Cryptocurrencies, NFTs, the blockchain and DAOs and their emancipatory and destructive potential are fodder for Franco-Algerian artist, Neïl Beloufa, who has long been intrigued by the Internet, social media, video games, reality TV and political propaganda. “I’m fascinated and scared by technology because I think that’s where politics happen today, and access and understanding aren’t a given,” he admits. “I think this is the only place where you can create something than can beat the constraint of symbolic value and space, that there is truly a chance to participate in society in a virtuous way, which isn’t a possibility through the art system. It’s also a responsibility for me, at my age, to try to participate in how these structures create models.”
Mixing videos, feature films, sculptures, paintings and highly-complex, chaotic installations, Beloufa’s art shines the spotlight on the paradoxes of contemporary society, investigating power structures, surveillance, data collection, the circulation of images, nationalistic ideologies and post-colonial perspectives, and the digital technologies that diffuse and shape them. Intricate systems, many of his works overlay multiple strata and levels of interpretation, requiring viewers to search for meaning in a convoluted rather than straightforward fashion. He intensifies and confounds understanding by adding both physical and metaphorical layers over the apparent message. Deploying his DIY, unpolished esthetic with electrical cables purposely left visible, he projects moving images onto various surfaces, combined with recycled everyday objects like pizza boxes, beer cartons, food packaging, cigarette butts or metal scraps trapped in resin that sublimate our civilization of trash.
Constantly shifting between the real and the imaginative, Beloufa walks a fine line between documentary and fantasy, uniting elements that initially appear diametrically opposed. His art attempts to remove any kind of moral judgment between good and evil or the dichotomy between fiction and reality. Seeing himself as an editor, putting together content that already exists, he creates representations of the world, without concealing or condemning it, as a means to compel viewers to face up to disconcerting reality. Not wanting to impose his own world view or put information into any kind of hierarchical order, he hopes his pieces will encourage audiences to reflect and take up position rather than blindly accept his narrative. Believing the role of the artist in society is to “create once in a while a small possibility of something different in the brain of someone”, he focuses more on the relationship between the artwork and the viewer than on the artwork itself. Viewers are free to choose what they wish to look at and buy into his proposals fully, partially or not at all.
Introducing a sense of ambiguity, Beloufa shows how fiction can become real. “People’s Passion, Lifestyle, Beautiful Wine, Gigantic Glass Towers, All Surrounded by Water” resembles a documentary in which Beloufa interviews middle-class residents in an unnamed North American city, who describe their successful personal and professional lives, interspersed with footage of high-rise apartments, palm trees, waterfalls and green meadows, but who are actually amateur actors pronouncing utopian fantasies. Demonstrating the facility of falling into the trap of extremist rhetoric, “World Domination” develops around five imaginary diplomatic tables symbolizing various nations, whose government officials attempt to solve contemporary social issues afflicting their country, but whose resolutions link back to motives that result in war and conflict. Indirectly referring to the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution, “Monopoly” depicts a group of teenagers in Kiev playing the Monopoly board game to divide up Ukraine by bargaining and speculating, which becomes an allegory of the power dynamics lurking beneath capitalist society.
Despite his reflections on contemporary society, Beloufa remains convinced that art is not political. Instead, what is political in art is how it is made, where the money comes from, how it’s redistributed and who sees it, but he believes that art itself is a closed object. “I actually don’t really address social, political or environmental issues on a literal level, but I try to find ways to make part of it function in the way the work is produced, although it’s rarely possible to achieve,” he concludes. “I guess if adding useless things (like my work) to the earth, which already has way enough stuff, isn’t motivated by the desire to participate in conversations of how to transform the world to come, then we must be betting against the possibility of humanity, and I am not. To be honest, I produce less and less because of that.”