rhizome announces the opening of the first solo exhibition in Algeria of artist Massinissa Selmani, “1000 Villages”, curated by Natasha Marie Llorens.
Massinissa Selmani’s work is fundamentally concerned with the structure of contemporary history, or how people make sense of the events they are living through. The artist’s aesthetic process is elliptical, yet rigorous: he sifts through anecdotal language, faded, and idiosyncratically categorized newspapers, poetry, philosophy, and rumors. Selmani is an artist who draws: the medium’s modesty mirrors his dedication to the experience of those who stand outside the grand narratives of history, or adjacent to the centers of power. Nevertheless, he conceives of drawing in ambitious terms. In Selmani’s graphic universe, drawing takes on both temporal and architectural dimensions.
In 2021, curator and art historian Natasha Marie Llorens invited Selmani to work collaboratively on an evolution of a work he had presented at the Venice Biennial in 2015 entitled 1000 Villages. Selmani’s point of departure for his original installation— the preparatory drawings for which are presented as part of this exhibition—was an archive of press clippings about an urban planning project initiated by the Algerian government in the mid- 1970s under the aegis of the “Agrarian Revolution.” Its goal was to redevelop the agricultural sector of Algeria’s economy by collectivizing its infrastructure. Selmani was fascinated by how the 1000 socialist villages project transformed from myriad built forms into a sort of political rumor: people knew some villages had been established, but few had been to construction sites and even fewer knew why the project had been suspended.
Selmani and Llorens’s inquiry was not scientific but rather an exploration of the bright effervescence of the 1000 villages in the landscape of contemporary Algerian history. They were curious about how it flared to life, illuminating the interests of the rural inhabitants who had been dispossessed of land under colonial rule or displaced during the long war of Liberation. Between 2021 and 2023, Selmani and Llorens spoke with architects, filmmakers, writers, artists, sociologists, academics, journalists, and regular Algerians who had either lived through the period during which the 1000 socialist villages were being built, or had associations with a period of Algerian history that remains vivid in the nation’s collective imagination as a relatively prosperous time of optimistic construction and nationalist unity. They followed light traces people kept in their memories about what the 1000 villages functioned symbolically as well as analyses that might help explain why this initiative died away with neither announcement nor resolution.
In his first solo exhibition in Algeria, Selmani presents “1000 Villages”, a preliminary attempt to render these years of conversation with a new installation, That which dwells in us, 2023, which incorporates new drawings, original photographs from the 1970s by architect and urbanist Djaffar Lesbet, audio recording from an interview conducted by Selmani and Llorens with sociologist Fatma Oussedik in April 2023, and from a conversation between Selmani and artists and researchers of his generation, Saadia Gacem, Sofiane Zouggar and Walid Aidoud. This new installation is accompanied by preparatory drawings from the earlier eponymous work, and recent drawings that situate both in the context of Selmani’s broader drawing practice that introduce viewers to his playful, fragmentary graphic universe.