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DOI 10.1215/10757163-2009-006 © 2010 by Nka Publications Hannah Feldman CONSTRICTS AS THE WORLD Kader Attia’s Pictures of Spacelessness Journal of Contemporary African Art• 26• Spring 2010 60 • Nka Kader Attia, Ghost, 2008. Installation, aluminum foil, variable dimensions. Courtesy Centre Georges Pompidou-France and private collection S pace, it would seem, has been constricting in Kader Attia’s work for several years now. What little room there had been, for example, to navigate the crowded cityscape that the artist first forged from the rectilinear forms of over one hundred salvaged refrigerators in his 2006 Fridges at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon has all but buckled beneath the same slab-and-fridge skyline in its 2007 reincarnation at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, England. Here Attia embellished the hollow towers of the discarded frigos with a shimmering skein of mirrored tiles, each of which reflected off the next to produce a mise en abyme of spectacular plenitude, a mirage of space and light. The scant volume that remained between the towers, however, was only as deep as illusion. There was not much breathable air in the dense urban grid that Attia presented to gallery goers. And it was only the shimmering reflection of the spectators’s bodies that animated the fractured installation, giving contour, color, and a sense of life to the hollow “buildings” of Attia’s frigid city. Synecdochic to a T, these surplus kitchen appliances came to suggest an urban architecture that lives off rather than for the bodies it is meant to shelter. In spaces like this, little margin remains for human presence. Feldman Nka • 61 Journal of Contemporary African Art• 26• Spring 2010 62 • Nka Feldman Nka • 63 The same has certainly been said, and more than once, of the grands ensembles that dominate the French banlieues and that also litter the horizons of the many former colonial capitals where they once proliferated as urban “experiments” before being imported back to the metropolitan centers.1 In twentieth-century urban planning within the French empire, such massive architectural orchestrations were famously imagined as solutions to a housing crisis—if not also a social and communal crisis—witnessed after 1945 and again, significantly , during and just after the war known in Algeria as the Revolution or War of National Liberation, when unprecedented numbers flocked to the capital city.2 The fate of these architectural monuments is well known. The once impeccably austere slaband -tower constructions of townships such as those within the département of Seine-Saint-Denis—le 93, for short—where Attia spent his childhood, not to mention the cités such as Climat-de-France or Diar-es-Saâda in the Algiers he visited as a youth, have become synonymous with massive unemployment and social fragmentation. It is perhaps to mirror the collapse of the technophilic promise these architectural agglomerations were originally meant to embody that the glittering allure of Attia’s Untitled (Skyline) so quickly devolves into claustrophobic labyrinth. In so doing, this room-scaled city encapsulates for the artworld spectator—whom it simultaneously implicates —the consumerist trap that Attia has long ironized in work such as La machine à rêves (The Dream Machine, 2003) and Loose Weight (2004), both of which explicitly point to the fashioning of religious identity as chief among the productoriented phantasms that structure modern notions of belonging.3 In creating a continuum between secular and devotional consumerism, these works quickly conjure up the tension between inclusion and exclusion that has systematically animated Attia’s decade-long investigation into cultural identity under the hegemony of globalization and the increasingly fraught conditions of exile that often derive from an array of geopolitical conflicts all too frequently deemed “post”-colonial. Attia’s work serves as a pressing reminder that such conflicts, in fact, remain rooted in the spatial histories of the colony and in the aftermath of the battles fought to refuse colonization. Attia’s interest in this subject matter takes root in his own experience, wherein the interrelated crises of community in both France and Algeria after Algeria’s independence in 1962 anchor the oppositional poles of postcolonial possibility and probability . Indeed...


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