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Tausif Noor on the artwork of Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme

Tausif Noor on the artwork of Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme

Tausif Noor on the art of Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme



OVER THE PAST DECADE, the Palestinian artists Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme have rifled by way of the fractured histories of Palestine and the bigger Arab world, working throughout sound, video set up, publishing, efficiency, and, most not too long ago, Net-based tasks in a observe that engages dialectically with historic and current experiences of dispossession and resistance. Mobilizing their archival impulse to forge connections throughout time and area to activate imaginations held captive by colonialism, the artists repair their consideration on quotidian types of rebel within the face of perpetual violence. Flashing throughout their rigorous, multivalent observe are moments of rapturous incident and buried battle, eruptions of a revolutionary spirit that returns in numerous guises and at totally different eras. On this means, Abbas and Abou-Rahme articulate an aesthetic and moral dedication to a Palestinian sovereignty that’s without delay collective and inextricable from worldwide liberation struggles.

Born into the diaspora created within the aftermath of the 1948 Nakba and the 1967 Arab-Israeli Struggle, Abbas and Abou-Rahme spent a lot of their youth in Jerusalem, steeped within the revolutionary ardor that unfold by way of Palestine and the Arab world within the Nineteen Sixties and ’70s; within the publish–Oslo Accord ’90s, that spirit would ultimately morph into the Palestinian Authority’s neoliberal state-building mission—with out succeeding in establishing a Palestinian state. Abbas and Abou-Rahme left Palestine individually to review within the UK through the second intifada, the rebellion towards Israel that lasted from 2000 to 2005; the pair returned to Palestine round 2007 and commenced to collaborate on inventive tasks.


Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Collapse, 2009, digital video, black-and-white, sound, 8 minutes 20 seconds.

The artists’ early collaborative works mixed discovered footage and their very own documentary photos in a dense montage, leading to a surfeit of typically contradictory meanings that militated towards the media’s tendency to mark Palestinians as both victims or terrorists. In Collapse, 2009, clips from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) and Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers (1966) seem alongside footage of Edward Stated in entrance of his household dwelling in Jerusalem and the artists’ personal pictures of the desert panorama, layered with fragments of self-produced sound drawn largely from their involvement within the underground rap and electronica scene in Ramallah. The ensuing black-and-white movie, an encapsulation of the artists’ expertise of returning to Palestine, disorients the viewer because it slides between east and west, previous and current, ecstatic popular culture and political propaganda, an illustration of the Eisensteinian credo to determine, by way of montage, “the identical, actual, primarily bodily work on their materials—the viewers.”

With The Zone, 2011, the artists once more deployed the found-footage method they debuted in Collapse, however right here they developed it additional, situating the video amid an architectural setting. The set up offers with the constructed area of Ramallah, a metropolis that continues to be lodged on the disjuncture between the utopian aspirations of the PLO and neoliberal real-estate improvement. Inside a darkish warren of slim hallways, a number of break up screens pitch the West Financial institution on the intersection of previous glory, the brute actuality of life below occupation, and the banality of capitalist aspiration. We’re witness to a world of tragic incongruities as black-and-white movies of Arab performers culled from the PLO archive roll alongside crumbling, demolished buildings within the city heart; pictures of gigantic billboards promoting luxurious condominiums unfurl subsequent to pans throughout peeling PLO posters from the Nineteen Eighties, one in all which declares, we will likely be reborn anew.


Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme’s The Zone, 2011, four stills from the two-channel HD video component (color, sound, 15 minutes) of a mixed-media installation additionally comprising a built structure, fifteen HD videos (color and black-and-white, sound, 4 to 8 minutes), and fifteen LCD screens.

