Malaparte observed that losing the war was a benefit, a belief that he constantly reiterated in his novel La Peau. The First World War seemed far off (but was it? It actually introduced the first modern definitions of terror). The Second was still moving; the animal had not given up on sordid score settling and the exits that we had attempted were not without their frictions. Great is the temptation to find some merit in our most frequent, daily failures, even while we are shaken by the blindness that tirelessly leads to murder, the unbearable, or obvious mistakes. But this quality appears to be without effect; the light gets colder by a slow infusion.
Only art, song, certain stories—discoveries—offer perspectives that release us from the obscure. I belong to a world that nothing seems to warm up and, suddenly, I am given a new idea of grace. This is not a whim of optimism that comes to temporarily soothe the grief. No. It is a game in an ample weaving of movements, an insolent appropriation of taboos and permissions; it is about stories that knock against History, about languages that provide access to inconceivable speeds, to flight, momentum, and side stepping.
Mehdi-Georges Lahlou stands between two charades, in balance between several cultures and multiple languages, merrily shattering fundamentalism on all sides: preconceived notions that delineate one group from another, feminine and masculine, indigestible foods that sate humanity’s hunger. He pleads for a reappropriation of the desires; he jostles the characters, he troubles. He has only to stop dancing to make the multiple proposals that he summoned draw a completely new corporeal and mental scenography, one that is attentive to what distinguishes humanity rather than what debases it. The quest is moral, aesthetic; the fable persists without exhausting either its combinations or its rebirths. Ancient history suddenly appears to be able to turn around, or move against; it is joined with the most unexpected forms, sometimes taking a winding path, sometimes one of disarming simplicity. It brings together a toughening crackdown and the incomparable elegance of childhood. Mehdi-Georges Lahlou opens and gives of himself so that we might be better warned and relieved.
[vision 1] The tired smiles remain strained at the news of these last public executions. Though the news reached us from afar, it is close nonetheless. So close. There is no longer impermeability; the air adorned with antennas is fouled. One question: what are we to do with these ancient texts? The masks have fallen and the smiles have made way for sarcasm, the water from the fountain has frozen, the herders have lost their whistle, and the tree of pomegranates has seen its leaves fall. The crowd of Sunday passersby has thinned out and the priests have lost their crown—next time we will not catch up those who are busy and behind. Besides, will there even be a next time? The vibrant red of yesterday’s camellia now fades; you cannot comprehend the color of distress that invades our state of being.
This text was written before Mehdi-Georges Lahlou mentioned his exhibition and described some artworks that he had in mind on this occasion. Among others, he describes the figure of a pomegranate tree and its torn leaves. Tree or soldier, the ‘grenadier’ exhibits both lushness and danger. We could even read it as an after-image. Trembling, then fractured. The minarets still waver. The endless lightning escapes the comprehension of both the wanderer and the faithful. How many shattered rosaries after the murderous rain pelts an unsuspecting population that had not asked for anything? How many prayers have been so abruptly interrupted? How many prayer rugs have dissolved in this nightmare? Two stiletto heels, red and covered in juice, claw against this despair. Mehdi-Georges Lahlou suddenly and deliberately avoids the moroseness to which man is predisposed by the reversal of his restless feet—the woman frozen in traditional theory. How to get out of this? The artist seems to relentlessly repeat himself, he who subtly slips through the loopholes that he opens without giving the impression of acting, revealing even more forcefully the duplicity that he uses in stratagem that are difficult to decrypt. He escapes from the dictates of the revolt.
The kiss of the infidel
In looking at the photographs and videos while browsing the exhibition and reminiscing about some earlier performance pieces, I notice that the question of desire—of appeal—is disseminated on each occasion, but that a distance is always observed. Each has his role: I, the spectator; he, the figure taking a perverse pleasure in multiplying the edges and roles, object and subject, decoy and lucid punctuation. I find it difficult to associate these facts and gestures with the theatre. Too predatory with the body, I would link them to an increased interest in perspiration, awkwardness, loss of understanding, and mood—a blunder that will never come. Mehdi-Georges Lahlou never improvises. No more than he confines his propositions. With a teasing air, he has always presented himself as an interpreter of ambiguity. An uneven interpreter, he doesn’t wait for the recognition of his contemporaries. He is generous, open, and indifferent to buzzwords, wherever they come from and circulate to. He offers the kiss of the infidel, so humorous the we might believe he would easily sign his redemption, disseminating the image of a weakness from which even God himself seems to have fled. That is, if men wrapped up in their busy concerns were not responsible for reminding him of the duties of his incomparable existence. But it is precisely his existence that is entirely dedicated to stumbling, digressing, and refusing authority. He walks under the pomegranate tree looking for mistakes, taking on the fool so that he might continue his conversation with the birds.
The divine and the dust
[vision 2] A (celestial) bell chimed three times in the sky before finding asylum in the shade of the tree. That summer it was so hot that the earth blanched and the preachers saw their talent decline. Ink evaporated on the leaves before the end point came to close the chapter. We entered the war, dulled by a senseless justice. What else indicates the finger of God, if not the violence of the wind that grasps the wandering pilgrim?
Mehdi-Georges Lahlou invites us to the rituals that he organizes according to his fantasies, merrily looting from the African and European vocabularies that he learned to master, mixing accessories and symbols, sometimes employing a sprinkling of the most hackneyed clichés over the active drenching that floods his gestures and works. The self-portrait (its omnipresence is the reference point where the potentialities of a new body are agitated in turn, but also signifies the human condition) that runs through other works in the exhibition reminds us of the gifts that come from one who can camouflage. Despite nudity, a play of unveiling or—alternatively—of concealment, the masked artist advances. The paths he takes are twisted; they will never by tinted by explanations. Can you imagine a child, a wild one, asking, “Pardon me?” Mehdi-Georges Lahlou will dance until the end of the day. He summoned the spices, the magic dust.
