Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme: Gestures of Remembrance
Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme's new multi-channel video installation, Only sounds that tremble through us (2022), is an uncompromising and immediate assemblage of image and sound.
Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth: Only sounds that tremble through us (2020–2022). Four-channel video projection (H.D., colour, sound) on partition wall, metal and concrete panels, photographic gel. Exhibition view: May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth, Migros Museum of Contemporary Art, Zürich (21 May–11 September 2022). Courtesy the artists. Photo: Peter Baracchi.
The installation extends the artists' multipart project May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth (2020–2022), recently shown at MoMA (23 April–26 June 2022) and scheduled to exhibit at The Common Guild, Glasgow, in September 2022.
Currently, the work is showing at Migros Museum of Contemporary Art in Zürich (21 May–11 September 2022). There, the artists have also included Where the soil has been disturbed (2022), an installation made up of dried plants and photographs that speaks to loss and resilience in Palestine.
The video projections of Only sounds that tremble through us unfold a landscape that seems to have been filmed after a catastrophic event.
As with Abbas and Abou-Rahme's previous work dealing with fractured histories, the artists have built a fragmented video installation awash in violet light; images projected onto overlapping screens and surfaces encircle viewers while deep sounds reverberate in darkened space, creating a visceral effect.
Abbas and Abou-Rahme began by collecting online footage from Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Yemen of people singing and dancing—found footage of improvised gatherings, group dances, weddings, and funerals—through which gestures of resistance to occupation emerge.
May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth forefronts performance as a political act expressed through collective movement.
Sampling a selection of this growing archive, these found images were woven into footage shot in Ramallah, Palestine, featuring the video's main protagonists: electronic musicians Haykal, Julmud, and Makimakkuk and dancer Rima Baransi.
They appear throughout, their gestures and songs intertwining with those drawn into the work from the artists' archive, echoing the gestures and songs of those who precede them.
At the Dead Sea, a woman gazes out at the water. She repeats a trance-inducing chant echoed in her repetitive movements: hands leading arms in a pranayama of breath.
At another location, a man thumps his chest with his fists, creating the beat that punctuates long shots of a drive through rolling hills at dawn as an atmospheric audio echoes folkloric travel and work songs.
A series of bold intertitles, distinct to the artists' work, narrate the visuals in English and Arabic. Phrases appear on cue with a rhythm that brings them to life, as if a voice in one's head, like: 'After everything is extracted', 'In the lack', 'In the negative', 'In zero in sub in minus', 'In debt', 'Within without withheld', and 'In doubt'.
The effect is trance-like, as the séance enacted on screen extends into the space the work is projected.
In one scene, traditional songs of loss, exile, and separation are sampled into the artists' compositions; images and lyrics of lament and celebration appear and vanish across the screen.
In another, the artists filmed dancers performing a sequence of movements drawing on music, gestures, and emotions from the footage. The clap of their hands and steps of their feet echo against a landscape overtaken by construction.
In preparation for filming, the artists worked with the performers and musicians to convey this visceral experience of 'being in something broken and staying in it', such that the more one stays in this broken thing, 'the more it becomes generative.'
Together, they watched and sampled a selection of videos and invited performers to respond using their bodies, movements, and voices. The result is a portrayal of a vanishing land gutted by violence, with protagonists conjuring the collective experience of haunting and being haunted. The effect is trance-like, as the séance enacted on screen extends into the space the work is projected.
The artists have been assembling the video archive sampled in the work since 2010. Countering the 'amnesiac archive', which can render struggles and movements invisible amid the abyss of internet content, these videos exist as an online index.
A co-commission by the Dia Art Foundation and New York's Museum of Modern Art, the archive launched online in 2020 as part of the Foundation's 'Artist Web Projects', with source material and links back to original users, creating a bibliography for trans-collectivity and space for musicians to collaborate.
Open source has long fed the artists' interest in thinking about knowledge and its accessibility in virtual spaces. Collaborating performers can use the archive as an entry point into the artwork, which becomes a way to express multiplicity within the collective voice, beyond single, unified expressions.
Abbas and Abou-Rahme say this plurality embraces the tensions and mutations that exist in the echo, or the negative, when 'everything becomes an open wound.' Sounds and images dislocate; a clap is out of step, or a gesture out of sync—a break in the audio echoes the fragmented images and videos, as is seen in Only sounds that tremble through us.
The title of the project in which this video installation sits, May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth, comes from the English translation of 'Infrarealist Manifesto', a 1976 text by Roberto Bolaño, whose writing has informed the artists' previous video interventions. Echoing Bolaño's urgent insistence on remembering the past, the artists foreground performance as a political act expressed through collective movement; of bodies rising in the face of loss.
In keeping, the replication in Only sounds that tremble through us of gestures and sounds across time and space, which connect collective struggles across geographies in their shared determination for liberation, is an invocation, call, and representation of an ongoing movement.
Currently, a third iteration of May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth is being developed for the artists' contribution to the Sharjah Biennial 15 in 2023 (Thinking Historically in the Present, 7 February–11 June), which will extend to writers contributing texts in conversation with the project.
Taken together, this expansive and ongoing dispersal across screens, forms, and sites works to shift bodies and senses as they conjure multiple experiences. What is articulated through this formal and expansive fragmentation is an insistence: people's resilience and their struggle for liberation continue to reverberate. —[O]