Juxtaposition and sampling have all the time been central to Abbas and Abou-Rahme’s work, and their manipulation of discovered footage is a transparent nod to an earlier technology of artists from Palestine and the Arab world, corresponding to Walid Raad, Khalil Rabah, and Larissa Sansour, every of whom trenchantly uncovered how the historic erasure of archives below colonialism abetted colonialism’s afterlife. Whereas this earlier technology outlined its practices by way of an curiosity in parafiction and institutional critique, Basel and Ruanne meticulously theorize the mediated expertise of disaster within the elongated current as proof of colonialism’s continued cannibalization of time. Their impulse to take action emerged from witnessing, at a distance, the uprisings and standard revolt in Egypt and Tunisia between 2010 and 2012. Although the revolutions of the so-called Arab Spring by no means fairly reached Palestine, photos of populist resistance circulating on Twitter, Fb, and YouTube transfixed the artists, who at the moment have been meditating on a query that had subconsciously directed their observe up to now: How can one collapse the space between previous revolutions and people in our current? And, to that finish, can drawing such associations militate towards political disappointment—the melancholy of defeat?

The Incidental Insurgents, a three-part video set up produced in phases between 2012 and 2015, was their reply. Lengthy interested in radical figures on the edges of historical past, the artists right here mobilize the turn-of-the-century anarchist Victor Serge, whose Memoires d’un révolutionnaire 1901–1941 (Memoirs of a Revolutionary, 1951) circulated amongst left-wing teams through the Arab Spring, and the Palestinian bandits Abu Jildeh and Arameet, who focused British colonialists and rich Palestinians alike within the Thirties. The primary chapter of The Incidental Insurgents, titled “The Half Concerning the Bandits,” is a street film–cum–essay movie for which the artists wrote a script combining these figures’ exploits with the tales of the roving protagonists of Roberto Bolaño’s 1998 novel, The Savage Detectives. Picks from the Chilean author’s guide and Serge’s textual content flash on-screen as two nameless figures, stand-ins for the bandits, drive throughout a desert, reaching no vacation spot however steadily encountering lifeless ends and deserted structure. Filmed in a West Financial institution stripped of any figuring out options, the movie ranges the space between Bolaño’s Mexico (the place Serge would ultimately find yourself) and Jildeh’s Palestine, as Arabic and English textual content dangles the artists’ considerations earlier than us: THE IMPOTENCE OF ACTION AND THE SEARCH FOR THE POETIC ACT . . . THE QUEST FOR SOME IMPOSSIBLE NEW DIGNITY.

Abbas and Abou-Rahme’s mien is neither nostalgic nor romantic; the unassuming bandits of the movie, their backs turned to the digicam, aren’t heroes however avatars who, just like the artists, are greedy for a grammar to make sense of a sample of political promise and defeat. Propelled by historic precedent and thwarted by a future whose foreclosures feels imminent, Abbas and Abou-Rahme’s insurgents traverse an limitless desert, a stand-in for the unmappable horizon of political chance. Within the movie’s subsequent chapters, that horizon feels ever extra distant— Jildeh has been caught and murdered; Serge and his Bonnot gang have been walked to the guillotine. And right here, the video options textual fragments that change into progressively extra pressing, their flashing look extra frenetic, hallucinatory: I RELAPSE INTO MY FEVER/INTO MY DREAM, reads one fragment from half three. This ultimate motion has a recursive high quality—fragments of textual content from earlier chapters shimmer throughout the display at dizzying velocity, and the movie ends with the insurgents getting again within the automotive, able to observe limitless trails but once more—intimating the artists’ refusal to simply accept the hollowing-out of political chance within the current.

IF THE HISTORY of Palestine and its individuals is by definition disjointed, saved alive within the minds of its diaspora, Abbas and Abou-Rahme’s deployment of the fragment of their multisensory installations evokes this sense of fracture at an affective degree, transcending straightforward didacticism and sidestepping the idea of cohesion the place there’s none to talk of. Theirs is a kinesthetic method that wields the architectonics of recent media to supply gestalt feeling. By way of nondiegetic sound collage, a number of screens and projections, and reside performances, the artists mirror the multipronged, multimedia, globe-spanning nature of Palestinian resistance itself: a motion that encompasses reside our bodies protesting each inside Palestine and overseas, in solidarity with the Palestinian trigger; the worldwide Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment motion; latest efforts towards decolonization at artwork museums and different cultural establishments; rising consciousness of and training in Palestinian historical past by way of impartial media; and the refined, mundane types of resistance exercised by odd Palestinians who reside below apartheid.

Abbas and Abou-Rahme’s mien is neither nostalgic nor romantic.

