AGADIR: Installation by Yto Barrada & texts by Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine

Today is the opening of Moroccan artist Yto Barrada’s installation AGADIR at the Curve Gallery of the Barbican Center in London. Below, the official announcement & a few of the pages from Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s book “Agadir,” which I translated for the occasion:

For her first major London commission, artist Yto Barrada weaves together personal narratives and political ideals to create a complex portrait of a city and its people in a state of transition.
The sweeping form of the Curve is transformed with a dramatic installation – encompassing a mural, film commission, sculptures, and a series of live and recorded performances – to consider how a city and its people might address the process of reinvention following disaster. Barrada takes as her starting point a surreal text by Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine – Agadir  (1967) – reflecting on the devastating earthquake of 1960 that destroyed much of the modernist Moroccan city.
Barrada’s multimedia practice has explored questions ranging from migration to abstraction, from fossils to botany, examining the strategies of resistance employed every day in her native Morocco.
Live performances* will take place on selected Saturdays – 10 & 24 February, 3 & 31 March, 21 & 28 April, 5 & 12 May
Please note, the exhibition contains a film with scenes some viewers may find upsetting and language of an explicit nature within the sound installation and live performances.


Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine

Extracts from Agadir (chosen by Yto Barrada)

translated by Pierre Joris

… this city my new boss sends me to in order to sort out a particularly precarious situation I didn’t know it well yes I had passed through I even spent a night there during the holidays and I read the newspaper that told of the catastrophe it seems that rats formed regiments of corpse devourers of the snapshots I consulted all that remains in memory are broken stones piled on top of each other and this rumbling roar felt at the moment I packed my bag no really I haven’t learned anything reassuring about this city I was simply told in the director’s office The commander has been ousted It’s up to you to bring this matter to a conclusion It may take a long time if you don’t engage it fully after which I was handed a cheque made out to bearer and beyond that I don’t have any intention of saying anything more about this city.

One morning I received the following order: Given the gravity of the situation, we are asking you to prepare the exodus of the population of your town immediately. It is indispensable to shield it from all and any danger. We’ll let you know when the time is right. You will have the backing of the local authorities with whom we will share a copy of this communication. I reported that the town had been razed, but not to what point. Very vague structures worthy of an archeologist’s scrapbook gave on the eroded rock face and the sea.  And here and there isolated, re-daubed houses. No crack, no crevice! But I clearly feel the subterranean presence of a city’s corpse. With their bulldozers, their trucks, their pickaxes, the soldiers have leveled the last wall faces that scared the eye. I also smell a skein of disturbing odors: exhalations of croaked rats, of decomposing human body parts, fetor rising from disemboweled sewers; the smell of the unusable harbor and beach where dead crustaceans and fish pile up! But having to be here, I’m getting used to this new air. Inexplicably I become as foul smelling as the atmosphere; so that, sitting up or lying down, I eventually become numb; but without expecting to, I get up, lungs stung by this hyper-odor.

The means at my disposal are insufficient to calm the nerves. In fact, I get dozens of requests every day. I try to study each case in isolation; but in the end I only reach a common and singular case, can I say a uniform one? The population does not want to leave its city which, if you believe what they say, is the cradle of its civilization and the crucible in which its History will be fashioned. They don’t know that its History has already been made. But how much will and faith the population uses to rescue what has become unusable from the ruins! Mixed in with family souvenirs are broken bits of mosaics or tiles, rescued curtains or door locks. And that one there surreptitiously guards one of his wife’s finger joints. He showed it to me. I advised him to keep it hidden. He confided in me that he loved his wife more than God but that he was a believer nonetheless. I did not agree with him concerning this last point…

