Yto Barrada: How to Do Nothing with Nobody All Alone by Yourself

NEW YORK—How to Do Nothing with Nobody All Alone by Yourself, the first gallery exhibition in New York dedicated to the work of Yto Barrada opens from Apr 05, 2018 to May 05, 2018 at Pace Gallery.


A survey of the artist’s practice, How to Do Nothing with Nobody All Alone by Yourself will span three floors of 32 East 57 Street, including the galleries of Pace, Pace/MacGill and Pace African and Oceanic Art. An opening reception with the artist will be held on Thursday, April 5 from 6 – 8 pm; the exhibit will be on view from April 6 through May 5, 2018.

For her first solo show with Pace in New York, Barrada situates her multi-disciplinary work—photography, video, installation, sculptures, books, and textile-based works—against the formal separation of these three branches of Pace. Marc Glimcher, head of Pace, describes Barrada as “a disruptor, eschewing traditional boundaries of medium and form, forcing us to question our understanding of the world around us, past, present, and future, and to investigate how that understanding is constructed in the first place.”

Barrada’s first internationally shown photographic project documented the urban and psychological transformation of her hometown of Tangier. This exhibition goes on from there to span two decades of work that weaves together personal and political narratives; reflects Barrada’s ongoing research into displacement and dislocation, modes of education, and forms of abstraction; and embraces the resistance and strategies of autodidacts. Playfulness, enigma and humor are hallmarks of Barrada’s tone, reinforcing rather than softening the ways she exposes structures of domination.

The title of the exhibition, How to Do Nothing… harks back to Robert Paul Smith’s guidebook of children’s projects; Barrada’s penchant for manuals, handbooks and guides is also evident in her satirical boxed set A Guide to Fossils for Forgers and Foreigners (2016) and A Guide to Trees for Governors and Gardeners (2011).

Exhibition highlights include a dinosaur mobile, oversized wooden toy blocks, assemblages of pipes and fixtures made by plumbers in Tangier and a reconfigurable playground.

This exhibition also premieres new textile works which reference Frank Stella’s series of fluorescent paintings, inspired in part by Moroccan cities. Barrada’s textiles expand the frame of reference for these patterns and motifs, transposing the colors and forms of Stella’s paintings using dyes made in her studio from plants and insects. These new textile works are equally inspired by the painters Mohamed Chebaa, Farid Belkahia, and Mohammed Melehi, founders of the Casablanca School in the 1960s, who paved the way for a North African modernism whose abstraction embraced the motifs and materials of popular, local art forms.

Another major new work is Barrada’s short film Tree Identification for Beginners(2017), initially developed for Performa 17. This film essay revisits her mother’s 1966 trip to the U.S. on a State Department-sponsored travel program, Operation Crossroads Africa, aimed to convince African students (presumed to be future leaders) that “the U.S. is a vital society worthy of sympathetic or at least serious consideration.” Over rhythmically edited 16mm stop-motion animation of Montessori toys and grammar symbols, the cadence of the film’s voiceovers juxtaposes her mother’s account of the trip with the organizers’ perspectives on the Africans’ attitudes and behavior.

The short film Ether Reveries (Suite for Thérèse Rivière no. 2) (2017) is a surrealist dream montage set in a flower market in Tangier. Barrada has disinterred the work and life of Thérèse Rivière (1901–70), a French anthropologist, a collector of toys, drawings and magic instructions from North Africa, whose remarkable achievements were largely silenced following her confinement in psychiatric institutions. The exhibit also features Barrada’s photographs of items collected by Rivière, notably The Rat’s Staircase (2014–15), a toy folded from palm fronds.

In Barrada’s work, politics is inseparable from an attention to form, as in several works where written language is replaced by a symbolic logic. Barrada’s Autocarphoto series (2004) depicts hard-edged graphics that share stylistic motifs with modernist abstraction—yet in fact the photographs are of bus company logos which clandestine child émigrés memorized to know which bus leaving the port of Tangier was bound where. In The Telephone Books (or the Recipe Books) (2010), Barrada presents photographs of her illiterate grandmother’s graph paper notebooks: the simple figurative drawings and hash marks were a system for recording the phone numbers of her ten children. Plumber’s Assemblage presents the sculptural signposts created by craftsmen in Tangier to advertise their skills and availability at the roadside.

Nonverbal communication, family myths, “hidden transcripts” that unearth new grammars—within the interlinked logic of Barrada’s work lie secrets, pleasures and a celebration of strategies of resistance to domination.

A color catalogue expanding on Barrada’s recent film-and-performance Tree Identification for Beginners (2017), with an introduction by Adrienne Edwards, will be published to coincide with the opening of the exhibition.


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