Laura Ben Hayoun
A la moindre étincelle, c'était l'explosion (2019)

On my father’s side, it is common to call ourselves ‘pied-noir’. In this french family (from jewish ascendance), talking about Algeria was impossible. “Just one spark, and everything could explode.” is an artistic attempt to visualise what could not be spoken about.Ben Hayoun kindly stimulates her family members to talk about their lives in Algeria, a country they had to leave behind after its independence in 1962. A conversation they rather avoid as it relates to notions of colonialism, racism, torture, and terrorism.

Is it possible to create a memory when there is just silence? What could such an image radiate? Therefore Laura works with reinterpretation of images and set up reenactments. The found images, video stills, staged photographs, and personal notes, create a past and a country that has never been hers. In fact her work is a visual fight that forces us to get back into a history that became her family history, a fight between a girl and her father questioning  his understandings and tabou’s. She takes us back to Oran where he was born in 1956 and to Valence where her sister and she was born both being descendants of this never passed down memory.

Laura Ben Hayoun, “Asking Questions”, from the work “A la moindre étincelle, c’était l’explosion”

Translation of “Asking Questions”
LBH: And you don’t remember anything at all ?

MBH: Nothing at all. Not even the departure nor the arrival. So I can’t talk to you about that, I don’t feel concerned, don’t ask me, I am not concerned. […]

LBH: And your parents you think that they were relieved or sad to leave Algeria ?

MBH: They have never talked about that. So it’s settled.

LBH: But you never asked them questions ?

MBH: Never. I am not curious me, I don’t ask questions. When it doesn’t interest me I don’t ask question you see.

Excerpts from a Q&A on occasion of the C/O Berlin Talent Award 2020
Tell us about your project.

On my father’s side, it is common to call ourselves ‘pied-noir’. In my french family with jewish ascendance, talking about the war in Algeria was impossible. My project “Just one spark, and everything could explode” is an artistic attempt to visualise what could not be spoken about. Talking about Algeria would have meant talking about their life and their forced departure in 1962, when French Algeria became Algeria. That would also have meant talking about colonialism, racism, torture and terrorism. Therefore my questions are: Is it possible to create a memory when there is just silence? What could such an image radiate? My work is a visual fight that forces us to get back into a history that became my family history, in order to question misunderstandings and tabous. I tell it in Valence, France, with my father (born french in Algeria in 1956), and with my sister and I, born in France, descendants of this never passed down memory.

How does your work transcend the documentary?

From a framework grounded into reality and research, I create reenactements that allow me to reappropriate this specific history and question our collective memory. Documentary becomes a place for creation in which I don’t look for exactitude. I try to open possibilities of interpretation and imagination for the viewer. A history of war and colonisation is also a story of in-betweens (life/death, moving/fixed images, me/my father, France/Algeria). It doesn’t have only one entry and it can’t be said with one image. I wanted to get out of the ‘instant décisif’, and by multiplying the images, showing the weaknesses of those images.

Do "networked images," i.e. the flood of images circulating online, play a role in your work?

Confronted to the silence of my family, I first went to look online for images of the Algerian war of independence and discovered thousands of images. But in fact there were just about fifty, repeating themselves. But never the same crop, never exactly the same color. It made me realize that there is not an image overflow, but rather a lack of them, of those that offer other narrations and those that exist but suffer invisibility on the internet.

The work of Laura Ben Hayoun (b.1984, FR) relates to borders, migration, and imaginary territories. She studied Visual Anthropology in Lyon before pursuing a Master‘s degrees in Documentary film and a MA in Photography and Contemporary Art in Paris. Her work has been shown at Tate Modern, London (2014), at the Festival de la Photographie Méditerranéenne in Nice (2017), and at Circulation(s), Paris (2017). She has received numerous prizes and was a finalist of the 2019 Unseen Dummy Awards, Platform 2020 and shortlisted for the C/O berlin talent Award 2020. Laura Ben Hayoun lives in Paris and currently works in Alger (Algeria) and Yerevan (Armenia).

Instagram: @laura_ben_hayoun
Website: https://laurabenhayoun.com