"What is a box" Jacques Derrida curated by Mohamed-Ali Berhouma at Elmarsa Gallery


"What is a box" Jacques Derrida
Curated by Mohamed-Ali Berhouma

Elmarsa Gallery, Tunis

19 April - 19 May 2019


Elmarsa Gallery is pleased to present “What is a box?” Jacques Derrida curated by Mohamed-Ali Berhouma, from April 19 to May 19, 2019 in Tunis. A group exhibition that highlights the dynamic contemporary art scene in Tunis with a selection of new works by thirteen artists including Abdesselem Ayed, Ymen Berhouma, Omar Bey, Slimen El Kamel, Aicha Filali, Nadia Jelassi, Rym Karoui, Atef Maatallah, Ibrahim Matous, Thameur Mejri, Asma M’Naouar, Nabil Saouabi and Ali Tnani.


What is a box? Had it not been uttered by Jacques Derrida, the question and its answer would seem obvious. Under the pen of the philosopher and a fortiori the thinker of deconstruction, the question takes on the appearance of criticism and dislocates the comfortable knowledge about boxing through which we come to the world and by which we live in it. Noting that, we must recollect what urged Derrida’s pen to undermine the evidences by (de-)formulating this questioning: It sprout up when he was approaching the practice of Gerard Titus-Carmel on Cartouches. In other words, art and its practices are what prompted the philosopher of foundations to re-examine the primacy of things. In that same perspective, we address once again the same question to art and its practices.


The triviality of defining a box, on the one hand, and its ability to contain a virtually inexhaustible semantic charge on the other, has arisen to several artists who gathered at Elmarsa Gallery. Thus, either painted or staged, from each artist’s perspective, dislocating the banal and placing in on a poetic stall manifested itself on as many orientations as the different visual thoughts. Yet, before engaging in these thoughts, let’s introduce few words of preamble.


If “most contemporary artists”, reminds us of Florence De Mèredieu,”sacrificed to the ritual of the box”2, it is probably that the latter is already an object of potentiality. The box is always in power because of its ability to collect, contain and conceal. As a container and a receptacle, it holds the power to receive. In fact, it receives the multitude, units the most diverse objects with their different horizons of existence in a space of coexistence; and thus, opens a new extent. It also receives the similarity, gathers, sorts, classifies and hence, compartmentalizes the world into reasoned parcels. It can also contain emptiness and opens up a space for all possibilities. In short, what already constitutes the potentiality of a box is its disposition to circumscribe a universe in its own right in the one in which we are, in the one that is beyond us.


However, by overflowing its material limits, the box opens soon into paradigm and invites its fantasies. Let’s not forget that this box (where resonate, somehow, all others), this Japanese box where nesting packages, one in the other, “to the void”, suggested to Roland Barthes, “a real semantic meditation”: “the box acts the sign”, he writes, “as envelope, screen, mask, it is worth what it conceals, protects, and yet designates. It puts off, if we can take this expression in French -donner le change- in its double meaning, monetary and psychological” 3. This abyss box opening on itself is at the image of the “infinity of the box”4 which indexes the endless usages and metaphors proceeding form it. It circumscribes space into an insideness and an outsideness, a closedness and an openness; it becomes the architect of a space. It contains, involves, conceals and receives: it becomes the promise of giving and refusing. It engulfs the bodies and transports the souls: it is a grave, a tomb ... And since the box is itself literally a metaphor: from one place to another (”meta”), it carries (”phôré”), it makes us turn in circles until reaching vertigo either in her or around her.


From these few enunciated ideas, we will comprehend the diversity of paths taken by the artists in this exhibition in order to question the box in its figurations, its functions, its meanings and evocations. A diversity, already affirmed due to the singularity of the plastic territories proper to each artist. By their idiosyncratic tools, they toyed with the concept of box, foiled it and dislocated its evidence. By evading, like the Derridian question, even in its foundations, the object of its trivialities that veil, all too often, our perception of the world and our being-in-the world. It remains the peril of a final boxing: that of the works in the space of the gallery, or as would Brian O’Doherty say, Inside the white cube. However, this last trap is also evaded since the displayed works neither come to close a process of creation nor to complete a plastic reflection as it is often the case. Instead, they constitute for the most part, a starting point and a first statement inscribed in a deconstructionist practice whose perspectives goes beyond the limits of the pictures rails.

1 - Jacques DERRIDA, The truth in painting, Paris, France, Flammarion,
2010, p. 262.
2 - Florence de MEREDIEU, Material and immaterial history of modern
& contemporary art, Paris, Larousse (coll. «In extenso»), 2008, p.
3 - Roland BARTHES, The Sign Empire, Paris, Switzerland, France,
Flammarion, 1984, p. 70.
4 - Florence de MEREDIEU, Ibid.


Artist Boxes or Studios 


In accompanying this exhibition, we have been lucky to approach each artist’s space of creation. The studio is also, in a way, a box, an “organic jar” written, as put by Francis Ponge. Even if, in appearance, the place of creation consists of a space lined with walls, windows and doors, it is by no means considered closed: the studio-box has no boundaries other than those set by the artist and introduced to his practice as well as his visual thinking. The organicity of the space is due to the perpetual and moving de-compartmentalization of the limits of the creative act, to the very dislocation of the creative box that the artist frames throughout his journey. By photographing these places that witness the act of creation, and aside from the impossibility of capturing the margins of a box-studio within the already reducing frame of the camera oscura, it is an open window on the universe of the artist we sought to unlock. The materiality of the place, its architecture, its orderings are to be read as the preludes and the antechambers by which we enter the fabric of the dislocation embodied in the exhibited works.


To read more about the exhibtion please navigate to the Elmarsa Gallery wesbite here

April 26, 2019
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