Well Formed Data

    Friday, March 4, 2011 to Saturday, April 2, 2011

    Opening
    • Saturday, March 5, 2011
    Well Formed Data brings together a selection of works that are formally linked through their use of research aesthetics and the moving image. Weaving through many disparate topics of study and lines inquiry, the videos offer compelling examples of how the artistic research process is turned into form. We see the authors—several artists, a filmmaker and a curator—employing a variety of rhizomatic methodologies. They assume the role of the organic researcher, attempt investigative journalism, play with documentary tropes or perform as lecturers and storytellers. TUESDAYS Guillaume Désanges, Signs & Wonders, 65 minutes, 2009 Signs and Wonders is a recording of a performative lecture given by the French curator, Guillaume Désanges at Tate Modern on February 21, 2009. It offers a subjective study of some of modern, minimal and conceptual art’s major figures. Using a line of inquiry that relies on mystical investigation, the presentation is illustrated with a shadow play realized on stage, with a simple overhead projector, coloured acetates, pieces of paper and a variety of everyday props. Enacted with modesty, Signs & Wonders offers a very sincere desire to demonstrate the memory, reception and mutation of art history images through a constantly shifting array of similar forms, shapes, light and darkness. This approach offers a coy and playful way to measure the illusionist and magical potential of artistic practices that are sometimes too easily relegated to the category of rationalism. Signs and Wonders was co-produced by Halles de Schaerbeek (Brussels), Centre Pompidou (Paris) and FRAC Lorraine (Metz). WEDNESDAYS Ursula Biemann , X-Mission, 40 minutes, 2008 Swiss artist and filmmaker Ursula Biemann’s most recent work X-Mission, explores the logic of the refugee camp as an extra-territorial zone. Taking the Palestinian refugee camps as a case in point, the video engages with different viewpoints—local, legal, symbolic, urban, mythological and historical. Using a format that plays off of both documentary filmmaking and investigative journalism, X-Mission relies on a series of interviews, which are interspersed with multi-layer video montages, deriving from both downloaded and first-hand sources. Each interviewee attempts the bold task of giving some rooting context to this exceptional, disputed and highly-charged space. By purposefully oversaturating its audience with images and information, X-Mission asks its viewer to contend with this deluge of mediated content. In the face of this challenge, we must reconsider how we have come to know of this space and how we, in the West, have constructed its context and conditions in our imagination. THURSDAYS Falke Pisano, Studio Lecture, 42 minutes, 2006 Dutch artist, Falke Pisano’s performances, text-based videos, objects and publications are informed through a writing practice. In the case of Studio Lecture, the artist prepares her studio as an unadorned set, in which she performs in the style of a television news anchor. She offers expanded histories and imaginings around particular abstract public sculptures and their replication and dissemination through photography. Using language as a means to re-think the potential of abstraction and sculpture, Pisano activates her subjects as a thought generating objects, embodying these monumental sculptures with notions of the instable, the transforming and the ephemeral. FRIDAYS Patricia Esquivias, Folklore I, II & III, 45 minutes, 2006 – 2010 Folklore I, II and III are part of an ongoing series of video lectures by the Venezuelan born artist Patricia Esquivias. They explore Spain, its history and its current popular image. As the artist selects through postcards, images from scrapbooks, computer screen graphics and video clips, she compares events of historic relevance and parallel stories recorded in a collective folk memory. The lectures employ modest aesthetics and use unrehearsed speech to narrate the stories. Esquivias confronts the process of history making, by encouraging it as a democratic, continuous, permeable and participatory activity. SATURDAYS Susan Hiller, The Last Silent Movie, 20 minutes, 2007 Susan Hiller uncovers elements of our cultural unconscious in her work, drawing attention to what is overlooked or out of sight in our culture. The Last Silent Movie opens some unvisited and unacknowledged sound archives of endangered and now forgotten languages. The video creates a free-association composition of voices, which are not silent anymore. They are not silent because someone is listening again. As viewers, we must ask of the intentions behind the original recordings and the conditions surrounding the performance of the speakers. Throughout this process of unpacking, the work sets free some of the ghosts and specters haunting these sound recordings and it allows us to hear the words and voices of people mostly