“Human beings create things, but emptiness gives them meaning.”

This quotation from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzeo is at the core of Kader Attia’s new work for Momentum 9,  the artist’s first solo exhibition in the U.S. The French-Algerian artist made waves with his 2005 installation Flying Rats, in which children sculpted from birdseed disappeared as they shared a life-sized playground with live pigeons.  More recently, his recent series of works titledGhost depicted women at prayer with vacant, aluminum foil body casts.

His new work also evokes the theme of absence. Attia grew up in a Parisian suburb, the child of Algerian immigrants.  His recollections of sleeping five kids to a room, on beds made of wooden boards and pieces of cheap foam, inspire his work for the ICA. A crowded dormitory has been created in the gallery, made with the help of students from Massachusetts College of Art and Design and the ICA Teen Arts Council. The students contributed through their labor and also their form, as they traced the outlines of their own bodies lying on the foam, which were then dug out by hand. Melancholic, even macabre, the impressions resonate with the memory of bodies now missing.