Relaxation and Globalisation
Yto Barrada, Riffs
Book Review by Edward Welch
Published by: Hatje Cantz
Riffs is the handsome catalogue accompanying a solo show by Yto Barrada at the Berlin Guggenheim earlier this year, organised to mark her nomination as the Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year for 2011. In many ways, it offers a rewarding encounter with her work over the past decade or so, and includes stimulating essays and interviews exploring her engagement with the city of Tangiers, and her study of the frontiers and frustrations at the margins of Europe which makes her one of the most perceptive observers of the contemporary world in all its globalised and segregated complexity. Yet at the same time, it is a publication shot through with a few too many ironies, not the least of which is that, as sponsor’s representative Pierre de Weck tells us rather proudly in his preface, the prize comes with no financial reward. Rather, alongside the solo show, Artists of the Year have a whole floor of the bank’s head office devoted to showing their work, while the bank acquires some 'works on paper' for its collection. One is gladdened that so many foot soldiers of big finance can be soothed, and maybe even challenged, as they meditate on Barrada’s sustained interrogation of the landscapes which global capital has done so much to shape and define over the past two or three decades.
Perhaps the time has come to get real, and learn to be ‘intensely relaxed’ about the contradictions which emerge whenever corporate sponsors seek to champion work whose lines of enquiry interrogate the worldview on which their activities are predicated? But, for all the attention Barrada’s work undoubtedly deserves, this particular encounter leaves such contradictions a little too visible for comfort.