Bertille Bak | The Gallery Apart

All Inclusive Viaggio 
07 Feb 2018 – 06 Apr 2018

Second solo exhibition by Bertille Bak in the gallery spaces. Following a year full of significant events for the artist, among which are the Biennial of Moving Image at the Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva, which closed last January 2017, documenta 14 in Kassel, and the recent monographic stand during Artissima in the Present Future section, the artist will be carrying on in Rome the thread started with the previous exhibit Radice, setting up an exhibition project that revolves around the idea of the journey.

The title of the exhibit ALL INCLUSIVE VIAGGIO also highlights two characteristics of the artist’s work: on the one hand, the selection of a theme for its implications and potential for a social analysis that Bertille Bak develops as she becomes interested in those people who every day share stories and cultures, with a view to understanding their world and representing it through the tools offered by art itself; on the other hand, the search for utopia, irony, lightness and the sense of humour that characterize her art-making process and that push it to go beyond the simple social observation.

ALL INCLUSIVE VIAGGIO brings together various works by Bertille Bak, which revolve around the concept of journey in all its possible facets, gathering even antithetic traits, dealing with fields at times more intimate and other times more social, from entertainment, to escape, to the pursuit of happiness or more often to the chance to save one’s own life, to the effects of mass tourism, to ecology, to the sustainable development in the poorest Countries. The videos and the sculptural works featuring in the exhibition blend documentary and fiction, leaving the viewer as in a limbo, surrounded by very realistic scenarios anchored to some of the most critical issues currently confronting humanity (such as, the persecutions and trafficking in human beings, the right of asylum, the exploitation of territories) and, at the same time, too absurd to be real. Thus, the artist goes beyond the documentary and calls on the viewer, soothing them with the weapon of irony, to make an effort to understand reality.

Usine à divertissement, the video trilogy conceived for Geneva’s Biennale, lampoons the forms and the effects of ‘predatory’ tourism in constant search for exoticism. Shot in a village in the North of Thailand inhabited by the Lahu tribe, in the Rif mountains in North Morocco and finally in the Camargue region, France, the work deals with the cynical ways of operations of the tourism industry aimed at serving the growing demand for experiences related to exotic ethnicities. The latter are therefore increasingly forced to turn their lifestyle habits into a show and social organizations which become a sort of money-making simulacrum and rites. A new organization totally devoid of any ethics and which shows total disregard for human rights and the territories.

Likewise, the video Le tour de Babel and the works featuring the installation Les complaisants explore the idea of journey based on the evocations from the navigation, from the ways and the people who carry out activities related to the sea. During a residency in SaintNazaire, a transit port for large merchant vessels, Bertille Bak was employed at a Sea-men’s club in order to be in close contact with the workers disembarked from the vessels. Thus, the artist could meet hundreds of seafarers and know a world made of rituals and traditions, of loneliness and exploitation. Drawing on a practice narrated by the seafarers themselves, who use their own hair to create marquetry works as a pastime, Bertille Bak collected locks of hair from the seamen she met to create a series of marquetry works representing flags of convenience, that is the flags of the nations where ship owners register their merchant ships, different from their home country. An option granted to ship owners which allows practices of tax evasion and minor obligations regarding the working conditions of the crew members.

The video Le tour de Babel focuses on the cruise industry, highlighting, on the one hand, the structural arsenal designed for the entertainment of the cruise passengers, on the other hand, the specific nature of the shipbuilding industry dedicated to giantism and the exploitation of the workers, both in the building sites and on the ships.

La marée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même – a work realized in collaboration with Charles-Henry Fertin which is also related to the seafarers’ life – shares with Duchamp’s masterpiece the reference to eroticism, that Duchamp wanted to introduce through The Large Glass and that in the work by Bertille Bak evokes a condition of sexual and sentimental isolation that the seafarers try to elude through the pictures of naked women to give them fleeting moments of pleasure. Under the small curtains, for a brief moment, the naked silhouettes of the women garnishing the cabins of the seafarers met by the artist are uncovered.

A further and even more caustic reference to the journey is found finally in the video Figures imposées dedicated to the condition of the migrants and of the asylum seekers without a passport. The work was commissioned by the Maison des Femmes du Hédas, in the Pau District, which works for the integration of the immigrant women. In the light of their life experiences, the artist has involved them in a series of projects aimed at highlighting the hiding ability necessary to those who want to cross illegally the border. In an allegorical and ironical way, the video underlines the inhuman conditions to which migrants are forced, the possibilities of hideaway offered by the largest vessels, the inadequacy of the migrations policies of the Western countries that, making these ‘voyages to a better life’ even harder, actually allow human traffickers to ask for more money and to increase their business volume at the expense of the desperate people to whom they sell illusions.

Bertille Bak, born 1983 Arras (F), lives and works in Paris. Represented by Galerie Xippas, Paris-Geneva and The Gallery Apart, Rome. 

Via Francesco Negri, 43