now dead. In The Last Silent Movie, some voices sing, some tell stories, some recite vocabulary lists and some, directly or indirectly, accuse the listener of injustice. OFF SITE SCREENING Goldin+Senneby, Headless at Regus (with Kate Cooper & Richard John Jones, filmmakers), 28 minutes, 2007 - ongoing Thursday March 24, 2011, 3:00 PM Location: Intelligent Offices Board Room TD Tower, 45 O'Conner Street, Ottawa 11 th Floor, Suite 1150 Please contact info@gallery101.org for further details The Swedish collective of Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby have been working on an ongoing project Headless, which investigates an offshore company registered in the Bahamas under the name Headless Ltd. So far, this line of investigation has appeared across various medias; a novel, several versions of a film and a performance. With Headless at Regus, Goldin+Senneby have commissioned a version of this investigation through the production of a film by London-based artists Kate Cooper and Richard John Jones. In this rookie-style documentary, the filmmakers interview businessmen and women, academics, private investigators and fictionalized characters that seem to have some relationship to the shadowy company. As we travel through the geographic spaces of London, Gibraltar and the Bahamas, every turn is shrouded and leads to yet another dead end—opening up other opportunities to imagine and invent the next step in their inquiry. This persistent but unclear investigation takes the shape of an ongoing performance for the artists. With this density, the subject, the method and the artistic narrative cannot be separated from each other. Well Formed Data is guest curated by Jesse McKee. He is the exhibitions curator at the Western Front in Vancouver and holds a MA Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art, London, UK. Previously, McKee was a public programmes curator at the Barbican Art Gallery, London, and his writing has appeared in C Magazine, Fillip Review, Fuse Magazine and Border Crossings. X-Mission, Video Essay by Ursula Biemann Text by Rehab Nazzal X-Mission, by Swiss artist Ursula Biemann, is a video essay about the Palestinian refugees. Produced in the context of Biemann’s research on contemporary forms of migration, the 35-minute video essay is not a narrative, but rather a composite of layers relevant to the Palestinian refugee camp. Combining directly recorded footage, found web footage, text, visual effects, and voice-over, the artist weaves together a visual essay that gives us only glimpses of the Palestinian refugees’ world. In this work, we are presented with views about the unique place that the Palestinian refugee problem occupies in international law, the question of control over the camps, among other issues. X-Mission is a subjective video essay; it consists of “a non-linear and non-logical movement of thought that draws on many different sources of knowledge.”1 The video essay in general can be contradictory, irrational, reflexive and subjective; it shares some characteristics with documentary film. According to Paul Arthur, the film essay emerged during the 1950s “as the leading non-fiction form for both intellectual and artistic innovation.”2. Although it has no distinct style, the film essay includes elements from different documentary modes; it tends “to blend several clashing time frames that layer what we think of as literary tenses. The impression of formal admixture is often extended by borrowing idioms from vérité, poetic, or social-problem docs.”3 Like social documentary films, video essays mainly involve social concerns and resist commercial trends; therefore they “often fall through given categories at art events, film festivals and activist conferences.”4 According to Stella Bruzzi, documentary practice gained popularity during the past fifteen years. The popularity of documentary, including the film essay, can be associated with the increase of colonial military activities and the destructive effect of war technology on civilians. Another factor that contributed to the popularity of documentary practice is the accessibility and advancement of image recording technology and communication media. This said, social documentary filmmakers while have control over what their lenses capture and exclude; they are expected to raise awareness and politicize the public. Usually socially engaged artists identify with their subject, and often advocate on behalf of the groups they represent. Bill Nichols stresses that “we expect to witness the historical world as represented by someone who actively engages with, rather than unobtrusively observes, poetically reconfigures, or argumentatively assembles that world.” 