At his first personal exhibition in Canada called “Suspended Time,” Palestinian Taysir Batjini reflects on his work and his approach to photography, one of the mediums he enjoys working with alongside video, painting and sculpture.
You have lived in France since 1995...how did you arrive in Europe?
I started my studies in 1985 in Nablus, Palestine, in the Graphic Arts Department of the University of Humanities. In 1987, the first intifada broke out: classes continued outside the confines of the university with two teachers from Gaza and I graduated in 1992 in the hope of one day going to Europe to enrich my experience. In 1993, I joined the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples before winning a scholarship to study at the Fine Arts in Bourges. For the first time I had the space, the means and the references to work: I was starting to create installations and work with objects, in short, I had no limits – which allowed my work to evolve towards something more conceptual.
Seeing as you started out as a painter, multidisciplinarity finally seems to have established itself as a real modus operandi in your work. What is the thread that connects your works?
I don’t identify with a particular practice; I find it hard to define myself as a photographer, videographer, painter or sculptor. Although I started off working solely on pictorial works, since 2000 I have been working with all possible mediums.
It's more accurate to say that there are themes that have appeared in my work for some twenty years, such as exile, displacement and dispersion. I create forms that are often between visibility and invisibility, between presence and absence. My works is characterised by this duality, whether in my photos, drawings, paintings, objects or installations. My creations are on the border between existing and non-existing, requiring an effort from the viewer to get closer to them and discover their hidden meaning.
How does your photographic and video work, which you started in the the 2000s, differ from the rest of your productions?
The choice to express myself through photo and video primarily relates to constantly moving around. Between 1993 and 2006, I cannot remember staying anywhere for more than a year, not to mention the setbacks of my three returns to Gaza, all in very difficult conditions. Each time, wherever I was, I was starting from scratch; during these years I never had a workshop or fixed place to work. I found that photography reflected this state of discomfort and urgency, my state of permanent instability. Photography was not easy, but it offered me true immediacy. I therefore decided to create images myself on a daily basis. Without breaking away from painting, photography has allowed me to be closer to reality, even if I do not consider it to be an illustration. It is not a goal, but rather a means like any other to express a concept or portray situations or experiences. I want the things I am talking about to be physically present in my works, and over time, photography has taken centre stage in my work, including my non-photographic works. In the series To My Brother (2012) in tribute to my brother Mayssara who was killed in the first intifada, I made engraved watermarks on white paper, based on photographs from his wedding in 1985. A poetic work, both intimate and universal, which tends to make absence tangible and evoke memory.
How do you link intimacy and universality through your questions on Palestinian territory?
When you are Palestinian, your life is never completely separated from that of the collective. This includes the most intimate and autobiographical details. Everything is linked to the collective history.
My way of linking intimacy to universality differs from one work to another through the situations they describe or the way I treat them. I try to draw in the viewer with familiar images, such as in the series GH0809 where I show pictures of houses destroyed by the Israeli bombings of Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009. Presented in the form of real estate advertisements, they create a discrepancy between a highly referenced mode of representation and a serious subject, specificly war reports. I also use references to art history, as in Watch Towers, a series of black and white photos of Israeli watch towers evoking the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. In so many ways, whether directly or indirectly, I am recording this Palestinian reality as part of a larger, universal history, connecting it to other realities.
Can we say that your outlook has gradually changed into a stateless outlook, which is both intimate and distant with your country and its reality?
The notion of being distant and between two places began to take on an important place in my mind and in my work when I started studying in Bourges: although I was already far from home, I was not yet “exiled”. This no man’s land is the backdrop for the field of expression for my work and is a place of inspiration. It is less about defining a precise geographical location and more about this intermediate state – neither here nor there.
I wondered how my works would be able to exist with this distance, these hazards, these obstacles and even these impossibilities. This feeling of dispossession is not only linked to the territory, it goes beyond that: it is a feeling of being deprived of your own life, of your destiny, of what you could do in the minutes, hours, days, months and years to come. It no longer belongs to you.
The works that I produced from 2006 express this: this lack of control of the time and space in which you exist. Through them, I try to act, to find an alternative to this reality where destiny seems to be endured.
“Suspended Time” by Taysir Batniji has been shown from 4 May to 22 June 2019 in Toronto at the Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art.
The exhibition is supported by the Institut français.
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