Dérives with Tarek Lakhrissi

Online
First broadcast 26 days ago

Dérives with Tarek Lakhrissi

43min
This Dérives talk with artist Tarek Lakhrissi offers the opportunity to return to the queer of color chronologies and expressivities that move his prolific work.
From the historical contributions of Monique Wittig and José Esteban Muñoz to the Justin Chin’s prosody: these sources-as-affective-tools open the discussion with the artist onto emergent strategies within the commons.

In conversation with Madeleine Planeix-Crocker, associate curator.
Talk
Online
Thursday 04 Nov 2021
from 07 pm to 07:43 pm

With

Tarek Lakhrissi is a French artist and poet with a background in literature. He works across  installation, performance, film, text and sculpture, engaging with political and social issues  around transformative narratives within language, magic, weirdness, codes and love.

His background in literature draws influence from feminist and queer writers, such as Elsa  Dorlin, Jean Genet, Monique Wittig and José Esteban Muñoz, providing his work with a  romantic atmosphere. Each project Lakhrissi initiates derives from text, poetry and language,  which are his primary obsessions, before translating ideas from these mediums into the visual  arts. His profound use of language engages with performativity and reflects on poetic, erotic  and nostalgic queer futures. 

He currently teaches at CCC Research Master Program of the Visual Arts Department at HEAD (Geneva School of Art and Design). Lakhrissi has been exhibited internationally at galleries and institutions including: Museum of Contemporary Art; Biennale of Sydney (2020), Wiels; Brussels (2020), Palais de Tokyo; Paris (2020), Palazzo Re Rebaudengo/Sandretto, Guarene/Torino (2020), Quadriennale di Roma; Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome (2020), High Art; Paris (2020), Hayward Gallery; London (2019), Auto Italia South East; London (2019), Grand Palais, FIAC; Paris (2019), Fondation Lafayette Anticipations; Paris (2019), L’Espace Arlaud; Lausanne (2019), Zabriskie; Geneva (2019), Fondation Gulbenkian; Paris (2018), CRAC Alsace; Altkirch, France (2019), Kim?; Riga (2018), Artexte; Montreal (2017), Gaité Lyrique; Paris (2017), SMC/CAC; Vilnius (2017). He is represented by Vitrine Gallery (London - Basel) and is shortlisted for the 22nd Fondation Pernod Ricard Prize (2020-2021).

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Madeleine Planeix-Crocker is associate curator at Lafayette Anticipations.

In 2018, she founded the "Warm Up Sessions", a cycle of public and participative meetings around training practices in dance and performance. In the spring of 2021, she proposes the "Dérives" series, which aims to contribute to the writing of new histories of the arts through dialogues co-constructed with contemporary artists. Her interests lie at the crossroads of research and curation of feminist, queer and intersectional performances.

Madeleine is also co-director of the Chair "Troubles, Dissidences and Aesthetics" at the Beaux Arts de Paris and a permanent member of the Scientific Research Council of the ESAD in Reims.

A graduate of Princeton University in cultural studies, Madeleine obtained a Master's degree in Media, Art and Creation from HEC Paris and a Master's degree from EHESS. There she carried out a research-creation project with the association Women Safe, where she now runs a theatre and creative writing workshop. Madeleine is currently doing a thesis at EHESS (CRAL) on contemporary communal performance in France.

She has practiced dance and theatre since childhood.

About

Bibliography

Justin Chin, Bite Hard, 1997, Manic D. Press, Inc.

José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, 1999, University of Minessota Press

Monique Wittig, Les Guérillères, 1969, Les Editions de Minuit

Transcript

Madeleine Planeix-Crocker 

Hello everyone. My name is Madeleine Planeix-Crocker and I am an associate curator at Lafayette Anticipations. I am delighted to welcome the artist Tarek Lakhrissi who is also a close friend of mine. We will be speaking about friendship, among other things, in this Dérives talk today, which is part of our public programme. 

With Dérives, our hope is to invite artists and to exchange with them on the sources that drive their work. We want to arrive at a form of triangulation between these reference sources, the dialogue with the artist and their interpretation of these works, and the artist’s personal work. That is what we’re going to do today with Tarek, who has brought us three very different readings that will act as a window through which to discover three of his works as well. A common thread, if you like, in this exchange will be the question of intimacy—intimacy in language, intimacy in the private sphere, such as in a bedroom, and intimacy in the body.