5 Situated between documentary and art, X-Mission, the non-linear video, includes elements from vérité and participatory documentary, evident in its reliance on interviews with various individuals. However, in blending the aesthetics of fragmented form with the politics and ethics of social documentary, the video essay challenges the artist to create a balance between poetic reconfiguration and a politically sensitive engagement with its subject matter. Although Biemann is not present in the video, her voice-over conveys the direction of the video, notably in its opening and concluding sequences. Yet, her choice to be a virtually “unobtrusive observer,” who assembles disconnected images and narratives of the refugee experience, proves to be strikingly political. Paradoxically, her video essay is caught in the tensions of the very Palestinian-Israeli conflict that she consciously seeks to avoid. By exploiting the non-logical and non-linear character of the video essay, Biemann deploys a fragmentary film aesthetic to justify a subjective interpretation of the Palestinian refugee case. But like all political questions, the Palestinian refugee question demands a wide-angle historical lens that frames the issues at hand with distinction, detail, and perspective. Close-up shots of human suffering are imperative, too; but abstracted from any discussion of political agency, responsibility, and root causes, they can only serve to reinforce the many misrepresentations that surround the plight of Palestinian refugees and the Palestinian cause in general. The opening sequence of X-Mission exemplifies the confusion that it is likely to produce in the viewer. The video starts with multiple images of Afghanistan and the Afghani refugees. Unrelated to the Palestinian refugee case, it is, nonetheless, a reminder of the effect that the same old-new colonial practices have on civilians. The introduction may reflect the artist’s intention to connect the Palestinian refugee case to the escalating problem of refugees world-wide. However, the connection is never made. Instead of this opening, the viewer expects a brief historical introduction to the Palestinian refugee case―the oldest and largest in international law. Indeed, Palestinians have been the most affected by the reshuffling of world powers since the beginning of the twentieth century. The British Empire, while colonizing Palestine, was instrumental in provoking the Palestinian struggle after World War One, when it issued, in 1917, its infamous Balfour Declaration, which granted the Zionist movement a state in Palestine. World War Two and the emergence of the American Empire also opened a new chapter in the Palestinians’ suffering. The Palestinian refugee problem started just after World War Two, in 1948, when two thirds of the Palestinians were uprooted and dispossessed by the newly established state of Israel. The consequences for the Palestinians of the post-Cold War period and September 11, 2001 can be seen in the way Palestinian self-defense―i.e., resistance to colonialism and aggression―is labelled as “terrorism”, while colonialism and the destruction associated with it are treated as “democratization” and “war on terror”. After her confusing introduction, Biemann selectively explores the Palestinian refugee question in international law, leaving the viewer with more questions than answers. Through an interview with American lawyer Susan Akram, X-Mission reveals one facet of the role the United Nations played in the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem and neglects the other facet; the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. The video presents a description of the aftermath of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and leaves unmentioned the responsibility of Israel for the uprooting of Palestinians. Akram describes the two main UN agencies established after the expulsion of Palestinians, the Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP)7 and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).8 The latter was established to address the survival needs―relief and work―of refugees. It is still in operation today. The UNCCP was charged with resolving the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and finding a solution to the refugees’ problem based on their right of return to their homes. For unspecified reasons, this agency was “truncated” two years after its establishment, according to Akram. An acclaimed researcher in the field of refugees, Akram, nonetheless, provides details for the political reasons behind this agency’s dissolution in her most recent book, International law and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict : a rights-based approach to Middle East peace. UNCCP was established after the assassination of United Nations Mediator for Palestine. Akram writes: “in his Progress Report, dated September 16, 1948, and submitted to the United Nations one day before his assassination by Israeli terrorists, Count Bernadotte set forth the specific requirements for a ‘reasonable, equitable and workable basis for settlement’ of the refugee problem.” 