Monday, 5 November 2012


Katya Garcia-Anton, co-curator of Gestures in Time, part of  Qalandiya International - Art and Life in Palestine Biennial

1-15th November 2012

‘Gestures in Time’ is the flagship international exhibition for the pilot edition of Qalandiya International - art and life in Palestine. Presenting 30 artists (including 21 new commissions) whose works explore the individual gesture as a motor for aesthetic and social creation, ‘Gestures in Time’ takes place in urban and rural locations across Palestine (Abwein, Hajja, Jamma’in, Dhahiriya, Jerusalem and Ramallah).

Commissioners: Riwaq, Ramallah and Al Ma’mal Foundation, Jerusalem for Qalandiya International
Curators: Katya Garcia-Anton and Lara Khaldi

As the myriad of recent public mobilizations world-wide show us, our times are marked by an overarching sense of disenchantment with high forms of government. ‘Gestures in Time’ seeks to reconsider how the individual can conceive of having an aesthetic and socially creative life, within and beyond a specific geography. The exhibition sets out to explore the individual gesture on an intimate, social, political and aesthetic level, as a means to re-claim our relationship with society.

The gesture offers a liberating degree of personal autonomy, which is lacking in the more formalized form of an action or a movement. In the terrain of regulated conflict which this exhibition inhabits (Palestine), but also well beyond it, the gesture can become a form of divine dissent - chaotic, wild, anachronistic, guttural, amorphous and unregulated – requiring neither legitimacy from, or attachment to, any recognized body of authority. In the global field of artistic practice, the gesture functions as a self-reflexive tool of analysis of questions ranging from identity, behavior, instinct, authorship and the promise of creativity at large.

‘Gestures in Time’ is anchored to the precise geographic, historic, poetic and political location of Palestine. Yet Palestine’s imbrication in the wider international perspective gives the project an overall international resonance. Indeed, the questions addressed by local, regional and international artists echo within and beyond this geography. From this expanded perspective, artists in “Gestures in Time” consider the urgency to ‘intervene’ the visual and textual present by fracturing the everyday forms that defined the world in the recent past, enabling a radical re-interpretation and reconstruction of the present moment. The notion that the present is incomplete and that, therefore, it falsifies the construction of future History, is pivotal to this exhibition. For these artists the very notion of “historical progress” is a cruel illusion. The gesture becomes a form of poetic and performative unbinding of progress; a force of construction and individual creation.

The exhibition envisages the gesture as a tool to reaffirm our understanding of, and existence in, the present moment - in the ‘right-now’. This is of particular significance when one considers how often the individual must negotiate the various constructions of time in his/her environment, locally as well as globally. We encounter regressive time (the fruit of a conservative and often fundamentalist misuse of history to shroud contemporary experience) or progressive time (in the promise of progress, of a different future, misused to elude the dysfunctions of the present). Participating artists work with gestures that puncture through the various mantles of chronological manipulation woven across and beyond the region, and further afield.

‘Gestures in Time’ operates beyond any impetus of fragmentation and isolation, and beyond religious imperatives, which are being misused within the region and well beyond it. From this perspective the gesture functions as a micro, and subtle, tool towards speaking together and to each other.

Participants in the exhibition :
Rheim Al Kahdi (Iraq/US), Erick Beltrán (Mexico), Julia Rometti (France) & Victor Costales (Ecuador/Belorussia) , Jumana Emil Abboud (Palestine), Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh (Palestine), Matias Faldbakken (Norway), Amjad Ghannam (Palestine), Ra’ouf Haj Yihya (Palestine), Wafi Khorani (Palestine), Quinn Latimer (US/Switzerland) & guests, Ciprian Muresan (Romania), Bruno Munari (Italy), Sharyar Nashat (Iran/Switzerland), Tom Nicholson (Australia), Uriel Orlow (Switzerland), Ruanne abu Rahme & Basel Abbas (Palestine), Martin Soto Climent (Mexico), Cornelia Parker (UK), Socratis Socratous (Cyprus), Amer Shomali (Palestine), Subversive Film (Palestine), Marwa Arsanios (Lebanon/USA) & Lawrence Abu Hamdan (Lebanon/UK), Nardine Srouji (Palestine), Javier Telléz (Venezuela) and Mohammed Al Hawajri (Palestine).


Various artists in the exhibition rekindle narrative forces from the dusty recesses of oblivion. The radio performance live from Beirut by Marwa Arsenios & Lawrence Abu Hamdan takes a neologism in Arabic from the renowned novel in Palestinian history by Emil Habibi, ‘The Pessoptimist’, to rethink a new form of subjectivity; Jumana Emil Abboud’s performance-installation investigates oral traditions, by working with the contradictions of ancient food recipes with poisonous ingredients, as well as the subtlety of rural conversations and sounds; Subversive Film restore integrity back to the history of gesturing bodies, by reconstructing the most important of Palestinian cinematic archives, now mysteriously missing. Yet other works focus on the vital role of micro-stories in the reconsideration of history, as is the case with Ruanne abu Rahme & Basel Abbas whose video-installation uses the figure of the bandit to blur fact and fiction, and re-vindicate the fluidity of contemporary consciousness. Amer Shomali's humorously commemorates a thwarted Palestinian farming project in the ‘80s, where 13 cows became heroes of resistance. The epic termination of this venture, coinciding with the Oslo Agreement, announced the absurdity of the future to come. Socratis Socratous proposes a museum for a local rural context, which questions Palestine’s recent obsessive quest with self-legitimisation through the construction of museums. Bruno Munari’s 1958 book of gestures appears surreptitiously in various public locations. A useful aid to anyone who has ever been lost for words, Munari presents a history of linguistic gesturality, which revindicates the primacy of the body, within social relations.

