Subversion at Cornerhouse

Larissa Sansour: A Space Exodus
Larissa Sansour: A Space Exodus ( Clip) (2009, 7MB, 1:15 min)

Tarzan and Arab: Colourful Journey (Trailer)
Tarzan and Arab: Colourful Journey (Trailer) (2010, 11MB, 1:38 min)

Here are two clips from videos featured in the excellent Subversion show,
featuring artists from the Arabic speaking world, currently on (to 5th June) at
Manchester’s Cornerhouse.
It is carefully, elegantly and thoughtfully curated by Omar Kholeif, who writes:

“Like many of the artists I was looking at, I felt that collectively
curators and writers associated with the politically unstable Arab world were
being asked to step up and perform to an identity that the world wanted us to play.
With Subversion my aim was to do just the opposite. I worked with artists who
referenced this very language but who wanted to dissent, poke fun, critique
and re-define themselves as artists of the imagination, and not of any specific
social or political condition.”

It has to be said that this bending of the stick is eminently successful – none
of the works included has any taint of tokenism, they are rich with a poetry,
humour and humanity that cuts entirely across any notional cultural divide.
Where they do focus upon political subject matter (and one should not form the
impression that this is a show with, in any sense whatsoever, its political teeth pulled)
what delights is the richness and the playfulness with which this is done.
Larrisa Sansour’s “A Space Exodus” is both gentle and devastating.
Gentle, the Sansour persona (and we’ll have another piece of hers next week)
presented in the work, with the rather stylish space suit, the wistful smile and wave
towards the far away earth, having planted the Palestinian flag on the moon:
“That’s one small step for Palestinians, one giant leap for mankind”.

Devastating when one sets this gentleness by the side of what we know of the Apartheid
wall, the illegal settlements, punishment demolition of Palestinian homes &c.
(Anyone who doubts the piece’s political impact should take a look at the vile racism
of some of the comments on the YouTube posting of this clip
– “Send all the Palestinians to the moon” &c.)

The other piece featured here is from the Gazan twins Ahmed and Mohamed Abu Nasser,
known professionally as “Tarzan and Arab”.
Although (in a disarming interview in which they come across a bit like a smiley
and un-terminally-corroded-by-snotty-cynicism younger version of the Chapmans)
they assert the piece is in some sense about internecine Palestinian conflict,
to me it reads more like a balletic paean of love to the cinema, to the
moving image (including perhaps the video game too – what do you think?).
Until last year Tarzan and Arab had never been to a cinema and have largely
been unable to attend screenings of their own works abroad.
In fact their first works, also shown at Cornerhouse, were old style film posters
for non-existent movies
, all given titles from the names of Israeli military
operations: Defensive Shield, Cast Lead &c.(as, indeed, their film has too).

There is a great deal more to this show, which covers diverse geographical slices
of the Arabic speaking world and where therefore the interaction between life
and art has a different tempo and character to the works by the Palestinian
artists discussed here.

And it’s all great – I don’t have space here to properly do the whole thing justice.
In particular, though, I do want to mention Akram Zaatari’s two luminously beautiful
films set in the milieu of gay life in Beirut – though again to outline them thus,
in one line, in terms of “topic”, is to oversimplify – we must distinguish between
ostensible topics and the dense, lyric and dazzling poetry which they engender.
Also Khaled Hafez’s wonderful short “On Presidents and Superheroes”
(yet another political context, that of a staggeringly prescient augury of a victorious
but still contested Egyptian revolution) but I simply am going to just mention it as I
hope to write something a little bit more extended about it when I post a clip here (soon!).

If you possibly can, do yourself a big favour and go and see this show; give
yourself plenty of time, there’s a lot to see and some of the moving image work
is quite lengthy (and hats off to Omar Kholeif for achieving installations of
works that are appropriate, thought provoking and, somewhat banally but importantly at my age, comfortable.)
If you’re travelling from out of town (and I urge you so to do, dear reader, I urge you)
you can also catch the tremendous Roger Ballen show at the Manchester Art gallery,
which is a whole other story.

I’ll be returning to Subversion both here and in a somewhat more extended piece
of writing for MIRAJ next year.

