The show is part of larger series Attempts to Read the World (Differently): Three Exhibitions in Five Acts, of which artists Max de Waard and Jean Katambayi Mukendi are also participants. Over the course of the three show, the space will
Al Qadiri’s work in particular will focus on oil drilling and how the practice is “symbolic for the renewed, yet already precarious, future of the Middle East,” which is something the artist discussed at length with aqnb and Video in Commonin a two-part video editorial series called Portraits of the End of he World in 2015. Looking at past, present and future imaginings, the exhibition will explore the realities and metaphors associated with this changing industry.
Last Friday, on March 4, aqnb editor Jean Kay, and Video in Common (ViC) founder Caroline Heron visited Berlin’s Import Projects to present a screening and short discussion with the title, ‘The Future Is Here, It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed’ —inspired by the William Gibson interview quote from an article in The Economist.
As harbinger to an ongoing collaboration with Import, we shared some of the inspiration behind our ongoing video editorial partnership, available to view at the ViC YouTube account, with a selection of films that also address the theme.
At a time when it is becoming increasingly apparent that the global and democratising potential of the internet has been and continues to be restricted by surveillance, commercialisation and imperial neglect, the aim of the ‘The Future Is Here, It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed’ screening was to explore its implications on art and artists on a political and economic, social and personal level. Where Rezaire advocates for challenging the visual aesthetics of exploitative structures and narratives of a western-centric internet via projects like WikiAfrica in her ‘AFRO CYBER RESISTANCE’ video essay, Schmoetzer presents the insipid effects of branding and corporatisation on mediated experience in ‘Preliminary Material for 2022’. And while Al Qadiri questions the construction of narrative fictions throughout history up to the newly established “heritage of oil” in the Gulf and its alliances with a largely English-based web and economic culture, Warwick explores an imaged reality through Google Maps renderings of the Californian landscape that teems with a history that’s couched in “dotcom neoliberalism”.
The conversation to follow touched on some of these themes, as well as the multi-dimensional nature of so-called ‘internet culture’ and the necessity for open discourse and communication across platforms —online, offline, and beyond.
Below are the full videos and excerpts of the films screened in their running order:
London-based Lithuanian artist Ulijona Odišarija presents a half-hour mix of music across media distribution platforms to produce an unsettling mash-up of mainstream popular culture, tourist videos and self-made social media celebrities to express a fragmented worldview through the ‘eyes’ of the web host.
Monira Al Qadiri: ‘Portraits of the End of the World’ (2015). [7:46min].
Amsterdam-via-Japan-and-Beirut-based Kuwaiti artist Monira Al Qadiri explores history as construction in a contemporary milieu of global capital and linguistic imperialism. In an age of networked communication, driven by the internet, the role of the English language and corporate branding becomes central to economic development and rapid cultural change in regions like the Gulf.
Johannesburg-based, French-Guyanese-Danish artist Tabita Rezaire explores the social, cultural and political context of online and networked art hegemony as one replicating ongoing colonial interests and othering of African narratives. Using Wiki Africa as a starting point, she presents an argument for a critical awareness of the world wide web as one controlled by exploitative western concerns and a need for digital resistance.
Steven Warwick: ‘A Postcard from LA‘ (2015). [7:23 min].
In this part anecdote, part observation video piece, Berlin-based British artist Steven Warwick (aka Heatsick) relays his experience of Los Angeles and its surrounds while on residency at German-US exchange programme Villa Aurora in 2015. Here he takes the viewer on a tour of the Californian region via Google Maps and muses on the self-actualisation narratives and neoliberal ideology that dominate its Silicon Valley tech culture.
Maximilian Schmoetzer, ‘Preliminary Material for 2022’ (2015). [9:17min].
Berlin-based German artist Maximilian Schmoetzer presents the dominant narrative of capitalism and corporate culture through a visually striking video where the empty absurdity of branded content, advertising taglines and entertainment tropes threaten to engulf human experience and potentially destroy its very existence.
J.G. Biberkopf performance at Sonic Acts 2016. [2:00 min, excerpt]. Courtesy Sonic Acts, Amsterdam.
Vilnius-based Lithuanian artist J.G. Biberkopf interrogates the images and technologies of the so-called Anthropocene era through live A/V performance. His work defines the mediated human experience through conceptual interpretations of speculative ecologies, hyperformalism and new materialism in a world of online information.
