Kader Attia: It Comes From Within

I’ve been running around like a chicken with my head cut off for the past two weeks. In a good way. More energized artistically than I can remember in years. Brain is jumping, one concept to the next. Taking snapshots like mad. Lots of notes, scribbling. Shooting. Torn up magazines all over my desk, filling my briefcase. Compact flash cards everywhere. My computer desktop looks more like a minefield than a lean, binary machine. It feels good to be on a real, creative burst.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did: I had dinner last night with Kader Attia.

For one, the guy is one of the world’s hottest emerging artists. Installations in Paris, Lyon, Berlin, New York, Miami, Boston, Seattle, yada, yada. Nominated all over the place for the best this and the coolest that. Let’s face it, there’s plenty to talk about and be inspired by in that “little” conversation point alone. I perhaps could have slept last night if it were just for that, but noooooo. There’s more.

For seconds, Kader is a down-to-earth Paris-born (1970) Algerian French dude, and he knows art and philosophy better than most. If you didn’t know already, I’m a sucker for that stuff. FWIW, my graduate studies in Philosophy of Art and Aesthetics were no match (although we did agree that Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida was a must read for any and all serious photographers…).

For thirds, he’s taught photography at art schools in Paris. Very cool. Very learned. Lots of perspective.

And if all that’s not enough, lastly, he’s incredibly warm, but he makes it clear in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t give a shit about what you know or don’t about art or him or anything else. This is really the best part. He’s quick to laugh, a study in humility, and best of all, he’s prepared to dispel any and all layers of pretentiousness so long as you’re able to understand and agree with him on one point: that there’s power in art.

I can agree to that.

So amidst all this–and conversations ranging from Marcel Duchamp and Guy Debord to Cartier-Bresson and Lita Ford–I’m buzzing with the meal, the discussion, and all the previous two weeks of creative juices flowing. We’re swapping stories and nuggets of fun information, when suddenly he pauses, looks me straight in the eyes, taps his fingers on his chest and drops this bomb on me in his cool French accent:

“You know, Chase, we’ve got to find our art from within.”


It’s so simple, yet so easily glossed over in our day to day lives as creative professionals.

Last night I was lucky. I got to look him right back in the eyes and say “Yes, I know, I know.” And for that moment, I meant it. It was clear and in the forefront of my mind. I’ll surely forget it tomorrow, or next month, or next year, but I’m getting better. I forget this nugget for a shorter time each time I do.

Indeed it really is not about what’s out there–in the ads, the galleries, the media, or whatever–it’s about what’s inside of you.

Thanks Kader.

[Kader on Boingboing.]
[Kader’s upcoming opening in Seattle.]

15 Responses to Kader Attia: It Comes From Within

  1. AnthoNYC February 25, 2008 at 5:59 am #

    I’ve never thought of it like this before, but I’ve got to say I’m buying in.

    Seems like creating art or pictures from inside you is the primary currency that we as photographers carry with us. It’s what people buy when they buy our shots or hire us for a commission.

  2. Marshall February 25, 2008 at 6:09 am #

    Concept: buying in. Simple and real.

    But my real point is: this has to be the only time in history that Lita Ford has been put in that particular company. Rock on, eh.

  3. eck February 25, 2008 at 8:26 am #

    yeah chase! thanks for sharing that story. so true.

    detach your ego and let it flow!

    who is it that said, “subject matter is subject that matters”?

  4. Jacob February 25, 2008 at 9:00 am #

    This dude doesn’t happen to look a little like Yoda, does he? I suppose that would be Yoda with a French accent…

    Glad your creativity is flowing. It’s a good feeling, no?

  5. Ogalthorpe February 25, 2008 at 9:40 am #

    *wonders how long stock on Camera Lucida will last at Amazon.

    Although it may be easy to recognize this art witin oneself, the most difficult thing is to get it out of you and onto the world’s canvas.

  6. Chase Jarvis February 25, 2008 at 10:37 am #

    @ marshall: Glad you picked up on the humor there – that shiznit is from the olllld school yo. Terrible stuff, really ;)

  7. Chase Jarvis February 25, 2008 at 10:43 am #

    @ eck: Yoda, he looks not like.

    Unfortunately for you and me, the guy looks more like a Greek version of Brad Pitt. But not from Brangolina days… think younger, when he had longish hair–more like during his pot-smoking cameo in True Romance.

  8. Terrence February 25, 2008 at 2:00 pm #

    Great post. I definitely agree it comes from within. My anxiety comes from staring into the abyss, seeing darkness and interpreting that as nothingness.

    I am terrified there really is nothing there. That is an un-voiced, un-explored and irrational fear that holds me back in many areas of life.

    Perhaps I am either too afraid or too pre-occupied to see darkness as the subject (maybe I just did actually) or to see what’s hiding in the darkness.

    Anyone else out there have some exercises for getting in touch with what’s hiding in the darkness?

  9. Zach Yakush February 25, 2008 at 2:07 pm #

    Great stuff, sounds like your on a real creative “high” right now. Cant wait to see what you have made out of it. Keep up the good work Chase

    -Zach Yakush

  10. Sereene February 25, 2008 at 4:57 pm #

    Nice blog, thanks for sharing. It seems to me you’ve nailed the allure of Kader right on the head. I am one of the volunteers who helped create sculptures for his exhibit at the Henry this past weekend. I had a blast, and you’re right Kader’s ENERGY is amazing. Frankly, I needed the jolt! Looking forward to the opening on Friday. Nice BP comparison, haha. I think he’s much better looking that Brad Pitt, at any age. You know, in a hands-off professional, volunteer focused on the *art* sort of way. ;)

  11. Anonymous February 25, 2008 at 10:53 pm #

    But what if we can’t find our art from within?

    I’m getting tired of looking and not finding anything…

  12. tim February 26, 2008 at 2:35 am #

    why does this post sound like something Patrick Bateman would write had he been a photographer?


  13. Anonymous February 26, 2008 at 8:36 am #

    Pigeons… Eating children made of birdseed… Art.

    If he had any balls, as an artist, he would have used real children.

  14. Cecil Sitterly November 15, 2012 at 6:24 am #

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