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Ever since I came across the work Temps Mort it has haunted me. Haunted me in a good way; it has stayed with me. It resonates because of the power delivered by Mohamed Bourouissa and his collaborator’s low-res images. It resonates, also, because this is the only project made by an artist and prisoner with contraband cell-phones that I know of. Surely, there are exchanges like this happening all the time, but this is the only published example. And it was made with the express intentioned to make art.

So I was pleased to discover, recently, that Temps Mort is now a book.

Methodologically, Bourouissa is way ahead of the game. As well as asking for images made according to description and sketches, he asked for videos. Bourouissa would send example videos and his collaborator (whom we know only as Al) would mimic. Throughout the project, Bourrouissa is clearly thinking about how the work will look to secondary and tertiary audiences. We are asked to make sense of seemingly random glimpses of an institution’s innards.

In exchange for composed views of the inside, Bourouissa sent short videos of the Paris streets. The simplest gestures become impressive. Even the txtspk language that is reproduced in the book is touching. In prisons, cellphones are illegal, valuable and a scarce resource, but the two use the tool with abandon and they repeatedly text to make sure they’re adequately fulfilling one another’s requests for footage.

This is not a photobook heavy on photos, yet everything inside depends on the discussions about images between Bourouissa and Al. There’s a lot of white space. The texts ensure we know the timeline and the white space ensures we know — and sense — the slow passing of time.

Temps Mort is over 5 years old now and the book feels a little like a memorial to that audacious moment when an artist dared and a prisoner dreamed. The book is a document that will last longer than the exhibitions and the interest in cellphone videos that declare a moment in Parisian jail operations. This blog post is many more steps removed from the original gifts between Bourouissa and Al. This blog post has no audio/visual jacks nor 9-foot white cube walls. This blog post lags behind the thrill of the original creation of the works and behind the recent exhibitions Bourouissa has mounted. My humble hope, here, is to impress how impressed I am. There’s nothing like this project.

There’s been many projects made in collaboration with prisoners from Virginia to Tennessee, and from Louisiana to Illinois, artists have communicated with prisoners to conjure something beyond the limits of the cell. And yet, none of those efforts have used the illegally smuggled mobile phone as their tool. There’s a subtle two fingers to the man in Temps Mort that we shouldn’t deny. I’m inclined to celebrate it.

Here’s some images and videos appropriated without permission from the web. Enjoy.

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