The Marcel Duchamp Prize is the most prestigious contemporary art prize in France, which is awarded each year to an artist who is either French or living in the country. This year’s four nominated artists are Bertille Bak, Bouchra Khalili, Tarik Kiswanson and Massinissa Selmani, all of whom reflect individually on the Global South, identity, immigration and sociopolitical issues.
The prize was launched by the Association for the International Diffusion of French Art (ADIAF) in 2000. Since 2016, proposals by the four nominated artists have been exhibited at the Centre Pompidou. While the exhibition was previously held on the museum’s first floor, this year the artists are showcased on the fourth floor next to the permanent collection (until January 12, 2024), in order to give the prize more visibility. Two of the artists, Bak and Selmani, have used the small space in between their respective rooms to present a joint research project about their proposals.
The winner of the 22nd edition of the Marcel Duchamp Prize will be announced on October 16 and will be awarded €35,000. Each of the four artists received €10,000 towards the realization of their presentation.
For the prize, Bertille Bak has made a video installation that satirizes how masses of flowers are exported from the Global South to the North to satisfy voracious consumer demand.
Still Life (part 1: Winter) (2023) opens with the dismantling of a Christmas fairground and residents tossing Christmas trees out of their windows. The scene then switches to Mayan women in Colombia cutting roses in a greenhouse, in preparation for Valentine’s Day. Crates filled with the flowers are transported by cable car across mountains, down rural streets by rickshaw, and whizzed around warehouses. Gorgeous, brightly colored discs of roses, worn on the backs of silleteros women in Medellin, are spun down a cliff face, while airplanes soar through the sky in a heart formation. Towards the end of the piece, elderly French couples dance in an open-air festival, the discs decorating the stage. The video is the first part a quadriptych project.
“I always want to step aside from documentary-style statements and frontal denunciation and make the viewer reflect a posteriori,” Bak told Artnet News. “That’s why I invent a new language that’s perhaps more playful, to allude to a situation.”
Bak traveled to Colombia earlier this year to embark on her project. “Colombia is the second largest exporter of flowers worldwide after Holland,” she noted, “and the discrepancy between the country’s armed conflicts and all these flowers symbolizing fragility, love and romance interested me.”
As the granddaughter of Polish miners in the north of France, Bak focuses on injustices experienced by certain groups of people, sociopolitical and ethnological issues, and the absurdities of today’s world. An earlier film, Mineur Mineur (2022), about child miners in India, Madagascar, Bolivia, Thailand and Indonesia, is an indictment of child labor that references her family background.
Bak’s work has been exhibited at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Turin’s Merz Foundation and the Louvre Lens. She won the Mario Merz Prize in 2019 and will have a solo show at the Jeu de Paume photography centre in Paris next year. Bak is represented by Xippas (Paris, Geneva and Punta del Este, Uruguay) and the Gallery Apart (Rome).
A ‘constellation’ of works, the term being a central motif both visually and metaphorically for the artist, greets visitors in Bouchra Khalili’s installation. The Constellations (2011) consists of a large circle that frames a series of blue screenprints, each of which maps different migratory routes in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Opposite is a projection of The Tempest Society (2017), an ambitious film produced for Documenta 14 in Athens that is based on the theatrical experiences of the Al Assifa (Arabic for “tempest”) group, which emerged during the 1970s Arab workers’ movement in France. The film’s protagonists reflect on immigration through the historical and poetic link between theatre and the notion of citizenship in Ancient Greece. Two short films complete the ensemble.
“Although all these works belong to different periods, I sought to show the coherence of my practice that is deployed as if it’s one sole work made through multiple articulations,” Khalili said. “If one often finds circles in my exhibitions, it’s because this visual motif recalls a precise type of performance that is the most ancient form of theater in North Africa called ‘Halqa,’ which means both ‘circle’ and ‘assembly.’”
