Neil Beloufa (French, born in 1985 of Algerian descent) uses the interview format to make videos that are disquieting mixtures of fact and fiction, utopian and dystopian. Talking to people he meets in his travels, Beloufa creates loops that, while not forming a single, coherent narrative, comprise many disjointed stories. In “The Vacantly Contained,” he showed five expansive and additive sculptures, all untitled and from 2011, cobbled together with metal frameworks, perforated metal planes and stretches of plastic. These scrappy assemblages filled the small Belleville gallery to capacity and often overlapped. In one work, designated (but not titled) as “The Almsgivers” on a chart in the press release, a video projector on a low shelf beamed its imagery into the middle of a larger piece designated “Good.”
People’s passion, lifestyle, beautiful wine, gigantic glass towers, all surrounded by water, the video in “The Almsgivers,” is a 10-minute loop presenting interviews with folks on the streets of Vancouver, who relate their personal versions of an ideal city. The audio is replete with pleasant mood music and plenty of birdsong; both the testimonies and ambient noise begin to feel intensely irritating after only one loop. The visuals focus on the bucolic aspects of urban architecture and feature many man-made waterfalls, rolling parks within confined spaces, cyclists, pedestrians and glimpses of a stadium between glass towers. All this rhymes with the layers of transparency in the physical armature of the piece. The specifics of Vancouver as place do not seem so important. Rather it’s the articulation of different visions of paradise that is essential.
In a piece designated as “Evil,” Beloufa uses aerial imagery he filmed from a rented helicopter in Vancouver. The Analyst, the researcher, the screenwriter, the cgi tech and the lawyer is a video on a 17-minute loop, embedded in a low-lying assemblage; the video is visible only in a tilted mirror on the floor and has to be listened to with headphones. The footage shows vertiginous raking shots of Vancouver’s residential towers and close-ups of a red truck with a white roof that makes its way through traffic. People of the different professions cited in the title were solicited by Beloufa to explain this imagery. Their invented scenarios, heard in the audio, include an act of aggression, a kidnapping, the transport of radioactive material, and some form of surveillance. All find an air of ineffable menace in the artist’s ostensibly neutral scenes.
Beloufa’s sculptures can resemble the bedrooms of teenage boys; low-tech Merzbauen, they are dense with jerry-built shelves and photographic images appropriated from the internet. These photos are in turn deployed as freewheeling collage elements. A small photo of Jay-Z inhabits “The Almsgivers,” while a distorted image of his wife Beyoncé lies on the floor in “Evil.”
Beloufa’s pop-cultural references can seem unduly scattered and obvious, but his constructivist’s bent and documentary probing are right on target.
Photo: View of Neil Beloufa’s exhibition “The Vacantly Contained,” 2011; at Balice Hertling.