Radice by Bertille Bak at the Gallery Apart in Rome

Bertille Bak, Radice, installation view at The Gallery Apart, Rome, (ground floor), photo by Giorgio Benni


The Gallery Apart is proud to present Bertille Bak’s first solo show in Italy (1983, Arras, France), an artist already known to the Italian audience for her participation in the exhibition La voce delle immagini (Voice of Images) hosted in Palazzo Grassi, Venice, Italy, and curated by Caroline Bourgeois, which brought together the artworks by 27 international artists from the Pinault Collection. Her works have also been exhibited in several public French collections d’Oltralpe, such as FNAC, FMAC Paris, FRAC Collection Aquitaine, FRAC Alsace, FRAC Limousin and FRAC Basse-Normandie.

Radice, the exhibition’s title purposely in Italian, confirms the artist’s attitude to identify herself with the communities met as her work unfolds, and refers to Bak’s art-making practices as well as to the intrinsic contents of the displayed works selected by the artist along with those that marked her beginnings. Radice refers first of all to Bak’s personal story, originally linked to the small mining town of Barlin in France, which also inspired some of the works on display, a place where Bertille Bak, whose grandfather used to be a miner, established her studio for some years. Radice, therefore, also in collective terms, deals with a deeply rooted territorial presence of the communities the artist seeks out and which become the theme of her poetics. However, radice (i.e. root) obviously recalls its etymology and, therefore, the concepts of uprooting and eradication, which Bak develops referring not only to the people and their stories, but also to the objects and the architectures. The objects shaped by Bak share a common thread that connects everyday life, identity and tradition and take on a new meaning, whether they belong to the category of the objet trouvè or, more often, to that of the object produit. And the architectures, which the artist reproduces in the form of drawings in order to preserve the facades of buildings destined to being demolished. Or ultimately, radice as an evocation of radical, an adjective that perfectly fits the political-social commitment  exuding from the artist’s works.

Indeed, Bak pursues a sociological and political, if not ethnological, perspective – as many have remarked. Her works of art are the expression of an operating process and formalisation. The process is based on the artist’s modus operandi as she engages with and shares the life of communities living on the edge of the dominant culture in order to  encourage a non-revolutionary or non-violent reaction, which Bak defines “alternative revolt” against the intolerable decisions that make life harsher for the members of these communities. Formalisation, on the other hand, is the expression of this approach and of the feeling of empathy that the artist  experiences for her travelling companions and that takes the form more of a fairytale than of a documentary.

Bak expresses an art of relationships aimed both at communities whose members are more or less  aware of their identities, and at minorities often forgotten and neglected. During her numerous visits and long stays within the respective communities, Bak builds interpersonal relationships to raise awareness  of the social utility of people and groups. Through the sharing of everyday life, of the study of the territory, the analysis of the social relationships, the culture, the traditions and of the economic organization, Bak takes on the role of a social provocateur putting herself forward as a critical conscience to raise political awareness among her interlocutors. The result is collective portraits with an unconventional twist, often based on the research of individual mythologies, in a determined attempt to preserve the traces of memory. It is not by chance that Bak worked at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris as a student of Christian Boltanski.

Bertille Bak’s work includes videos, installations, fabrics and performances that magnify the experiences of the single communities rendering them universal messages. Her personal representation of reality skims but, at the same time, avoids the utopian dimension, and it neither materializes in a politically programmatic vision. Anthropological curiosity, social commitment, political activism and most of all a civic and not romantic use of  the feeling of nostalgia  generate an intermediate interpretation of the reality aimed at affirming the possibility of thinking and defining a different world, and the possibility of imagining alternative social systems by following practices closer more to deconstruction and the consequent reconstruction of reality than to dream and utopia.

Bertille Bak, Shelving, Banner 6, from “Tres de Mayo”, Francisco de Goya, 2013, wool on canvas, 90 x 130 cm, photo by Giorgio Benni


Bertille Bak, Shelving, Banner 7, from “Le naufrage de Don Juan”, Eugène Delacroix, 2013, wool on canvas, 90 x 130 cm, photo by Giorgio Benni


Bertille Bak, Untitled, block n°19, 2015, black pen on paper, 3 m, photo by Giorgio Benn


Bertille Bak, Untitled, block n°20, 2015, black pen on paper, 1 m, photo by Giorgio Benni


Bertille Bak, Radice, installation view (basement), photo by Giorgio Benni


Bertille Bak, Court n°1, 2007, video, 2,30 min, 4:3, stereo; Court n°2, 2007, video, 2,00 min, 4:3, stereo; Court n°3, 2007, video, 4,45 min, 4:3, stereo; photo by Giorgio Benni


the Gallery Apart – Via Francesco Negri 43, 00154 Roma
20 February –23 April 2016