AT FIRST GLANCE, ADEL ABDESSEMED’S WORK – which spans video, photography, animation, sculpture and installation – is a rush. In the case of Schnell (2005), literally. That piece consists of 11 seconds of looped video footage, shot during the time it took a video camera to fall from a helicopter hovering 700 metres above Berlin. At once an Icarian plummet, a dizzying bewilderment of the senses and a vertiginous leap into the void that outdoes Yves Klein’s celebrated photograph of himself flying out a window, the work is the perfect introduction to the thirty-six-year-old Algerian’s oeuvre. And in contrast to the rapid death-dive this work describes, Abdessemed, who now lives between Paris and Berlin, is an artist on the rise.
While the themes of Schnell appear in a number of other works – Habibi (2003), in which a giant skeleton, suspended above the ground in Superman pose, appears to be flying out of, or being sucked into, the fans of a jet engine, or Bourek (2005), in which a flattened aeroplane fuselage is rolled up like a traditional oriental pastry – Abdessemed’s relatively simple works gather up a sometimes bewildering array of references. Perhaps his most famous piece, God Is Design (2005), is an animation, in which 3,050 relatively simple drawings of biological signs and Jewish and Islamic religious symbols morph, merge, multiply and mutate like so many rampant, hyperactive cells. Replete with references to disease and infection, as well as the possibilities for cross-fertilisation and coexistence, the work is the perfect metaphor for our transnational world.
Following an appearance at the last Venice Biennale, a nomination for the 2006 Prix Marcel Duchamp and, also last year, his first solo institutional show, at Paris’s Le Plateau, Abdessemed is attracting a growing number of fans. Chief among them is the world’s number one collector – François Pinault – who bought Practice Zero Tolerance (2006), a Charles Ray-like ceramic replica of a burnt-out Renault that is an overt reference to the riots in the suburbs of Paris at the time, and a more covert reference to suicide bombings in the Middle East. Another seamless fusion of aesthetics and politics, like much of the artist’s work, Practice Zero Tolerance occupies a position between two poles: in this case the ‘zero tolerance’ of the title refers to the policies of those seeking to punish the perpetrators of acts of vandalism (as France’s Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy famously used it) or functions as an explanation of what motivates the kind of pyromaniacal protest that produced Abdessemed’s model. However you choose to read it, Abdessemed has produced another striking monument of our times.
This article was first published in the March 2007 issue.