Words are my positive obsession

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Sick Sad World is the lovechild of a non-binary, queer relationship between performer Joshua Serafin, sound designer Victor Da Silva (Fatma Pneumonia), dancer Younès Guilmot, and myself,’ book-lover and visual artist Tarek Lakhrissi told me, laughing. Created during a two-week residency, the performance is based on the sarcastic, politically conversational cartoon character, Daria. The performance is set in Daria’s bedroom: an in-between space, embodying the magical power of all the utopias yet to come. In light of Sick Sad World’s upcoming installation and performance at Casino Knokke, we discussed our definitions of queerness, performative politics, and the various forms utopia can take.

The bookshop Les Mots à la Bouche in Paris appears to have played a significant part in your development as a visual artist. What made it special to you?

It was at Les Mots à la Bouche where I first got in touch with narratives. I’ve always wanted to make sure that my story and the story of my people can be told, as I’m interested in voicing seemingly impossible and complex narratives. Being surrounded by books allowed me to be a part of different worlds. And it was in the bookshop that I realised I was able and ready, to build a world and narratives of my own.

I’m interested in voicing seemingly impossible and complex narratives

The bookshop played a significant role in facilitating my love of words, but my Moroccan background also contributed to shaping this obsession. I’m used to living in a culture where it’s quite normal to quote poetry and music lyrics in banal situations. I am not obsessed with poetry just by chance. Some obsessions are positive, and words are my positive obsession.


You spoke of building worlds. How does world-building relate to your artistic practice?

World-building is the starting point of all my projects. The concept of queer world-building has been brought forward by philosopher Jose Esteban Munoz. Another concept I use from him is his definition of utopia. He defines a utopia as a sketched down philosophy revolving around finding strategies to survive, specifically for queer people and people of colour. According to Jose Esteban Munoz, ‘Queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness's domain.’


Is communication with others an important aspect of building and understanding worlds?

I argue that, in each conversation, there can always be a turning point, where just telling your story becomes a conversation about your family, your background, your feelings and shared experiences. From that point, you not only start to understand yourself but also engage in finding strategies to cope, to understand the world we live in. My first film, Diaspora/Situations 2017, was mostly based on conversations. The film was a means to document the work my friends were doing and were meaningful to me; to pay tributes to them. In this film, conversation and navigating the turning points were my methodologies.

Diaspora/Situations 2017, was a means to document the work my friends were doing

Speaking of conversation as a methodology, Sick Sad World has a collective aspect to it. Can you tell me about this collaboration?

Community and gathering people is important to me. Josh, Victor and I met in a very organic way. I started my research by talking to my network in Brussels. I was introduced to Josh, a Brussel-based dancer, through a mutual acquaintance. Then I met Victor the sound designer, who I already knew from the club and squat scene in the Parisian banlieue. And Younès, who is a young dancer, assisted me. We were locked down in WIELS for two weeks, experimenting and improvising trying to work all together on all elements of the performance. So we all did the dramaturgy together which resulted in a magical situation in which everything somehow went well.


How do the conversations to gather people in this way begin?

When you meet someone and say, 'Hey, this is my project, do you want to be a part of it ?' you usually follow up by making sure you are on the same page poetically and politically. I wanted to make sure we were all there to create something together out of this utopian situation of having nothing else to do but create in an empty museum. That is, in itself, a luxury that is not available to everyone. I love the process of gathering people and trying to make something all together by merging our different backgrounds and aesthetics.  I believe in this economy of trust.

Community-building has been used in a true neoliberal manner

What does community mean to you and how does your work contribute to queer community-building?

Community-building has been used in a true neoliberal manner. However, in my work, I am very pragmatic in the sense that I focus on bringing people together and making sure that they not only get paid but also work in good conditions. I constantly ask myself ‘How can I apply queer, anti-racist politics in my practice by making sure I create room for other people? And how can I make sure they are treated well?’ 


In the context of powerful art institutions and galleries, terms such as 'community' and 'queerness' can easily become performative and empty. How do you prevent that from taking control over your work?

There definitely is a lack of structural changes in art institutions and performative politics, so for me, it comes down to those younger queer people and people of colour in the room. The biggest gift to me is when a younger person of colour sees my work and feels recognised. I hope to give them the sense that this piece has been made for them. There are always one or two people in the room who will perceive the work in a different, more intimate way. That means the world to me. In my artistic work, I am speaking for myself and I say what I have to say. I’m here to create narratives and to offer perspectives but these narratives don’t advocate their superiority. When you’re a person of colour, institutions love the activist trope, but I’m here to work, to play, and do what I have to do. That’s something I’m advocating for in my pedagogic work as a teacher as well. I aim to teach future artists that they have the right to say no and not do what these institutions want. We need radical imagination for the future.


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