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Absence-Presence, Twice

Mohssin Harraki always exits to the interior. His works bear the scratches of both departure for the non-native, and return. In each of his two cities, he has a postponed dream: a project for Asilah when he is in France, and another for Paris when he returns to Morocco. And because he can be present in body in only one of the two cities, he typically struggles with his being there:  estranged or affiliate.

Absent and present. Physically and emotionally. And in each city twice.

Absence-presence, twice.


The timing and place of absence push you to “be” in the place you are in. To neglect one geography and embrace another, to be beyond your geographic domain, is naught but the very essence of migration, whether elected or forced: a dual migration, a dual expatriation. 


That never-ending relationship between the presence of the absent and the absence of presence. Does the manifestation of something in particular contribute in one way or another to its disappearance?


When (things in) the picture manifests, the things (in it) vanish, and absence becomes present.


In 2010, while studying in Dijon, the artist was besieged by expenses exceeding his income. He video-taped himself beginning an equation with the value of X, and starting from A, which split into A1, A2, and A3, and from there to B, etc. His work problem no. 5 (2010) summarizes the relationship between learning and its effects on the collective thinking of a society that follows a family tree as it builds a world. We witness its lineage. Inheritance laws dominate this equation, in which names appear and disappear indicating the location of (in)significant individuals. This tree, which branches from an infinite number of letters and undetermined values, complicates the matter, but we are only to locate the value X, the constituent that will assume power in the family. Harraki recalls a memory from the 1960s, of  the Moroccan future studies scholar Mahdi Elmanjra talking about the sum of ten dirhams allocated for every citizen from the income made by selling phosphate. He also recalls Elmanjra’s comment that the monarchy in Morocco is an unsolvable equation. And thus, problem no. 5 is transformed into equations in the form of family trees, families who have ruled Arab countries in the name of politics or wealth or religion. The placement of a name in the family tree is prioritized by the power of the person holding that name, while famous names in the family tree grant meaning to the presence of the rest of the names.


“And here I have sent to you a work that revolves around words and the meanings they bear: A manipulated image of the White House in the United States of America, Casablanca (the film), and Casablanca (the Moroccan city). The important question, to me, is the meanings this phrase carries when translated into Spanish and English, and which oscillates between the force of political authority, Spanish colonization of Morocco, and the legacy of French colonization.” Harraki adds to the famous photograph of the White House the famous name Casablanca (2011), in a style resembling a shop front’s neon sign. To many Americans, Casablanca is a film. Harraki intervenes to commingle the fame of the White House with the fame of the name Casablanca, each of which may be commingled with the name of the film. And thus we acknowledge and define the names of things, and our relationships to them, with a limited number of words. And while images of reality are multifarious, we all possess a part of them, from within ourselves, from our sensual, linguistic, and knowledge-based stores.


Why, then, a contrived image? Why are Harraki’s works interventions?


Harraki writes that Jean Baudrillard wrote in “Simulacra and Simulation” about the effect of contrived events on real events. They reach their audience distorted, in turn contributing to the audience’s creation of the event. And thus a reading of full reality is completed to become our contrived history.


When Harraki arrived in France, he dealt with the issue of his immigration and settling down by living in a caravan in Toulon onto which he affixed words such as “Meat from Morocco”, “Halal”, “Weight 82 kilograms”, “40% discount”, “Store in refrigerator”, and “Open here”. Perhaps immigrants were treated like body parts one can employ at low costs. The estrangement of immigrants is intensified when their means of living are complicated in the countries they move to: their families rush to treat them as though they’re from the new places, while the residents of those places refuse to embrace the immigrants in their new homes, ever demanding that they remain attached to/return to the places from which they came. Viande du Maroc (2007) uses racism, advertising, and stereotypes as the artist records upon himself the difficult outcomes of a stranger’s experiments in settling down in a non-native home.


What does Harraki use in his works other than his body, his history, his language, his experience, his estrangement, and his trips home? Harraki makes use of books in philosophy, French and Moroccan. He thinks beyond thought, and discovers that “no matter how far I travel, my body is the furthest of places.” He dreams of building artist residencies in Asilah, which connects him with his father with a single line, and for which his artist and architect friends sketch buildings on tracing paper. He makes a presence and disappears at the same time, in both places. As so in Histoire (2013), in which Harraki re-writes its definition on pages of a book of glass. Here the artist’s lines resemble those with which he traces the family trees. When the book’s pages are opened, they can form a circle/flower, in which, from one page to the next, the words gradually flow down from the never-ending.


And likewise the book of history dissolves in the water of the Aquarium (2011), whereby history is turned into elements floating in the tank’s water and the book’s words are erased, leaving behind only its emptied body interacting with its environment: the truth of images, the truth of the event, the truth of the image of the event, and the truth of the event of the image.



Ala Younis 2013

Independent curator based in Amman, Jordan.

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