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This text was written on the sidelines of the exhibition of the artist Imed Jemaiel, “Maculée conception” (February 14, 2016) which took place at the gallery A. Gorgi gallery. It first appeared in the newspaper Etat d’Urgence (No. 1, February 2016). 

Why texts introduce exhibitions? Undoubtedly for the propriety of presentations; to establish, justify and enhance? Or perhaps the text is a kind of net ensuring the acrobatics that the eye and the spirit will have to carry out which could miss the mark, vis-a-vis of works which are given to see without for all that letting themselves obediently be pierced with day. We know the Latin sources of the word “text” as it is weft, fabric; from there to the net, there is only a rebound.
With the text, comes its object. In the gallery,  works are there, hung, signed, titled, finished to be worked. They rise in their completeness in front of the glance, crystallizing and « je-ne-sais-quoi » of phenomena. In front of them, the eye first tests them, then perhaps catches on, and one soon suspects that something is going on underneath and binds the canvases together by a weave that is bodiless but remains perceptible. The ballad of the attentive spectator – the one who does not appreciate letting himself slide on the reflection of the surfaces -, his stops, the rhythms of his steps, retreats, bendings of the head, and approaches are as many attempts to intercept, between two aesthetic experiences, one of the knots of the weft which organizes – and where the smallest parcel of painting is rooted – as well as the whole exposed.

Finally, writing about an exhibition would undoubtedly be the task of a clear-sighted weaver, virtuoso at the game of shuttles, attempting the delicate and subtle concordance between the thread of words and the designs of the artist’s thought. Writing these lines in margin of the exhibition of Imed Jemaiel, I think that one expects that I say, in some way that it was, his painting. Unfortunately – or fortunately – I have neither the skillful hand of a weaver, nor the gift of clairvoyance in matters of painting.
I would be unable to reveal or bring to light a few pieces of what underlies the artist’s painting. It would have been necessary to have travelled several years in his company and to have attended the slow and persevering genesis of the creative life of Imed Jemaiel to know how to trace its foundations. “Depicting” the artist, Nadia Jelassi has excellently done in “Beyond the textual or Pagigrams of Imed Jemaiel” for his previous exhibition: The Bottom of the erasures (April 2014). I will therefore only work here to report the words of the painter himself or from these words, gleaned during my visit to his studio. What better place to approach the artist’s thought than the one of art in the making, than the one where we can still see the lace of creation taking place. There, the thread is still on its loom and one can follow the spinning, the knots, the intertwining, the connections in the middle of which the painter is active.

In the painter's studio

To go down to the cellar is to dream, it is to get lost in the distant corridors of an uncertain etymology, it is to search in the words for unfindable treasures.

Gaston Bachelard

It is necessary to go down a few steps under the level of the ground to enter the workshop of Imed Jemaiel; underground place where one expects that there “stir up beings slower, less trotting, more mysterious”. Before the beings, a furniture: we see first a library inhabited by some of the companions of thought of the artist, then a cupboard full of inks and reserves of acrylics and, at the bottom, a small sofa; the painted canvases are rolled up in a corner of the studio, only one is suspended on the wall as still in question. A few sketches, a few words are hung on a panel. A committed canvas is partially unrolled on a large table, just enough to

cover and support it; graffiti markers and acrylic paint pens are placed on the canvas. A desk lamp illuminates the work. And the being from the basement is there, sitting at the table. He paints but seems to write. From this semblance, the table becomes a desk, the felt pens become pens, the canvas becomes a gigantic page and the painter, a writer. From his posture, the painter already says something about his painting.

To question an artist at work is a risky thing; the clumsy approach of the curious can, by the banality or the superficiality of his remarks, expose him to the annoyed look of the painter that one thus had to extirpate from the creative depths in which he was swimming peacefully. One is always afraid of not being there, in the same way that the visitor to Max Ernst’s studio was not: “What are you doing right now? Are you working? I answered: “Yes, I’m making collages. I’m preparing a book that will be called La Femme 100 têtes. Then he whispered in my ear: “And what kind of glue do you use?. It must be said that Imed Jemaiel was very patient with his visitor. He knew how to give me time to begin to catch a glimpse of the graphic worlds he was creating. He also whispered to me some words, rather some keys of these worlds.

Imed Jemaiel in his studio

In the artist's painting

In the beginning, the artist sows spots of colors, smears his virgin canvases as one throws the first lines of a sketch. In his paintings, the stain unfolds in all its etymological charge. In the XIXe and XXe centuries, the macula is, in ophthalmology, the “central region of the retina where visual impressions have their maximum precision and sharpness”. Earlier, from the Renaissance, the spot, the macchia is already the support of projections, of visions.  In the middle of the XVIIIe century, in the field of fine arts, the term macchietta designates a “small spot” and, by derivation, a “sketch”, having suggested to the French language “maquette”. The spot is therefore an initial. In the same extension, as it calls for a future, the macule has long been the support of divinations; one sees, one reads a future, a path. This power undoubtedly comes from fate, from the chances that have shaped it, from the strange – and at the same time so familiar – forms with which it is adorned and which make it the medium of a destiny, of a life already written.


