial (2014 and 2016); 8th and 13th Lyon Biennale (2005 and 2015); dOCUMENTA (13) (2012); and the 50th and 57th Venice Biennale (2003 and 2017).
His work is included in numerous public collections internationally including Centre Pompidou, Paris; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Fundación Jumex, Mexico City; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Tate Gallery, London.
Attia has received several prestigious awards including the 2017 Joan Miró Prize, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, the 2017 Yanghyun Prize, Seoul, and the 2016 Prix Marcel Duchamp, Paris.
For more information on Kader Attia, please click here.