Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023

It is hard to get a clear view of the sea from within Algiers, even though the capital is built in terraces that cascade down the steep slopes ringing its enormous bay. In Hichem Merouche’s first solo exhibition, “Friendly Islands,” the artist grapples with the isolation of the city—a paradox, given that its inhabitants are often caught in a perpetual state of departure.

A trio of booming, melancholy notes fill rhizome gallery’s early-twentieth-century interior, resonating off the long French windows and the brightly colored cement-tile floor. Repérages (all works cited 2022), is an hour-long sound work composed from various recordings made of boats moored in the bay blasting their horns to commemorate the November anniversary of the Algerian revolution or the deaths of key political figures. Under the guise of a nationalist celebration, the vibration of their calls makes the possibility of elsewhere tangible.

For Where do seagulls go when they die, 2022, a line of delicate seagull bones extends along three walls of the gallery. Merouche collected these remains during his daily trips to the Frioul islands, an archipelago off the coast of Marseille, just across the Mediterranean from the Algerian capital. The exhibition draws a parallel between these desolate isles—once used to quarantine sailors before they set foot on European soil—and the scattered private spaces in which people spend their lives in Algiers. The bones trace a faint yet visceral horizon line: a reminder that every departure involves loss.

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