So Tarek, thank you very much again.

Tarek Lakhrissi

Thank you very much for the invitation, it’s an honour for me to be here. I’m very happy to have this conversation with you.

Madeleine Planeix-Crocker

To start the discussion and before we get to the text, I think it’s also important for those who are listening to us today to know that we are friends. I think that this is another form of intimacy that appears in the background in our exchanges and that will come through. We wanted to address that in a way that would be...

Tarek Lakhrissi

Trigger warning: we’re friends!

Madeleine Planeix-Crocker 

So, yes, we’ve known each other for a long time and we often have exchanges about engagement or re-engagement, or at least friendship through political and radical gestures. Today we wanted to take on this tone, which is perhaps a little more familiar than usual, but which is our own.

To start the discussion, I believe that you wanted to read us a poem?

Tarek Lakhrissi 

Yes, yes. It’s a poem that I wrote that contains intentional grammatical mistakes. It’s in English, so I apologize in advance for the mistakes. And at the same time, I won’t apologize, because I’m a poet, so I can do what I want. 

Tarek Lakhrissi

“Most of the time for many many days, hours, years, I’ve been following your rhythm.
Until I found mine
I build a castle, I sucked dicks, I found joy in loneliness
I draw new futures and oracles
I danced on Tinashe until late
I wrote letters for strangers
I look at the sky wondering where have you been all this time.”

Madeleine Planeix-Crocker 

We’re now going to come to the reading by Justin Chin, who is a Malaysian poet who was introduced to us someone very dear to us, Ève Chabanon. Hello to her.

Tarek Lakhrissi

Hi Ève.

Madeleine Planeix-Crocker 

Drinking from her ceramic tea cups. Justin Chin grew up in Singapore and then lived in the United States, including San Francisco where he died in 2015. He speaks about Asian American queer life, in a territory to which he emigrated and in a language that is not his native tongue. This will allow us to make the connection with one of your first films which has a clear poetic language. This film is called Hard to Love (2017). You narrate it in English—we’ll get to that in a moment—but first let’s listen to you read Justin.

Tarek Lakhrissi 
Refuging

“I.

Where is my refuge, 

my fine and favorite friend?

Sitting in the blue glow

of the steam room

where men pass each other like ghosts, silent,

suspicious, surveying 

and strapped for some

humanness, I look through

the billowing wisps

of vapor to the man

standing at the door. 

His strong limbs, all

I ever knew how to lean on,

His broad brown body, all

the touch I ever remember;

How often I have wanted him,

to feel his warm spit

against mine,

and to smell his fleshy need.

And if I never saw his face

again, I will know I last saw it,

handsome as ever,

passport size in the back pages of a newspaper.

And while I chase his shadow

down dimly lit hallways with stick floors

and sounds of other men

finding their bits of godsend,

I find that I do not show

up in a mirror anymore.

I have become yet another ghost,

like Caspar, friendly

and unselective.

 

Where is my refuge,

my fine and feathered friend?

 

In the smoke of a woodfire oven, 

the smells of roast pork and chicken,

The chipping of ice blocks,

The popping of Anchor beer for the adults,

Pepsi for the kids;

and the clacking of mah jong tiles,

I watch my family at reunion.

Uncles and aunts prying into

each other’s children 

secretly comparing notes.

 

Where is my refuge, my fine

and feathery friend?

Hiding in the space in which I loved you,

And the body 

in which I find you,

demands it.

 

Where

is my refuge, my fine,

and festive friend,

From the roles of filial

concern  inbred

through centuries 

of parents and child

cycles of the necessity of home?

And while I hear the static of  long 

distance phone calls and air letters,

all caught between come and stay;

but homes and familial comforts

hold nothing in this court

of duty, shame 

and responsibility

 

Where is my refuge, 

my worn and weary friend,

from the men who loved me,

from the myths and philosophies 

thrust upon me and my race?

