Exit, 2007, 11 Néons jaunes, 23, 5 x 34, 9 cm chacun – Détail © Adel Abdessemed, ADAGP Paris 2012 Courtesy de l’artiste et de David Zwirner, New York/London

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? 2011-2012 – Animaux naturalisés, acier, fils de fer
363, 2 x 779, 8 cm, Collection de l’artiste © Adel Abdessemed, ADAGP Paris, 2012, Courtesy de l’artiste et de David Zwirner, New York/London

Usine, 2008 Projection vidéo, 1 min 27 sec (en boucle), couleur, son © Adel Abdessemed, ADAGP Paris, 2012 Courtesy de l’artiste et de David Zwirner, New York/London

Décor 2011-2012, Fil de fer, rasoirs Collection François Pinault -© Adel Abdessemed, ADAGP Paris, 2012, Courtesy de l’artiste et de David Zwirner, New York/London

Bourek, 2005, Fuselage d’un avion Aerojet Commander
226 x 274 cm, Collection privée -© Adel Abdessemed, ADAGP Paris 2012
Photographie : Matthew Septimus – Courtesy de l’artiste et de David Zwirner, New York/London

Pressoir, fais-le, 2002, Vidéo couleur, 3 sec en boucle © Adel Abdessemed Courtesy de l’artiste et de David Zwirner, New York/London

Practice Zero Tolerance, 2006, Terre cuite, 440 x 140 x 140 cm
Collection privée, © Adel Abdessemed, ADAGP Paris 2012 – Photographie : Marc Domage, Courtesy de l’artiste et de David Zwirner, New York/London

Lise, 2011, Projection vidéo, 31s (en boucle), couleur, son – Dimensions variables (aspect ratio 4:3) © Adel Abdessemed, Courtesy de l’artiste et de David Zwirner, New York/London

Adel Abdessemed / Je suis innocent
Untill 7 Jan 2013

State of Exception

Patricia Falguières

Every One against Every One Among the attractions that the London streets offered passersby in the time of Queen Victoria—Punch and Judy shows, marionettes, peep shows, trained animals, automatons, microscopes, shadow puppet shows, acrobats, illusionists, fire eaters, knife throwers, and singers—one of the most popular (and the modern artist is heir to all these trades) was undoubtedly the “happy family”: a cage in which small animals of various species lived peaceably together. In the 1850s, reports Richard D. Altick, the great historian of London spectacles, at least five happy families were being exhibited simultaneously in London, evidence of their popularity. The largest of these cages displayed fifty-eight animals, including three cats, two dogs, two donkeys, two monkeys, two magpies, two jackdaws, two jays, ten starlings, six pigeons, two barn fowls, two hens, one screech owl, five sewer rats, five

white rats, eight guinea pigs, two rabbits, a hedgehog, and a tortoise. It was exhibited at the exit to the brand-new National Gallery. Several times, the queen brought the spectacle to the court: it had a highly moral value, since, well beyond the secrets of the menagerie, it bore witness to “the affection… which existed between animals and birds of natures so opposite.”1 The lesson acquired political import with the World Exposition of 1851: the happy family extended to the world as a whole, and the Pax Britannica guaranteed concord among all peoples. The very ancient doctrine of sympathies and antipathies (which in antiquity governed the classification of species) provided colonial expansion with the allegory it had been lacking. By contrast, Adel Abdessemed’s Usine (2008, pp. 33–35) summons forth a Hobbesian world: multiple species, but in a confrontation that seems to have escaped from a child’s nightmare. In a concrete enclosure with the sun beating down, we see a frog, large snakes, giant spiders (tarantulas?), several iguanas, about ten scorpions, and then fighting cocks and dogs and white mice. For a few minutes, there

is a strange, erratic temporality, the almost indiscernibly slow pace of the animals gathering together; the snakes, spiders, and scorpions interlacing in improbable embraces; the iguanas motionless, like
so many blind watchmen; a snake silently snuffing out a frog lying on its back, legs in the air. That time of “anticipation” is interrupted by the intrusion into the arena of more familiar “combatants, ” fighting cocks and dogs. The cocks immediately fly at each other; the mastiffs, at first tempted by the poultry carnage, turn on each another, biting the nape of each other’s necks, like wrestlers immobilized in a “technical” hold. The war of every man against every man: Abdessemed summons forth “nature, ” but that nature
is hardly kind, nor does it require our solicitude. That nature is war through and through, or the torpor of indifference before the murderous act surges up in a flash. A philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, describes
this temporality of a latent state of war, of a perpetual war that accommodates itself to long, indecisive periods: “Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man…. For as the nature of Foule weather, lyeth not in a showre or two of rain; but in an inclination thereto of many dayes together: So the nature of War, consisteth not in actuall fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is PEACE.”

It is not easy to approach Abdessemed’s bestiary, because in a thousand different ways he challenges the positivity we attach to nature. From that standpoint, Abdessemed is not a modern. The beasts his art displays are in league with death, whether they deliver it (even the most domestic animal, the cat, feasts on a rat stew [Birth of love, 2006, p. 201]), or whether we are summoned to witness their execution (Don’t trust me, 2007, pp. 178–179). When Abdessemed shows animals, he speaks of war.

the theater of action

Abdessemed has had the privilege of experiencing, not once but twice, the state known as the state
of exception, neither peace nor war. The first time was in the 1990s in Algeria, the theater for a nameless war that may have caused more than 150, 000 deaths, a civil war that circumvented the rules of war and placed itself within the cycle of police actions and terrorist attacks. Beginning in 1991, it unfolded under a state of siege and then a state of emergency (1992). The second time was in the United States in 2001,  when Abdessemed was staying in New York, then in Boston. The Patriot Act was signed on October 26,

and the military order of November 13 declared an “extraordinary emergency, ” establishing juridical zones of exception of indeterminate duration that allowed for indefinite detention, trial by military commission, and the denial of Geneva Convention protections to certain prisoners (detainees at Guantanamo Bay). Abdessemed has twice endured that exceptional side of states of law: the state of siege, martial law, the suspension of civil guarantees, the reduction of men and women to the status of bodies without rights— the state of exception.


The mythology of painting has made drawing a perfect circle the touchstone for the artist’s greatness. The names of Apelles and Protogenes in ancient Greece, and of Giotto and Dürer in modern times, are associated with that test of virtuosity, of which the artistic literature keeps a scrupulous accounting.10 Of all geometrical figures, the circle most accurately translates the span or embrace of the body, its scale, its hold or grip on the space subject to it. It is the most sovereign of figures. It requires an initial decision that will be accomplished in the act of drawing, without yielding to a later deliberation. In it, decision

and deliberation merge and become one. From the barbed-wire circles of Salam europe (p. 197) and Wall drawing of 2006 (pp. 62–63) to the charcoal circle of Enter the circle of 2009, that figure abounds in Abdessemed’s work. Many other works could be linked to it, for example, the razor-blade polyhedron
of Soccer ball (2009, p. 225), the prototype of the perverse object, a cruel concretization of the war of every one against every one, of universal discord. In a single blow, it avenges us of all the soothing discourses on the entente cordiale that, it is said, presides at sporting competitions.[…] Establishing a true state of exception is the horizon of Abdessemed’s art, whether he is twisting the cabins of airliners like paper toys, floating a skeleton more than 55 feet tall in the air, or summoning wild animals to the streets of Paris.

But the young acrobat suspended from the rope of a helicopter appears as a reminder and a warning.
He is the acrobat, the virtuoso, the child beloved of the gods that Jupiter spirited away to heaven in ecstasy, the young liberating hero who stripped women of their veils and imposed light on the creatures
of shadow. But he is also the one who was hung by his feet in effigy on the walls of Renaissance cities,
the man condemned in absentia, whose image, for lack of a body, was executed, destined for the infamy of being hung upside (fig. 3).13 The two successive versions of Les ailes de dieu (2009, p. 219) give a new amplitude to that oscillation. The artist is no longer simply that suspended body, sometimes projected, sometimes dragged away from the support on which he traces his figures, harnessed like a circus animal. He (his alter ego, his substitute) is now lacking arms and legs. And the deus ex machina, the invisible machine in the flies of a theater that makes the actor appear onstage, above the clouds, in a halo of glory (the term deus ex machina belongs to the theater lexicon), that off-camera helicopter of which we see only the shadow of its blades, suddenly assumes the value of a giant prosthesis. The artist has learned to unveil the machinery of the state of exception, has become wholly privy to its mechanisms. 

Patricia Falguières

Hope, 2011–2012, Found boat and resin, 81 × 96 × 228 inches (205.7 × 243.8 × 579.1 cm) Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London

God is design, 2005 Animation vidéo, 4 min 44 sec (en boucle), 3050 dessins, noir et blanc, son Dimensions variables (aspect ratio 4:3, projection à minimum 1 mètre de hauteur) © Adel Abdessemed, Courtesy de l’artiste et de David Zwirner, New York/London

Coup de tête, 2011–2012, Bronze Approx. 210 1?4 × 137 × 85 7?8 inches (534 × 348 × 218 cm) Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London