Hannah Black, ‘Fall of Communism’ (2014). 5:23 min. ‘All My Love All My Love’ (2015). 6:34 min.
Berlin-based British artist-writer Hannah Black explores what Rhizome describes as “the conditioning of bodies, or the condition of being bodied”. Her two video works tell of the tension between the interior and exterior self through text and moving image, where theory and autobiography, intimacy and commodity, desire and identity become conflated.
My candle in this bar died as soon as I sat down. ‘Fossil candle’, I thought. I would like to think about this in terms of something important but maybe it just died. For a few weeks I have been thinking deeply about Sophia Al-Maria’s new publication, ‘Fresh Hell’, the eighth in the series Happy Hypocrite, which is published by Book Works and curated by Maria Fusco, who introduces each issue. Al-Maria has collected an archive –”shrapnel”, as Fusco refers to it –of old posters, a Tumblr account, essays, unexplained images, stories, biographical accounts by the likes McKenzie Wark, Stephanie Bailey and Abdullah Al-Mutairi. It feels as though Al-Maria has been finding and collecting these things for a long time; archiving them without necessarily thinking about their place and role in ‘Fresh Hell’. They are comparable to a series of browser tabs that at one point were each separately open for a long time. They exist together in one place as though she has remembered them all now; trying at least.
The success of ‘Fresh Hell’ is that it imparts this to the reader. There is something really large between each smaller part and it’s kind of invisible and slightly incomprehensible. Not that whatever it is is being only tentatively and not directly explained enough to the reader to be understood. It’s that this book is mostly about oil, and oil is in everything, inherently. And so many things are (in) oil. To be more precise, so many things that were, are now in oil and we don’t know about them.
Another large part of this publication is about paying attention. Somehow I think Al-Maria is wondering if reading any of these elements or moments or things can hold our attention like they did hers. There is a short selection of images from one tumblr account: http://pussyfriends.tumblr.com by Lena Tutunjian. The link and author’s name are written in large turquoise font before the images start. There is only one tumblr account in ‘Fresh Hell’. The images are memorable now. There is no white border around them and each one takes up an entire page. It reminds me of the subtitle “invisible pages over” of one of Max Richter’s Sleep tracks. A series of short stories by Monira Al Qadiri describe the attention and weight pearls held in the traditional diving industry in Kuwait. The pearl was like an anchor. It was the ‘master’ and the divers and the Nahham maintained beats to the songs they sung all around it. Now the raw material to mine for around the Persian Gulf is oil, and we know less of the individual fossils that go to make it, we know less of the longevity of each single unit mined.
Alex Borkowski’s story ‘Vital Plastics’ presents in minute detail a person acting out her desire to become a totally interior and closed being. She practises, for most of the story, delicately inhaling small points on the surface of a plastic bag, forming inverse blue bubbles that she can caress with her tongue. It’s like she wants to know the structure of her inside more clearly. She makes a dance between her lungs and the blue: in out, one two, back and forth like partners dancing, “except one of the partners remained invisible inside her”, as the story reminds and settles in the reader. It makes me think of being glad but also sad to know about the small 50 million year-old equine Eohippus heart that Fusco tells us –recounting Peter Anderson’s 2008 novella Machine –was used in one 1975 refill of a Ford engine in Texas. It’s like a drop in the fucking ocean, but I’m glad to know about the fossil heart. It will stay inside me forever.
There seems to be a delicate balance between illuminating or highlighting something with trance-like focus, and having too much light that you can not see; too much light that you overview or ‘flounder’. The latter is a word that Al-Maria brings up with William Gibson whom she interviews about trying to catch the present tense of ‘now’. She describes walking down Buchanan Street in Glasgow, going past a repeat pattern of Topshop, Starbucks, Lush. They are like a chorus or maybe the moment in a fruit machine where all the lights come on and you hit the jackpot, which is the title of the Al-Maria and Gibson’s interview.
