There is no religion in the woods
Sabrina Amrani is pleased to present "There is no religion in the woods" an analysis of the works of Nicène Kossentini presented in her third solo show at the gallery, "Memorising".
"Memorising" is composed of a series of works based on texts by Arab philosophers, thinkers and poets, such as Ibn Khaldun or Khalil Gibran among others. Each of the calligraphic texts of the works disappear in an exercise of miniature writing that makes reading complex and the meaning impossible: works in which famous quotes are intertwined, poems are superimposed or texts are dissolved in water, creating an abstract landscape .
The starting point of this difficult-to-access landscape is the artist's reflection on the loss of meaning of words, and therefore of acquired knowledge: Kossentini feels like everything she had learned about history, grammar and even her native language, the Arabic, had no relation to the present. She finds that her knowledge, and therefore that of the rest of civilization, is disconnected from reality as a result of her forgetfulness.
Taking as a medium her mother tongue, which is often inaccessible to her, she questions at a universal level not only the liquid aspect of culture and tradition, but also the concepts of identity, civilization and history, and the crises derived from the disconnection.
How does a civilization survive and evolve when tangible knowledge becomes unintelligible?
To avoid this disconnection between what has been learned and the present time, Kossentini focuses more on the container than its content, on the form rather than on the meaning, and thus invites to awaken the capacity of the viewer to delve into the surface of the work, to discover the reason for the superposition of some words, the erasure of others and to understand the true meaning behind the landscape.
History: social phenomenon
For Kossentini, the gesture of writing is assimilated to the construction of a thought, a time that is extended, a diluted content. The artist poses a contemporary and universal problem: the loss of the meaning of words, and likewise the loss of knowledge.
Through writing and expanding words, Kossentini, throughout the exhibition, makes references to questions raised by the historian Ibn Khaldun in the fourteenth century, in his great work th Muqqadima. Considered the founder of political sociology, he wonders what are the causes of historical and social evolutions. The main interest in her work is the identification of the psychological, economic, social and environmental factors that affect historical events and history and that allow us to understand the process of human civilization, in the same way that the artist questions on social evolution, memory loss and the search for identity through history, grammar or poetry lessons.
The reason why Kossentini rescues this Universal History book and extracts some fragments is because she considers that we must reinvent history, and gain awareness that we are about to lose it and with it, our identity. Therefore, we have to do everything possible to catch what is about to disappear and keep it alive in time.
In the words of the historian of Al-Andalus "Language is one of the facets of thought". In Kossentini's works, it is the gesture that makes his way of reinventing history: as if they were eternal, through her pieces she tries to capture what is fleeing, changing. It is the way in which she expresses the state of disappearance of these texts and stories, and tries to retain them: the excerpts of the history lessons repeated on paper and diluted in water as a symbol of the process of disappearance in which they are found.
I always felt a disconnection between the past and the present. We should learn how to go beyond the knowledge we inherit. However, we still don't know how to build on and with this heritage. We do not know how to include that knowledge in our present and we end up losing it.
- Nicène Kossentini
The artist explores that feeling of loss of meaning of words, from which her practice becomes a process of investigation of language, its form and its meaning. As she did at the beginning of her career through video and photography, Nicène moves away from the frenetic pace in which we find ourselves immersed and that leads us to miss part of the things that happen in time, to prioritize slowness and patience and concentration. Invites the viewer to stop, come closer, put aside any other activity or thought, and focus solely on her work, trying to decipher it.
Unlike works on paper, Kossentini extracts texts on the grammar of the Arabic language from an old school book of her father, and writes them on glass. With part of the fragments superimposed on each other, you can perceive some words that stand out, some parts seem more accessible than others. However, after a while in front of the work, after taking time to decipher the content, the viewer understands that it is not possible. With this gesture, the artist reflects on whether language is really sufficient for the formation of knowledge.
We use Arabic writing and calligraphy as conceptual art par excellence, with that idea of being unique, of being cosmic; We express ourselves through the form of Arabic writing, and I believe that today we must continue with this form of expression.
As part of the concept of loss and disappearance that is the common thread of the show, the artist brings poets such as Abu Nuwâs, Jamil Buthayna, Al-Khansā or Al-Ma’arri, among others. She selects seven of the poets who are closest to her and present the characteristic common to Arabic poetry: in addition to not having a title, they all begin their poems with a phrase that refers to the ruins, the disappearance of the beloved, the idea. of loss, but with the sense and impulse to recover and rebuild.
