Frontaliers, an initiative of Esch2022, is an not to be missed immersive project by Mehdi Ahoudig and Samuel Bollendorff, exhibited in Massenoire/Belval, from 22.10.2022 to 05.02.2023.
Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) “The journey, not the destination matters”. How many times have we heard or read this aphorism of T.S. Eliot, to exhaustion. For some, however, journey means everything: an unceasing, continuous travel, made of back and forth always unchanging, fixed, frozen.
A host of street ghosts, apparently all the same butat once profoundly different; all literally driven by the same desire: to reach the new “El Dorado”. The lives of Nicolas, Aurélie, Magali, Cindy, and José, as well as another two hundred and five thousand people, cross, unknowingly, every day, in the streets leading to Luxembourg.
©Samuel Bollendorff, Frontaliers, 2020-2022.
With these premises begins and develops the intense and moving sociological and aesthetic work of the duo Mehdi Ahoudig, sound artist, and Samuel Bollendorff, photographer and director, exhibited at the Massenoire of Esch-sur-Alzette until February 5, 2023. Capital of culture for the year 2022, Esch-sur-Alzette continues its ambitious and formidable program of profound critical reflection on the role it has been invested in. And he does very well with this project.
Frontaliers, des vies en stéréo (Cross-borders, lives in stereo), is not only a deep and careful anthropological investigation, started on early 2020, on the imposing and silent mutation of the working landscape of frontier workers, that from France (in particular from the Lorraine region) move to neighbor Luxembourg, mainly for economic and professional reasons. But it is, above all, an incessant search and research, that characterizes the artistic duo for more than a decade, on the vulnerability of the human condition, on the feeling of construction (or destruction) of a community around and within the architecture, the house, the allotment.
Quoting, again, a distinguished writer as Leo Tolstoy from his masterpiece Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. The feeling of sidereal isolation that is felt in the lives of these people, and that is reflected in the immersive work of Ahoudig and Bollendorff, resides in the working and existential condition traced by nowhere land which is the highway.
Because the frontier workers, not only bankers or finance experts, but from today also health, nursing, and medical staff, and cleaners, have beautiful houses, all similar but dramatically different, they can afford holidays and goods previously unimaginable, and are considered a valuable resource for Luxembourg. But the El Dorado, the land of gold, mindful of the mine’s past, can soon turn into a less benevolent chimera, in which exhaustion and burnout, the new subtle shape of human exploitation, have supplanted the respiratory diseases typical of the mine: “The pressure of cross-border workers – Ahoudig et Bollendorff points out – is more generally conditioned by work. New temporary immigrants face daily strong family, social pressures, fear and constant anxiety to lose their advantages and their position. The lack of social cohesion and of any form of social and human organization revolves around the problems of work, in an oppressive hierarchy that increases their vulnerability”.
©Samuel Bollendorff, Frontaliers, 2020-2022.
The transformation of the surrounding landscape, marked by the signs of the presence of this new, unfathomable and invisible human mass in motion, is reflected in the variable urban construction that dominates the new areas created by frontier workers: From the great illuminated buildings of the financial city to the transformation of cottages and old mining houses, where, replicate Aoudhig and Bollendorff, “the colleague is not necessarily the neighbor. The industrial ruins of the French region seem to disappear as we approach Luxembourg, giving space for a more attractive panorama”. The parceling out, however, shows the most evident aspect of isolation and financial capitalism: housing is seen as cells in which monads live. Monads, and nomads, that do not frequent each other, do not fight together, and do not gather.
A glaring difference with their previous work, La Parade, 2017, where sound and image always play in parallel and complement each other; but where the human and social landscape is the foundation of the memory and working traditions of northern France, in which struggle and hope merge.
At a marathon pace, as Ahoudig and Bollendorff understand it, “Frontaliers is a project in which sound and image leave the spectator the opportunity to interact and create a third dimension, the imaginative one of a narrative, a new dimension of investigation and engagement within the public sphere”. And it is also, for the artists’ duo, whose works have been and are, individually and collectively, appreciated and deservedly rewarded, a further opportunity to think and rethink the narrative space and new forms of writing.
Like aesthetic cross-borders (as “frontaliers”, we might say), sound, which is missing the image, and image, which is missing the sound, move back and forth in an incessant, and gorgeous, flow of pieces of information.
You can also find the web series on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ok9w6-Pw1Ts; and the film Il était une fois dans l’Est.