The most intricate piece is ‘Key Word Searches for Dust’ by Malak Helmy who writes pages of text and image sequences that flow down the page like someone floating diagonally downstream in a river. The images are small either with small –often singular –items floating in them (like airplanes) or misty and blurred like someone is running. Either way they function to punctuate the text somehow. Fragments of a bigger story talk of tracking someone with ‘black light’ because they are so illuminated in fireflies: “they tracked me and saw the holes where things were missing”. Another fragment talks about a ‘light beat’ between two cars on the highway, as though they were “lovers or predators”, until the darkness “falls out” of the sequence completely. If a scene is the same thing as a photograph, then this photograph would be completely awash with white light; image floundering. **
The Beirut-based artist’s practice, concentrating on ideas of national identity and historical fictions, has been the subject of aqnb‘s ongoing video series collaboration with Video in Common, exploring her focus on “the aesthetics of sadness in the Middle East” and an expanding interest in social and political issues in a globalised world.
Al Qadiri’s ‘Apocalyptic Aspirations’, meanwhile, pulls focus on the subject of oil in the Gulf today and a radical visual language that anticipate’s the artist’s projected future of the industry, along with the modern-day myths that surround it.
The Drowned World screening, which shows films by six different artists, will run at London’s Chisenhale Gallery on August 12.
The group screening, representing a patchwork of experimental narratives that examine current socio-political landscapes—human nature, gender, class and Existentialism—with “humour, irony and disbelief”, takes its name from a 1962 science fiction novel by English New Wave novelist J.G. Ballard.
“It’s not really about oil running out, it’s about oil becoming worthless again”, says Monira Al Qadiriin the second instalment (see here for the first) in a pilot series, titled Money Makes the World Go‘Round, produced in partnership with arts digital production unit Video in Common (ViC). The Beirut-based artist explores history as construction in a contemporary milieu of global capital and linguistic imperialism. In an age of networked communication, driven by the internet, the role of the English language and corporate branding becomes central to economic development and rapid cultural change in regions like the Middle East.
“It’s this conflation between corporate culture and the state”, adds Al Qadiri about the practice of art collective GCC (taking its name from the economic and political union Gulf Cooperation Council) of which she’s a member. With her solo work, Al Qadiri goes further in examining the homogenising effects of economic language and communication networks, beyond global politics and business, to national identity and even religion.
Art and economics is central to the Money Makes the World Go ‘Round series –exploring art and artists in a global market –to publish at the start of every week from the last day of March to June, 2015. It features six artists from cities around the networked world. **
Whitechapel Gallery is hosting Where is My Territory?, an afternoon screening of short films exploring the transformation of landscapes, at their London space on September 6, 3-6pm.
In Where is My Territory?, GCC member Monira Al Qadiri explores the modern-day apocalypse with the Werner-Herzog inspired Behind the Sun (2013),Ali Cherri zeroes in on Lebanon and Syria with The Disquiet (2013) and Pipe Dreams (2012), Köken Ergun considers the martyrdom of Hussein in Ashura (2012), and Basim Magdy takes a look a cynicism and the “persistent search for a seemingly essential unknown” in My Father Looks For An Honest City (2010).
The afternoon event is followed by a Q&A with participating artist Ali Cherri.
Monira Al Qadiri’s socio-ethnic study of affect is central to her work. Often looking at themes connected to mass media, sadness, and what the Beirut-based artist calls “masculine narcissism,” much of her art –produced both in the Middle East and during her 10 years studying in Japan –explores the political contrast between East and West, and how different emotions are portrayed and valorised.
A founding member of eight-strong Gulf art collective GCC, Al Qadiri is speaking to me over Skype from her flat in the Lebanese capital, where she’s been living for the last three years. She’s just returned from New York where the group are showing at the New Museum’s Here and Elsewhere, a bit jetlagged, but still happy to discuss her work.
Her recently launched video called ‘Soap’ (2014) for Creative Time Reports manipulates footage from soap operas shown in the Gulf region, and inserts a crucial missing figure: the migrant worker. Al Qadiri tells me that nearly everyone in Kuwait has hired help, due to excessive wealth, but these TV shows depict a very different reality: one where families cook for themselves during Ramadan, and the maid is entirely absent. She looks at the exported image of Kuwaitis, compared to the real situation on the ground.
Al Qadiri moved to Beirut for an artist residency at Ashkal Alwan three years ago, and says the reason she never left was because “the art scene here is so advanced, probably the most advanced in the Arab world.” The volatile political situation in the region is not an unfamiliar one, particularly for an artist who grew up in Kuwait during the First Gulf War. A lot of her artistic practice and research focuses on understanding conflict, through a framework of pre- and post-oil historical understanding. Her colourful, raw and, at times, comical videos deal with sadness and tragedy as an everyday occurrence in the Middle East, all of which comes through clearly in her expert use of costume and set design to create a complete visual experience as something she calls “total art.”
