2–30 July 2011
Radical Closure is a five-part video program curated by esteemed Lebanese video artist Akram Zaatari, and originally presented by the premier short film festival Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen. The program features film and video works produced in response to situations of physical or ideological closure resulting from war and territorial conflicts. The programs look at West Asia, also known as the Middle East, and how the moving image has functioned throughout its history, charged with division, political tension, and mobilisation.
Radical Closure features stories and parables about captivity; different approaches to looking at war and using images of war; works inspired by the context of divisions and border control; and works that focus on personal narratives, whose traces defy memory and become alternative memories.
Program 1: The Captives (90mins)
This first program deals with stories of captivity. To start, Hostage: The Bachar Tapes by Walid Raad presents us with an imagined hostage presumably held in custody along with the American hostages in Lebanon during the 1980s. Raad’s work reflects on the invention and communication of stories about abduction, insisting on the families’ unity in the face of threats, and reads through the fears and sexual fantasies of the kidnapped Americans who are held in the same cell with a Lebanese man. The next piece is a personal documentary by Namir Abdel Messeeh, in which he talks to his father, trying to understand the complex situation that led to him being a political prisoner in Egypt. In Winter at Last, Nurit Sharett looks at herself as a captive in a state that separates her from her friends, going in extreme directions: a Swiss woman who leaves by choice, and a Palestinian friend who can no longer cross into Israel. Finally a parable about captivity, a prisoner of domestic life: Guy Ben-Ner in House Hold.
Hostage: The Bachar Tapes is a reflection on testimony, and the mediation of the abduction experience in reference to the “Western Hostage Crisis” (1983-1993). The Bachar Tapes are testimonies recorded by Souheil Bachar, who is presented as the only Lebanese hostage held in the same cell alongside five American hostages.
This film is the result of an intimate time spent between the filmmaker, who lives today in Belgium, and his father who is a former political prisoner. It looks at the complex political system of Egypt under Nasser.
Two video letters made to communicate the artists longing for her friends, and produced with the same images from her daily life in Israel. The first is addressed to Jacqueline, the artist’s Swiss friend in Zurich, and the second to Abla, her Palestinian friend in Nablus.
This work is almost a parable, where a man is imprisoned under his baby’s bed. He tries all means to survive and to find a mechanical solution that would lead him to freedom.
Program 2: War/The Visible Signs (70mins)
This program presents different approaches to looking at war, and to using images of war. My Friend Imad and the Taxi is an unfinished work from two amateur filmmakers, both passionate about film, who lived in Beirut in the eighties when the city looked like the set from a war film. Samir’s work looks at the intersection between (H)istory and (h)is story as lived at home. While Farocki’s piece looks subversively at war from the point of view of the industrial machinery used to collect images-–almost a scientific approach--Salhab’s video presents us with a poetic portrait of a people and a city full of scars.
In 1985, Hassan Zbib and Olga Nakkas separately started to develop film scenarios based on simple narratives, and would shoot them on Super 8, which was still possible to develop in Beirut at the time. Their work featured the city as a stage where lonely characters drifted: a taxi driver in his car, a man walking around, talking to a Rambo poster. These films were never presented as finalized work until a Beirut-based festival, né à Beyrouth, discovered them and asked the filmmakers to present their films with a live electronic soundtrack improvised by local artists. The soundtrack presented on this version is the recording of that session.
Right after the first Iraq war, the filmmaker visits his family in Iraq. He tries to reconstruct the war from different points of view, all depicted on the same screen at the same time: US airplanes dropping bombs, his parents fixated on the television, and the family welcoming him back.
Eye/Machine III addresses the automation of vision in the present era through “smart machines,” “smart bombs,” and person-less cameras. Derived from military technology, the first automated images were those photographs taken from airplanes to measure the accuracy of missile drops in World War II. Eye/Machine III charts a kind of genealogy from this historical moment to the current ubiquity of mechanized imaging in the technological and commercial sectors.
Following on from the 2006 Israeli aggression on Lebanon, the filmmaker tries to film the destruction of Beirut. We witness a city deserted by life, and ghostly characters who, featured in his earlier films, talk about living through such a war.
Program 3: At The Border (60mins)
Border situations have inspired writers, artists and filmmakers, particularly within the context of divisions and border control within the Middle East. Who draws the borders? What are the effects of imposing them, of imposing checkpoints? This program looks at border situations. In the works presented here, we take a close look at the lines of demarcation, observing what happens on borders in divided Lefkosia (Nicosia), the occupied territories in Palestine, and at the excavation of the site of a former border in Lebanon which no longer exists.
The third in a film triptych, Lefkosia was shot from within UN controlled territory on the border between south Cyprus and the Turkish-occupied North. Like the previous two parts, this episode explores the landscape’s composition along the current borders of Europe. It presents a silent camera travelling along a heavily guarded border, where even photography is forbidden without permission.
Detail is indeed a detail. It is an excerpt from Mograbi’s feature film Avenge But One of My Two Eyes, where human conditions face military situations. This is a detail of the reality as lived by Palestinians and Israelis daily in Israel and the Occupied Territories. This ‘detail’ is what makes life unbearable.
Chic Point was shot in a fictional location: the occupied catwalk. Employing all the elements of a fashion show, models reveal their abdomens in outfits designed especially to suit Israeli checkpoints. For Israelis in the present time, the individual Palestinian body is the most dangerous weapon there is, and it is therefore the subject of ongoing and humiliating surveillance.
