The Thickness of Time
Maria-Thalia Carras & Olga Hatzidaki
20.01.2017 – 03.03.2017
by Didem Pekün
The Thickness of time is a meeting point. Six works that use moving images as their medium and whose connecting framework is the urge to speak about remembrance and to decipher the past are presented together here. The films search backwards; reminding us that the desire for memory is a need for history and that without commemorative vigilance, tangible and tangled histories with all their inherent ambiguities would be swept away. Telling these stories is a means of re-aligning the world. Like a fleeting museum to memory, the exhibition attempts to unravel histories that are deeply personal, social and political.
History in these works feels vulnerable. It appears wrought, discontinuous, de-stabilized, perhaps even groundless. Each film speaks on its own terms, softly punching you in the stomach, evolving at times through a critical dimension, at others through an equally persuasive but personal direction. They appear to be presenting alternate versions of each other, in dialogue, concerned with their particular personal differences but asserting the very same things. Holding on as fast they can. Telling their story, when they can. Their fragility is evident in Didem Pekün’s talk ‘A Soliloquy: 7 thoughts on Inhabiting Purgatorium’, a film that was never shot due to the failed summer coup d’etat in Turkey and the ensuing state of emergency. Trapped in limbo, unable to produce, Didem Pekün will speak about this tormenting suspension in a talk at the exhibition’s opening night.
It is impossible to miss language’s impact. Voices, vocabularies, seemingly translucent, filter every work. In Naeem Mohaiemen’s ‘Afsan’s Long Day’, the artist’s very own voice is enmeshed with the third person narrative diary excerpts written by the film’s protagonist Afsan Chowdhury. Two voices intertwine as the artist’s ambulative storytelling weaves in apparently disparate micro-narratives generating connections through multiple perspectives: first and third person. Who has the right to speak, and for whom, is to be contested. A woman’s voice, a woman’s story in a masculine city; in Aikaterini’s Gegisian’s ‘My Pink City’, her native city of Yerevan is realigned into a domestic feminine domain. Stories (recurrence, repetition, reiteration) as wise worn anecdotes or moral parables in Dor Guez’s ‘The Sick Man of Europe: The Painter’ where language (never innocent with the politics it embodies) functions as a hand me-down: the generous oral tradition of passing history on.
Yto Barrada’s film called ‘Hand-Me-Downs’ takes these personal stories and intersects them with modern memory – the archive. Tinged with nostalgia, images of colonized and colonizers equalized by the patina of time seem quaint; revelatory, albeit through the numbing of an implicit pain. There is a cultural dissonance between the history that we know and the histories we see. Archives can be dynamic players in generating new connections between the past and now, they can also give birth to wandering imaginations and fictional representations. Jumana Manna’s A ‘Sketch of Manners (Alfred Roch’s Last Masquerade)’ based on an archival photograph riffs on what might have been, the static is punctured by action, vertiginous foreboding haunts us while the fidgeting movements of those posing for the camera as it freezes time allows for that awkwardness to become transgressive, our own. We see the remains (a photograph as a repository of knowledge) crust like; underneath it the flesh, altogether more humane. Archives either as institutional props for official truths or as tools to suggest alternate paths to knowledge are often given center stage in the works on show. Just one of the visual strategies used to unlock the past and to look at time changing.
As the films ebb and flow, it is clear that the artists have approached the fabrication of history through the production and circulation of images. Accordingly, each frame has purpose and agency. At a moment when visual simulacra have been codified and amplified through an insatiable desire for visual content, whilst surrounded by ‘accelerated’ and ‘poor’ images (like cheap currency) the possibility of looking as a spatial and temporal experience rather than through an oppressive flatness, is both daunting and rare. Current politics no doubt is overwhelmingly manufactured and received in visual terms and this matters. It alters our perception of the past and, paradoxically, our ability to puncture this flatness and see. Through the dense fog of information feeds and visual spam, the slow and demanding process of witnessing filmic reconfigurations of historical perspectives and the rethinking of power structures might be too much to ask. But it’s still worth asking, can we create a new bond of trust in what we see and the stories we hear?
The juncture between the temporal and the spatial is therefore a key element of the exhibition. Where better to witness the slipping ground of time than in a building that has survived large-scale epochal shifts throughout the last century and yet still stands proud? Designed in the 1920’s by Vasileios Tsagris, an architect trained in Vienna at the turn of the last century, at its heyday it was a residency for a family of the Greek diaspora. It symbolized a cosmopolitan world view embodied by a Greek multilingual community that prospered through trade in cities such as Cairo, Trieste, Smyrna or Vienna. The building was later used by the 3rd Reich as its center for diplomatic services. More recently, as the Foreign Correspondents Center, it once again housed an internationalist approach to the exchange of knowledge and news production. Now empty, it awaits reuse.
The Thickness of Time hopes to inhabit this space, inviting people to rupture the density and more recently the darkness of visual information, to come in, pause, see and discuss the interconnectivity of disparate voices whilst bearing witness to a multitude of histories unraveling in this moment’s unbearable thickness of time. As the narrator in Jumana Manna’s film drifts off his words linger on, “The voice of the British Mandate was fading, as the Great War continued elsewhere it seemed.”
These films tell us that diligent viewing is crucial, but where we look matters even more.
*At the opening Didem Pekün will present a work in progress which due to the political situation in Turkey over the summer was left incomplete.