Some works posit aesthetic, mental and social forms of marginality, such as Javier Tellez’s mental video-scapes set in a psychiatric asylum; or objectual nihilism, in the form of Matias Faldbakken’s intractable 3000-strong poster sculpture. Both Tellez and Faldbakken’s works stand as form of resistance against the digestive forces of hierarchical power, and its manipulation of time and experience. Desecration is also an act of emancipation from production, and a move towards action without a specific end in sight. Cornelia Parker's video and installation unpicks what we deem to be sacred, while seeming to focus on the quotidian and mundane, she creates space for unsettling thoughts; Mohammad Hawajiri subverts the experience of power and control through depictions laden with black humor; while Tom Nicholson moves monuments of Palestine from a past century across continents, questioning the object of their commemoration.

Other artists are interested in exploring the difficulty of transmitting collective traumas, and the subsequent complexity of the Palestinian image this might result in. This is the case of Amjad Ghannam's photographs of fellow inmates of old, and Yasmeen Eid-Sabbagh's lecture-performance on how to lend a voice to a photographic archive from Palestinian refugees in Lebanon without disclosing its images; whilst Uriel Orlow on the other hand, explores the empowering potential of a staged enlivenment of traumatic history, through an audio guide and silent tableaux vivantes.

Many of the artists in ‘Gestures in Time’ give special consideration to poetics as a way to sidestep the crystallization of meaning, emphasizing the fluidity and dynamism of text. It is present in the performances, performance-lectures, newspapers and audio-guides, already listed. Erick Beltrán, researches and intervenes underground Ramallah based newspapers of the 90s, in a gesture of archival re-composition and futurist imagination. Ciprian Mureşan’s sets up the forced co-existence of two plays, their scripts and gestures, performed on the same stage; simultaneously generating a new text and dissolving its limits. On the other hand the epistolary exchanges between the poet Quinn Latimer and other literary guests from the region and beyond, explore the equivalence between poems and letters in a construction over time of poetic and collective literary thought.

Julia Rometti & Victor Costales and Ra’ouf Haj Yihya present projects that reveal architecture, landscape and nature as ideological terrains; comprehending nature as a space of political inscription and positing the wild as a field of dissent. Nardeen Srouji creates a sculptural installation where the opposition of contrasting volumes, speak metaphorically regarding the apparatus of regulation and control within the region. Shahryar Nashat’s video projection combines miscellaneous forms of theatre genres such as drama and comedy, to reveal the act of creating artistic situations and the dynamics of human bodies. Wafi Horani’s performance brings palmistry and tattooing into a playful self-encounter binding land with the body. On the other hand Rheim Alkahdi’s minutely crafted hair sculpture, and Martin Soto Climent’s poetic interventions, forge links between architecture, the object and the body. They propose a metaphysical continuity between the essential forces of life in contrast to the gratuity of enforced, ‘rational’, division between them and subvert the binding powers of bio-politics.

The exhibition presents 30 participants, through 25 art projects, which embrace the fields of design, poetry, theatre, performance and the visual arts, in order to expand the possibilities of their work. Of these, 16 artists are from Palestine, the Middle East and its related diaspora (Iran/Iraq included); 14 are from further afield internationally. 21 new commissions have been specially created for the exhibition through a series of urban and rural residencies taking place during in the lead up to the biennial, in the above mentioned locations.

Starting with the questions “what does gesture mean to you?” and “do you live in the present moment?” the exhibition is being developed through a particular understanding in the polis as a series of individual, interconnecting, stages of immediacy and engagement. As a result of this the public space and performative strategies will feature strongly in the project. ‘Gestures in Time’ relies as much on the works presented by the artists to activate the significance of the contemporary gesture.

Qalandiya International (QI) is a biennial event that takes place across Palestinian cities, towns, and villages. It focuses on exhibiting contemporary Palestinian and international art, highlighting valuable architectural sites, and includes talks, walks and performances. QI, in its first take, is a collaboration between A. M. Qattan Foundation, the House of Culture and Art, International Art Academy- Palestine, Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, Al-Ma'mal Foundation, Palestinian Art Gallery- Al Hoash, and Riwaq in an attempt to pool resources and work collectively towards showcasing and promoting contemporary culture in Palestine, locally and internationally. It is an attempt to engage the local public in programs that are not straitjacketed by realpolitik, and to allow them to look at art in a more imaginative and open manner. It is an attempt to join forces and resources and form links across a fragmented geography; a take on unity. The QI program encompasses a diversity of newly commissioned projects and presentations as various as the institutions involved, it is inclusive rather than exclusive, interdisciplinary, and open allowing engagement, and even implication.

Why Qalandiya?
For the past decade, “Qalandiya” has been associated with the infamous Israeli checkpoint that continues to suffocate the West Bank disconnecting it from Jerusalem and the rest of the world. This checkpoint has been highly pervasive in the media and in the visual and literary works produced in and about Palestine. Countless stories about Palestinians’ daily suffering and subjugation take place there, offering sad but true glimpses of the oppressive regime of the occupation. However, “Qalandiya” suggests other connotations that have been deliberately smeared or totally erased over the years, but which, with a more intimate look, could be uncovered: the Qalandiya Airport, for example (or the Jerusalem International Airport as it was initially called), the Qalandiya refugee camp, and Qalandiya village (which the Wall has divided into two separate parts). Qalandiya is where many paradoxes meet. It was the point of connection with the rest of the world until 1967 and became today the symbol of disconnection, isolation, segregation and fragmentation in 2000.

Qalandiya International will utilize the name and its multilayered and contradictory meanings in an event that seeks to perpetuate the true Palestine brand on the international cultural scene, while allowing a taste of the experience embedded in the symbolic paradox of Qalandiya.

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