The fifth edition Marrakech Biennale run by Vanessa Branson (sister of Richard) and artistic director Alya Hebdi discusses the theme ‘Where are we now?’. With a focus on site, situation, time and context, the programming aims to discuss and represent the condition of contemporary art and contemporary Morocco. In addition to the visual arts, the biennale hosts a film and video, literature and performing arts programme across the architecture of the city, from never inhabited theatres to run down cinemas. 80% of the main exhibition, which is spread over sites from the former prison to the central museum, features site-specific works, commissioned specifically to respond to the locality of Marrakech.
Here we select the top ten artists in the visual arts programme.
SHEZAD DAWOOD - TOWARDS THE POSSIBLE FILM
Blue-skinned bodies washed up on a craggy shore. Close-ups on blue mouths and an otherworldly intent keeps Dawood true to genre form in his specially commissioned semi-sci-fi semi-belief driven film. Combining ancient astronaut story structures with analysis and speculation about religious belief systems, Dawood draws on blue skinned Gods, whose presence pop up in three religions and therefore can be seen to evolve either entirely organically and separately, or as all emanating from an apex at the core of all belief only to be spread across separate areas of the globe.
KEREN CYTTER - SIRENS
This specially commissioned work by Cytter is the best iteration yet of her inexplicably seductive blend of off-key actors, video software graphics, gory theatrical violence all masked in a self-conscious existentialism. Although arguably the least site-responsive work of the festival - it is also the most captivating.
FELIX MELIA & JOSH BITELLI - MINT PROJECTS
This young London based duo have created a site-specific response to the city by way of a film and sculpture work. Their flag, constructed with metalworkers and materials from the city itself was then flown astride a motorcycle and filmed on its journey across the city. The aesthetically astute film was then screened in one of Marrakech’s abandoned run down spaces, an atmospheric movie theatre.
CEVDET EREK - VARIATIONS ON COURTYARD ORNAMENTATION WITH SOUNDING DOTS AND A PRISON
Working with the atmosphere and the overwhelmingly filmic location, Erek’s work creates a calling network of ‘sound dots’ across the sand hued old prison. Storks nest around the circumference of the building communicating and squawking, and these sound dots echo the action, stuttering between fast paced staccato beats and longer tones. The effect is to ground you in the architecture and add a spatial sound awareness to the visual landscape.
SAADANE AFIF - SOUVENIR
A simple performance: the teaching of a geometry lesson in the main square of the Medina equipped only with a flip chart and wooden, shaped blocks. It is the twilight gathering of children actually paying attention to the shapes and jostling for a position at the front as forms and equations are being drawn out and explained that makes Afif’s work tender, surprising and affecting.
ERIC VAN HOVE - V12 LARAKI
Appearing like any other decorative artefact and displayed centrally in the Bank Al Maghrib at plinth-level, the object under scrutiny on this occasion is the result of nine months of collaborative and intricate work. It is a replica of a Mercedes-Benz V12 engine, the machine used to power Morocco’s first high performance luxury car. 465 components handmade by forty-two Moroccan craftsmen transform an object of technological achievement and performance value into an object of wonder and value rendered impotent in it's role as a sculpture and non-working replica.
HAMID EL KANBOUHI - SOUTA/TRENDSENSITIVE
The multi-room installation in the basement of the central bank began with a playing card handed by an elderly man through a curtain behind which a half naked, semi-costumed man rifled through bucket of seemingly ceramic objects surrounded by garish painting. This confusing antechamber set the scene for the final large room painted all over in disorientating black stripes and housing a tea bar...
ALEXANDER PONOMAREV - VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS
A skeletal ship surfaces in the desert. Ponomarev has been developing wrecks since 1996, he builds these empty vessels as a sign of hopelessness. A metaphor for a world that has lost its way. But in building it, he calls for hope:
"From the desert of Morocco I am calling on every captain of the world to get back on board and on people not to lose hope and to build ships even in deserts... The space where personalities unite to form sociums is like the ocean. Its form is unstable and unchangeable. People make their wretched ships of bamboo; to survive they prepare themselves for sailing the world and choose their captains."
ASIM WAQIF - LE PAVILLON DE DEBRIS
A fun installation of detritus and site specific ‘waste’, this ramshackle structure turns into a sonic playground. Bouncing on the old doors and knocking the frames of the old windows and receiving bass vibrations or treble waverings adds interactive fun and encourages the inclination to touch or make contact with the assemblage.
GABRIEL LESTER - MURMURMURE
A monkey-dodging stroll through Marrakech Medina central square leads to large groups of musicians dancing and playing traditional instruments to the mass gatherings of tourists. Lester dismembers these bodies by disembodying the hands. These uncanny appendages poke out from the white walls of the central museum in a disturbing recreation of their performance, made melancholy in brittle isolation.