Facing the Enemy @ Palais de Tokyo

Two exhibitions at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris are running concurrently that employ huge immersive installations to subvert our ideas on all things moral and political. Across large curated spaces Neil Beloufa’s L’ennemi de mon ennemi and Kader Attia and Jean-Jacques Lebel’s One and Other present the audience with work that will shock, scare and challenge the viewer, causing the spectator to reconsider their ideas about our current social situation.

Kader Attia & Jean-Jacques Lebel: One and Other

Both exhibitions are formed from the collection and subsequent curation and presentation of collected objects. In Neil Beloufa’s L’ennemi de mon ennemi, which translates into English as the enemy of my enemy, comprises historical documents and war museum artifacts which are displayed alongside the images of almost every political figure in recent history who might be considered controversial. These portraits and objects are jumbled together among electronic devices that mimic robots. These electronic components appear as video games or other inventive forms to re-examine how we read politics and history. Figures from all corners of the globe and social circumstances appear in what we might deem to be confused situations, subverting our perception of war, diplomacy and public affairs.

Neil Beloufa: L’Ennemi de mon ennemi

Beloufa’s robots rotate the artifacts so that our perception is constantly changing, challenging established ideas about power and society. The kinetic aspect of the exhibition inserts the notion that nothing is static and that the idea of stability is impossible. Beloufa has been quoted as saying: “If there once was a time when artists came up with images that the powers that be didn’t want to see, the powers now incite, desire, consume, and paradoxically represent freedom in this way.” It would seem therefore, that in his immersive installation, Beloufa has interpreted his artist’s role as having the authority to reposition power. He has done this through the manifestation of a three-dimensional contradiction, where his images are literally moving and changing face at every moment. Amongst flags, propaganda posters and the occasional robot, the viewer is presented with Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un and swastikas. The display causes a feeling of unease and confusion – exactly what the artist intended. Amongst the robots are also video games and re-imagined film posters in which military figures have replaced cartoon characters. It is as though Beloufa wants to instil in us the idea that life is a game, and while we can play along and see where the journey takes us, we also have the power to switch the way we are playing.

Neil Beloufa: L’Ennemi de mon ennemi

The enemy of my enemy questions the very notion of an enemy. By its title and the people and images he has included within the installation, the focus of Beloufa’s exhibition is on someone to be feared, and suspicious of. Similarly, Kader Attia and Jean-Jacques Lebel’s One and Other asks the viewer about a rival, the other. The exhibition comes in two halves The culture of Fear: An invention of evil and Poison Soluble. Both titles suggest something dreadful. While Beloufa’s exhibition presents the viewer with the events from recent history from the past fifty years or so, Attia and Lebel go back many hundreds of years. Through their two installations, they question firstly, the fabrication and the idea of the ‘other’, someone or something that sparks fear: the violent and the scary. In the second space they examine the continued occurrence throughout history of war crimes, rape, humiliation and torture. This investigation is presented through news cuttings, museum objects and weapons.

Neil Beloufa: L’Ennemi de mon ennemi

While Beloufa inserts the faces and emblems of some of the more controversial and less popular figures of recent political history, the imagery in Attia and Lebel’s two installations are much more disturbing and even distressing at times. The most upsetting piece of their work is a maze in which the viewer is confronted with the images of the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse and human rights violations committed by the United States Army against detainees in Iraq. In the very nature of the maze, the audience struggles to escape, meaning that they have no choice but be confronted with the heinous war crimes. This appears in Poison Soluble, two words that seemingly juxtapose each other. ‘Soluble’ suggests something that can be swallowed. It is something that can be dissolved. These horrific images are anything but. However, in this labyrinth in which one struggles to escape, the viewer has no choice but to confront the photographs.

Kader Attia & Jean-Jacques Lebel: One and Other

In addition to their harrowing maze, Attia and Lebel present the viewer with a chair constructed from guns and a huge shelf-like structure in which extracts from newspapers and magazines display cuttings from the last ten years, right back to the colonial period. The pieces are papers that plaster the architectural form include historical maps and figures as well as the front covers of modern and contemporary publications such as TIME and The Economist.

Kader Attia & Jean-Jacques Lebel: One and Other

Both exhibitions are an amalgamation of collected objects of familiar objects and people that have been displayed in a way that is unfamiliar and strange. The resulting exhibitions are not beautiful, but that is not the point. The displays recognise that there are figures in our lives that we are constantly fearful or uneasy about and ask their audiences to evaluate why we feel a certain way about these individuals, leaving a lasting impression, long after leaving the doors of the Palais de Tokyo.

Neil Beloufa: L’Ennemi de mon ennemi is on display at Palais de Tokyo until 13th May 2018

Kader Attia & Jean-Jacques Lebel: One and Other is on display at Palais de Tokyo until 13th May 2018

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer and curator. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, ReOrient and Suitcase Magazine. Lizzy recently curated Perpetual Movement as part of Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN) Festival 2018 in London, which was featured in Vogue Arabia and The Art Newspaper.

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