Bertille Bak, Video still / Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Xippas Paris, Genève and Punta del Este & The Gallery Apart, Rome
Bertille Bak: Out of Breath
Feb 13 – May 12, 2024
Jeu de Paume
Paris, France

Jeu de Paume, Paris, is devoting an exhibition to Bertille Bak, nominated for the Prix Marcel Duchamp in 2023. Playing on the usual representations of marginalised or otherwise “invisible” communities, Bertille Bak (born in Arras, France, in 1983) has developed a body of work staging populations, rituals or situations that she subverted with the close involvement of the protagonists themselves.

Without any preconceived script, Bak immerses herself in the lifestyle of a given group, such as the crew of a cruise ship in the port of Saint-Nazaire, shoe-shiners in La Paz, young miners in India, Indonesia or Thailand, asylumseekers living in Pau or craftsmen in the medina of Tetouan. She makes her way among them and observes their rites, gestures and material objects, which she instils with new rules and artifices of all kinds. Working with these communities, she conceives collective rituals that produce emancipating images of them, free of the clichés spread by condescending documentaries and simplistic activist discourse alike. Far from neglecting their precarious living conditions, Bak highlights the realities so often distorted in the collective imagination, while giving those who are most directly concerned the means to represent themselves in other ways. Together, they shape fictional narratives, stories that challenge the established order and the feeling of inevitability, which Bak then transforms into performances or theatre pieces.

The issue of work is central to Bak’s projects. She invokes pre-industrial know-how and means of production as militant acts enlivened with a touch of fantasy and humour. Action prevails over aesthetics. The images are modified using low-tech special effects inspired by arcade games or early film techniques. This results in a lighter tone that forms a counterpoint to the gravity of the subjects treated. Bak doesn’t seek to create an illusion of realism but attempts to reveal what goes on behind the scenes in the construction of any image and to warn the public, in a tender but madcap way, that art is only make-believe.

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