Where is my refuge from the belief 

that I will live to a hundred and five

That I will never get cancer,

nor high blood pressure

nor heart disease?

Where is  my refuge from the men 

who say, “I don’t really like Asians 

but they are so much safer to fuck 

these days”?

 

Where 

is my refuge, my fine, my feathery,

my worn, my weary friend?”

This is the very first part of his poem.

Madeleine Planeix-Crocker

Which is several pages long.

Tarek Lakhrissi

Much longer... several pages long. It’s very moving.

Madeleine Planeix-Crocker

As I was saying, Hard to Love is a poem that is written—and which you narrate—in English, and in which you make a distinction that is quite important, one which does not exist in the French language: the distinction between “talking about one self to others,” and “speaking a language.” I think that you highlight a form of violence in this text, which also appears in Justin Chin’s text, which is that of the dissonance that exists between the difficulty of existing as a being, and all the more so as a queer and racialized being, and a language that is not one’s own—to articulate oneself as a self in a language that is not one’s own. We’re now going to watch an excerpt from Hard to Love which we’ll then discuss.

Madeleine Planeix-Crocker

I wanted to ask, how did poetry or the prosodic form allow you to ask this question in relation to this fiction of identity that you take apart, in the same way as that of language?

Tarek Lakhrissi

I’ve never really spoken about it, but it comes from an anecdote involving my high school French teacher. I grew up in the suburbs, there were two high schools, the suburban high school and the high school in the city centre. I don’t know why, but I ended up in the city high school and there were a few of us who were racialized and minoritized, people of colour in that school which was predominantly white. I remember in French class, this teacher once corrected me a bit publicly, because I wasn’t speaking “proper” French. Speech raises this question of those people who are allowed to exist and those who are not, and how the way of speaking is a first form of control, a way of discriminating against people who don’t speak the right French. This experience was quite important for me because in this violent experience of confrontation, that’s when I realized that there was a real power in language and that knowledge is a weapon, to quote a phrase by, I think, the rapper Médine. At the time I was in the process of discovering that there was a world that I hadn’t necessarily been told about and that I wasn’t necessarily equipped to deal with, and that this world was a complicated one, one that I had to come to grips with in some way. I immediately understood that I had to change my way of speaking, my way of presenting, my way of performing, in order to be fully considered as a citizen. This is extremely, extremely violent and intense. I think that’s why a lot of my work deals with this question of alienation, the feeling of being somewhat alienated, of never belonging to a space and time, the feeling we have of always being perceived as an internal enemy. When I say “we,” I’m obviously talking about people of colour in France. We’re always perceived as a kind of threat, to make a link to the spears we’ll talk about later. In this video Hard to Love, there really was this question of how I had struggled to love French and to love Arabic, which is my personal heritage. English is always the way out, one which allows me not to betray French or Arabic. So you get into a kind of threesome with English and a certain form of English, like “Ah, welcome!” And so you arrive in another form of vortex and also obviously of culture and a relationship to other forms of power. This video was quite important for me, because it was the first one that I presented to the contemporary art world. At the time, I was working with Vincent Honoré and Cédric Fauq for the Baltic Triennial in Vilnius, Lithuania. I had a kind of carte blanche and I had written this text following a love affair that had ended badly. It felt important to me to combine this kind of hurt, losing something like the fact of losing one’s language or losing a part of oneself, by being forced to fit into society. This video is a form of heritage, of how there’s also a kind of desire to transform this relationship with language and to dissect it, to make it a primary tool to really, in the first instance, express myself and make statements, and also to point out what’s wrong with this language, to point out the difficulty in finding a way out from it.


Madeleine Planeix-Crocker 

And when did you come to theatre?

Tarek Lakhrissi

In high school, around the same time, I had chosen to do theatre and I loved it. At university I decided to focus on literature and theatre, at the Sorbonne Nouvelle where I studied for five years. Theatre was the direction I chose quite spontaneously because I felt good about this question of orality and the relationship to space and also about this construction in our world which is still recurrent in my work. Theatre was a sort of new portal for me and I went to see a lot of plays in Paris. I tried to live in Paris. There was a very specific moment, which was the discovery of Robert Wilson and Einstein on the Beach, this opera, which is a form of total synesthesia and a sort of synchronicity between dance work, repetitive music with Philip Glass, and text in particular, based on repetition and forms of trial and error and complexity, a text written by Christopher Knowles, who is very dear to me. It was a kind of explosion, both to understand how a text can become an object as bizarre and as mysterious as this opera and how... I think that at that time, I also had a relationship with space that was perhaps more sculptural and visual which was starting to emerge a bit, before I went all the way.


