12 September – 21 November
Photoforum is pleased to present the solo exhibition of Cairo-based Swiss artist Céline Burnand.
Her artistic practice is informed by her training in visual arts as well as in visual anthropology and literature. To a certain extent, her works all stage a reenactment or repetition of an existing visual representation. She is particularly interested in using recurrent gestures and attitudes in order to spot similar psychic or emotional states within various sociocultural settings. For her, these formal analogies operate as landmarks in the analysis of a society in revealing specific cultural contents.
Her practice stems in large part from investigations within her family history and personal heritage, which she defines as her ‘own visual background.’ A first familial influence was one of her ancestors, Eugène Burnand, a naturalist painter born in 1850, combined with a ‘theoretical echo’ in Aby Warburg’s ‘pathos formula’: in other words, the resurgence or survival of archaic figures from the antiquity in later societies. Her visual research extends to various contexts, by for example following the snake in the religious ceremony of San Domenico in the Abruzzi or within the Sufi Festival in Egypt, or inquiring healing conceits, such as the sanatorium, or exorcism.
The exhibition at Photoforum takes as its starting point the photographic archive of her great-grandfather René Burnand (1882–1960). A Swiss writer and physician, specialising in tuberculosis, and the director of the Leysin sanatorium, he answered the call of King Fuad I of Egypt, who was searching for a candidate to run a hospital for tuberculosis patients. From 1926 to 1929, he supervised the construction and operation of a hospital in Helwan (south of Cairo). His personal archives encompass two memoirs and around 700 photographs retracing this episode of his life.
A first chapter of this project, with a strong documentary focus, was presented in the exhibition Al Hayat – La Maison des Vivants[The House of the Living] at Festival Images 2020 in Vevey. The exhibition at the Photoforum will expand from this initial research and deepen the exploration of themes such as collective and familial history and heritage – in particular her own position as a Swiss citizen living in Egypt, not unlike René Burnand – the legacy of colonialism and its presence in the present, as well as the complex relations between medicine, colonialism and visual culture. Informed by her personal history and experience as much as her knowledge of art history and visual anthropology, these new productions are planned to include the elements of reenactment and restaging which are characteristic of her work, in addition to the (re)presentation of material from the family archive and the more documentary aspects of the work.