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highlife

2-channel video installation
w/ Cristiano Berti

What is the most convincing image of a comfortable life?

Judging by the scenes of domestic life that recur in the movies which constitutes “Highlife” it is that of a comfortable lounge. There’s nothing particularly surprising in this, and yet the Nollywood fragments that compose this mash up fascinate because of their tendency to reiterate images of comfort which are completely alien to the lifestyle of most of the audience for whom these films were produced. The films produced in Nollywood, namely in Lagos by the Nigerian film industry, essentially show two opposite ways of life:  life in the city and life in the village. The first highlights symbols of economic well-being: powerful cars, nice houses, beautiful clothes. Interestingly, these signs of economic power are often presented as if they were goals of a lifestyle of violence and abuse, the effect of corruption, or the result of evil pacts with invisible powers. In the Nigerian films wealth, if not explicitly associated with evil, is definitely so with the elitist indifference to the sufferings of the people; yet it exerts a powerful and invincible charm on the audience, which is not elitist but popular. And is it not like this everywhere? Perhaps Nigerian filmmakers have fewer qualms about making this psychological dimension evident. It is to them that Cristiano Berti and Can Sungu turn to extract pictures of the long sequence of domestic scenes showed by “Highlife”. We see the outside of towered villas and of houses of extravagent shapes, and inside rooms which sometimes reflect tacky wealth, but elsewhere are rich in style with engrossed or dreamy characters, always intriguing. Some of the actions portrayed suggest sentimental or dramatic developments, of which the viewer is unaware, dragged into the next lounge. The images are accompanied by music that could be used for presentations of real estate, making it all appear like a commercial ad on the comforts of a beautiful home. Alongside these images, slowly slide those of a video of a private nature, accidentally found in a box of videotapes. Like the fragments that compose the mash up, produced mainly in 2006, this is probably footage shot between 2004 and 2007 to show a private client how well the work was proceeding. Here, before our eyes, a large villa gradually grows. Workers busily using modern products and machinery, and also traditional ones such as the large bamboo poles that hold up the first floor of the villa, in almost surreal images. Combining these two video projections, rather than explaining or moralizing, the authors allow us to continually jump from documented reality to cinema fiction, in a game well known to contemporary man, in Africa and elsewhere.

 

highlife, cristiano berti, can sungu, nigeria, vhs, found footage