Everyone needs to go and see this show at the Renaissance Society before April 22nd!
Yto Barrada, Briques (Bricks), 2003/2011, C-Print, 150 x 150 cm
In Yto Barrada’s new show at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, the title – Riffs – is indicative of the Rif Mountains that can be seen from Tangier, Morocco, where the artist lives and works. However, in a more denotatively English sense of the phrase, a “riff” is music-related, as in a constantly repeated melodic phrase. In essence, Barrada’s works are visual representations of both Moroccan and English senses of the word.
The exhibition is presented as a sort of culmination of Barrada’s 15 years of photographic work in Tangier. While the photographs feel rather innately like a type of statement or study on the effects of a kind of specified look on globalization’s modern effects on Tangier, a cultural hotspot in post-colonial Morocco. However, the globalization point of view is simultaneously mixed with sense of personalness and intimacy with Barrada’s Tangier. In particular, Hand Me Downs, the artist’s short video presentation in the show, displays and narrates a very purposefully detached version of her own family history by the use of strangers’ own home videos. She creates and builds upon her own lineage and attachment to Tangier by means of others’ memories. The short film is charming, and provides a strangely warm and characteristic sense of homeliness and attachment and relationship. While the images themselves are carefully (and beautifully) hung, printed, and sequenced in the Renaissance Society space, they are arranged and in such vast quantity that allows viewers to keep discovering new facets, new relationships, and even new images each time he or she walks through the gallery.
Many of the images are strengthened by their proximity and closeness (or lack thereof) to other photographs. Either by content or by some sort of formal quality (color, shape, or physical attribute), the viewer becomes assimilated into Barrada’s Tangier. In terms of physical dimension, the larger photographs – many close to five feet by five feet – are experiences all in themselves and often provide a very tactile representation of the object or place that Barrada focused her camera on. The viewer is meant to look closely in each photograph and to develop an understanding of Barrada’s relationship with Tangier and to formulate your own relationship based upon the facts and locales and history that Barrada is providing the viewer. Often the work feels politically motivated but restrained in the sense of accessibility and overtly politic-conscious images. Ultimately, Barrada’s Riffs is a comprehensive contemplation into Tangier and the personal meaning attributed to it – whether it be intensely globalized or subtly intimate.