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Janet Biggs, from New York to Beirut

septembre 22, 2017
Janet Biggs is everywhere. In New York, at the Neuberger Museum, A Step on the Sun was a « Terrific Opening » according to Stacy Knows !  — and «  A Step On the Sun is a brilliant multi-channel video-installation that captures the provocative contrast between natural beauty and exploitative labor as the artist documents the journey of a sulfur miner extracting minerals from deep inside the crater of Indonesia’s Kawah Ijen volcano. » To know more, read here and to follow Biggs’ conversation with Nancy Princenthal on October 4, click here
In Beirut, at the Art Fair, Analix Forever is presenting Afar, Biggs’ latest video depicting her travels in the Afar Triangle, a geologically unstable but visually arresting desert region at the intersection of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, in Africa. This volatile environment of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and intense heat serves as a metaphor for the ongoing political instability of a region in which salt traders, nomadic people and militia vie for scarce natural resources. The video Afar, a fable of the human condition, with an implicit narrative, tells us about humankind and the complex, double-edged nature of otherness. The video is also about remembering and honoring a child from Djibouti, in an allusive, artistic, choreographed way – a collaboration with an other artist of the extreme, Elizabeth Streb.

 

Philosophy and politics: Afar as metaphor, by Barbara Polla

«  Janet Biggs’ Afar trip and images are much more about human philosophy than about telling a story of the faraway. She constructs a work of art based on the aesthetic of images and on her capacity as an artist to convey her fear and wonder to the spectators, who until then remained passive – to build together with them a Weltanschaung, a world view. Janet Biggs creates a shared action. Afar thus becomes a fable of the human condition, of the poignant parallelisms of our imprisonments and our freedom. Without storytelling, but with an implicit narrative that, if not told, is artfully instilled in the mind of viewers through the genius of Janet Biggs, through her images. We now see the men who dig the salt and work the earth in such difficult conditions; we see their gaze on the world – a gaze Janet Biggs knows how to capture and transmit like no other, and through which she looks at herself. Afar tells us about humankind – not about exoticism. Janet Biggs’ “docu-meditation” addresses the complex, double-edged nature of otherness. “This volatile environment of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and intense heat serves as a metaphor for the ongoing political instability of a region in which salt traders, nomadic people, and militia vie for scarce natural resources.” But the metaphor is also universal. Janet Biggs is not referring to the specific situation in Afar but to the world’s growing instability, which is at least as threatening as acid lava volcanoes.

Another political issue by Janet Biggs in Afar is the question of the body. Freedom is freedom of the body or not. The body’s ability to move beyond borders contains the freedom of thought. Locked in a triangle, the people of Afar try to find freedom through nomadism. In the distance, the camels – like clouds – pass by, their rhythm slow, attentive. And the dancers look at us, the spectators, the way enclosed animals sometimes look at us when we visit the zoo. The way we look at the men while they are working.

The philosophy proposed here comes to us through the gaze of men whose language we do not understand. It is a philosophy of fatality. A philosophy of life, in short.
But testifying is never without risk. The notion of endurance is incredibly present in all of Janet Biggs’ work, in her artistic universe, in her very person. The artist indeed demonstrates exceptional endurance – as much mental endurance as physical, if ever one can exist without the other. To create is to act, to testify is to act. Janet Biggs’ work is action and nothing is safe – neither her life nor her art or her experience. Biggs is an “artivist” of her own making. »

To read the full text and know more about Beirut Art Fair, click here
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