The 485 km long Ikopa river passes through Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. In the middle of the wide river there is what looks like a miniature town, right in the middle of the metropolis. Here, on a manufacturing site called La Digue, the inhabitants use the river mud to make bricks. Elsewhere in the city and in the countryside there are similar sites. Often the production line from soil to house is a direct one: clay is dug on site, moulded, dried, fired and the bricks are then used to build a house. Thus kneading clay or mud, moulding the bricks and drying them in the sun, firing them in stupa-like constructions (field kilns) and building houses directly with them, is a process that can be encountered both in the middle of town and in the highlands.
Michels was right away fascinated by this miniature town, by the ways the piles of brick constitute idiosyncratic structures, i.e. carry their own ‘architecture’ in them. (Michels: ‘A fictitious world of non-identifiable settlements and strange architectural shapes.) As an artist, she wanted to capture these places and the people around them, especially La Digue. However, when she picked up the camera, she felt like adopting an aggressive position. The camera seemed like a sort of weapon that captured, even ‘stole’ the life of these labourers.
What ethical question arise when a ‘non-local’ artist presents herself in a postcolonial context as a (visual) ‘anthropologist’? In 2016, the Antananarivo brick culture launched La couleur de la brique, an interactive and intercultural art project that with regard to the content was supported by Petra Van Brabandt and her research group Art & Narrativity from Sint Lucas School of Arts Antwerp. The research focuses on the gaze and registration, the construction of a narrative and issues relating to postcolonialism and feminism.
Michels’s 3-channel video shows various stages of her research and cooperative process in Antananarivo. The project is a cooperative one, with contributions by for example local labourers and artists, the art centre CRAAM (Centre de Ressources des Arts Actuels de Madagascar) and anthropologist Rafolo Andrianaivoarivony.
With regard to the content, La Couleur de la brique tunes in to the philosophy of the artists group Performing Objects, which includes Michels among its members. The artists group regularly organises active sessions to examine the potential of objects to act as an active performer. Performing Objects also explores various ways in which artists anticipate this process as their ideas and the concept of their work develops.
The video features several Madagascan artists who interact with the bricks on the site itself. The footage of these improvisations is screened parallel with images of the labourers at work. Michels juxtaposes the area where the clay is dug and the (cracked) soil—the basic material—and the stones drying in the sun. She often appears on screen herself, piles up stones or we see details from her, such as her hand that feel the freshly dug clay, almost massaging it. Beside the images of the town and nature surrounding the site, the narrative of the Madagascan anthropologist functions as the binding element. He tells about the relation of the people to the earth, about the importance of clay and other natural materials—then and now. He explains that at the end of the nineteenth century Queen Ranavalona II allowed the use of stone for constructions for the living. Before that, there used to be a rule that said houses had to be built with ‘warm’ materials, such as wood and vegetable matter. Stone was for tombs, for the dead. The anthropologist places these stories in the context of ‘History’. He relates about the Europeans who visited the land, about the influence of the British, the French and even the Belgians on Madagascan culture. Thus in Michels’s installation the bricks and the various ways to work with them turn into a powerful metaphor for the colonial history and the subsequent postcolonial development of the country.

  • Color system PAL
  • Color col.
  • Year 2017-2018
  • Duration 00:47:00
  • Languageinfo
    Subtitles: English UK, Dutch/ Flemish
    Spoken: French
  • Artists