Launched in 2016, the multimedia mission And but my masks is highly effective concatenates a number of of those concepts. Variations of the mission have been realized as multimedia installations exhibited in 2016 at Carroll/Fletcher in London and in 2018 on the Krannert Artwork Museum on the College of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (a guide of the identical title was printed in 2017). On the heart of this effort is a Neolithic masks the artists encountered on the Jerusalem Museum, which claimed the masks’s provenance to have been Israel. After downloading a picture of the masks from the establishment’s web site, Abbas and Abou-Rahme used that file to make a 3D print and ultimately a movie, during which a gaggle of actors don the masks as they make their means by way of the overgrowth protecting the ruins of one of many lots of of villages razed by Israel through the 1948 Nakba. We watch as these unidentified figures tread by way of weeds and worn bricks, towards a thundering digital soundtrack, snippets of Adrienne Wealthy’s 1973 poem “Diving into the Wreck” flashing intermittently on-screen; the looking motions of the characters are harking back to the insurgents featured in Abbas and Abou-Rahme’s earlier movies.

That this work echoes the artists’ earlier oeuvre is indicative of Abbas and Abou-Rahme’s fixation on the conceptual valences of return, that perpetual dream of Palestinians within the diaspora. Right here, nevertheless, return is thematized not as a distant hope however as an energetic observe. With its cautious pans throughout the vegetal panorama that continues to develop among the many ruins, And but my masks is highly effective posits the act of lingering, of spending time within the wreck, as a technique to transfer by way of disaster.

The artists mirror the multipronged, multimedia, globe-spanning nature of Palestinian resistance itself.

Earlier than capturing the movie, the artists had made a number of journeys to the location with associates and acquaintances, having heard that Palestinian youth had been utilizing these deserted buildings as an area for joyful, if illicit, gatherings. Israeli officers had terraformed the previous village’s panorama utilizing non-native pines, however the artists rapidly realized that indigenous wild thyme, pomegranate bushes, and different vegetation stubbornly held their floor among the many newly planted bushes, demarcating the buildings’ remnants. By connecting their inventive observe to this residing palimpsest—an index of a forgotten panorama—the artists situate themselves inside an extended custom of embodied Palestinian resistance whereby the bottom is extra than simply terrain that have to be received: It’s a residing repository of collective id. 

With their collages of sound, picture, and gesture, Abbas and Abou-Rahme hew near Henri Lefebvre and Catherine Régulier’s mission of “rhythmanalysis.” Constructing on the previous’s Critique of On a regular basis Life, 1977, the rhythmanalysis mission means that the homogeneous, quantified time of day by day residing is the synchronization of polyrhythmic actions—the intersections between the cyclical time of the calendar and the lived rhythms, sensations, and impacts of people that collectively produce presence. The rhythmanalytical conceit feels acceptable to Abbas and Abou-Rahme’s mission not solely due to the artists’ syncopation of transferring picture and sound, however due to their foregrounding of the multidimensional varieties and temporalities of Palestinian resistance. Beneath an apartheid regime during which Palestinian exercise is continually surveilled and actions are restricted, refined acts, corresponding to dragging one’s toes by way of a checkpoint, represent a radical reclamation of previous, current, and future.

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IN THE MONTHS earlier than the pandemic positioned on a regular basis life in a state of suspended animation, Abbas and Abou-Rahme had been creating a mission on the politics of mourning within the larger Arab world. However as Covid ravaged the already feeble health-care infrastructure of countries weakened by limitless struggle, the duo modified course from their preliminary plan and in December 2020 launched Postscript: after every little thing has been extracted, as a part of the long-standing fee of Artist Net Tasks hosted by New York’s Dia Artwork Basis. The browser-embedded work presents an array of fabric from the artists’ digital archive—snippets of music and sound items developed from Palestinian folks songs, Photoshopped photos of indigenous herbs and flowers, fragments of video documenting the Palestinian panorama—all layered and clickable, navigable by the person.

