It is hard not to cast an empirical gaze across ‘Faux Guide’, Yto Barrada’s current show at Pace, London. The neo-classical architecture of the Royal Academy’s Burlington Gardens annex frames the assemblage of Barrada’s objects as a simulation of the Western European tradition of the natural history museum. Pulling across the contemporary oscillation between curator and artist, ‘Faux Guide’ amalgamates a mass of objects which appear to hold their historical provenance either from the earth or made by humankind. The majority of objects are however simulations of a history fabricated in the past two or so years. The atmosphere of the natural history museum is confirmed hanging directly across from the entrance, where bone fragments are suspended, assuming the remains of an extinct species. In front of the fragments, flattened across the gallery floor are brightly coloured Berber rugs relating to coloured sections of the gallery walls, which indicate different curatorial themes.
On closer inspection, the bones turn out to be plaster casts simulating fragments from the early Jurassic Period. The accompanying information details that they are reproductions: ‘Untitled (mobile of Tazoudasaurus bone fragments from the Late Early Jurassic Period, Naimi, Morocco, cast in plaster)’, (2015). This in turn makes the statement of historical period less important; than the history of the cast within the context of the museum and the curation of histories. This idea can be gleaned from other objects on display, which do not relate to the Jurassic specifically and fan out across other epochs, narratives and origins. Casts of pipes juxtaposed with sculptures formed of pipes and, repetitions of petite terracotta fragments, add to the sense that the etymology of the collection is what is being explored here. Photographic grids of objects from museum collections pose opposite photographs of wrapped objects within the confines of a sparse museum. ‘Untitled (Natural History Museum, never opened, Azilal, Morocco)’, (2013-15) is a triptych depicting the bulky mass of undefined cultural artefacts in situ. The words ‘never opened’ provide a glamour and intrigue that betrays the banality of the scenes in the photographs. It inspires in the viewer the same urge as the avid to collector, to survey and peruse.
The assembly of Barrada’s cultural artefacts in ‘Faux Guide’ quite openly question authenticity. Within Barrada’s practice, it appears that authenticity is a process, a fluidity to savour and not barricade. It becomes clear ‘Faux Guide’ is referencing the artefact hunting industry that grew out of an area of Morocco where the sea evaporated into desert; stretching between the Atlas Mountains and Sahara. Here, skilled counterfeiters have been at work to capitalise on the demand for fossils, bone fragments and geological samples. A film of their activities is projected onto the wall. ‘Faux Depart’ (2015) tracks the makers of these forgeries and their activity emphasises the stasis of the objects in the space. The forgers work to recreate (a) history with the purpose of appeasing the demands of the market. It is hard to let the irony slip here, that this quest for authenticity runs in parallel with the pursuing patrons of the contemporary art world.