Future Greats: Bili Bidjocka

Selected by Simon Njami

By Simon Njami

Bili Bidjocka, The Chess Society, 2017 (installation views, Documenta 14, Athens). Courtesy the artist and L’Agence à Paris Bili Bidjocka, The Chess Society, 2017 (installation views, Documenta 14, Athens). Courtesy the artist and L’Agence à Paris

The artworld is getting noisier every day. So loud that one can hardly hear what is said. Everybody has embarked on the crazy race called market, fame, auctions, fairs. The reality is that some of those playing the game – namely the artists – are the victims of a global collateral damage. I call them the survivors; those who have managed to carve their own way and who, therefore, deserve my unlimited admiration.

Bili Bidjocka is one of those mavericks who manage to build a world apart and to enjoy it fully, for the better and the worse. His work is never a repetition, but an eternal and obsessive quest to answer a question that cannot be expressed in words: where is the space of painting? When Bidjocka says painting, he does not mean the canvas or the old techniques. Because for him painting is the very meaning of art. It may take different shapes, different representations, but at the end the day it is what he is striving for. His favourite question is: what is a painter who doesn’t paint?

Two examples: The Chess Society (2017), a utopian chess game (both physical and online) opposing Kassel to Athens, which he presented at the most recent Documenta, and The Jet-lag Experiment at the Kunstmuseum, Bonn, in 1999. He had the idea for the latter in Madrid, while queuing at the Prado. Some older visitors in front of him started to share their excitement about the Diego Velázquez that they were going to discover. Bili entered the conversation and understood that they had flown all the way from Australia to live this moment. The concept of Bidjocka’s show, which the artist named the most expansive and unsuccessful exhibition of his life, was simple: if some people could spend days travelling just to see a painting, the only way to return art to the centre of life would be to test peoples’ will to sacrifice their time for the art they pretended to love so dearly.

Within the museum, Bidjocka recreated an apartment. Food was provided daily and, in this totally sealed space, time was reversed: when it was noon outside, it was midnight inside. He invited a couple of his fellow artists to present some of their works in the space, and the only condition for anyone, the press included, to attend the show was to accept to spend 24 hours within the exhibition. Twelve people agreed.

Bili Bidjocka lives and works in Paris. His recent solo shows include #Fiction 4 _ Where is Bili? at Fondation Donwahi, Abidjan and P.I.E.T.À. Le Plan prend forme at Galerie mam, Douala (both 2016). In 2017, Bidjocka participated in Documenta 14 at both the Athens and Kassel sites.

Simon Njami is an independent lecturer, curator and art critic based in Paris

From the January and February 2019 issue of ArtReview, in association with K11 Art Foundation