The stain is already writing of something of which it is full, which is registered there in power. By strewing his canvas with macules, the painter opens the space of a writing by calls, invocations. The work of divination can then begin.

“It started with writing. I decided one day that I would not leave a text in peace. It provokes me, it intrigues me. I love it. So I want to get into it, I would like to get in inside.”

Imed Jemaiel

One would be tempted to say that the artist is in front of a handwritten sheet, that he is writing. Perhaps he is? But it is this spatial preposition, this in front of, that is not there. I think rather that the painter is in the handwritten sheet, in its thickness I mean. And from there, he follows with his eye and his hand the writing that is entangled there. He has passed to the other side of the mirror or, here, in this case, of the flower of the paper.

Since his first drawings, he seems to have changed scale; but it is not his formats that have become larger. It is the painter who has carried his desire towards Lilliputian reveries, in the perspective of making himself microscopic and of immersing himself in the depths of the folds of the written word, of participating in the organic life of the inks and the fibers of the manuscript.

“(…) for writing to be manifested in its truth (and not in its instrumentality), it must be illegible.”

Roland Barthes

Imed Jemaiel in his studio

The painter dreams about it. To see the written letter from the other side of its crystalline surfaces, from the side of its roots in the fibrous thickness of the paper. It is there that is the painter who looks and celebrates the signs of a writing of below. On the other side of the flower of the paper. To raise the sheet and to see the painter there in the epair.
And what is there to see there? From this point of view, there is nothing more to read or else, it would be necessary to reinvent the reading because the tracings are not any more features. They are spots, smudges and around them, the painter gloats. He rewrites them, follows them with his feathers and paints and writes their echolalia.

Writing? Not exactly writing, but scription. This distinction, it is one of the spectres – and not the least – which haunts the workshop of I.J. which proposes it: Roland Barthes. The text in a more corporal conception, writing through “a rise towards the body”, the writing “in the manual sense of the word”, in so far as it is the “experience of a pressure, of a pulsion, of a slip, of a rhythm”: the “scription”[3]. The gesture of I.J. tends towards this “pure scription” where the content does not have any more its place and it is a question of experiencing the writing where “it is the body and the body only which is engaged”.


“(…) du mot écrit, je pourrais remonter à la main, au muscle, au sang, à la pulsion, à la culture du corps, à sa jouissance.”

Roland Barthes

He smears, he writes and he draws too. But even to draw for the scribe that he is, is still to write: these fragments of body are the deployments of a cursivity and a ductus which are not any more the business of a single hand, but of the whole body. The curves of the letter, the body of the letter are amplified, exalted and sometimes carry the attributes of an erotic body.

Certain scriptures are made of thicknesses whose contours betray a tracer whose charge of matter is exhausted. These cursivities – which could appear imperfect -, say a fast gesture tracing semblance of letters folded on themselves – and which could recall what the world of the street art calls the lettering -; the writing becomes arabesque inviting the eye to get lost in its folds.

The scripture is also tiny and swarms in the space where the figures unfold. It seems to carry them or emanate from them. These tiny writings also seem, sometimes, the legends of pieces of figurative territories, stained. Another meticulous scripture also works: it is made of tiny lines requiring that the hand raises the pen at each of its inscriptions. They are made of a gesture which poses the space of a letter for a schematic writing; they are the small vertical marks which make caesura, or which cross out or cross out a letter. They become “lace” to adorn the corpuscles of color; or are they the endings of a writer’s obsession in front of the white, naked space of the page-toilet, which must be blackened in order to write, still write.

One will have understood it, the painter’s studio is scriptorium. The pictor and the scriptor enjoy together. The painter’s dreams wander, jubilant, from the medieval manuscript to the most modern manuscript. The illumination and the preciousness it brings to the manuscript, the canvases rolled up like volumina, the layouts of the text, etc., all this reminds us of the medieval scribe. But where, for the latter, there is the body of the text on the one hand and the margin on the other, in I.J.’s painting, everything is margin: the text, its smudges, its macules and its bestiaries are spread out enjoyably.

What the painter paints is the gesture of writing in that it participates in the body, in that it is its jouissance. And this last one begins from the first gesture: to smear. The first smears, their spreading, their bursting, their overflowing, their organic expansions, their manifestations, are only the expression of a happy matter, of a color that enjoys. And the jubilation begins with the line that slowly takes up these stains as if to give itself the time to revisit their ecstasies. An enjoyment of exaltation taken up by a graphic enjoyment that insinuates itself, until it is lost, in the folds and echoes of a scriptural body that enjoys.


[1]  Gaston Bachelard, The poetics of space, Ed. PUF, 1961, p. 36.
[2]  Max Ernst, Writings, Gallimard, 1970, p. 257.
[3]  Roland Barthes,  Complete Works, Volume IV. Variations on Writing , Paris, France, Ed. du Seuil, 2002, p. 267.

Photo credits: M.-A. Berhouma
Cite this article / Citer cet article: Mohamed-Ali Berhouma, “De-scripting task – Around the exhibition of Imed Jemaiel, “Maculée conception” (2016)” – In Situ, in Les Carnets des imaginaires de l’atelier , 24 April 2017 [2016],