Magazine article Artforum International

Kader Attia

Magazine article Artforum International

Kader Attia

Article excerpt

CENTRE NATIONAL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE

La Piste d'atterrissage (The landing strip), 1997-99, is the name given to a deserted stretch of beltway at the northern edge of Paris by the Algerian transsexuals and transvestites who work there as prostitutes. It is also the name that French photographer Kader Attia has given to his color-slide installation about the lives of these several hundred "creatures" (as they call themselves) who have left Algeria under threat of murder, made their way clandestinely into France, and, for lack of working papers, "landed" on the sidewalks of the boulevard Ney in their wigs, miniskirts, and spike heels.

The fourteen-minute duration of La Piste d'atterrissage turns out to be just enough time to permit the repeated viewings, one after the other, that the intensity and the complexity of this work invites, if not demands. There are 156 images in all--a kind of collective family album of snapshots, portraits, and souvenirs recalling celebrations and protests, oriental interiors and mean streets. They form a vertiginous patchwork of mostly female faces and mostly male bodies, sidewalks, knickknacks, and leopard-skin sofas, shuttling the viewer back and forth between genders, countries, and cultures. But after two or three times around the carousel (what better medium/metaphor for a nonlinear narrative in the transnational tradition that includes not only The Arabian Nights but also Dallas and NYPD Blue?), the logic of Attia's presentation begins to emerge: five miniepisodes on the themes of exile, identity, community, the sex business, and (in guise of an ending that is neither happy nor sad but literally "to be c ontinued") the struggle for legal residency in France. All of which unfolds to the rhythms of Algerian pop songs and traditional music, as well as one "audio-verite" sequence recorded on the boulevard. …

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