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City States, one of the satellite exhibitions of this year’s Liverpool Biennale, surveys the changing face of a number of dynamic urban areas across the world (including Jerusalem, Vilnius, Quebec, the Caribbean, Taipei), and presents artworks inspired by the experience of living in such places. The exhibition’s ambitious scale and remit position it as a biennale within the biennale, as it gathers over 70 international artists, clustered in 7 exhibitions, with each a particular geographical focus. Its broad curatorial framework fails to bring together the breadth and diversity of narratives encountered in the works, but undeniably (and perhaps inadvertently), highlights the unique position of Jerusalem both, in City States, and a fortiori, in this world.
Contested by two peoples, separated by religion, ethnicity, nationality and language, Jerusalem exists in a state of permanent tension, lies at the heart of the Middle Eastern conflict and much of the world’s current politics. Questions around the representation of Jerusalem’s uneven and fragmented geographies constitute an urgent topic of critical inquiry, for the many artists who produce work in, about or around the city. Curated by Samar Marta and organised by Art School Palestine as part of City States, Future Movements is an exploration of Jerusalem’s changing urban structure, but upon closer inspection, it offers a survey of artistic strategies addressing the relation between military, social, political and economic conflicts on one hand, and representational rifts on the other. Amongst the 14 exhibiting artists, many produce insights into alternative modes of representing Jerusalem, outside of the existing rhetoric (Shuruq Harb) and the canons of journalism, military intervention (Raouf Haj Yihya), governmental propaganda or tourism (Jawad al Malhi).
Bouchra Khalili’s Mapping Journeys 3 (2008) illustrates the improbable itinerary of a Ramallah-based young man, on a mission to visit his girlfriend in East Jerusalem. Alexandra Handal’s Vanishing Point I is a mind map of the divided neighbourhood of Al-Musarah, based on her recollections of an encounter with a local Palestinian refugee, several years ago. Both works function as probing inquiries of the epistemological limitations of the map in relation to the Palestinian predicament, and point at the representational gap between the lived experience and the normativity of the document. Handal’s diagram, a mixture of lived and imagined memories, borrowing from diverse visual genres and semantic fields (including advertising and storytelling) embodies an attempt to permanently fix a vanishing world, as much as it is an illustration of her memory apparatus and the meanders of her psyche. The representational disjunctions in Vanishing Point I blur the boundaries between fact and fiction, contemplate the erosion of memory and of narrative possibilities, a common area of investigation with Maj Hasager’s Two Within Close Range (2009).
Sarah Beddington’s Elegy to Mamilla (2009) shares similar concerns with Handal’s Vanishing Point I, but the formal strategies employed by both artists are radically different. The video captures the uncertain present of Ma’man Allah, a Muslim cemetery located in what has become, after 1948, Israeli territory. In contrast with Hasager’s or Handals’ docu-fictional approach, Elegy to Mamilla is strictly anchored within the documentary genre. It was produced on the occasion of Beddington’s residency in Jerusalem, and the conditions of its production unavoidably bring up the question of the unique status of the artist (and more so the visiting artist) operating under exceptional political or social conditions, a question that also animates Jakob Jakobsen’s Ramallah Lecture (2008), and lies at the heart of much of Art School Palestine’s activities. What type of intervention can one envisage? How do these unfold in time and what impact do they have? How do these translate from the locally specific context in which they are produced (Jerusalem), into the global realms of artistic dissemination (Liverpool)?
CAMP’s Al Jaar Qabla Al Dar (2009) project posits a possible mode of intervention based on participation. The Mumbai-based collective invited a group of Palestinian residents to slip behind pan-tilt-zoom cameras (widely used for surveillance) to document their neighbourhoods in and around East Jerusalem. Whilst operating the cameras, the residents spontaneously commented on the footage they were capturing. The usually distinct roles of director, subject, commentator and editor collapse in space, and, in time, so do the processes of capture, editing and interpretation of the footage. Al Jaar Qabla Al Dar radically upsets conventions of authorship within the documentary genre, and the existing hierarchies of film and video making. In doing so, the project also avoids the problematic assumptions of objectivity and neutrality that have discredited lens-based documentary practices. As Palestinian residents evaluate what can be seen, and their distance from others, the viewer is invited to engage in a similar reflexive process, and assess his role, as an image consumer, in the representational politics exposed in Al Jaar Qabla Al Dar, and several of the works presented in Future Movements.
Curator, based in London. Currently works as a Programme Manager at The Delfina Foundation.
Future Movements - Jerusalem
Part of the
Liverpool Biennial 2010
Exhibition: City States
18 Sept. - 28 Nov. 2010
Raouf Haj Yihya
Jawad Al Malhi
Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou Rahme