La Prière, 2008
Betacam numérique PAL, couleur, son
In this video, when a Parisian mosque cannot contain the crowd of believers, the place of worship is displaced into public space. Florence Lazar follows this prayer as it unfolds, from the installation of rugs on the paving stones, to the final packing away after the meditation. Throughout the 20 minutes of this sequence shot, the frame fixes a crowd of men, gathered in broad daylight in this little street. A few sidelong glances, a person stepping backwards, or an “Attention Madame”, from one of the people setting up the rugs in the street, allow us to identify the feminine presence of the artist. We may also ask ourselves whether the person who gestures that there is space further down the street is doing so because of the artist. Besides these details, the presence of the camera is barely felt. The frontality of the frame does not seem to disrupt the concentration of these men, who ignore the camera. They are caught up in their fervour, lining up one next to the other to begin their ritual, punctuated by the voice of the imam. In a very orderly choreography, they prostrate and straighten themselves in cadence, totally detached from this urban context. Since this practice is tolerated but not regulated, there is nothing to prevent people from watching from across the street, but the fervour and the number of followers makes for an impressive gathering and the spectator's gaze becomes very intrusive.
The followers are mainly from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb, but we recognise Paris through several characteristic details such as the paving stones, trashcans or the streetlights off to the side. Several passers-by and cyclists quickly cross the pavement.
While the call of the muezzin rings out, we cannot see the mosque, depriving the spectator of any referent to the intimacy that is normally required for this ritual. The brightly coloured adornments of the rugs contrast with the drab street, providing warmth and intimacy in this public thoroughfare. As each man leaves his shoes on the kerb before setting himself on the rug, he thus emphasises this transformation from public space to sacred place.
The rugs, already present in the artist's work, create a unique and distinct territory, highlighting the cultural and social site of this improvised prayer. Both invasive and harmonious, this sacred territory imposes itself in the space. These men recreate a specific social space, an affirmation of a group in an ill-adapted society, in the absence of a place to accommodate them. A few women passing by disrupt the segregation required in Muslim places of worship, yet order reigns. This space is both outside of time, through its contemplative posture contrasting with the function of the street as a thoroughfare, and within time, owing to the many details that underline Parisian daily life – this street scene presents social division in terms of gender and religion, but also in terms of age groups and culture.
Although Florence Lazar changed medium in 1999, from photography to video, asserting the necessity of speech, in this video, speech is no more than an inaudible murmur. The body expresses itself through posture, creating a parallel between devotion and militarism. These men, deprived of speech and isolated in their meditation, form a homogenous and compact group, defining a collective identity that imposes itself within an unadapted environment.
translated by Yves Tixier and Anna Knight