Your work often focuses on the theme of sadness in the Middle East, displayed usually by a masculine character who you portray. You deal with issues of narcissism – I’m interested in why it has to be the male character for you?
Monira Al Qadiri: I was living in Japan for a long time and I was thinking about how Western culture is saturated with this oppressive happiness. But, for example, in the Arab world – even in Iran and Turkey – sadness is seen as something noble and beautiful. A lot of poetry and songs are all about sadness and loneliness. It’s always about this tragic character, and it’s very narcissistic. So sadness isn’t seen as an illness or a disease. It’s seen as something beautiful and almost self-indulgent. I was thinking about that a lot and then I decided to research it. My doctoral dissertation was called ‘The Aesthetics of Sadness in the Middle East’. I thought that the best thing to represent this aesthetic is music and songs from the region, so I decided to create a lot of music videos using these masculine characters.
I think of melancholy and narcissism as having a direct relationship. Then I thought what is narcissism to me: narcissism is something masculine. I don’t know why that came up in my life. I think it came up during the war in Kuwait. I felt like the men were doing everything, and that’s really cool, and the women are just stuck at home, hiding. Of course this is a weird thing that happened to me but I linked the psychological state of narcissism to gender. I find that really interesting and I wanted to look into it.
When you think about stereotypes, like cross-dressing: men cross-dressing as women are always considered comical characters, while women as men are seen as this strange character you can’t really place. It’s mysterious. These stereotypes are interesting, how gender is facilitated like that.
Are you starring in most of the music videos? I couldn’t tell exactly, you did the drag so well. It’s interesting that you self-identify with these narcissistic characters by portraying them personally.
MAQ: Yes, of course! I always like to be honest in my work, not be hypocritical. I don’t like to be the one looking at it, I want to be part of it. It really is also about me, and I want to show that. It’s not just like being an observer. I want to see how it looks when I’m doing it also.
The costumes, everything is very broad and rudimentary, almost trashy and cheap. I don’t like when things are so well designed or choreographed. It gives a more human touch when things are that cheap. I think the trashiness of it highlights all the mismatching ideas that are going on. The make-up isn’t quite right and the costumes are a bit off. There’s this Ali Baba thing, and everything is not quite right but in the end it creates a beautiful picture.
MAQ: That was a commissioned project by Ibraaz. The issue was about future infrastructures of art in the Middle East, like museums. I thought about it a little bit and remembered a lecture my friend Alexandre Kazerouni gave. He’s a French-Iranian scholar and he was talking about how the war in Kuwait was actually the trigger for this museum rush in the Gulf. These are two things that are very large in my life: the war and art museums. They were becoming one in this talk and I wanted to visualize it.
He spent six years researching the history of museums in the Gulf and the new mega art museums – some of them are just on paper and they may never be realized. For him, it was a political statement: before the war museums were focused on local audiences and it was really about Arab culture and heritage, a little bit about Islam, local dioramas of old streets, and trying to re-enact pre-oil times. But after the war, the Gulf states couldn’t protect each other from aggression so they had to hire foreign armies to come and liberate Kuwait. So this changed the focus to Western audiences. The new museums are always in English and focused on an industry of tourism, rather than on Kuwaitis, or Qataris, or Emiratis. It’s always about foreigners who are going to come and see this. For him it’s a political idea, it’s his theory.
So this theory informed your photos?
MAQ: Yes, and I have a new interest I’m focusing on, which is my biographical relationship to oil. Of course the war was part of it. I had a film called ‘Behind the Sun’ (2013) which is about the burning oil fields after the war.
I was linking it to Werner Herzog, because he made a film about that. I didn’t like it at first. It’s called ‘Lessons of Darkness’. It’s an amazing work and I love it so much, really. Initially I didn’t like it because I had no idea who Herzog was and I was watching it as a kid. We had it on VHS. It was right after the war. And I watched it: basically he’s narrating this sci-fi story over the images of the burning oil fields he shot.
