Written by Roya Mansar. Published on 14 January 2022.
Tunisian Younes Ben Slimane studied architecture at the National School of Architecture and Urban Planning (ENAU) in Tunis. Along with the transdisciplinary approach of the architecture school, he nurtured his interest in contemporary art. ‘Jaou’ in Tunis 2018 hosted his first exhibition ‘Ready-to-Burn’. In 2019, he was part of the group exhibition ‘Climbing Through the Tide’ at B7L9 Art Station in Tunis, he has been invited to ‘Gabes Cinema Fen’, he showed ‘Homogeneous’ at the French Institute in Tunis and at the ‘La La Lande’ Gallery in Paris. In the same year, his short documentary film ‘All Come from Dust’ won the ‘Tanit d’Or’ at the Carthage Film Festival and was selected for the ‘Locarno Film Festival’. In 2020, he directed his second film titled ‘Nous le savions qu’elles etaient belles, les iles’.
RM: How did you start as a filmmaker?
YBS: At first, I had no intention of becoming a filmmaker, I was more interested in contemporary art and the medium of photography. The desire to switch started during my final thesis at the architecture school. It was about the vernacular architecture of Tozeur, my hometown, an architecture that generates emotions. Initially, I started filming the craftsmen of the brickworks, I thought of using the content to produce a video installation or organize an exhibition, but the interaction I had with the craftsmen inspired me to tell my story through a hybrid narration that employs video art but at the same time breaks with the conventional norms, whereby the idea of the film started to take shape.
RM: Your artwork reveals a sense of belonging to the surroundings. What is the story behind that?
YBS: For me, Tozeur is the city of my ancestors, it generated a need to rediscover my origins. I found myself wandering through the alleys of the medina, trying to understand the way I correspond with this environment. I started to be interested in clay bricks, a key material of the architecture in Tozeur, I wanted to explore its poetic aspect and the origin of this sensuous architecture. The sense of belonging pushed me to immerse myself in this poetic place and to try to see beyond things. However, I still wonder whether the reason for my puzzlement is the magic of the city and its architecture, or a particular sensitivity, that could be in the genes.
RM: Is that what we can call identification?
YBS: Identification is not always a conscious act. I would even say that true identification is an unconscious act. There is always in ourselves a sensitivity to a thing, place, atmosphere, architecture, person, or even a smell. each has its own representation of the elements; even if these elements remain, objectively unchanged. Each one of us has his own way of approaching thoughts; personally, I’m passionate about art that points fingers at contemporary issues without it being a figurative display, an art that always seeks to awaken an emotion.
RM: In ‘All Come from Dust’, you referred to the cohesion between human beings and nature by summarizing it in a very strong gesture, the one about the manipulation of the four natural elements by man. A gesture that sums up the human way of being in the world. How did you further this line of thought through “Nous le savions qu’elles etaient belles, les iles”?
YBS: ‘All Come from Dust’ is a documentary film, it perpetuates an ancestral knowledge characterizing the south of Tunisia. In fact, the film is a proposal of revisiting the vernacular constructions made of brick. The earth is the origin of the brick, it is also the origin of man. Both refer to what is essential, to the quintessence of pure and simple things: The craftsman in his workshop handles the four natural elements: earth, fire, water, and air. Therefore, we can see the craftsman in creation, close to the creation of the world by God. This is how we immerse in existential questions in creation.
RM: This kind of reflection on our being in the world is very present in the ‘Nous le savions qu’elles étaient belles, les iles’, but it seems to be interpreted in another way. It seems to focus more on the genius loci, questioning the multiple roots of our architectural heritage. In your artistic approach in general, do you deploy a particular working method that allows you to embody your philosophy?
YBS: For me, it is essential to be onsite and to immerse myself. Of course, there are sometimes scenes that can be filmed in Tunis and not in the south, because a similar situation can be found. However, I always prefer to be on the original site because it is embedded in memory, history, and emotion – just like a human being. It is as if there is a kind of immaterial energy of the place that shapes its unique aspect and differentiates it from others. Therefore, I am interested in the atmosphere, the context in all its dimensions, the authenticity that cannot be copied. By being attentive to the details, I put myself at the service of the place, I listen to it, and it is through this path that I try to rediscover its genius, and then portray it through artwork.
Letters from Le Fresnoy. Institute Francais Tunis 2020.
National School of Architecture and Urban Planning (ENAU) Tunis (tn)
‘Jaou’ Tunis by Kamel Lazar Foundation, Tunis (tn)
B7L9 Art Station by Kamel Lazar Foundation, Tunis (tn)
Gabes Cinema Fen, Gabes (tn)
French Institute, Tunis (tn)
La La Lande Gallery, Paris (fr)
Carthage Film Festival, Tunis (tn)
facebook.com: Younes Ben Slimane
instagram.com: Younes Ben Slimane
PHOTO Videostill (Detail):’All Come from Dust’. Younes Ben Slimane. 2020.
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