On ‘Imaginarium’ by Haifa Ouerfelli at Media Art Friesland, Leeuwarden 2021
Written by Famkje Elgersma. Published on 6 December 2021.
The quiet and calm atmosphere invites the audience to the main hall. Various installations of the Young Masters of the Media Art Friesland project make the light shimmer in different colors and soft, monotone music can be heard. A singled-out, almost lost-looking detached wall divides the back part of the hall in two. Due to Haifa Ouerfelli’s intervention, on its left side, the space is drenched in greenish light.
Getting closer, it is hard to say what I see as the imageries are shattered into pieces and split into smaller parts. Green flickering rectangles are composed as stand-alone as well as in overlapping shapes. The shapes receive their visual content as reflections from mirrors that are attached to the wall. They reflect the video material onto the juxtaposed space divider. Perhaps it is a forest with bright green deciduous trees, meadows, or an avenue? It is too tricky to trace the original content. Additionally, viewers moving in the walk-in-image become part of the intervention, adding their shadow to the light play.
Haifa Ouerfelli is experienced in experimenting with video projection, reflecting materials such as glass or mirrors, and a spatial setting. In 2019, she took part in the Young Masters program of the See Djerba, the international Media Art Biennial in Houmt Souk, in the south of Tunisia. Later in the year, she traveled to Russia joining the Undark Festival in Yekaterinburg. In 2020, she was invited to join the Young Masters program by INTERFERENCE to develop a work in the Medina of Tunis. For each space, she develops a specific setup to transform the space.
For the reflectors, Haifa Ouerfelli emphasizes a recycling or upcycling process and uses forgotten, unused, or apparently defective materials as broken mirrors, old fiberglass, or CDs and DVDs. In combination with analog animation techniques, using light and color by projecting videos and pictures, she reshapes them into something new, something worth seeing. “I think my artwork shouldn’t create waste, I don’t want to be the cause of even more pollution. So why don’t we give (old materials) a second life? Why don’t we give it meaning? It is something that has character, something which has a history.”
Haifa Ouerfelli developed ‘Imaginarium’ within the framework of a study project at the ESSTeD (Ecole Supérieure Des Sciences et Technologies du Design) in Tunis, where she did her Bachelor and Master studies in interior design. Currently, she works as a freelance interior designer and artist, based in Tunis. “As an interior designer, I learned to pay importance to the smallest details, to get out of the typical perception towards a deeper connection of interior space.”
In her choice of sites, she likes to follow an intuitional approach, the Leeuwarden space was no exception: “I stood in the middle of the space, turned around, and saw this sad lonely green wall. But parallel, at the opposite side, there was another surface in almost the same color with the same grid. It was almost a composition.”
She decided to position a projector in the center between the two wall elements. She went looking for old and broken mirrors in town and added them to allow the projected light to travel between the architectural elements. The mirrors are slightly off the wall at various angles. Through the precisely matched projection, each of them is framed by the flowing green video. In this video, a lot could happen and yet it is barely visible through the mirrors. The selection of video materials encompasses imageries she recorded during her residency in Leeuwarden. The images are distorted by traveling through the installation’s space, linking the local environment and the artistic intervention. The visuals appear on the wall behind the projector.
While being together in Leeuwarden, I assisted her in the journey from construction to completion. Despite the effort and the accompanying ups and downs, I was pleasantly surprised by the end result and still, there were some open questions. Why are the mirrors partly used and broken and partly new? The arrangement is neither entirely accurate, nor is it entirely intuitive. Is this play of new and reused, of ordered and disordered intended, did Haifa not entirely value her principles? The video was mysterious to me until the end as well. Like the mirrors, it does not follow a consistent path for me. The structure of nature is recognizable but distorted and therefore not definable anymore. Why this nature video? Could it have been an abstract video or one that conveys a clear message?
By talking about her motives, Haifa explained that ‘Imaginarium’ is the artistic translation of how people perceive, how everyday images and experiences are consciously and unconsciously perceived and further processed in dreams, actions, and in artworks like those by Frida Kahlo or Salvador Dali.
I would have incredibly liked to get inside Haifa’s head and experience how her perceptions were taken apart and reassembled; how, based on her observations and interests, a whole new world was created. Anything is possible, and thus Haifa’s world of thought created an open, interactive space out of the forgotten, overlooked part of the hall. The reshaping of it into a new experience is intense and colorful. I find myself drifting while beholding the installation. I follow the blurry green and make my shadow dance with the image, thinking about Haifa’s narratives and perceiving the structure of ‘Imaginarium’. I track the processing of the imageries from the projector to the mirror wall, to the reflection on the wall. My open questions did not prevent me from enjoying the artistic situation, to merge with the artwork myself but also to observe the visitors interacting. Because in the end, all the narratives, observations, and experiences led me to an experience of interweaving the processes of perceiving and processing. What a good place to be.
Famkje Elgersma: Interview with Haifa Ouerfelli. Bremen | Tunis via Phone. 18 November 2021. Manuscript unpublished. Refers to all quotes of the artist in this text unless indicated otherwise.
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