Bili Bidjocka / FICTION #1: The Autobiography without Form of Bernardo Soares
Bidjocka’s experiences of this city and its people has heightened his awareness of the extremes of beauty and vulnerabilty, qualities that he has foregrounded in the conception and production of FICTION #1. The first of a series of exhibitions to take place globally, it is conceived as an onirique wandering through the life of Bernardo Soares, both a character and one of the heteronyms of Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese author of The Book of Disquiet who, coincidentally, grew up in Durban at the turn of the twentieth century.
Pursuing notions of formlessness leaves open the possibilities for creating alternate personas and new experiences. Merging the artist and the work of art by transforming the former into the latter, the artist becomes, in a sense, an artifact, or a beautiful fiction. With serious intent, he sets up situations of play through which to explore various enigmas. These may take the form of photographs, embellished with layers of beaded texts or designs added in collaboration with the Beloved Beadwork collective. Suggesting a fictional retrospective, they present enigmas while offering opportunities to revisit or re-imagine past projects.
Inspired by African knowledge systems and by diverse traditions of philosophy and religious mysteries, Bidjocka draws on Judaism, Christianity and Islam as well as on literary references. A spectacular beaded curtain invokes the Seder question, ‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’ provoking associations of sacred practices, yet remaining open-ended and suggestive. A photograph of Venice adorned with beaded script inspired by Arabic texts asserts an Islamic presence largely occluded in the centres of Europe.
A sequence of videos, made in Dakar during the biennale of 2000, features a lone boxer who in one video is a toned, muscled athlete and in another, the artist seen shadow boxing. They evoke Don Quixote and Charlie Chaplin in flailing performances that are at times both ridiculous and vulnerable. In fending off an imaginary enemy outside and within, he explores the mercurial qualities of contradiction and inversion. The making of art thus becomes an adventure in which viewers are invited to particpate in an imaginary game of creation.
Dakar Tour at Dak’Art, 2000 required biennale audiences to locate, throughout the city, flags inscribed with the double lines of a pause where they could engage with the city and its inhabitants beyond the confines of the biennale. Invoking the search for the perfect lover – that interminable quest for connectedness – which he finds as much in human intercourse as he does in the imaginary world of art, Bidjocka seeks ways to balance the inevitability of life with the risk of failure. Whatever their form, Bidjocka’s works are elegant and poetic explorations of the condition of humanity that embrace intimacy, mystery, ambiguity and change.
Bili Bidjocka was included in the Havana Biennale (1997), the Taipei Biennale (2004) and the Venice Biennale (on Check List: Luanda Pop, 2007 curated by Fernando Alvim and Simon Njami). Bidjocka has featured on landmark international exhibitions such as Black President (New Museum, New York, 2003); Zeitwenden (Museum of Modern Art, Bonn, 1999) and Africa Remix (Düsseldorf, London, Paris, Tokyo and Johannesburg, 2005-2007). In collaboration with Emily Cantrell and Jesus Polanco, he founded and directed Matrix Art Project, a contemporary art platform in New York, Paris and Brussels.