Abbas and Abou Rahme’s desktop cinema was however a method the artists harnessed on-line platforms through the pandemic. Like many, they repeatedly discovered themselves requested to take part in live-streamed conversations, panels, and lectures. These occasions without delay served as an extension of the artists’ observe and a means during which to attract consideration to the Palestinian trigger—one which, in flip, might really feel inextricable from the activism already occurring through the circulation of photos and data by way of on-line area. 


View of “Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme: If only this mountain between us could be ground to dust,” 2021–22, Art Institute of Chicago. Photo: Aidan Fitzpatrick.

This previous summer season, Abbas and Abou-Rahme opened “If solely this mountain between us could possibly be floor to mud,” a solo exhibition on the Artwork Institute of Chicago organized by Maite Borjabad López-Pastor. Projected throughout a grouping of variously sized plywood panels have been two looping movies: Oh shining star testify, 2019, facilities on the dying of Yusef a-Shawamreh, a fourteen-year-old boy who was shot and killed by Israeli troopers as he went to choose akub, an edible thistle, close to the Separation Barrier at Hebron. His homicide, captured by CCTV and circulated on-line in footage that seems once more right here, exerts a gravitational pull throughout the set up, at the same time as further movies filmed by the artists—a clip of a disembodied hand selecting akub, snippets of track and dance—are layered atop it.

The second video, At these terrifying frontiers the place the existence and disappearance of individuals fade into one another, 2019–21, takes as its topic what Palestinian activists have known as the Nice March of Return, a sequence of protests demanding the demolition of the border wall separating Gaza from Israel that started in March 2018 and continued weekly for six months. By returning time and again to the wall regardless of the specter of being surveilled and recognized, the protesters put themselves at immense threat of being maimed or killed by Israeli occupiers—as many subsequently have been. Recognizing this bravery, Abbas and Abou-Rahme noticed an important demonstration of the persevering with potential for liberation. However the artists had to consider carefully about how finest to symbolize these demonstrations of braveness; to disclose the identities of the protesters could be to place them at risk but once more. To disguise the faces of the protesters, the artists as soon as once more fed discovered photos and video from the demonstrations into their 3D software program—however this time this system produced glitchy renditions of figures who seemed as in the event that they have been coated in scars and bruises. (Abbas and Abou-Rahme surmise that the glitches have been a results of the software program’s being unable to completely render the low-resolution clips of our bodies packed collectively.)

The choice to go away these digital scars intact was no small one; in some methods, the artists’ flip towards mimetic illustration was a rejoinder to their earlier work. Right here, the digital avatar permits the artists to convey the concomitant violence of the occupation and its illustration in media, however this alone didn’t suffice. Although they have been unable to be bodily current with the protesters, Abbas and Abou-Rahme sought to hold demonstrators’ message and their reminiscence by animating the digital avatars with their very own our bodies and singing in Arabic from a script that they had composed from alternatives of Stated’s After the Final Sky (1999).


Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth, 2022, HD video, color, sound, running time TBA.

Empathy, as we all know, has its limits. But the breadth of Abbas and Abou-Rahme’s gestures of solidarity, their recognition of shared ache and parallel battle, is profound. The artists stop the sedimentation of revolutionary spirit into staid varieties and, furthermore, unleash it in probably the most rarefied zones of the artwork system. This previous March, the duo launched the second stage of their Dia Net fee, Might amnesia by no means kiss us on the mouth, to accompany their moma exhibition, organized by curator Martha Joseph, which will likely be offered within the Kravis Studio this spring. The Net part is an listed version of the artists’ intensive archive of discovered video, nearly all of which paperwork and celebrates gestures of resistance to occupation throughout track, dance, and the music of unknown performers from Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Yemen. From these reference supplies, the artists developed new performances with the dancer Rima Baransi and the Palestinian digital musicians Makimakkuk, Haykal, and Julmud. Although these performances have been initially meant to be offered reside alongside video and sculpture at moma, the benefit with which they have been translated to an internet format is a testomony to Abbas and Abou-Rahme’s good, fluid grasp of media and message. In temper and mission, kind and facture, such disparate fragments promise to harmonize in an ecstatic rhythm, capacious sufficient to transmute the vitality of liberation’s echo. 

Tausif Noor is a critic and graduate scholar in artwork historical past on the College of California, Berkeley.

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