Yto Barrada: Faux Guide
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What am I looking at? You can’t help but think this is what French-Moroccan artist Yto Barrada wants you to ask as you enter the huge single room of the Pace gallery. You find yourself confronted with fossils, plumbing fixtures and wall textiles, a film, photographs of street signs, a large model of a Stegosaurus and a ransom of Berber rugs (which you can walk, sit or lie on if you take your shoes off). The feeling engendered is not so much confusion, more a curious joy, and it’s easy to revel in the sounds, colours and shapes all around.
There is a lot going on, though the artist’s specific interest here is fossils. Particularly those that lie between the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert, which was once the floor of a prehistoric ocean, and where the remains of marine anthropods can be found which are upwards of 500 million years old. It is also a place with a huge cottage industry in fake fossils, and Barrada’s film shows workmen making these ersatz artefacts. Authenticity is the name of the game – hence the title of the exhibition. Even the bright rugs beg the question: handmade by North African tribes, they are nonetheless recent examples of craftwork and comprised of dyed, synthetic or mixed threads easily found at markets. Do their modern materials make them less authentic? Who decides?
Barrada was born in Paris, studied at the Sorbonne and at the International Center for Photography in New York, and now lives and works in Tangier. She has won numerous international commissions and awards and it’s no surprise: her work is lively, thought-provoking, tactile and witty. But there is a slight conceptual remove here that is hard to place. Or maybe this is just an intentional extension of the theme. It’s difficult to say. This is a stimulating theatre of uncertainty.