It’s amazing footage with a kind of Wagner soundtrack. He has a very special voice, and it’s all about apocalypse and this stuff from the Bible. As a kid who just went through the war, I was like: ‘Why is this old man lying? What is he talking about?’ I hated it for so many years but then I watched it again, and again, and again. I started to understand that it’s very interesting to look at political events in a completely other way, expanding their meaning. I think it’s a very redeeming thing to do but, at the same time, I still had that confusion in myself. So I decided to make my own version: ‘Behind the Sun’.
It’s basically a narration of Islamic poetry from television stations at the time that I took from the TV archives, and I superimposed it on to images of the burning oil fields from an amateur videographer from the time. Nobody has ever seen these videos before. He’s a photographer, and he’s amazing, so he stashed them away in his archive because he felt they weren’t interesting. His name is Adel Al-Yousifi. He said he didn’t have any videos, but eventually he had these old VHS tapes and he said no one has seen them and they are probably awful. But they were just amazing. It was really a metaphysical experience to see them.
Have you shown ‘Behind the Sun’ anywhere yet?
MAQ: I showed it at the Beirut Art Centre at this show called Exposure, which they do for emerging artists in Lebanon every year. I just proposed it to them as a project and they accepted it. I’ve been living in Lebanon for three years so I think about the war a lot. I didn’t think about it when I was in Japan. Despite everything that happens here in Lebanon, people still keep going.
Is living in that kind of environment refueling your interest in the war as subject matter for your work?
MAQ: Of course – coming from Japan was like moving from zero political reality to a hyper-political reality. In Japan I was asking people why aren’t you interested in politics, but they thought it had nothing to do with them. Here, if you go out to a local Kebab shop, there’s a sign that says: “Don’t discuss politics.” Lebanese political talk shows are the most complicated things I’ve ever seen. Japan feels so detached from the world, which is awful. But I guess things have changed since Fukushima, people are more politically aware. In Japan I was upset it was so detached from the world, and here it’s too much.
Would your work be perhaps more political in a setting where it’s detached from your daily life?
MAQ: Yes, that’s exactly what was happening. I guess in Japan I was thinking more about economics whereas here I think more about conflict. In Japan this hyper-capitalist lifestyle really dominates and there is no other way to live. For me that was horrible to see: a lot of my friends who were artists and filmmakers would become corporate zombies immediately after we graduated, because they had no choice. Especially in Kuwait, you can get a salary for doing nothing because it’s almost a complete welfare state. These things are different and sometimes it’s like Werner Herzog, it’s good to look at politics in an artistic way.
This relates to your work with the art collective GCC. There’s a clear connection to your solo work, though you deal on a sometimes more personal level, you have these political, performative gestures that are about self-promotion, either personal or as a state body. The GCC uses this bureaucratic or diplomatic language.
MAQ: GCC is a labour of love, all of us were working together on individual projects. We were helping each other out –like if I needed an architectural sketch I would ask my friend, or if someone needed a video… we were always working together for such a long time that it started to make sense that we work together as one. It became very successful.
We want to talk about what’s happening within the Gulf. It’s very private, yet everyone has an opinion about it. A large part of that comes from conflating states with corporations. Gulf states, nowadays, they act like companies. They have their PR campaigns, like Fly Emirates, and they have this objective image. It’s very obvious in the Gulf but of course all states do that. Global diplomacy is all about this luxurious setting where world leaders talk about nothing. So we ask, what does it mean to be a state?
I was attending a lecture at Campus in Camps in Dheisheh refugee camp in the West Bank, and the speaker Yazid Anani was talking about this “performance of the state” happening there, specifically by the Palestinian Authority –architecturally, in uniform and in their projected image. They are trying to enter the economic or political state game through these signifiers that are not actually representative of the lived reality. The GCC seems to be doing a similar performance, but more as a critique.
MAQ: This kind of aesthetic rules our lives and we want to think about that. It’s not just coming from a point of criticism, we grew up with these images. We really just want to excavate them. It’s really like archaeology. What do these images mean? Where does ribbon-cutting come from? They are so outrageous and also beautiful. We also love these images.
My work deals with personal experience but also ideas about gender and things that I experience. I look at narcissism as a collective thing, though. I’m really anti-individualism. So I’m criticising that also, I think that’s a dead discourse. I use myself as a filter of that. GCC is also part of that –it’s a collective experience of the Gulf, made up of eight artists.
Now, I’m really interested in oil as a subject, and looking at it as an economic thing –its material and history. Pre-oil and post-oil is almost an alien reality. **