9 The United Nations included Bernadotte’s recommendations in its 194 resolution, which affirms the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The UNCCP failed in its mission because of “fruitless negotiations with the parties concerned.”10 While X-Mission does not abstain from discussion of international law, it fails to mention Israel’s refusal to subscribe to that law. It also neglects to recall the UN’s repeated reluctance to enforce its resolutions. X-Mission shifts to the question of control of Palestinian refugee camps. Here, Biemann focuses strictly on the experience of Nahr El-Bared camp in Lebanon. Nahr El-Bared, a home for 30,000 refugees, was entirely destroyed in 2007, after a fierce fight between the Lebanese army and a group of Islamist militants, who had no link to the Palestinian resistance movement, but used the camp as their base. The refugees were displaced during this battle and their homes were destroyed and looted. A new plan to rebuild Nahr El Bard was engineered by the Lebanese military whose main concern was control, while the refugees’ aim was to maintain the old structure of the camp that underpinned their identity and rights. The architect in X-Mission, Ismael Hassan, states: “[the refugees] lived in neighborhoods which were the villages of Palestine; for example, the people [of the village] of Safouri, when arrived here, they lived next to each other, so this is the neighborhood of Safouri; they want to keep this because it relates to their origin and their right of return.” Attempts to control the refuggee camps by the Israeli occupation forces and the regimes of the hosting Arab countries existed long before the post-Cold War era, as X-Mission implies. The refugee camps after al Nakba* became centers of resistance that challenged the occupation forces and the Arab regimes. From within these camps, a popular resistance movement emerged as the sole and legitimate representative of all Palestinian people. The destruction of the refugee camps dates back to the first years of the 1967 Israeli occupation. Eyal Weisman explains how three camps in Gaza were destroyed to meet the occupation military plans in the early 1970s. Weisman states: “the grid of roads, along which UN agencies laid out prefabricated sheds to house the 1948 refugees, grew into a chaotic agglomeration of structures (….) the occupation forces could rarely enter the camps.”11 *. Al Nakba (translates as catastrophe) refers to the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israel that took place in 1948 and resulted in massacres and expulsion of over half the Palestinian population from their country. The overcrowded space and narrow alleys of the camps prevented the military forces from arresting activists, and searching houses. “In 1971 Sharon ordered military bulldozers to carve wide roads through the fabric of three camps - Jabalya, Rafah and Shati.”12 The same scenario was repeated in 2002 in Jenin’s refugee camp after the occupation forces destroyed the camp. When the camp was rebuilt, the Israeli occupation forces imposed a plan that ensured their military tanks and vehicles could enter the camp freely. In Jordan, Black September is imprinted in the Palestinians’ collective memory. It was in 1970 when the Jordanian regime brutally forced the Palestinian resistance movement under ground and forced it out of the country. Turning to Jordan, X-Mission explores in another layer, the role that global capital plays in the Palestinian struggle. In the video anthropologist Oroub El Abed remarks: “the U.S. presented Jordan and Israel with a gift for signing a peace agreement; the gift was creating qualifying industrial zones (QIZ). These zones consist of Jordanian labor, Israeli technology, international capital and low tariffs in the U.S market. According to El Abed, the target in these zones is the woman, specifically the refugee woman who lives in dire conditions. The QIZ were also granted to Egypt, as an attempt to normalize relations with Israel. However, the Arab populations’ view of normalization with Israel is based on ending Israel’s colonialism of Palestine and the Golan Heights. It is also based on achieving the Palestinians of independence, self-determination, and the refugees’ right of return. Since the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland, the state of Israel has sealed the borders of Palestine and prohibited the refugees not only from returning to their homes and properties, but also from visiting Palestine; this has shattered the Palestinian society. At the same time, Israel has opened the borders of Palestine to Jews-only, those who would occupy the land and properties confiscated from Palestinians by the state of Israel and the Jewish National Fund. Under these conditions, the scattered Palestinian communities used all possible means not only to survive and resist, but also to establish networks of communication. X-Mission sheds light on how the refugees used communication technology to connect with each other. The website project entitled ‘Across Borders’ is a case in point. ‘Across Borders,’ was initiated in 1999 in Dihesheh