Photo by Laura Schaeffer
Tarek Lakhrissi »Sprialling«, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Vitrine Gallery.
Photo by Laura Schaeffer
Photo by Laura Schaeffer

Confronting our Gazes: Tarek Lakhrissi

March 1, 2022
Text by Sarah Johanna Theurer & Elena Setzer
Photo by Laura Schaeffer

Nurtured by queer-feminist literature and lived experience, Tarek Lakhrissi works with his chosen family to create speculative narratives of transformation.

Tarek Lakhrissi’s film »Spiraling« is a tribute to the power of the spiral as a positive and meditative movement, especially when someone feels lost, weary or uncomfortable in a public sphere. It explores the spiral as a fighting strategy, using poetry, dramatic effects, pop imagery and erotics as a way to twist the expected. On the occasion of showing the work at Haus der Kunst, where »Spiraling« was also shot, the curators Sarah Johanna Theurer and Elena Setzer spoke with the Paris-based artist about chasing the ghosts, finding glory and the beauty of chosen family collaboration.

In »Spiraling«, you are creating a seductive scenario of hypervisibility of a queer body of colour. Is this also a comment on a mode of consumption of Black representation in the media?

When I started working with Mila Furie, the intention was to occupy one of the galleries at Haus der Kunst, a space that is symbolically charged with authoritarian power dynamics. I asked her to perform, to have fun and to focus on the gaze that is often a pressure towards brown and black bodies in the art world and in society in general. She is a professional pole dancer, a night performer, a yoga teacher and an activist. We decided to shoot her, performing her own choreography inside the museum. This video is a way to create a counter-narrative and an intervention by two queer people of colour, investigating the space of the museum as an arena for a counter-performance and addressing voyeurism. I wanted to make sure that her body is respected, beautiful and magical, but also meant to exist and thrive. Recently, I have been very interested by this notion of ‘seduction’. In my last performance, »Sick Sad World«, the performer Joshua Serafin is always ambivalent: he is the seductor, he is the object of desire, but at some point something shifts, then he looks at the audience, lip-syncs and dances: we are all the targets. At the end of »Spiraling« Mila is looking at us – confronting us and our gazes. This is a crucial moment as it’s a reverse of power dynamics; she is in charge.

Tarek Lakhrissi »Sprialling«, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Vitrine Gallery.

»Spiraling« references Félix González-Torres` iconic »Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform)« from 1991, in which a lit platform gets activated by a barely dressed male dancer within a white cube / a museum. Which (socio-political) continuities or shifts were you thinking about when you made »Spiraling« 30 years later?

The shift I was interested in was to re-activate the question that was close  to Félix González-Torres about the disruption created by the presences of people of colour in bourgeois spaces. This is my reality as an artist, but also for many people of colour in different social backgrounds and spheres. It’s funny to note that this was thirty years ago, but this question remains pertinent: what do our minoritarian bodies bring, change, activate, deactivate, reinforce, erase, soften, exorcize, direct, alter, manifest, heal, hurt and emphasize, in these hierarchical museum spaces? Mila is transforming the space via reaffirming her own queerness and femme-ness. This is powerful. Other references, like the »Julian is a Mermaid«, a children’s book that brilliantly tells the story of how a young boy discovers a fascination for cross-dressing. The mermaid has a long history as a symbol of fluid gender, of attraction as well as repulsion. I am interested in making the ghosts of the museum meet Julian, Felix, and of course, Mila. Different times and generations are combined. This is a transgenerational call.

Photo by Laura Schaeffer

Pole dance is used in pop culture as a means for Black female and queer empowerment, thinking about FKA Twigs incredible 2019 performances in »Cellophane« or more recently Lil Nas X in »Montero«. How much is »Spiraling« inspired by music videos?

I spend a lot of time listening to music and watching music videos. »Spiraling« can actually also be perceived as a music video in a sense. These pop stars are my (anti)heroes though. They are revolutionary in many aspects in their music, representation and visibility. The TV show »Pussy Palace« has been a huge inspiration in the process. I am also aware of the different criticisms that have been made to these artists in the industry, mainly about reappropriating this practice without crediting the amount of work provided by sex workers. It is very important to me to be careful and transparent in that sense.

The visual layer is accompanied or rather enhanced by a voice over, which poetically describes a search for (sexual) identity through several states of transformation.

I like the spiral as a symbol of existence. We are all spiraling. Recently, when I discovered that spiraling meant feeling anxious quickly, I see this anxiety as a part of the existence process. We are also living through a troubled time in human history due to different political and social crises in the world. That’s why the atmosphere in the video is so tense and worrying. This is a very personal piece in that sense. The poem that I receite for the voice over in the video is about my personal childhood, including cruising in dark woods, feeling insecure, coming from a working-class family, growing-up in the French banlieue. I felt I had to transform myself to exist as a citizen: change my way of talking, my way of presenting. That’s »spiraling«! On the other hand, the poem is also a lot about hope, finding your way and being unapologetic about yourself. She is becoming a bird, she is free and everything is possible.

Photo by Laura Schaeffer

Mila Furie, the pole dance choreographer and performer, is not only a queer activist, but also a close friend of yours. What does it mean to you to work with friends?

There is a lot of love and tenderness existing in my relationship with Mila. I met her a couple years ago in a queer bar and we immediately clicked. While working on this video in Munich, we spent a week together quarantined in an apartment, sharing thoughts about the world, working out, doing yoga together, singing to Dido, Robyn and French rapper Josman, talking about our lovers and the so-called queer community, how it hurt us, but also how it empowers and saves us, especially in the French context. The concept of ‘chosen family’ came out of our mouths quickly. I also asked Victor da Silva (aka Fatma Pneumonia) to be a part of this project, who is a dear friend I have been musically collaborating with in past projects. He is a wonderful music producer based in Paris, also involved in different activist circles. If we want some change, we need to do it together. If I am invited somewhere, I also want to invite friends and to live this experience with them as a way to cope and enjoy it together. A lot of this is what the project is about, similar to what I did at my project »Different alibis« (2019) or again in my movie »Out of the Blue« (2019), all performers are friends. These projects exist with a lot of love, trust, kinships, celebration, collective efforts, and of course conflicts and frictions around the same table. I want to put my energy into trying to figure this out and what emerges from there. These are hard conversations and magical situations.

The conversation was realized in collaboration with Haus der Kunst, where »Spiraling« will be on view as part of the live exhibition Echoes (March 3 – 13 2022) which is curated in dialogue by Sarah Johanna Theurer, Elena Setzer and Sarah Miles.

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PW-Magazine is a bilingual online magazine for contemporary culture run by Luca Büchler and Lewon Heublein. 

PW-Magazine is supported by the Federal Chancellery of Austria and Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.