Madeleine Planeix-Crocker 

That is the perfect segue to this other space of intimacy that we wanted to address, which is that of the bedroom, which you staged in a performance from last year entitled Sick Sad World. In turn, I wanted to read a small passage from your work, Fantaisie Finale, which I found particularly striking as a way to introduce and make the link with this other intimate dimension. 

“A MILLION REASONS

TO BE SAD AND HORNY.

My room is shared with my brother and sister. I have little privacy. I spend my time outside, outside is my real home, so I hang out until late. My mother calls me The Savage. Outside I feel good, I leave secrets there, I set a scene where everything happens as I want it to. There are fictional characters behind the blocks, sometimes I spend hours in the public library. We hear about an apocalypse. It is 2005, France is on fire. The summer is heavy, the days long. We play baseball with a tennis ball and bits of wood we found on the ground. We play cards. Sometimes we play chess with pebbles and bits of glass. In my room I write a poem for him. You, you are you and I, I am over there. We could be together but you tremble... I am alone, it’s a sun. We love each other like rebels or another one that I tore up afterwards.”

I like the fact that here you deal with the first texts and emotions in the bedroom too. But, to bring up another reference that you wanted to discuss today, namely the writings of José Esteban Muñoz who is an important author of performance and gender studies, the bedroom is not always the safest or most secure space, because it is also a place of self-discovery, in what he calls this identity fiction. It can be a time when we face our own vulnerabilities. So that brings us to his text, from which you are going to share an extract.

Tarek Lakhrissi

Which is from the introduction “Performing Disidentifications.” It’s called Marga’s Bed: 

There is a certain lure to the spectacle of one queer standing onstage alone, with or without props. bent on the project of opening up a world of queer language, lyricism, perceptions, dreams, visions, aesthetics, and politics. Solo performance speaks to the reality of being queer at this particular moment. More than two decades into a devastating pandemic, with hate crimes and legislation aimed at queers and people of colour institutionalized as state protocols, the act of performing and theatricalizing queerness in public takes on ever multiplying significance.

I’m very interested in this relationship to dreams. Coming to Sick Sad World and how the play was really written during the pandemic. During the pandemic we all spent a lot of time in our beds, for those who had a roof over their heads. Spending so much time at home and in that bed, was kind of the starting point for thinking about a bed. In this bed I read a lot, and I rewatched series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the cartoon character Daria, who for me is a kind of counter-figure of pop culture. She always has a bit of a contradictory and rebellious relationship with her colleagues and friends. Daria, in order to escape into her imaginary world and to find spaces of freedom, let’s say, she watches a lot of a fictional series called Sick Sad World. Obviously, during the pandemic this immediately clicked in my head. I imagined this bed as a bed for her, that would be built in a rock shape with lots of crystals, like false snakes coming out, with “Sick Sad World” embroidered on the sheets as a kind of motto, a reminder that the world is sad and sick. The design of the bed was done in collaboration with the artist Theo Demans. We imagined this bed as a kind of stage. That’s where the performance took place, because the bed also led to the writing of the performance, which was then proposed as a dance solo for Joshua Serafin who is a queer Filipino performer based in Brussels, where I was at the time. For me too, this piece was also a stage for myself because it was a way of projecting myself into my own teenage history and how this space of the bed also brought me back to a space of dreams, of nightmares, a supernatural space with ghosts, to bring back elements of popular culture from horror movies. There are many scenes that take place in bedrooms. I imagined this space as a sort of allegory of Daria, but one that would be racialized and queer, and how this space of the bed is also a space of transformation in order to take on a form of adolescent fury, a form of will to live, to exist, both in identities that are more female, in desires to not conform to norms, to leave some room for the expression of emotions, poetry, and forms of conversation. The play is really based on this transformation and after we first follow him in his somewhat troubled sleep, there is a voice-over that then appears. It is a kind of monologue in fact, which speaks about this feeling of strangeness, of difference, of telling oneself to be a savage in fact, to be a monster, as we often find ourselves pushed into forms of essentialism. Then there’s this transformation at the end where Josh lip-synchs and dances to a Dua Lipa remix, “Let’s Get Physical,” which is a bit of a celebratory moment—a breath of fresh air after a very intense sequence where emotions are muddled, confused, as they are when you’re a teenager. This shift where you finally accept a part of yourself and you kind of tell everyone to “fuck off”—from that moment on there is another world that is reborn or created and everything becomes possible. That’s where I wanted to go with this piece.


