Kader Attia   
Parabolic Self Poetry - view 1, 2015, light box, 128 x 159 x 20 cm

Born 1970 in Dugny (France)
Lives and works in Berlin (Germany), Paris (France) and Algiers (Algeria)

In Parabolic Self Poetry we see satellite dishes attached to a rooftop balustrade. The rusted concave dishes are pointed at an object in orbit; it looks like information is being beamed down directly to the building’s residents. The photograph shows an apparently normal state of affairs. Through the weathered poles of the balustrade we see a cityscape. We might presume that the photograph was taken from the roof of a building similar to the many white high-rises visible in the photograph. But the inquisitive eye also notices domed roofs, and far off in the distance, date palms. In fact, the picture was taken from a building designed by the French architect Fernand Pouillon in “Climat de France”, an area of Algiers that was built in 1957. Pouillon’s goal was similar to Le Corbusier’s on the outskirts of Paris: he wanted to create affordable housing for as many people as possible. We now know that such 1:1 transfers of modernist ideals to architecture as took place in Europe and in the European colonies resulted in social upheaval and conflict. Given their location in Algeria, which in 1957 was still ruled by the French colonial power, these buildings also signify hegemonic intervention into a foreign culture and its traditions. In other words, the forms and ideas of modernity represent a continuation of colonialism.

This important, powerful image is a testament to Attia’s engagement with questions of cultural identity, the problems of post-colonialism, the associated migration and the coexistence of people of diverse backgrounds in the metropolitan areas on the outskirts of our cities. He sees architecture as an area that combines economic, political, hegemonic and cultural aspects. Born and raised in 1970 in Dugny, in the French department Seine-Saint Denis, the son of Algerian parents who emigrated to France in the 1960s, Attia is keenly aware of his origins as an artist. With his ambitious socio-critical approach, he explores the complex connections that result from the history of the colonial powers and the lands they once colonised. In this context, satellite dishes in his photographic work play a symbolic role that on the one hand serves to create identity and on the other harbours the potential for conflict. Indeed, contemporary media not only play the enlightening and connective role that they are often associated with in modernity, but also a role in creating myths, a role that polarises and separates people. Part and parcel of modern times.

Text: Peter Friese