Ali Cherri: Dark Ecologies

Ali Cherri, The Disquiet
Ali Cherri, The Disquiet
Ali Cherri, The Digger, 2015.
Ali Cherri, The Digger, 2015.
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Ali Cherri’s work on ecologies of disaster have a logical resonance for our age of uncertainty and climate change. Ali’s paranoiac films examining sand, water, and the consequences we may face from recklessly modifying the ecologies that surround our cities are set in the Middle East and Sudan, but they could just as easily be on the artificial islands of the South China Sea, amidst California’s wildfires, or anywhere on earth that technology, changing climates, and floating populations converge. Using water and floods as a starting point for a deeper investigation of humans, modernity, and our place in the world, Ali’s trilogy of films, Disquiet, The Digger and the still-in-production The Dam offer fruit for thought. We spoke with Ali about how artists can critically consider ecology and climate change within their works at the Sharjah Art Foundation’s March Meeting.

TEXTS: Jacob Dreyer
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist

Ali Cherri, The Disquiet
Ali Cherri, The Disquiet

 

Tell us about some of your recent projects.

I work in a variety of mediums, but am focused on films for the time being. The Disquiet, which came out in 2013, looked at my native Lebanon. We’ve experienced earth-shattering events- civil war, political strife, religious tensions- for so long in Lebanon, but when an actual earthquake came, it seemed to symbolize many of the anxieties of modernity more generally.

The Digger, which came out in 2015, looks at a man whose job is to watch a ruined Neolithic necropolis in the Sharjah desert. The landscape is beautiful, and almost seems as if it could swallow this solitary figure, but it also seems to need his help; the protagonist works every day to prevent the ruins from being further ruined. The past, the future; the human landscape, and the natural one: the film is set at the junction of these, the same junction that we ourselves inhabit.

At the moment, I’m working on a film in Sudan, The Dam (which I spoke about at the Sharjah Art Meeting). A dam being built (with Chinese government investment) in northern Ethiopia has sparked tensions between Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt, as the desire for control over water- and the power, literal, spiritual and political, that comes from it- have brought the nations close to war. It’s often said that the wars of the 21st century will be wars over water; in my study of specific, small communities, and their spiritual responses to the crises that the dam may cause, I seek to provoke meditation in the viewers on what they would do if similar problems beset their communities.

 

Ali Cherri, The Digger, 2015.
Ali Cherri, The Digger, 2015.

 

How do we, as artists or as people, place ourselves vis-à-vis nature and the natural?

The history of modernity is a history of using nature as a series of objects- so much coal, so many trees, that we can use for our own profit. Many other cultural traditions, such as the Sufi Islam of the area of Sudan that my current project, The Dam, is being filmed in, take a more holistic view- of humans as being centered within nature and ecology. Unfortunately, the modern built environment now extends everywhere, and communities around the world are confronted with floods, earthquakes, and other “natural” disasters- even if those are not of their own making.

 

What can artists do, faced with what seems like unavoidable climate change?

There is always a possibility that we can imagine new futures… in art, there’s a chance of doing this. My work considers ecology in a broad sense, and explores the different human responses, without trying to dictate what is right or wrong.

 

Thank you.

 

 

About the artist

Ali Cherri is a video and visual artist based in Beirut and Paris.
His recent solo exhibitions include Somniculus at Jeu de Paume, Paris and CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux (2017); Tretyakov Gallery Moscow (Sep. 2017); Galerie Imane Farès (Oct. 2017); Jönköpings läns museum, Sweden (2017); Sursock Museum, Beirut (2016).

His work has been exhibited in several international exhibitions, among them Anarchéologie Centre Pompidou – Paris (2017); Lyon Biennial (Sept. 2017); Le MACVAL, France (2017); Guggenheim New York (2016); MAXXI, Rome (Nov. 2017); Aichi Triennial, Japan (2016), Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Italy (2016); Le Centquatre Paris (2016); Sharjah Art Space (2016), MACBA, Spain (2015); Warsaw Museum of Modern Art, Poland (2015); Es Baluard Museu d’Art Modern i Contemporani de Palma, Spain (2015); Gwangju Museum of Art, South Korea (2014).

He is the recipient of Harvard University’s Robert E. Fulton Fellowship (2016) and Rockefeller Foundation Award (2017).

 

 


 

Jacob Dreyer is a Shanghai-based writer and editor. Recently, he has edited a special issue of LEAP magazine, and contributed to The Atlantic City Lab, the Architectural Review, and Domus. His book The Nocturnal Wandererhas recently been published by Eros Press; he is researching a second book about urban space and the creative economy in China.

 

 

 
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