Man With a Movie Camera – Perry Bard

Man With a Movie Camera (Trailer) (1929-2007, 6MB, 2:17 min.)

“Man With a Movie Camera is a participatory video shot by people around the world
who are invited to record video according to the original script of Vertov’s Man With
A Movie Camera and submit it to a website which will archive, sequence and deliver
it. When the work streams your contribution becomes part of a worldwide montage,
in Vertov’s terms the ‘decoding of life as it is’.
Project by Perry Bard.

The World's Largest TV Studio

The World’s Largest TV Studio (1972, 17.2MB, 7:10 min.)

A historic piece of political video from
the 1972 Miami Democratic Convention, this excerpt featuring an interview
with Michael Shamberg, author of Guerilla Television & founder member of Top Value
. (Also founder of Raindance & subsequently big shot Hollywood Producer).

Found in the broadcasting section of the Southwest Museum of Engineering Communications
and Computation
, which is actually stuffed with goodies.

Two from David Fincher

The Motels – Shame (1985, 18.7MB, 3:59)

Rick Springfield – Celebrate Youth (1985, 25.6MB, 3:58)

Before directing features like Se7en, Zodiac, and Fight Club,
badass David Fincher made some awesomely 80s music videos.
He continues to make solid music videos for more
contemporary acts, favoring the short form to the
Hollywood machine. These lyrically poor videos
serve as proof that you too can film talking billboards,
windy alleys full of teens, use the color-pass effect,
and still go on to direct such hits as Alien 3.

Glimpse of the Garden

Marie Menken – Glimpse of the Garden (1957, 36.2MB, 5:04)

Marie Menken, avant-garde filmmaker of the 1940s, 50s,
and 60s – in addition to being the inspiration for
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and a Warhol
superstar – made inspirational work from a time we seem
to overlook too much today. The garden here belongs
to one of her husband’s former male lovers, and while
Menken was often criticized for being quaint in her displays,
her style is an obviously feminine one that hides much
deeper meaning in ordinary but stunning visuals.

Recreation, Re-Creation, or, We Like OLD Stuff – Bitsy Knox

Recreation, Re-Creation
Recreation, Re-Creation (2006, 9.6 MB, 4:27 min.)

“This video juxtaposes original 16 mm footage acquired from my Grandfather
with interview footage taken of my Mother and Grandparents. All but the
past-tenses of their speaking are left intact, while the film footage has been
aggressively manipulated.
The project seeks to question the language of constructing one’s identity through
negotiation with familial history, where the past has been constructed and reconstructed
in order to corroborate certain facades of culture which are wished to be left intact.”

Bitsy Knox from 312.

Gilbert & George -The Singing Sculpture

Gilbert and George
The Singing Sculpture (1992, 830k, 41 sec.)

“Singing Sculpture documents one of Gilbert & George’s most famous “living sculpture” pieces.
Covered in multicolored bronze paint, the artists sing and interchange parts of the English
music hall standard “Underneath the Arches.” Through their stylized performance,
Gilbert & George deliberately blur the lines between life and art, reality and contrivance.
This ambiguity does not rely on a transformation from living to sculptural form. On the contrary,
they have merged the two in order to obliterate, rather than emphasize, the distinctions between life and art.” – Walker Art Center
from Video Data Bank

Scritti Politti – pop sublimity

Word Girl
The Word Girl (1985, 7.62MB, 3:14 min)

Oh Patti
Oh Patti (1988, 20.3MB, 4:14 min)

Two of the most perfect pop songs ever made, the first from
1985’s Cupid & Psyche & the second from 1988’s Provision
(& which features a trumpet solo from Miles Davis of staggering
economy & otherworldly beauty).
Pet Sounds excepted, pop music just doesn’t come better.
The vids aren’t just an adjunct – of course they have historical
interest (that weird decade!), but there’s something fragile
& haunting & mysterious there which survives the occasional impossible
to overlook moment of naffness.

1905 at 2 a.m. in the subway

2 a.m. in the subway (1905, 8 MB, 56 sec.)

A subway platform, a policeman and a conductor, a well-dressed man
with a cigar and two women dressed in long skirts and jackets.
One of the women causes a sensation by raising her skirt and
revealing her stocking. Artificial legs are displayed out the subway car window.
From – The Open Video Project.