Mounir Fatmi: Experimental Archives, TLmag 30 Extended: Archæology Now!, May 25, 2020
Text by Blaire Dessent
Mounir Fatmi has always been curious about the transformation of objects and how, with a slight change of context or position, they can take on entirely new meanings. Now, he regularly goes back into the archive, transforming materials into a highly charged body of work.
MF: I know that my works will be seen differently in the near future: because they associate the design materials and the design itself. I work more or less with what American sci-fi author Bruce Sterling called in the 1990s “Dead Media”. My installations propose an artistic concept and at the same time they archive the materials and the media for future generations. It’s a type of archaeology that converges cultural media fossils, such as television antenna cables, VHS cassettes, photocopiers, religious books, but also dead languages and video games. We mustn’t forget that everything “old” had a moment when it was “new”. In fact, I can never get that idea out of my head.
TLmag: The French philosopher, Michel Foucault, has been an important inspiration to you. How has his work connected with you as an artist?
Mounir Fatmi: I’m very happy that you bring up Michel Foucault. My artistic research has been influenced by many philosophers and anthropologists, and Michel Foucault certainly has a good spot on the podium. In his book “The Archaeology of Knowledge”, he described archaeology as a dangerous word. He developed a theory of the essence of history and historicity by contrasting them with his own “archaeological method” as a new, universal way to describe the history of ideas. If we see history as the domain of archives, then archaeology is intended to analyse it. Michel Foucault’s lectures were a great help to me during the creation of the “ Sortir de l’histoire” installation, where I used the archives of the Black Panthers and especially the FBI’s wiretapping documents, to which most of the members were subject. I believe that it is essential for an artist to survey the field of archiving like that of archaeology; for me, they are very closely linked and are complementary. I certainly don’t search for truth in these documents. I know there is no absolute truth, except in the dogmatic, as Foucault says. What interests me in using the archives or the archaeological artefacts is again the history of ideas and their transformations. 20 years ago, “PC” meant (in French) “Parti communiste”, today it means “Personal Computer”. Charles de Gaulle and John Fitzgerald Kennedy were once presidents; today they are also airports. To start, Picasso was only an artist, now it is also a car. This evolution of concepts functions for me as a barometer, as clues to understanding the rapid transformation of our modern society.