56th Venice Biennale catalog, 2015

Smooth Ugochukwu NZEWI

Massinissa Selmani grew up in Algiers and was twenty- five years of age before he moved to France in 2005 to study art at the Ecole superieure des beaux-arts in Tours. A ceaseless experimentalist who pushes the envelope in understated ways, Selmani’s technique includes both the archival and the documentary. Drawings, photographs, montage, texts, cut-outs, and newspaper clippings of political and social happenings are repurposed, altered, and recomposed to yield new meanings.

Before embarking on an artistic career, Selmani had first studied computer science, reflected in his practice by his seasoned familiarity with the protocols of media technology and his more recent conventional art training. Drawing, which remains a principal aspect of his practice, serves as a means to an end but also as an end in itself, assembled as individual drawings or a collage of forms, and presented as either animations or installations. His short animations are looped and projected onto flat or contrived three-dimensional surfaces. The animation Souvenir du vide (2014), for example—first shown at Dak’art, Biennale de l’Art Africain Contemporain in Dakar, 2014—consists of miniature drawings and words projected against a mass of contrived cubes made of tracing paper. Each cube serves as a screen for an individual drawing. Evincing the classical storyboard format but without a centralizing narrative, the animation shows Selmani’s proclivity to tackle serious political and social issues, often interspersed with humor and ambiguity. It is Selmani’s ability to engage history and material conditions with great subtlety that is truly outstanding.

For the Biennale di Venezia, he presents the compelling A-t-on besoin des ombres pour se souvenir? (2013–2015), a series of delicate graphite and colored pencil drawings that capture the everyday experience in all its reality, absurdity, and humanity. Another work, 1000 Villages Socialites Algériens (2014–2015), engages the socialist agrarian experiment undertaken by the Algerian government in 1973. In several drawings compiled in red-covered notebooks, Selmani recreates the effects of this ambitious but unsuccessful agricultural revolution in the rural communities where the pilot project was carried out.