How we understand and experience trauma and psychological repair reveals essential beliefs about who we are and how we see the world. Kader Attia’s Reason’s Oxymorons (2015) examines the act of repair as it is envisioned in both Western and non-Western cultures. The installation comprises eighteen video interviews, conducted by the artist and presented on television monitors installed within a modular cubicle environment. The interviews feature a diverse roster of experts and practitioners ranging from ethnographers, historians, and theorists, to psychiatrists, healers, and philosophers. Attia edited the conversations and sorted them under such headings as “Genocide,” “Modernity,” “Reason and Politics,” “The Unconscious,” “Exile,” and “Real Virtual.” The sterile office architecture of the installation evokes an atmosphere of both bureaucracy and isolation, while its maze-like form invites viewers to chart their own path through the multiplicity of worldviews and practices presented.
Themes of injury, trauma, and repair are essential to Attia’s rigorous research-based practice, which focuses particularly on the effects of colonialism on non-Western societies. His conception of repair is expansive, extending beyond simple restoration to encompass an evolving operation of intellectual, cultural, and political adjustments that people enact in parallel with natural processes of evolution. In Western society repair is often synonymous with a desire for perfection and a belief that physical and psychological wounds or defects can be “fixed,” through interventions including plastic surgery and medication. By contrast, in many non-Western cultures traces of trauma and injury are accepted as measures of repair that do not attempt to conceal but rather incorporate imperfection or physical modification.
The collection of interviews at the center of Reason’s Oxymorons elucidates but also complicates this dichotomy, presenting a montage of viewpoints on the human condition that cross disciplines, themes, and philosophies. Although employing documentary and archival research methodologies, Attia’s interviews ultimately convey a different kind of knowledge, opening up shifting notions of reality and creating a fluid discourse that embraces, as one psychoanalyst puts it, “the guarantee of non-knowledge” versus the dead-end of certainty.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website
Whether you go or not, Kader Attia is a monograph giving a comprehensive overview of the variety and scope of the research carried out by Kader Attia (born 1970) over the past 15 years, using media as varied as installation, video, photography and collage. The book highlights the ways in which Attia addresses the global entanglement of culture, politics and identity.
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