Salim Bayri is a Moroccan artist currently based in the Netherlands. Bayri received his BFA in Arts and Design at Escola Massana in Barcelona and is a Masters student of Media Art Design and Technology at the Frank Mohr Instituut who has exhibited internationally. The multimedia artist takes on a multidisciplinary approach to his work using a variety of mediums including music and sounds. His art functions within a philosophical, socio-political framework, yet executed in a witty manner that is far from alienating.
Your works play on familiar symbols and stereotypes through unfamiliar contexts creating a sense of distanced intimacy or parallel universe situation. What do you hope to achieve through this?
As a migrant that constantly jumps between the West and the Rest there’s a constant feeling of strangeness in both sides. When you experience different environments anything is susceptible of becoming strange. Like that feeling you have when you go back to your parent’s house and see your bedroom again. It goes from the most familiar to suddenly the most bizarre.
Everything we experience is the result of a way of thinking combined with socio-economic conditions. From the english breakfast I had this morning to the ways sidewalks are made... Having more than one vision on things generates a lot of 'what if' scenarios. What if there was a halal alternative to that english breakfast? What if these same sidewalks were there? What if those ones were here? What if my breakfast fell on those sidewalks? Does the five second rule apply to both sidewalks? Building parallel scenarios becomes a constant background task my brain does because it is impossible to unsee what I experienced moving around.
Through what I make, I am trying to grasp things I don't really get because of their complexity. There are so many questions that arise from seeing through different lenses the same situations. My work is about a constant search of ways to convey a part of this complexity that sometimes feels strange because it ends up not being solved.
Growing up, you get a lens, moving out you get another one. Then you realize things are not that polarized and start making your own in-between lens. A bumpy, amateurish, blurry and scratched lens made by yourself that is neither myopic nor astigmatic. Then you use it and only can see points and shapes, and a sausage on the sidewalk. Then, for me, it is all about a topographic effort where I map what I barely can see, then step back to try to look at the whole picture. Art is about choosing the hard way to do simple things after all, isn't it?
What do you find is the beauty in technological advancements? Should we be afraid of technology?
I find technologies interesting when they become accessible to wealthy and non-wealthy populations at the same time. When they become a common denominator that can serve as a medium where things can be said. I find beautiful when cultural habits and set of beliefs can be seen through cold rigid technology. The moment you can see religious beliefs through a dry web page. When unwritten rules lurk behind a code. When you can have a church feeling in a Facebook wall.
Zuckerberg thinks in a certain way that doesn't fit to most of the epistemologies. There's an inevitable delay between these technologies and its users. What we get and how we use things is different and I’m glad there's a difference between how things are on paper and how they actually are in daily life. The distance between them show the compassion, humanity and everything else that is not part of the plan. Beauty is in that distance.
New technological advances are designed in very particular environments like Silicon Valley incubators that use linear methods to come up with products that can perfectly fit some populations. As Masamune Shirow’s manga series would say: They are usually empty shells that meet their ghosts through users. And a ghost from San Francisco is very different than one from Ouarzazate. So many interferences are added: systems of belief, different ways of approaching reality, environmental conditions… Six years ago, I was in the countryside of Khouribga and everybody had a particular kind of outdated Nokia phone so I asked why don't they have newer ones knowing that they could afford them. The answer was that new phones are good but don’t have flashlights… And it’s fundamental to know where you are going in a place without public lights.
This reminds me of an architect I knew that studied in France and proudly came back to Casablanca with his diploma in hand to start working. He got a commission for planning the house of a private client. After showing his project to the client, he had to do it all over again because the client could not accept having the toilets facing the qibla (the Mecca). Who would teach you that? Where is that written?
I don’t find technologies dangerous per se. I find it important to make an effort to diagnose them so we can be aware of the things that don’t match our way of thinking. For example, Facebook is made based on this very simplistic assumption that we have one indivisible persona...but we don’t! I think we are more complex than that: we adopt different personas, change, make them talk to each other, some are more opaque than others, some disappear, others reappear... Being aware of these things allow me to respond and stand where I want to. That’s why part of my work that you won’t see is under other personas. And I want to keep it like that.
Some of your art references the current refugee and migrant crisis and other contemporary political situations. What do you believe is the role in art during such tense political times?
Before all, I am referencing my migrant crisis. It is obviously extrapolated to all the issues and events in a larger scale but I personally experienced moments that made me think about issues I was closing my eyes on. My work tends to be about presenting, more than representing. I first speak about things that happen to me, that then can include more agents. I don’t feel ready to tackle big topics like the current refugee crisis. All I know is that my resident permit will expire in a few months and I’ll have to come up with a solution to it or move somewhere else.
Art’s role in this contexts is to do as always: keep existing where all other fields like journalism, gaming industry or market don’t stand. For the case of Road To Schengen, after having our daily dose of conversation about paperwork with my brother Tayeb, this idea of making a game about bureaucratic nightmares came up. So this last summer, I was in Casablanca and called my childhood friend Mehdi (who can program) to stay at my parent’s house for a week and make it happen between tagines, mint tea breaks, trap and chaabi music.
How has Morocco and The Netherlands shaped your work?
I enjoy moving around. It is not only these two places that enrich my work but all the places I've been to like Mexico, Shanghai, New York, Spain... I do my best not to get too stuck in any of them. I like to see trees but I try not to forget the forest, if you know what I mean. Coming back to the lens metaphor, migrating would be upgrading it to a fish-eye. I find it interesting that the name of Europa (from the myth) means “wide sighted” and that she got abducted by Zeus who took the form of a bull. Have you seen a bull in the eyes? They have rectangular pupils. I think Zeus chose the right animal to impress her.
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that everything is potentially beautiful depending on when and where it is placed. Some beautiful things are just fine where they are and it’s best to just leave them where they belong (that’s what colonial thinking would still not acknowledge).
Can you tell us more about the CANALSAT blog?
Canalsat started in august 2011 as a shared space where me and Tayeb started to post things that we were mutually interested in, but couldn’t pinpoint why yet. He was in Strasbourg and I was in Barcelona at the time and I think it is about looking back at things we were surrounded with but never properly payed attention to. Just like Bazoga, it is a way to listen again to things we were only hearing back then. I guess Canalsat is about watching what we used to only see.
interview PERWANA NAZIF