Madeleine Planeix-Crocker 

I find it so beautiful to see the link between childhood memories that marked your relationship with your room, which was more or less intimate because it was a space that you shared with your sister, but in which you brought back all these references that were yours, whether they were the fantasy books you read or TV series, and that they reappear in a more current piece that animates this performance space which is really that of a set, which is almost theatrical, this room-bed made like a sort of magic volcanic stone. There are nails, purple false nails that are superimposed but almost like reptile scales or those of a chameleon, which is a reptile that follows you in your work, and textures that are juxtaposed with this very soft satin as well, which are evocative of this contradiction that we feel from childhood, I think, between the sublime beauty that can allow us to imagine or even to have utopian dreams in which we truly believe, and then this Sick Sad World in which we all find ourselves.

Tarek Lakhrissi

I think, at some point, we have to highlight the violence of the world, independently of each person and each identity and each complexity. For me, there is a desire, through art, to recall other spaces of joy but also of sadness and also perhaps sometimes of ambivalence between the two. It’s part of the world, it’s part of life, it’s part of ourselves. It’s important for me to give this space up to magical forms, because we can have a tendency to forget them or to find ourselves really caught up in the weight of external violence or at least of what each person is going through in their life. These spaces of magic are something that really needs to be addressed. 

Madeleine Planeix-Crocker 

This brings us to the third aspect of intimacy, which is that of bodies in these spaces. As I was saying earlier, the bedroom can be this space of emancipation, or at least of self-discovery, but also of great violence. And so, what do we do to defend ourselves and to arm ourselves too? This brings us to another part of your work, which takes another form, more sculptural, of the order of an installation, namely Unfinished Sentence II, which you presented at the Palais de Tokyo quite recently in the Anticorps exhibition last year. We see sculptural forms suspended from the ceiling which are a form of translation or interpretation of the weapons that the Guerillères would take—more than a nod, a genuine homage to the French lesbian author Monique Wittig, who wrote the fabulous book Les Guérillères. This utopia, like that of José Esteban Muñoz, through this exercise of disidentification, undoes representations of domination, in order to reveal itself in a different way through identities that are more sub-common, more subterranean, marginalized. And you propose sculptural forms, weapons that could be adopted in this utopia of womxn. Please go ahead.

Tarek Lakhrissi

“GOLDEN SPACES LACUNAE

THE GREEN DESERTS ARE SEEN

THEY DREAM AND SPEAK OF THEM

THE IMMOBILE BIRDS OF JET

THE WEAPONS PILED IN THE SUN

THE SOUND OF THE SINGING VOICES

THE DEAD WOMEN THE DEAD WOMEN

 

CONSPIRACIES REVOLUTIONS

FERVOUR FOR THE STRUGGLE

INTENSE HEAT DEATH AND HAPPINESS

IN THE BREASTED TORSOS

THE PHOENIXES THE PHOENIXES

FREE CELIBATE GOLDEN 

THEIR OUTSPREAD WINGS ARE HEARD

 

THE BIRDS THE SWIMMING SIRENS 

THE TRANSLUCENT SPANS THE WINGS

THE GREEN SUNS THE GREEN SUNS

THE VIOLET FLAT GRASSLANDS

THE CRIES THE LAUGHS THE MOVEMENTS

THE WOMEN AFFIRM IN TRIUMPH THAT

ALL ACTION IS OVERTHROW”

That is the first page of Les Guérillères. It’s funny, it is like an incantation.

