Enigma#59: Roman

Like the river in the rainy season, “flooding” its way through space in its process of remembering, Bili Bidjocka calls for a retrospection. Not a retrospective, but a possibility of revisiting his practice as an artist stretching over decades and geographies. The call, hardly ever fully articulated, is to look back, to remember, to unpack, to navigate those spaces in the rear-end of the subconscious, and if anything is found, to then re-member. The call is to go beyond the deliberations of the archive as something situated in the past, to cogitate and imagine the archive as the stone in the river that records every caress of the water that passes by, to consider the archive as the river that rises in an effort to remember where it used to be, claiming every centimetre of land on and through which it flowed once upon a time.

The call is to be. Being in absence and in presence. Being as archive itself.

And like the river in dry season, Bili Bidjocka disappeared, retreated. But the drier the river the more we remember how present it was/is. The sound of the lashes of the river on the stones reduced. The frogs too migrate. The mosquitoes and other insects populate the low standing waters. Everything around longs for, screams of the better days. The memory of these days is even more present in these moments of dearth. So is the retreat in search of some sanctuary? Let that space be the space from which care is tapped, a space of deep spiritual reckoning and ritual bearing. Let it be the space in which that is renegotiated which is sometimes consciously or unconsciously forgotten for the sake of survival, in which one’s presence in absence is reassured, from which impetus is tapped. Maybe it is in disappearing that we exist.

Upon reappearance, when Bili Bidjocka answered “Present!”, he brought with him an exhibition as game, poem and choreography. Filling and feeling the space, the artist opens up questions of memory and necessary amnesia, being and playing, presences and absences, through works created or recreated during his one-month-long residency with us in Berlin.

Plastic, wood, organic materials, found objects, texts and videos are covering and occupying the ground floor and the souterrain of SAVVY Contemporary, and inviting the visitors to take part in the artist’s enigma-games.

Bili Bidjocka exhibits a retrospective path of his life and his own life’s vision at SAVVY Contemporary. Coming from classical studies at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, he creates with one model in mind: the Musée du Louvre. Some of his artworks come from his attentive contemplations of paintings in the museum. Nevertheless, the enigma-form of this exhibition, combined with childhood memories and the eloquence of the absence, creates a melancholic scenario where recognising classical models is a challenge.

This solo exhibition presents itself also as a wordplay connecting the beginning to the end, one corner with its opposite in SAVVY Contemporary’s space. For the artist, it represents even more: It functions as a Proustian madeleine, evoking pleasant melancholic memories from his childhood in Cameroon. In the same way that Bili Bidjocka expresses his inside memories in external and concrete artworks, he brings the outside into the inside using soil and videos, creating a connection and exchange between the inside and the outside.

Bili Bidjocka’s retrospection is an enigma constraining to question, to think, and to add irony and games to the human will of life.

BILI BIDJOCKA was born in 1962 in Douala/ Cameroon and has been living in Paris since 1974 where, after dance and theater, he enrolled at the School of Fine Arts. The answers brought to him by his teachers there, those certainties etched in the minds of students, have long been revealed as inadequate. His confrontation with market laws, history and his own African identity forced him to see with new eyes the notion of art. After painting, he turned to installation and theatrical staging. His pieces begin to function as puzzles, riddles through which he continues the essential examination of the meaning and purpose of creation.

Bili Bidjocka participated in many international exhibitions: the Biennales of Johannesburg (1997), Havana (1997), Dakar (2000, 2016), Taipei (2004) and Venice (2007). He presented his work in various museums and art galleries: New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York; ARC Museum of Modern Art of Paris; Palace of Fine Arts in Brussels; Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg & Cape Town; and on the occasion of the exhibitions Africa Remix and The Divine Comedy by Simon Njami. He is the founder of the creative platform Matrix Art Project (MAP) in Paris, Brussels and New York. 

In 2014, he participated in the SAVVY Contemporary exhibition and Invocations of Wir Sind Alle Berliner 1884-2014. A Commemoration of the Berlin-Congo Conference.  In 2017, he was commissioned by the Curator at Large of documenta14, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, that took place in Athens and Kassel, to participate with his installation The Chess Society, which was simultaneously a digital project and an exhibition in Athens. Enigma #59: Roman is his first solo exhibition in Berlin.