Chicago, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai – all over the world there are cities that have been constituted around a modernist vision pushed to its extreme limits, with increasingly spectacular skyscrapers dominating the urban stage. It is the skyline, this artificial architectural horizon, that defines and expresses the fame and brand image of contemporary megacities. This kind of architecture is like a demonstration of strength, a representation of power.
mounir fatmi uses the most famous of all these urban panoramas, exploiting its deep-rootedness in the collective unconscious. Save Manhattan 03functions in accordance with a principle of visual allusion: the skyline of New York, before 11 September 2001, appears as a shadow cast on the wall, thanks to an assemblage of ninety speakers of different shapes and sizes. At the same time these speakers give out sounds of city life, adding a sense of frantic activity to the visual minimalism of the installation. In this noisy composition we can make out aeroplanes taking off, radio broadcasts, sirens and other horns sampled both from real life and from action movies. All this inevitably solicits the visitor’s memory. The very dramatic atmosphere of this installation oscillates strangely between fiction and reality, embodying the sensations experienced by millions of people on that day of disaster in New York.
What mounir fatmi offers us in this installation is a phantom image of Manhattan – in the sense of a phantom limb, the amputee’s continuing sensation of the lost body part. The silhouette of the twin towers appears the better to recall its absence, insistently and nostalgically. Thus, in a single perspective, this installation combines a heroic vision that is symbolic of modernity and the memory of its destruction. And we are struck by the extreme vulnerability of such proud symbols.
Translated by Charles Penwarden
This work follows two installations, Save Manhattan 01 in 2003-04 and Save Manhattan 02 in 2005, constituted, respectively, by piles of books published after 09/11 and piles of VHS cassettes.