As the militias surrendered their arms to the Lebanese army at the end of the Lebanese war in 1991, Ali–a member of the Lebanese resistance–wrote a letter to the owners of the house on the frontline that his group had occupied for six years, and placed it inside the shell of a B-10 mortar, which he buried in the garden. In November 2002, the filmmaker took his video camera and a gardener and headed to this family’s village, Ain el Mir, to dig up Ali’s letter.
Program 4: Intensive Care (54mins)
Named after Hatice Güleryüz’s haunting short film, with its disturbing yet iconic images, this program presents unsettling situations narrated with both considerable emotional investment and critical distance. In her work Intensive Care, Güleryüz films a boy’s circumcision, then tilt’s up to the boy’s silent, angelic face. In another work, The First Ones, she films a group of school children singing the national anthem; a take on nationalism made with so much love. Marwa Arsanios’ I’ve Heard Stories reconstructs an incident that happened, or maybe didn’t, in the mythical Hotel Carlton. Mahmoud Hojeij takes a humorous look at the few hours he and his Lebanese friend spent with two Israeli men in Paris, evoking years of wars, occupation and division between the two countries. I, Soldier presents a poetic portrait of a soldier, while at the same time embodying a silent critique of nationalism, patriotism, and defence. Finally, Elia Suleiman looks at the role film has played in the Arab/Israeli conflict, and evokes the futility of rising nationalist and religious identities in a war situation.
The violent surgical act of a boy’s circumcision is contradicted by the peacefulness of his facial expression. Proud to join the world of men, the boy is trying his best to be brave. Yet can the passage to adulthood be that simple?
The Turkish national anthem, regularly sung in schools on Mondays and Fridays, is recorded with Super 8 and video to capture the fragile links that tie young citizens to nationhood.
This short animation explores various ways to narrate an incident that once took place in the mythical Hotel Carlton. Against images of the deserted hotel today, the artist sketches situations that evoke the rumours that once circulated around the place and the people who inhabited it.
The filmmaker and his friend, both Lebanese, meet two Israelis their own age in Paris, and spend some playful time with them. While they play a game, they refer constantly and humorously to the war and to the frozen status quo between the two countries.
I, Soldier is a reflection on the image of the soldier as poetically cited in a speech by a high-ranking officer. Shot during an annual ceremony that commemorates the National Day for Youth and Sports, and which marks the independence of the Turkish Republic in 1919, this work catches fleeting moments of fragility in the face of a soldier.
A Palestinian filmmaker is writing a script in his New York apartment during the first Gulf war. As much as he tries to shut himself off from the exterior world, images of past wars in the Middle East come back to haunt him.
Program 5: The Trace That Remains (85mins)
How useful is personal testimony to History? The most abstract of all the works that focus on personal narrative in this program is certainly Lisa Steele’s Birthday Suit with scars and defects, in which the artist gently caresses every scar on her body, names it, dates it, and describes the circumstances in which the scar was inscribed. These are traces that defy memory, and that indeed become an alternative memory. Steele’s video presents us with an abstraction of oneself, almost a schema of the body as it becomes a register of violence. Ziad Antar’s work looks at the sounds of war that he considers safe, as they occur while detonating unexploded Israeli missiles right after the ceasefire in the summer of 2006. Mona Hatoum’s Measures of Distance uses images of her mother’s body to evoke both the matter of distance, and the question of possession of a woman’s body. By showing the images of her naked mother, and reading the letters she has received from her in Beirut, Hatoum inscribes on that body a story of separation and of her own exile. Also revealed is an intimacy and bonding with a body, the image of which is often perceived in Middle Eastern societies as the “husband’s” property. Mroué’s work Face A/Face B also evokes distance through time. Mroué revisits old audio tapes his family recorded for his brother while he lived and studied in the Soviet Union in the eighties. While contemplating his own voice singing militant songs twenty years earlier, it is as if the artist is hearing a different person. Julia Meltzer and David Thorne’s work observes an unfinished building that has become a monument for an obvious urban/bureaucratic malfunction in the city of Damascus.
On the occasion of her 27th birthday, the artist made this work which chronicles her passage through time. In the tape, she undresses, then reveals, touches, counts, dates and recounts the story of every scar on her body.
Following the Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006, the filmmaker examines the boredom of everyday life in a besieged country.
In this video, the artist tries to overcome the effects of distance, and reflects on geography represented in exile due to war, and on the psychological distance represented in each one’s approach to her womanhood. The video beautifully weaves personal images and audio recordings of a very intimate nature, binding the personal with the political.
Artist Rabih Mroué looks back at old audio recordings, which were made by him and his parents to be sent as audio letters to his brother while he studied abroad. The old recordings become the site of a political critique of the packaged values of communism, resistance and martyrdom.
‘In 1966, the Syrian government’s Ministry of Endowments solicited plans for a building to replace a 14th century Mamluk mosque in Martyr’s Square in the centre of Damascus. A young architect proposed a design for a 5-star hotel and new mosque. In 1971, his plans were scrapped. In 1982, a building began to be built. Hospital? Parking garage? Military housing? The project—now called the Basel al-Asad Center—has been the subject of much rumour and speculation. As of 2007, the building remains unfinished. In this documentary video, an architect recounts the chronicle of the building and considers its possible future.’ Julia Meltzer & David Thorne