Exhibitions 2021: “Digital Mournings” by Neïl Beloufa

The new image infrastructures consist of systems, networks, standards, strategic alliances. What is the ultimate purpose of these structures? Attention. Everything around us is specially designed to capture our attention, track, quantify, manipulate and control our gaze. As in a mall or a large theme park or in the interfaces of various social networks, every citizen is first of all one user recipient and carrier of information that more and more feed the suspicion that it is technology itself that expresses itself through us with an incomprehensible language and purposes that put the human element to the test.

Neïl Beloufa. Screen Talk. View of the installation, Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2021
Courtesy Bad Manner’s Paris / Miami / Ibiza, kamel mennour, Paris / London, François Ghebaly, Los Angeles, Mendes Wood DM, ZERO …, Milan and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan. Photo: Agostino Osio

© Luisa Carcavale

The artist Neïl Beloufa is a great interpreter and investigator of these and other questions (Paris, 1985) among the most incisive artists of his generation. In recent years he has collected a series of prestigious participations in the most important international exhibitions, while at the same time his work was presented in festivals and film reviews that testify to his very active production as a filmmaker; two aspects that are not at all separate but rather perfectly integrated and visible in the exhibition atBicocca Hangar of Milan. Digital Mourning is the title of this dense personal curated by Roberta Tenconi, who is today the first major Italian exhibition dedicated to Neïl Beloufa which is presented in an archipelago of installations that converge and function as a single organic environment.
His research focuses on contemporary society and on the way in which it is represented and mediated by digital interaction, often with the aim of exposing the control mechanisms inherent in our daily routine. Through technologically elaborated videos, feature films, sculptures and installations, Beloufa experiments with the spectator’s sensory experience, inviting him to confront his own beliefs and stereotypes on present-day issues ranging from power relations to digital surveillance, from data collection to nationalistic ideologies, from identity to the post-colonial reading of the art world.

Neïl Beloufa. View of the “Digital Mourning” exhibition. Courtesy the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan. Photo: Agostino Osio

© Luisa Carcavale

Over the years Neïl Beloufa has managed to investigate these themes without ever pronouncing them as didactic exercises or with the emphasis of a Ted Talk, but on the contrary – as a true artist – he has developed a formally complex and fascinating personal imaginary that distances itself from formats such as that of the video-essay or the artist as an essayist who collects artifacts displayed in display cases. In various works one can also feel (at least for those who attended art between the late 90s and early 2000s) a certain subtle irony towards the relational aesthetics theorized by the critic Nicolas Bourriaud who between triumphs and failures has characterized a large part of artistic production precisely in the years in which Neïl Beloufa was training as an author.

In his new exhibition in the Shed space of Fondazione Pirelli Hangar Bicocca it is the impact of the overall display that embodies the ultimate meaning of this present. The feeling is that of walking inside a curious and dark fun house which, thanks to an overall direction, guides through the switching on and off of one or more works which at the same time generates an intermittent path in which visitors are encouraged to participate and watch videos and material that collect years of the artist’s production . Guiding the pace of the route are various narrators, the so-called “Hosts” or “Ghosts”, Which give“ orders ”to the spectator. The artist commented on this approach (once again antithetical to the codes of relational aesthetics) defining this peculiar condition of the visitor as “free but uncomfortable position that should lead to thinking about what is shown instead of believing it“.

Neïl Beloufa. View of the “Digital Mourning” exhibition. Courtesy the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan Photo: Agostino Osio

© Luisa Carcavale

In this strange haunted house haunted by voices and populated by past and present images, the physical space is characterized by Aged sets that look like they were taken from Disneyland, mysterious sculptures and bas-reliefs, partially illuminated and from which electrical cables branch off that allude to a real or presumed function: waste of a technology that is both futuristic and obsolete. And then other technologically complex devices with a seductive appearance that seem to come from a ‘arcade room and which invite the public to participate directly. Here you can feel the strangest of the sensations that Beloufa’s art offers its visitors: on the one hand this accumulation of hardware and devices recalls a physical interaction, videogame, but in this contemporary already irremediably changed by the pandemic every action physics and direct contact with the various interfaces already seem to belong to the past, replaced with new signs (indecipherable to the human eye) of the QRcode sown here and there that allow visitors to immerse themselves in video content no longer there, embedded in that apparent stand alone technology, but as a link to files that already belong to the intangible dimension of the cloud. At the same time it fascinates and depresses this scenographic mass that recalls the entertainment structures, deposited in our memories of tourists and visitors in a sort of archeology of the future, is the one that the critic and curator Mihnea Mircan has already defined, commenting on a previous Beloufa exhibition , the “logic of dismantling”.

Neïl Beloufa. View of the “Digital Mourning” exhibition. Courtesy the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan. Photo: Agostino Osio

© Luisa Carcavale

But there is much more: Neïl Beloufa’s exhibition is first of all an extraordinary device through which to show and rethink the video format, creating a specific network of visions, side by side and choral around the macro-theme of control: its complex logic of power and its failure. As had already happened in the previous exhibition of the artist Trisha Baga who is the same age as Beloufa and which inaugurated exactly a year ago in the same space, the video practice requires in parallel the experimentation of sculptural materials; two apparently distinct codes but which instead seem fundamental in the practices of the authors of that generation.
Next spring the artist will present in the center of Milan The Moral of the Story, a project promoted by the Henraux Foundation and will consist of four new installations of the artist exhibited in the amphitheater of the Apple Store in Piazza Liberty. The sculptures, produced by Henraux in marble, will be visible both during the day and in the evening hours.

Neïl Beloufa. The moral de l’histoire, 2019/2021 Installation view, Pirelli HangarBicocca, 2021
Courtesy the artist, kamel mennour, Paris / London, ZERO …, Milan and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan Photo: Agostino Osio

© Luisa Carcavale

To complete the experience of the exhibition Digital Mourning, Pirelli Hangar Bicocca is partner for the realization of the first monograph by Neïl Beloufa. The catalog, published by After 8 Books in Paris and conceived by Olivier Lebrun, will be a full-bodied in-depth tool to understand all the multiple aspects of the research conducted in recent years by the artist, with essays by Yilmaz Dziewior, Ruba Katrib, Jesse McKee, Guillaume Desanges, and Negar Azimi. In a bilingual English-French edition, the volume will be published during the course of the exhibition in Pirelli HangarBicocca.

Neïl Beloufa, Digital Mourning
Curated by Roberta Tenconi

From February 17, 2021, from Wednesday to Friday, from 10.30 to 20.30, until further notice. Reservations are not required if the health situation allows.

For updates: https://pirellihangarbicocca.org

Top image: Neïl Beloufa. View of the “Digital Mourning” exhibition. Courtesy the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan. Photo: Agostino Osio

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