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.]

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