Born in 1975 in Casablanca, Khalili has exhibited widely, including at the Palais de Tokyo and Jeu de Paume in Paris, New York’s MoMA, the MFA Boston, and Barcelona’s MACBA. She participated in the Biennale of Sydney in 2012, the Venice Biennale in 2013, and the Sharjah Biennial in 2011 and 2023. Khalili won this year’s Sharjah Biennial Prize for her mixed-media installation, Her exhibition, “The Circle & The Tempest” is currently on view at Luma Arles. Khalili is represented by Mor Charpentier (Paris, Bogota) and by ADN Galeria (Barcelona).
“I’m best known for sculpture, but here I wanted to make a cosmology of pieces in different media to explore all the subjects at the heart of my work—the question of being uprooted, transformation, metamorphosis, and migration,” Tarik Kiswanson said.
The artist’s presentation is metaphorical and abstract whilst intermingling personal and universal stories. Wedged into a passageway next to his room is a white, elongated ovoid sculpture with three boxes positioned vertically onto its side. “I was looking at grains that disperse in the wind and thinking about cocoons and the chrysalis,” said Kiswanson, whose parents immigrated from the Palestinian territories and eventually settled in Sweden in the 1980s. The work alludes to the diaspora and transformation that displaced people undergo.
Inside Kiswanson’s room is a larger cocoon sculpture, (2021). The cocoon reappears in , (2023), balanced precariously under a wardrobe made by French industrial designer René Gabriel for people whose homes had been bombed during World War II. The idea of reconstruction is also encapsulated in a sound piece about his mother’s first day in Sweden. Further works talk about transforming states in other ways. For instance, (2020) is a looped video showing a boy falling in slow motion off his school chair as if he’s floating.
“Initially, I treated this idea of transformation through the prism of immigration and my family’s history but, with time, I wanted to expand this question in a more universal way,” said Kiswanson, who cites Martinican writer Édouard Glissant among his influences. “Ambiguity is essential in my work; I always try to avoid literal things.”
In the last year, Kiswanson had solo shows at Sweden’s Bonniers Konsthall, Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, and Austria’s Salzburger Kunstverein. He has also exhibited at Carré d’art in Nîmes, Antwerp’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and participated in the 2018 Gwangju Biennale, New York’s Performa 19 and the 2022 Biennale de Lyon. Kiswanson is represented by Carlier Gebauer (Berlin, Madrid) and Sfeir-Semler Gallery (Hamburg, Beirut).
“I’m always looking for the lightest form, and drawing has that quality,” Massinissa Selmani said about the ‘drawn forms’ in his practice, which encompass drawing, animation, sculpture and murals.
This lightness is matched by the enigmatic and elliptical manner with which he deals with migration, borders, and conflict in his new installation for the prize. Titled , it features drawn shapes employed across multiple media. “Rather than talking about immigration in a frontal way with suffering bodies, I prefer to talk about the idea of the horizon in my project,” explained Selmani, whose starting point was Marc Guillaume’s philosophical book (2023).
Several elements recur with absurd flourishes. A bird flies into a birdhouse on a security wall and out the other side before entering again, in a repetitive cycle. Clouds, which also escape human border controls, move freely across the sky. In other drawings featuring isolated architectural elements, a young man is searched by a policeman, a sniffer dog inspects a miniature boat, and a figure holds up his hands, as if against a wall.
Born in 1980 in Algiers, Selmani—now based in the French city of Tours—grew up during the Algerian Civil War and initially studied computer science. Fascinated by press photography, he contextualizes and reconstitutes isolated elements. His diverse sources of inspiration range from the Belgian Surrealists to the Algerian poet Jean Sénac.
Selmani received a special mention from the jury at the Venice Biennale in 2015. His work has also been exhibited at the Dakar Biennale in 2014, the Biennale de Lyon in 2015, Sharjah Biennial in 2017 and Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2022. He has had solo shows at the Palais de Tokyo and the Centre de Création Contemporaine Olivier Debré in Tours, and he won the SAM Art Projects Prize in 2016. He is represented by Galerie Anne-Sarah Bénichou (Paris), Selma Feriani (Tunis, London), and Jane Lombard Gallery (New-York).