camp near Bethlehem; it then expanded to another eleven camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Gaza. ‘Across Borders’ as many other form of media facilitated communication between Palestinian communities; it is also currently used as a tool for many refugees to document their survival stories and memories. X-Mission is a fragmented and non-logical project that lacks a historical and political framework. In exploring such a highly political subject, Biemann realizes that the trauma and horrors of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 are central to shaping their lives in the camps and elsewhere. The refugees’ memories, their mythologies, their aspiration for freedom and independence, the structure of their camps, even their use of communication technology, have all been shaped by their subjection to Israel’s ethnic cleansing. In her essay about X-Mission, Biemann clarifies her intention and her choice of a “non-dialectical approach” to the subject: “My intention was to find a way to speak about Palestinians without falling into the inevitability of positing them in relation to Israel or to the conflict. The purpose of a non-dialectical approach is not to deviate from the problems or to depoliticize the subject matter of course, but rather to avoid the trap of tired binary arguments, and allow instead a rethinking of the case in relation to other texts I have developed around global networks of contemporary migrant communities in previous video essays.” 13 The question here is: can anyone speak about the Palestinians without situating their case within the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? Can anyone attend to the refugee’s case―even artistically―without linking it to the state of Israel’s immunity to international law? Contemporary Palestinian historians, such as Abu Sitta and Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, urge scholars working on the Palestinian refugee case to make the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians the basis for their research. This approach is crucial, because it challenges the denial of al Nakba, and attests to the fact that the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland by Israel has not stopped since 1948. Israel’s current internal displacement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and its continuing land confiscation reveal that the Palestinian refugee case is directly tied to the Israeli colonial practices. The ongoing uprooting of Palestinians from the occupied Palestine for the purpose of building more illegal Jewish-only colonies and roads, and for constructing the Apartheid Wall across occupied Palestine obliges us, artists and activists alike, to look beyond the rhetoric of contemporary theoretical discourses on refugees. The failure of the two-decades-old ‘peace process’ to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict indicates that without equality, rights, dignity, and the refugees’ right of return and choice, there will be no viable solution to the Palestinians’ continued suffering. Israel’s persistent non-compliance with international law represents the major obstacle for achieving a solution to the six-decade conflict. Israel’s position above the law should not be hushed or tolerated whenever the struggle of Palestinians in exile or under occupation is addressed. X-Mission offers us only glimpses of the Palestinian refugee problem. It adopts a fragmentary aesthetic intentionally. But can the enormity of this testament and living example of continued colonialism be portrayed artistically through partial and parcelled perspectives? Can art represent the victims of colonialism without identifying the colonial power? Biemann is clearly preoccupied with the plight of refugees world-wide; however, through her art, she remains disengaged from their cause. Paradoxically, this disengagement re-engages her in the politics of preserving their disastrous fate, most notably, the tragic fate of over five million displaced Palestinians. Notes 1. Biemann, Ursula. Stuff it: the Video Essay in the Digital Age. Springer Wien: New York, 2003, 9. 2. Arthur, Paul. “Essay Questions: From Alain Resnais to Michael Moore.” Film Comment 39, no. 1 (2003): 58. 3. Ibid., 59. 4. Biemann, Ursula. Stuff it. Op. cit., 8. 5. Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2001, 116 6.Ibid., 114 7. United Nations General Assembly http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/0/c758572b78d1cd0085256bcf0077e51a?Open 8. The UN Agency for Palestine Refugees http://www.unrwa.org/ 9. Akram, Susan. International law and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict : a rights-based approach to Middle East peace. Routledge: New York , 2011, 47. 10. Ibid., 48 11. Weizman, Eyal. Hollow Land, Israel’s Architecture of Occupation. London, New York: Verso, 2007, 69. 12. Ibid., 70. 13. Biemann, Ursula. X-Mission, December 1, 2009. http://www.arteeast.org/pages/artenews/extra-territoriality/249/