I first got to know the work of Neil Beloufa when I was cocurating Manifesta 8, in 2010 (as part of the group from Tranzit.org), and in particular through his fabulous video installation Kempinski (2007), which he showed as part of the exhibition. Kempinski is a mixed MDF structure in which a film was projected. Created in Mali, this film was a kind of science-fiction documentary featuring individuals holding fluorescent lights, who describe their strange, dystopian existences to the camera. It was created using interviews that followed certain rules: people were asked to imagine the future and describe it in the present tense. While creating a set of compelling visions, the film also played on viewers’ expectations and imaginings of Africa.
For his installations, Beloufa creates complex architectonic structures which are handmade using cheap and easily available materials and techniques, apparently improvised and process-based. These sculptures are also viewing spaces dedicated to the perception of projected moving images and sound. There is a specific strategy of time in his work that seems to embrace all tenses in the same moment, which also relates to that always-disturbing aspect of the unfinished. One can get trapped in the contextual aesthetics of his spatial setups, which drive you from the form and colour of Memphis Group design through deconstructivist-workshop-like setups in the 1970s to a model vision of the 2020s.
Beloufa leads us more often to peregrination than to orientation (there is, in his work, no clear specification of a hierarchy between the moving image and the architectural framework). It is all related more to the construction of an obstacle than of a comfort; it is a boundary, a problem of self-determination. The characters in his videos, too, are more phantoms than ‘real’ people… and yes, not that many people know that Neil is an extraordinarily keen rock ’n’ roll acrobat as well.
This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue.