Neïl Beloufa

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Uncomputables: #3 Kempinski
Neïl Beloufa

14 Minutes

Artist Cinemas

Repeat: February 26-27, 2024

In this science-fiction documentary, Beloufa takes us to a village in Mali where inhabitants are invited to express their visions of the future. They speak of their present, but also come up with futuristic accounts and visions, where men couple with cows, cars talk, and rockets spy on people’s lives.

Kempinski is the third installment of Uncomputables: On Cybernetics and Alien Intelligences, an online program of films and accompanying texts convened by Agnieszka Kurant as the thirteenth cycle of Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Film.

The film is presented alongside a text by Noam Segal.

Uncomputables: On Cybernetics and Alien Intelligences runs in six episodes released every Monday from January 15 through February 26, 2024, streaming a new film each week accompanied by a commissioned interview or response published in text form.

On Neïl Beloufa’s Kempinski
By Noam Segal

Neïl Beloufa’s Kempinski (2007) opens on a dark frame. At its center is a cow and, behind it, a person illuminated by a neon tube he is holding. The staging creates a triangle between his illuminated face, the cow, and the neon tube. They all float over a dark surface with no anchor point or backdrop. This eerie Velazquezian inversion supposedly centers on the cow, but the light source and the storyteller are the actual focus of the action. The person talks about the planet’s saturation, a subject that was relatively in the back seat in 2007, but now carries new meaning as we enter the Pyrocene age, with wildfires roaming in Greece, Hawaii, Tenerife, and Canada.

In a realist manner, the narrator recounts life in a post-saturation era, a time where inter-species communication prevails and current established hierarchies have disintegrated. Within this reality, the narrator is wedded to a cow, and their communication transpires through telepathy. This world involves dialogues between humans, animals, and even inanimate objects such as vehicles, sustenance, and property. He elaborates how objects can do stuff for us; for instance, a car can drive us, drive for us (not that his people need it since they can travel by thought and intent). It functions as our extension and collaborator. “They make our actions for us,” he says. “All objects speak… It is a vehicle but it is also human.”

For many years, Beloufa has depicted alternative living environments in his works. As with Kempinski, they usually hold a utopian dimension, with a dark twist. In another video work, People’s Passion, lifestyle, beautiful wine, gigantic glass towers, all surrounded by water (2011),[1] Beloufa enmeshed a video into a huge conveyor belt dotted with plexiglass panels that were slowly propelled along the track by a motor. Plain white sheets of A4 paper were randomly placed on the transparent panels, onto which Beloufa’s video work was projected. Through the moving plexiglass panels, the video was broken up into dozens of small, fragmented images slowly moving and melding into one another, from one moving image to the next, through and between them to the walls behind them. The transparent panels also had a mirror effect, reflecting the images between the panels according to their position. Each such “multiplication” produced an image of varying quality, breaking and dismantling the image unity.

Beloufa’s preoccupation with light fractions and waves, and objects’ appearances, becomes more evident when we consider the themes of the two works. A green urban landscape, glass skyscrapers, and young, able-bodied, ethnically diverse individuals populate the 2011 work. The sound of birds chirping can be heard in the background, and the interviewees, wearing sports clothing and filmed in open green areas among beautiful transparent buildings, are lit by soft natural light. They talk about wine and about how their activities revolve “all around water,” and how having “many options as [they] do based around water creates that high quality of life.” Albeit they are all living in a fully transparent environment, monitored and surveilled around the clock.

Often dealing with aspects of biopolitics, shared production, and labor, Beloufa’s unique perspective emerges through two key themes: seeing and its relationship to light; and our connection to objects. His vision of our connection to objects coheres with the idea of the quasi-object as articulated by Michel Serres. Typically associated with speculative realism, it is a concept that requires reconsideration in the age of AI. Philosophers Quentin Meillassoux, Michel Serres, and Timothy Morton have all offered robust theories around our connection to objects, whereby the quasi-object offered the idea that some objects function as a mediator between us and the world: They act for us, on behalf of us, incorporating and transmitting our agency, almost as extensions of humans. Serres considered the iPhone such a quasi-object, and lustfully, it is. However, when in comes to today’s technologies, there’s a change in kind.

The object of AI offers another kind of relation. It can self-repair, albeit in non-human ways; it is reflexive, yet its recursivity and contingency are calibrated and designed around expansion, extraction, and profitmaking (when dealing with familiar commercial AI entities like ChatGPT). Therefore, it presents an idea of repair intrinsically opposed to the human and natural concept of repair. This is not to say that AI is inherently bad, but that in the hands of big corporations, it is designed for profit-making.

AIs are part of a new era that belongs to recursive technologies. Unlike quasi-objects, they have their own agency. They self-adapt to us, offering individual responses based on our tastes and digital histories. At the same time, they do not work for us in the same way a car does, since a car will respond to our commands, while AI will reply to our prompts with its own ideas and responses. These responses, of course, are based on our reflections, combined with the entire extractable digital history of the world online, offering a tailored reaction to our desires combined with the digital registers of the masses.

In Kempinski, Beloufa delineates technological supremacy, environmental supremacy, and telepathy as identical to progress. His society no longer accumulates and consumes but communicates through light and sound waves. “We move through light and sound waves”—indeed, this is our microscopic reality. His protagonists make love through telepathy; they enter spaces made of rays of light and move like waves of sound. One protagonist mentions that it is not a machinic feature but a human one—which is true when we think of particle movement and quantum mechanics. To some degree, it is a delineation of a quantum reality both here and beyond our reach.

In quantum science, electrons are natural physical agents that move in multiple directions simultaneously. On the quantum level, there are no independent, pre-existing entities with inherent properties that then interact. Instead, in their natural state, entities emerge and are co-constituted by intra-actions. The outcome of flipping a coin can be mutually dependent on another’s perception at a distance as far as an ocean away; it is a subatomic level that humanity is at the cusp of learning more about. Things’ properties are constitutively relational. In this sense, there is no strict separation between subject and object or observer and observed. They are all in an ongoing interplay and mutually co-constituted through intra-action. Things do not have predetermined properties or boundaries but emerge through their intra-actions. Knowledge, space, time, matter, and power also appear from intra-actions. So, intra-actions represent a relational ontology where entities do not precede interactions but rather emerge through their intra-actions. Here, boundaries and even space-time are secondary to the interactions themselves. In Kempinksy, Beloufa almost leaps from 2007 to today’s emergent technologies and the future to come.

The most frequent images in Kempinski are lights—artificial lights, moonlight, stars—all connecting ideas of inner enlightenment that affect the ways with which we see and grasp things on screen. Images of passing lights, the movements of rays, continuous light waves rendering all—humans, animals, plants, and matter—as flows of pixelated light on a screen, a unified being made of non-finite waves. In a subatomic reality, this is our natural world.

Noam Segal is the LG Electronics Associate Curator at Guggenheim Museum in New York. Her work centers curatorial practice at the intersection of digital, political, and social representations in contemporary art. Before joining the Guggenheim, she was Director of Curatorial Research at the M.A. for Curatorial Practice at the School of Visual Arts, New York. In 2022, she served on the curatorial team of the twelfth Berlin Biennial Still Present!, led by artist Kader Attia.

For more information, contact program@e-flux.com.

Film, Technology
Documentary, Science Fiction, Animals, Africa, Artificial intelligence, Futurism
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Neïl Beloufa is French-Algerian artist based in Paris. His video works, sculptures, and installations move within dichotomies such as reality and fiction, cause and effect, and presence and absence. His works examine contemporary systems of belief and established structures of power, while dwelling on the authority that is afforded by artists in today’s society. He has participated in group exhibitions at Centre Pompidou, Paris (2022); 58th Venice Biennale (2019 and 2013); Tsinghua University Art Museum, Beijing (2018); Kunsthalle Dusseldorf (2015); Lyon Biennale (2013); and Cleveland Museum of Art (2013) among others; and has had solo exhibitions at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan (2021), Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (2018), Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2018 and 2012), and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2016) among others.


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