“Don‘t come to see my artwork, come to live in my world.“
I am meeting Yassine in his car workshop. The yellow-blue painted facade already beamed at me from a distance, a bright splash of color in the middle of Rue Hakim Kassar in the heart of Hafsia, one of the old districts in the Medina of Tunis. When I entered the workshop for the first time, I was not prepared for the surprise. In addition to the typical furnishings of a garage – from work surfaces to tools to a large collection of materials – I found traces and products of humorous and exploratory creativity at every turn. The place was strewn with small to large curiosities ranging from practical upgrades of the workbench made of recycled everyday materials to rewired, manually controllable lighting systems, whirring sculptures made of small motors and tubes filled with liquid. While moving from one to the next, my curiosity grew: how did a seemingly ordinary car workshop become this little Wunderkammer at the intersection of technical craftsmanship and visual art?
Yassine (*1997) is a real weld el Hafsia, born and raised deeply intertwined with the Medina, its places, houses and alleys, its sounds and smells, its people, habits and rhythms, its secrets and challenges. His ardent interest in technical devices and how they function already became evident at a young age. „When I was a child people kept telling me that no one knows everything. This gave me the motivation to then at least understand and learn as much as possible,” he mentioned in one of our talks, „I want to get to know what surrounds me.”
Driven by this motivation, he started working as a car mechanic at the age of fourteen, learned and professionalized the craft with great perseverance and passion. His interest was particularly aroused by the fields of electricity and light. Neither being discouraged by personal doubts nor structural circumstances he relied on his intuition as well as his power of observance. “Let life be your greatest teacher,“ is how he describes his path.
In 2016, he visited the first edition of the INTERFERENCE International Light Art Project and was stunned: “I didn’t know about visual arts before. It was the first time I really liked art.“ This experience opened up a new world for him and he joined the INTERFERENCE production team in 2018 and SEE DJERBA in 2019. Being intrigued by working closely with local and international artists, he started exploring the possibility of expanding his technical knowledge through creative experimentation. “During that time, I slowly began to realize that I could do this, too,” he reminisces. In 2020, he decided to apply for the first edition of the INTERFERENCE Young Masters Program (YMP) – and got accepted.
Hela Doghri, who accompanied Yassin as a curator during the first edition of the YMP, is emphasizing his profound and impressive development: „The profile of Yassin is very interesting for me. To go from a mechanic who has been in the hood and to take that story and his experience, he has the courage to start his artistic process and to go through it – that’s a thing.” Coming from a very practical background, Yassin started discovering creative approaches, following inspiration, and developing ideas on how to compose with shape, color, light, and motion. “Yassin went the other way around. We always find artists having ideas and theoretical knowledge and then they start to experiment and explore the material,” Hela elaborates, “Yassin already masters his material and now starts exploring the intellectual, conceptual, and theoretical sides of it.”
“Experimenting always inspired me,“ Yassin underlines, “Each day in my workshop consists of new challenges and problems I have to solve creatively.” By doing so, his work keeps on developing its own dynamic beyond his usual profession: “My mind starts wandering and my eyes discover new forms and connections in the materials I work with.” Beyond simple recycling, Yassin naturally incorporates various materials from his workshop into his artworks; he started rearranging thin plastic tubes, discarded metal parts as well as small engines and combined them with water- and oil-based liquids, fluorescent colors and UV lights. Setting them in motion, he furthermore creates sounds varying from noisy to unobtrusive, mechanical to natural, permanent to choppy. Through the arrangement of the various parts a rhythm emerges, which merges with the sculptures glowing anew in the darkness. Thus, he composes objects, installations and intervention which transform the space into vibrant and layered environments which unexpectedly bear new associations ranging from nature experiences to shared memories.
Treating all materials with the love and respect he has for them, he allows a new view on both his work and his art: not only does he highlight its value, but he also invites people to immerse themselves in the magic of his work and perception. “He is so into sharing. He has this thing of making people more interested in his work,” Hela points out. Yassin’s approach is steeped in dialogue. He feels the urgent need to belong, share and connect with his environment and thus to challenge entrenched mindsets: “I want to play with the expectations of people coming to my workshop and change their perception of what is a mechanic and what is an artist,” Yassin explains.
Yassin Agrbi: Through my eyes. YMP 2021. Photo: Rayen Touati.
What I find remarkable about Yassin is how he manages to include the viewer. You can really feel his focus on exchange. His artworks connect the familiar and the unknown at the same time. The contextual strangeness and new shapes of the used material automatically generate a range of questions and associations. In addition, the playfulness of the works invites the viewer to interact and to explore all its different parts. Yassin’s enthusiasm for his work is truly palpable and infectious to the viewer. In this way he manages to translate his own experiences and perceptions into a sensually tangible world and thereby opens up new perspectives and resonances.
Both personally and in my professional practice, I enjoy my expectations being challenged, caught off guard, or surprised. Coming to Yassin’s car workshop was such a surprise for me. I was amazed by all the details I could find, by discovering layers and layers of different identities, ideas, materials and experiments within one place. Even though it is still unclear in which direction his art will develop, I am convinced that Yassin’s passionate inner drive will continuously keep him questioning, searching, experimenting and sharing.
Consequently, I am now particularly excited to see his artwork in the YMP’s upcoming exhibition. Hope to see you there!