I’m once again immersed in the study of various requests. I’m dealing with perverts or crazies. But I will help them… This one here is threatening to shoot me down if I don’t find the exact location where his house once stood. He says it was set on a stone encrusted dune, but he can’t remember which dune it was, there are so many along the coast. He also says that state functionaries are much better taken care of than any rescued citizens. He is right, as far as this is concerned. He adds, before signing the letter, that he has no address but that I can meet him, no, he’ll come and meet me when he has the certainty that I share his misfortune. And in a post-script that takes up 3 sheets of paper, he describes for me what his existence had been before the catastrophe, he tells me about his lover and about his gazelle much friendlier than any of the ladies of good repute, a gazelle, he says, which understood what I told it, which used the toilet, lapped up its milk and ate the lettuce or alfalfa leaves when I gave it the order to do so with a little red copper bell engraved with its name I won’t reveal to you now; they stole my gazelle, I am sure it isn’t dead, an animal doesn’t die like a human creature when the earth comes unleashed; and I know who stole my gazelle; it’s a lieutenant-colonel who stole it to offer it as a gift to His Majesty whose gift to me is terror; yes everything’s collapsed since his ascension, and he drinks during ramadan, do you think that’s normal, and he eats good dishes with his ministers and takes the best women of the country for himself;  but I can’t say anything about you at the moment, you know my justice; yes, sir, we are far from that royal world, we’re beyond its time and laws; a tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye like in the old days; I can’t remember who told me that but I approve and if he was here he would certainly help me clean this city of ours; you came from their side, it is they who send you to us; but it is we who command you; I am considerate enough not to force you to retrieve my house stone for stone. Here his request ends. I tell myself, this affair does not require a dossier; I’ll keep his letter for myself, among my private papers. But the author hasn’t revealed his name; he hasn’t given himself away by some sign or other people of his type usually leave behind. He could have described himself. Others would be afraid of an unknown man threatening them, but not me. I’ve asked myself about the matter of dying several times already, and I’ll face death without the least apprehension. If this guy shot me I may not be deader because of it than I already am. So I will not separate myself from this movement that tells me that it is indeed I the one-who-walks or the one-who-works. Rather, it is called the power to be present there where one is absent. It’s horrible what a nuisance words can be. A word, that is a trap that catches you and won’t release you. At any rate, when the time comes, I’ll know what to do; maybe my future assassin will come to me.  No, more likely he will give me a rendez-vous somewhere. I will not be shot down amidst colorful men and white flowers, but in a river of blood, in cow dung or on a heap of dried roots. It is what men do not inscribe in their golden book. They love artifice and entertainment, but they must not be wrong as this way they augment their science with the prestige the old ones called discovery, a word gone out of fashion. I see the other requests. Not interesting, though deeply moving. Descriptions with no analogies but all linked by an intrinsic thread, let’s say by the same motive. This one has lost his whole family. He believes however that it will be easy for him to rebuild his life, if His Majesty’s government consents. He is asking for rather consequential financial aid, given that he has also lost three buildings and two food stores. The last request comes from a worker who asks for nothing more than stable employment. He is unmarried and has lost nothing during the catastrophe. Except for a wallet with his identity papers and a photo of his fiancée. He doesn’t speak about her. But isn’t it time to think about myself? In truth, I am now freed from an exhausting routine job. I am at home, in my place. Maybe I will describe it. It’s neither day nor night. What to say about a greasy moon that anoints the sky, the sand and the trees, the windows and the neighborhood obstacles as they snake toward the hills! From here I see everything except the city. A man has to survive in the space of an inhalation! And my coworkers who with their wives go to the finest nightclubs. It happens on the other side of my life. Here, its cadastral plan.  An actual, standing city is in play. Hundreds of decrepit or nearly decrepit buildings at its core, the place where the rent is higher than elsewhere. The city is girded by buildings, villas, palaces, a pink one among them looms in my vision (it is the summer hideaway of a so-called socialist). Between the belt and the center, high schools and grade schools, low houses, cinemas, football fields, large avenues bordered by geraniums and exotic trees, roundabouts where the traffic cop’s silhouette stands forever, dark, stinking streets along which oozes the water of the public fountains,  and these foul-smelling structures with windows-slashes from which hang half-washed linens and pieces of dried meat; that is the most significant part of the city. I was born in one of those moldering holes, among the smell of slaughtered chicken and the unrelenting meowing of cats. My city is not a vulgar jumble. It took me ten years to get to know it street by street, square by square. The suburbs, far from the center, are more attractive, as far as I’m concerned. The suburban constructions are clearly separate from each other. Each to his solitude. That’s the plan’s very basis. And the intermediary road for everyone. You don’t make friends there.  You don’t have time to go knock on any other door than your own. You don’t talk too long with the grocer and you pay cash for all of your purchases. And you feel calm all the way down to your bones.

The city oozes a red and white-veined yellow oil drop onto my memory’s soft folds. Roads in fits and starts toward the pale nakedness hoisted by the pylon’s night and the wind.  The City toward the port, the railway station platforms, the swimming pools, the Kon-Tikis where my legs used to split the marine foam: My City that I carry along in my briefcase, My-City-Knife-Of-The-Sun. I don’t exhibit myself, I easily risk being understood. Here I reel in overheated tar, on construction sites the tourists will discover tomorrow at dawn.  I mope and mope and scar by scar I feather my time, the time of a true tree frog. I transgress, I swell up, my enemy not there, negated, dragged through green mud, but I haven’t understood yet why the oleander I meet a bit everywhere along the coast of this near-city explodes inside me and why I hang on to it in my nightly dreams. It must certainly mean that I don’t come from where I was given the instructions you know. It must ruin my intention. And why do I worry, why? No doubt I’ll be able to say a word or two about my dwelling. It is before all a lair. A modern lair. The moles can’t create any as frozen. At ground level and a bit below the earth, there lies my lair. A way to prevent shock, let’s say.

I will post a few more pages in the next few days.

Texts © The estate of Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine; translations © Pierre Joris

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