Potential Archeologies is a research project inscribed in Haythem Zakaria’s practice, which works in parallel to the artist’s ongoing project, Interstices. The artistic enquiry takes its roots in a process of reflecting and imagining the infinite possibilities of interpreting the Atlas Mountains through landscape, mythology, and heritage.
The artist’s intention is to develop his research through discursive experiences in different sites, with different communities, with the aim of rebuilding a collective memory of a shared history.
Phase 1: El Jadida, the outset of the beginning
During his residency in El Jadida, in the margins of the Biennale of Casablanca, Haythem Zakaria sought to develop a new perspective on the landscape of the city of El Jadida, beyond the political, geopolitical or societal. The intention was to consider a return to the origins of the landscape to observe what lies beyond the familiar.
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Audiovisual media are used to question our perception of landscape in an attempt to break through the mysteries of the sites that lie beyond time.
The artist’s investigation initiated in the following sites: La citerne Portugaise, le Phare et le Marabout de Sidi Bouafi, as well as the banks of the river and the sea of de El Jadida.
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Although the work aspires to decontextualise the space of the landscape, the acts of photography and cinematography sho the passage of time as it unfolds the presence - ever so real - of time past and its origins.
A complex and forgotten world, confined behind screens of simulated sobriety, emerging through the prism of a potential archeology.
Interstices: is the lens through which Haythem Zakaria is developing Potential Archeologies. This ongoing long-term project is punctuated by Opuses, composed and formed through time, and through a multitude of interpretations of landscape, memory, and imagination.
Interstices is a project led by the artist Haythem Zakaria, consisting of three opus which follow one another for each one to complete the other and to create multiple possibilities of reflection and creation. Based on a multidisciplinary approach, Interstices groups together two fundamental parts : the cinematographic elements carry out the photographic component. The cinematography confronted with the digital photographic process obey to an experimental approach. While in Opus I and II humans are nowhere to be found, Opus III starts from the mythological representation of the landscape and goes back to an initial and original space- time. All of the opus are linked by a single framework which is the concept of the landscape.
Arts Cabinet is collaborating with Haythem Zakaria in developing a research programme, comprised of residencies, site specific fieldwork, archival research and interviews, alongside public engagement – both in the Maghrebi region and throughout other parts of Europe and beyond.
In 2015, I was invited by the South African curator Tegan Bristow to take part in the exhibition “Post African Futures” in the Goodman Gallery and where I showed my first photography project related to the subject of “landscape”: Anamnesis. Based also on the Platonist concept of “reminiscence”, the work was entirely produced in the desert of the Nefta. That when Interstices has emerged. Two years later, I was back in the southern town as I started to forge a strong bond with the place. My intuition and my sensibility towards the landscape have matured and I was certain about what I wanted and how I wanted it.
In retrospect, I usually tend to believe that my different projects are one unique and total work. Interstices emerged at this particular point when I realized that all my projects were converging.
This project is an introspective journey. Each opus is a step towards my destination or objective. The Opus I and II made me travel across my homeland, Tunisia. As I was creating, producing and developing these works, I was shaping my intellectual and artistic reflection. Consequently, a sort of map appeared to me, shaping my connection to landscapes and to the cultures problematic.
Since 2017, Interstices has been having a considerable impact of my art practice. The three opus seem to be the culmination of the different previous projects. With the new part in progress, I’m convinced that I’m reaching a new level in my research and visual work.
The Atlas mountains as topos
In the continuity of the artistic research in Opus I and II, the third opus explores the concept of landscape, through another one: the archetypal myth.
Defined as a primitive and ideal model, the archetype is a concept developed by Mircea Eliade in his well-known The Myth of the Eternal Return. In this reference book, Eliade studies the rituals of the archaic societies and theorize that despite the difference of culture, of time and place, there is a mythological archetype; as humans aims to transcend their condition by imitating the gods, they create their terrestrial representation of the divine tales and myths.
The cosmogony offers endless possibilities for the artistic research. As a universal medium and ancestral language, art reproduces these mimetic mechanisms by transforming the primitive ritual into a well thought out representation through the visual and aesthetical research.
Opus I and II were produced exclusively in Tunisia, respectively in Dar Allouch (north of the country) and Nefta (south). With Opus III, the theme of the landscape is broadened and expanded as I explore three different places/countries: Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
Choosing to film in these locations is a way to explore the Atlas mountains, both as a place and as a subject. Starting from this topos (“topos” referring to the theme as well to the lieu, according to the word etymology), Opus III aims to summon the original figure of the Atlas, its mythological referent (as an example, the myth of the Titan Atlas) and consider it as the main theme, the principal subject of this artistic project.
From landscape to myth
The “landscape”, as represented in Opus I and II, is more than just a portion of space to observe, it summons intimate images and helps access a whole new spacetime. In his Vivre de paysage ou l’Impensé de la raison (Living Off Landscape: Or the Unthought-of in Reason), François Jullien asserts that there is more to what we call “landscape”. Confronting the Chinese with the Occidental representation of the land and the landscape, the philosopher raises several important questions: is the landscape only a landscape? An object that disappears once we no longer look at it? Is it just a part of an ensemble? Could the landscape be experienced other than through a point of view?
Stretched through the northern extremity of North Africa, the mountains nourished many of the myths, beliefs and tales of people living around, precisely the Berbers. In Tunisia Algeria and Morocco, each group of individuals, through history, has created its own representation of the massif. But beyond the different stories transmitted from one generation to another, these narratives reveal something in common when we compare them; the recurrences are the clue of a model, an archetype that combines the different myths around the Atlas. Thanks to collected data (testimonies, stories, statistics, etc.), the audiovisual dispositive will stage an archetypal figure of the massif.
Opus III is an invitation to relocate one’s point of view and simultaneously to deploy a research field around the Atlas mountains landscape.