Published by Young Artists in Conversation
An interview with artist Alia Hamaoui, published by Young Artists in Conversation on 24 May 2021.
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“Charlie Mills: This solicitation of touch and familiarity is key as it is often held in tension to the symbolic referents in your work. In your 2019 solo show at Camberwell College of Arts, Springboard, imagery appropriated from Peter Brosnan’s 2016 documentary The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille was layered into works composed of soap, clay and sand The film is a bizarre tale of the director of The Ten Commandments (1956), who, having first commissioned the most audacious set ever made in Hollywood, buried the entire project in the Californian desert — to be later “discovered” during an archeological dig in the 1980s. This film is fascinating on so many levels, but why in particular did you become so curious with the movie?
Alia Hamaoui: Firstly, I just love how bizarre it is and how it’s a really good example of the simulacrum that we live in — I am particularly drawn to pop culture or art historical moments when you see versions of versions. As you say, the set is an Ancient Egyptian mock up that was buried in the Californian desert due to De Mille not wanting anyone to use the set for their subsequent films. Many years later, a team of archeologists treated the dig of the set in the same way as an actual ancient Egyptian excavation and yet essentially they are looking for props. I think it makes you think about what value we place on objects and how narrative and context is often so much more important as the object becomes a vessel for the story.
I was recently listening to a podcast talking about how our cells regenerate, even the ones in our hippocampus (where memories are stored) and it went on to talk about how different cultures hold different values in what they consider important in a historical sense. When we think of ancient Greek architecture, we think of the materiality of the ruins. If someone was to remove the actual stone that they are made from, it would be deemed meaningless. Whereas in Japanese culture, the form is often held to a higher degree of importance and if the form remains, then so does the connection to its history. I find it interesting to think about where we place value and how we have a complex relationship to memory, truth and what we deem historically valuable.