Taking on the habit and daring to double-cross it, it was too beautiful; in instantly losing its secular meaning, it enters the age of fable. The habit divests itself of the menacing characteristics that surround it. It rises, transforms, and brushes past a private uttering, one intimated by Rimbaud, “This beautiful body of twenty is one that should go naked.” It is decoration; it sparkles with the pleasure of being worn, taken off. It becomes living, paradoxical, salient, fizzy, flying. It changes life, mocks longevity. It is finery on the moaning body, it is arousing. When Mehdi-Georges Lahlou chose his most neutral clothing, he put on a pair of red stilettos, the mythic seven-league boots with which he would stride to the edge of disappearance. It is his road to Damascus, but what an impression he makes! The miracle has happened, but remotely. The sound of a jeering tendon will highlight the vulnerability of the body. But the body will have accomplished records, in pure loss, and for living. Ornamentation calls up a shift. It refutes the terms of the renunciation. Presented as a piece of evidence, it exalts the strongest form of life.
The key to abandonment is erosion
He uses debris to make the result of a gesture but also its stymied bits and pieces. The window in form of a star or fountain is inspired by the stained glass of our Catholic churches. In the museum space this window was initially meant to bear the stigmata of an uncontrollable increase of heat, leading to its burst into “hundreds of pieces,” an event that would make us doubt eternity. Glass dust would have bestowed the sculptures with the imprint of a museum. I imagine the long row of visitors in full song face to face with this bursting, colorful hymn. The resolution of Mehdi-Georges Lahlou leads him to an assertion, one of confrontation. On the other hand, the work integrates photographs of Moroccan combatants during the war (a war which was not their own) and suddenly articulates a new vision. A lasting ray silently disturbs these forms and images that hide behind the wooden latticework. That which cannot be forgotten composes a kind of equinox.
[vision 3] The surprise is great. We expected a failure and we are moved far away from that place we believed was our origin, a place to which we belong. More bases, leading to more borders? And more sacrilege? One wonders what the sun will look like after it has finished gently drawings its arc. Then, during the night, some thrown fruit will be caught like whimsical, saturated stars. Sticky, sweet, shredded. The man with inversed head will begin his last flight. The one who chooses a steep road and who must stick to it does not commit a fault, but an lack. His forehead will become blaze at the approach of the city’s gardeners for whom he will have stolen dry and sonorous branches. He will invent abandonment as a form of unmistakable taste, assuring him the status of risky witness. Who burns without resisting?
The Heifer—can we represent it and touch it?
“A very strong yellow, such color delights the eye of anyone who sees it.” The song that flows from this second surah** overwhelms the fertile vineyards at this time of the evening. The words run over the flesh which, if it shied away from desire, would erase its traits, obliterating their connections in a single setback. Mehdi-Georges Lahlou has not chosen; he does not comment. He dodges. His activity is even more dangerous since he hardly leaves an alternative to potential enemies. His world is brittle well before being ideological. The pipe dreams that are born recall the pebbles that Little Thumb*** left behind him, but will we know how to retrace his steps when the adventure deliberately takes on a poetic color that excludes any authoritarianism?
Mehdi-Georges Lahlou takes inspiration from religious facts to create associations, clashes, uncomfortable relationships, bloodsheds—worlds where mythology marinates in manners, where a fountain of semolina becomes human, where the promise of impending death fades in the creases of a strained muscle. When he turns, the artist becomes the character of a ballet animated by the confusion of genres. Neither Adam nor Eve, Mehdi-Georges Lahlou enters through the narrow gate and reinvents a figure without fault. How do you imagine him as he waits on the dock, accused? The virgins submerged by the wooden latticework of moucharabies keep vigil; they are the cradles of an irregular intervention. As “such color delights the eye,” the world of Mehdi-Georges Lahlou is indeed populated by aesthetic delights. It sometimes borders on allegory, falling into disrepair in the currents of personal recollection. The materials, colored variations, and gestures appear as mental delights. Choreographic delights are where the body—as discreet as it is mischievous—expresses itself with abundant spirit. To some will be given the ability to fear neither the gods, nor their faithful hordes. I love the precarious god who through the means of laughter makes me immediately choose the color for his massive form.
Mehdi-Georges Lahlou sawed through the constraints of the game to leave a trace in time, a trace of couscous seed destined for celebration. In the shadow of the moon, he remains free and attentive to the murmurs offered by his untouched memory, attentive to the visions that he summons. He is confirmed in instruction by grace, with the wink of the last shepherd who never loses his way in the mountains.
Pierre Giquel, April 13, 2015
*Translator’s note: ‘hostie’ is an antiquated term for the consecrated bread used in the Catholic’s ritual of the Eucharist.
**TN: a ‘surah’ is a chapter of the Koran.
***TN: ‘Little Thumb’ (Poucet) —or ‘Hop-o’-My-Thumb’—is a French fairytale by Charles Perrault wherein a brave sibling leaves a trail of pebbles to lead his brothers back home. The mythic “seven-league boots” mentioned earlier in this text also derive from this story.
Pierre Giquel Biography
Instructor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts at Nantes. Roles include art critic and writer. Collaborates with numerous artist publications, through both catalogues and books. Voluntarily trades his status as critic for more capricious writing with as much ease, he hopes, as a warbler who takes itself for a chameleon. Maintains a turbulent, incessant relationship with song.