Lydia Ourahmane’s Tassili (2022), is filmed in Tassili n’Ajjer, a Sahara plateau in southeastern Algeria.
Once a fertile “plateau of rivers,” as the translation of its name implies, the region is now an arid expanse of desert that is inhospitable to the many forms of life previously known to thrive there. Ourahmane, together with a group of collaborators and local guides, journeyed on foot for thirteen days to a part of Tassili n’Ajjer near the border of Algeria and Libya.
Tassili is shot in first-person perspective and edited together across the days and nights in the desert. The result is a hypnotic wandering through an otherworldly terrain composed of sandstone that has been shaped by thousands of years of erosion into natural arches and deep gorges. Alongside camera footage, the artist relies on a remote sensing technology that uses photographic data to accurately represent three-dimensional objects. Throughout the film, digital animations developed from scans collected on the surface of the plateau simulate passages of Ourahmane’s live footage. In other moments, fragments of the landscape float in a contextless virtual space as the camera zooms and pans. These subtle gestures expose the alterations that objects and narratives undergo through migration and adaption across time. Together, sound and image produce a portrait of the region with a distinct psychic charge, setting the spiritual, material and political histories of this drastically altered landscape in dramatic oscillation.
Ourahmane is sharply attuned to a research practice that has long tended to the legacies of colonial oppression and dispossession in Algeria, and the social complexity of producing a representation of the region today. In many ways, Tassili emerges from the irresolution of such tensions: the gaze that allows one to bear witness—to see the land changed and be changed by it—emerges in a paradoxical gesture that leaves a mark of its own on the plateau.