French artist Zineb Sedira makes visceral video and photo-based work that often addresses the subject of national identity. Although she was shortlisted for the prestigious Marcel Duchamp prize this year, and she has work in the collection of the Tate Modern, among other museums, she’s only now having her first solo show in the U.S. “Present Tense,” currently on view at Taymour Grahne, brings together Sedira’s earlier, lesser-known work, as well as reimaginings of her most critically acclaimed projects.
Sedira, who now lives in London, has said that the immigration of her parents from Algeria to Paris in the 1960s is a starting point for much of her work. Borderlessness, from a political and cultural perspective, is one of the artist’s recurring themes. “In a now-globalized world, mobility is a part of people’s lives,” she has said. “My interest in mobility is very relevant to current touristic, social, and political currents.”
Zineb Sedira, End of the Road, 2010. Installation view of “Present Tense” at Taymour Grahne, New York. Courtesy of Taymour Grahne and the artist.
At the heart of “Present Tense” is an adaptation of one of Sedira’s most complicated installations to date, End of the Road (2010), a two-channel video arranged in conjunction with 3 lightboxes, originally commissioned for the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar. In the videos, cars are destroyed by grinding machines as Sedira’s voice narrates the ruinous forces at work in globalization. “The death of these modes of transportation,” she has said, “is a symbol of for the rupture, disorientation…and fragmentation when traveling.”
Two series based on archival photographs of lighthouses are also on view. Both Registre du phare (2011) and Museum of Traces (2013) use Algerian lighthouses that stood standing though French rule as investigations of the ambiguities of colonialism and as a way to glimpse the lives of the people who manned them. The images—which show measuring instruments, log books, maps, and objects particular to French Algerians, like crystal decanters—are labeled in French as if tagged in a museum. Also on display are other starkly metaphorical photographs seen though Sedira’s matter-of-fact lens. In the photograph The Lovers (2008), two rusted, dilapidated boat hulls lean against each other, moored in shallow water. The imposing, large-scale color C-prints of her Sugar Silo (2014) series subtly invoke the enormity of the sugar trade and its impact on the economies of such countries as Cuba, Madagascar, and Brazil. The photographs are a vibrant example of the power of images, and of Sedira’s ability to convey so much meaning and information without overwhelming her viewers.
“Present Tense” is on view at Taymour Grahne, New York, Nov. 12, 2015–Jan. 16, 2016.