Madeleine Planeix-Crocker 

Yes. It is something like…

Tarek Lakhrissi

A call.

Madeleine Planeix-Crocker 

Yes, a call, a song, a ritual, almost. There is a great softness in her words and at the same time there is a tension with a violence that is suffered, that is felt. To make the link with your sculptures, which appear like falling angels, when you arrive in this space you see a form of lightness, of finesse, but also something spiky. Could you tell us about this link between the quest for tenderness, that we strive towards, and also the feeling of a threat and of being in a state of defence, of knowing how to defend oneself, not necessarily by being on the defensive either. This is perhaps another link with Elsa Dorlin, whom we have spoken about at length.

Tarek Lakhrissi

Yes, Elsa Dorlin and Se défendre: Une Philosophie de la Violence (Self-defence: a philosophy of violence), which is also an important work. I think you could say that Unfinished Sentence, in addition to the conversation with Monique Wittig and Les Guérillères, came from a conversation with the director, Elfi Turpin at CRAC Alsace in 2019 who had invited me to produce a piece. That was a starting point which involved a lot of conversations to try to understand the codes and enigmas of Monique Wittig’s book. We had fascinating and intense conversations about what she wanted to say, what she was talking about and how this book, for me too, is a kind of succession of secrets in fact. When I read it, I was extremely moved by the generosity of these images of insurrections that don’t take place, of a kind of mythical energy in fact, which for me really echoed the desire to create a new language, the desire to say things to people who are affected. The disidentification of Muñoz is perhaps an  interesting point here, even if it is very closely linked to performance and to racialized people, which is not necessarily the case with Monique Wittig. But there is a real desire to connect in this book. I immediately had images of twisted, hanging spears that became a sentence. In fact, the arrangement of this sculpture was a way of saying a sentence, writing a sentence, which you can read as you like. In other words, there is something in the order of the miracle. That’s what interested me with this piece, to touch on this—how the arrangement of all these spears that are at once fascinating, something that we want to touch, but also dangerous and potentially threatening. It was also a way to explore one’s personal experience as a body, something to be considered as threatening if we think of it in connection with masculinity, indeed, racialized masculinity in this case. These spears are also Guérillères. These Guérillères are also those that Wittig invited us to imagine, but for me they are also part of my childhood like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Xena: Warrior Princess. So the film’s soundtrack, which was designed by the artist Ndayé Kouagou, is also inspired by these two soundtracks. They are really contemporary Guerillères: that’s important for me, women who inspire me, who make things happen, and who have a discourse that can be considered radical. I often refer to Assa Traoré, Fatima Ouassak, Kaoutar Harchi, and Maboula Soumahoro, and I also often mention my mother and my sister, who are very important to me and who are also the first representations of Guerillères that I had in my life. I think that this idea of creating oneself and this idea of a formula has profoundly motivated me in the conception of these sculptures and the way they create, I hope, a complex ensemble that is difficult to articulate, to see, to understand. I’m happy that there have been many reactions, such strong reactions to this piece, which for me, I would say, is really a way of saying many things by saying nothing. Am I making sense?


Madeleine Planeix-Crocker 

Absolutely. Your work also contains the will to write, an attempt at writing—I have the impression that it often deals with the desire to write. It deals with that desire and with the acceptance that what comes out in the end will be interpreted, but to find different material and practical forms to put this attempt at writing in place. I find that this makes sense in everything you’ve created, from the poems that you still write, to the performance, which is another form of stage-writing, to the sculpture. In the end, we are faced with an alphabet of spears suspended in this way, which is also a form of poetry in itself.

Thank you Tarek…

Tarek Lakhrissi

Thank you Madeleine.

Madeleine Planeix-Crocker 

…to have shared this herbal tea with me and these readings. 

Tarek Lakhrissi

Thank you for your invitation, I had a really good time.

Madeleine Planeix-Crocker 

I did too. We hope that you did also.

Tarek Lakhrissi

Thank you.

Madeleine Planeix-Crocker 

We’re pleased to see the sun setting and to experience that together at the Foundation. And we will meet again for the next live sessions in the Dérives series. See you soon.