Talking about women and love in poetry is a general rule. However, the figure of women in the work of Nicène Kossentini, as it happens throughout the History of Art, is a symbol of the representation of society and civilization. Thus, when a society is suffering an identity crisis, it has been involved in conflicts, it has a change in its maximum figure of power, it must rebuild and reinvent itself. After ending in ruins, you must continue to build your story from events.
Don't cry for the ruins and for the loved one if he leaves you
Abu Nuwâs ( Irán, 756 - 814)
At the beginning of my career I asked myself: what are my references? What do you love about art? And always answered "Arabic poetry." I am not a poet, I am not a writer, but within my own culture, as there is an absence of images, we have been "bathed" in letters, poetry and literature.
Nicène triggers our capacity to delve behind the surface, especially as most of her pieces are set out of a clear temporality, in a unique space-time continuum. Floating as if eternal- both light and intense - her minimalist creations point to the essential and try to capture what is fleeing, changing or disappearing. But can we grasp movement?.
Knowledge: Natural Element of Civilization
Kossentini throughout the entire exhibition leads us to reflect on the concept of identity as individuals and as a civilization, through the idea of forgetting and memory. In the artist's words, things are born and later, they disappear. Everything is fugitive and at the same time invisible. Contemplation and concentration to maintain what is about to be lost lead to forgetting the content to focus on contemplation. With writing, the pieces recall texts that make their lives go on.
Through phrases such as "Injustice and oppression lead to the collapse of civilizations", "Language is one of the two sides of thought" by Ibn Khaldoun or "Our true reality is silent" by Khalil Gilbran, the artist shows that, not only lengthens the life of words but also builds an abstract landscape, where knowledge is the natural element of civilization.
In these fragments there is a construction of a new landscape. It is a landscape that is formed through knowledge.
The thought of the line, its absence in the presence, has invaded everything; past of an illegible writing-memory and present of a floating, indecisive landscape. A nothing about nothing that becomes everything.
Christine Buci-Glucksman, philosopher and art critic.
The learning process
"Memorising" is, in addition to a work on the idea of memory and identity, a reflection of the artist's interest in the protagonism of the continent vis-à-vis content (form versus meaning), in a society where contemplation of the visual is distracting of the importance of meaning.
The artist says that one day, diving into the family photo archive, she came across an image of her paternal grandfather, in the 1930s, where he was seen at school with his classmates and teachers, dressed in traditional Arab clothing. Although it is an old photo, which has lost color, and certain details, the artist feels a close relationship with her initial concern: "While I was studying, there came a time when I became aware of a break. All my learning, literary heritage and poetic that had been transmitted to me, it seemed to have no relation to my present ”. Probably, she thinks, her grandfather also learned subjects and knowledge, which later when she grew up, had no connection whatsoever with her present.
She reflects on the initial moment of learning: when he begins to read, when he begins to write, to sing ... In this process, the subjects and their content are as important as the continent, the place where that knowledge is framed and carried out: the school and its desks. The desk as an object that gives you space to stop, stop time and dedicate yourself to understanding, to understand culture, civilization and society. Time to learn about the concept of identity and belonging. Time for the knowledge and training of the individual who acts in the present, and will be an actor in the future.
All the names of my classmates who in their time learned and were formed, who recorded their identity on the desks, have now become adults, who determine the future of a civilization, of a society.
Nicène Kossentini studied in the Academy of Fine Arts in Tunis, at the Marc Bloch University in Strasbourg and at the Sorbonne University in Paris. During the first edition of the International Digital Media in France, she was interned at the Studio National des Arts Contemporains Le Fresnoy and at l'École de l'Image Les Gobelins. Currently, she is assistant professor of experimental cinema at the University of Tunis.
Nicène works have been shown all over the world in art galleries and institutions such as Institut du Monde Arabe (France), MUSAC (Spain), Centro de Atlántico de Arte Contemporáneo (Spain), Círculo de Bellas Artes (Spain), Museum of Boulogne Billancourt (France), National Museum of Carthage (Tunisia), Museum of Contemporary art of Algiers (Algeria), Bamako Biennale, Alexandria Biennale, Tunis Biennale and Thessaloniki Biennale.
Her work is present in prominent public collections such as The British Museum, Kamel Lazaar Foundation or the Museum of Modern Art in Tunis, Tunisia.