On the occasion of his solo exhibition Dreamscapes in Hayward Gallery’s HENI Project Space, Hicham Berrada discussed his kaleidoscopic sculptures, installations and video works with the exhibition’s curator Eimear Martin.
Your creative practice sits somewhere between art and science. How do you see your work in relation to scientific exploration?
The aim of science is to produce new knowledge, whereas I am trying to disorient our points of reference. My practice is artistic, but it uses the tools and methods introduced by science, and the protocols of scientific experiments. Science has provided us with excellent tools for apprehending the real world, as well as for manipulating and giving form to reality. I use these tools as a visual artist to produce forms and images that do not have a specific scientific purpose.
Your solo exhibition Dreamscapes in Hayward Gallery’s HENI Project Space includes artworks made from a variety of materials and a wide range of techniques – from chemical reactions to digital simulations. Despite their differences, is there a common language to these works?
Yes. In my work, I always start by choosing a frame – which might be an aquarium, a terrarium or a digital space. This frame allows me to orchestrate the precise conditions I need in order to create a particular environment. Once the frame has been defined and the conditions are in place, the work appears of its own accord. I only sculpt the environment. Everything appears independently of me, whether they have been activated through chemical reactions or mathematical algorithms.
Your work operates on and engages with a variety of different time-scales – from events that usually take place over centuries, to chemical processes that occur in an instant. Is time an important element of your work?
Time fascinates me, because it’s one of the only parameters that you can’t control. In a closed environment you can control the humidity, the pressure and everything else, but we are always subject to time. Since I can’t manipulate it in itself, I like to think up relative times for the spectator. For instance, watching Mineral Matrices (2017) for ten or twenty seconds, where the process of corrosion is accelerated by the conditions of the aquarium, allows you to observe a phenomenon that would normally take place over hundreds of years. I try to use time as a material and consciously integrate it into my work. Time always acts on matter, even the most durable. Nothing is immutable.
The title of this exhibition, Dreamscapes, evokes both landscapes and dreams. Do you think of your work as a medium for exploring possible worlds?
The landscapes that I create in my works are at once familiar and strange. In Portent, cross-section (2019) and Mathematical Omens (2019), we are presented with abstract forms onto which we project landscapes, trees and living creatures. My work explores potential worlds. I think of my sculptures and video works as being a bit like the pencil rubbings made by the Surrealist painter and sculptor Max Ernst – they are abstract forms, taken directly from our material world, left open to individual interpretation.
Although your work draws on scientific processes, their titles evoke the divinatory, the supernatural and the mystical arts, as well as rituals and belief systems. Could you talk about this element of your work? Are you interested in science fiction, or futurology?
Through the evocation of the divinatory arts, I’m hoping to invite the viewer to interpret these abstract forms and to project their own thoughts onto them. For me, there is no direct reference to science fiction, but it is one possible interpretation. They definitely explore different relationships to time – I think of them as a kind of projection into imagined pasts and futures.
What kind of experience are you hoping to create for a visitor to this exhibition?
I came across a passage in a text once, which has stayed with me, although unfortunately I can no longer remember the author. He writes that while standing at his window one morning he saw something moving in the distance. Its colour and its shape were unusual and he struggled to understand what it was – a lion carrying another animal in its mouth? A sphinx? A chimera? Images continue to run through his mind, until suddenly a gust of wind puts an end to his reverie: it was a blanket covering hay bales on a cart. The writer goes back to work. This is the kind of mental state – your imagination keenly alert – that I would like to be able to bring about in the viewer.
Hicham Berrada: Dreamscapes was at HENI Project Space, Hayward Gallery, 3 July – 18 August 2019.
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Header image: Hicham Berrada, Présage, tranche (Portent, cross-section), 2007-ongoing. © ADAGP Hicham Berrada. © Photo. Laurent Lecat. Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris/London