Mimesis as Resistance, Kader Attia, 2013

Writing published in the catalog of the exhibition “Hlysnan The Notion and Politics of Listening”

Order

If I am interested in “natural order of things”, it is because it binds us to our hidden human genealogy. In the spectrum between nature and culture, behaviors such as mimesis, raise a lot of questions.

Through the ideas of Renée Descartes – that the past should be removed in order to build a new world, to follow reason and the logic of categories and measurements – modernity and rationalism have cut us apart from nature. One of the main aspects of modernity makes us believe that humans invent to evolve, when in fact they only repair. They repair to resist; they attempt to resist disappearance, the extinction of the human kind and death. In the evolution of the human species repair has been as a creative and artistic practice. I would like to understand art and artistic practice in this context as any form of creation, which aims to improve a state of being and/or to transform a space/time of death to one of life.

The development of a culture of death could be considered a first form of such human artistic creation. For example, the Neanderthal when they started to become aware of their finiteness. Due to their desire for some kind of continuity for their dead beloved ones they developed practices and rituals like burials, or mummification, or representations in stone or wood. These practices are based on the desire to fill the absence of someone disappeared with something both concrete and abstract: a memorial of beliefs of a life after death.

“Repair” is an endless oxymoron; it carries both, the notion of destruction and reconstruction within the same terminology. It took me years of observations and investigations to understand that ‘repair’ is the core reason (“la raison d’être”) of the existence of “reappropriation”, and that in fact, it applies to culture as much as to nature.

When any social or ethnic group is ruled by another cultural order – for example during colonialism or times of slavery – forms of creative or artistic ways of operating that carry signs of reappropriation instinctively emerge among the oppressed. My grandmother’s story might be a good example to explain how I understand reappropriation: During the Algerian War of Independence my grandmother, a single mother whose husband had been killed by the French army in the area of Setif, was a partisan. Her job was to collect all over the “Douar” (the Algerian countryside in the eastern mountains) jewelry from women that they had received as brides. When her buckets (she had two) were full, she had to bring them to a cave located in a cliff nearby her farm. She would do this day after day until after two or three weeks, the jewelry would be transported at night with donkeys through the mountains to Tunisia. Tunis was the headquarter of the Algerian Liberation army during the War of Independence. There, the jewelry was melted into silver bars that subsequently bought Kalashnikovs. In circumstances like these, the notion of reappropriation is strongly linked to death and survival.

Another example for reappropriation could be the artefacts that the soldiers in the first World War would make to “kill” time while waiting in the trenches inbetween attacks. They were made with leftovers of deadly engines, bullets or shells of bombs welded together with gun powder.

 

Remember the sentence by Breton: “l’art sauvage n’existe pas“ (wild art doesn’t exist). To create something to enhance a situation through a gesture, I would consider as art.

During my research on reappropriation I discovered that already at the end of the 19th century, right during the Industrial Revolution, one of the fathers of Anarchism, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, created a theory from an axiom: Property is theft!. He was the first to use the terminology “reappropriation” in 1840. Later, in the 20th century – first in Brazil with Oswald de Andrade and his Manifesto Antropófago (1928) on cultural anthropofagia, and later in Algeria with Franz Fanon who theorised the concept in relation to anti-colonialism (The Wretched of the Earth, 1961) – the term takes its political dimension. Processes of reappropriation still continue today all over the world, where men and women instinctively attempt to reappropriate the freedom from which they have been dispossessed. They first start by absorbing, integrating and mimicking the oppressing power, to then one day dominate it. Mimesis as Resistance.But what looks like a political phenomenon – a product of human thought – is in fact rooted in what has preceded and what will go beyond us: The “natural order of things”.

The Lyrebird for example is a ground-dwelling bird in Australia that is most notable for its superb ability to mimic natural and artificial sounds from its environment. It perfectly mimics sounds that range from other birds’ extremely complex singing to the aggressive sound of the chainsaw that cuts the trees of its habitat and environment; it is a good example of nature’s absolute superiority over culture. Nature’s superiority determines the temporality of the human species, what human’s coming days of technological evolution and its blind course towards “progress” will be: an ephemeral superiority.

In the ideas of Naturalist thinkers such as Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace the challenge of the human being is to adapt to its environment, whereas in reality, human kind needs to adapt to itself. Both Darwin and Wallace, who first formulated the “Theory of Evolution” by means of natural selection, thought for a long time that the biggest stake for evolution was the species’ ability to survive in its environment. The human race so far has been the best to do so.

But Wallace raised a question that caused a famous controversy between the two, and that questioned that if the Neanderthal was able to survive in the savannah and the forest, why did it develop further into the Homo Sapiens, when it easily could have survived and remained at its stage of evolution forever? For Darwin, in a determinist way of thinking, human’s evolution is led by pure chance. According to him, the environment is changed by the human in order to help its own development; hence it is an ambivalent relation that is constantly changed by itself.

Alfred Russel Wallace did agree with this theory in principle, excepted for one detail: If the human species is constantly transforming and adapting to its environment for its survival – and thus indirectly contributing to the adaptation of its species – then why did the human race reach this extreme point at which it destroys its own environment? Bear in mind that these conversations took place during the industrial revolution, when the destruction of the environment started to become obvious and illogical to the conception of “harmony” between the human and its environment. For Wallace, the end of a harmonious state between the human and its environment as part of human’s evolution is absolutely illogical. He argues that, only if there is another element, an artificial intelligence that has a strong impact on evolution, it could mean the end of the human species, while its environment would survive.