I do want to do something.

He is nice (Can you smell that flower? )
August 1, 2009, 8:18 am
Filed under: Blogroll


While discussing with Fares A. Zaatari’s work after the screening and discussion of his two films at BAC, “All is Well on the Boarder” and “In this house”, I came to realize a couple of things on the relation between artistic research and its translation into a final form, an art piece.

The screenings were programmed within the framework of  Akram’s  simultaneous exhibitions  at  Sfeir Semler and at BAC. Among the pieces on show, a series of  blown up and aestheticized photographs representing contested landscapes, objects and letters. Photograph portraying his 15 years research, the objects he had unearthed and the people who became part of his work.

Akram compares his practice to the one of an archaeologist, digging and excavating in a process involving a physical/romantic relation to the earth (“earth of endless secrets”). Historiography, contrarily to Raad’s project (and I think that he is always making an implicit point in distinguishing his work  from his peer’s), is not an articulated concern; he is not convulsing over the truth/ fiction boundary but more focused on getting the  job done (filmed and photographed).

The problem was, again, the gallery’s all sucking gigantic white cube and the visible commercial operation of the show; the pressure of the space, of the market and of recognition tints everything differently, bugging the relation between the artist and his/her research, like a short circuit no longer able to convey the problematic of translation and image making. Letters of prisoners were blown up and framed. The frame remained particularly present as an after image, consecrating the letters as posthumous objects.

Questions can be raised; what is Akram adding to the material besides the frames? What is his relation to the prisoners he is working on/ with? Are his subject merely models for “nature mortes” where to project bourgeois and homoerotic fantasies? Is Akram “their” translator because they can’t express their experience? (I am quoting here the prisoner Nabih Awada who intervened at the end of Akram’s discussion). Who is translating Akram?
When Nabih Awad spoke ,everybody turned towards him, electricity filled the room, the current was on again and amplified. Fares, in his philosophical reading of almost everything, identified the prisoner as the “voice of the truth”; as a hypothesis, Akram might have made the films, research, question the nature of images, worked hard on the editing but the prisoner was something else, which we could not yet identify or name: he is not the audience, nor the filmmaker, nor the critic, so who the fuck is Alice? Mirene who is always critical about everything, said he is the subject, I say  that he is maybe the model, the Fidel Castro of the interview, or what? Anyway he provoked a special attention when he spoke.

Was it the theatricality of the situation, when Akram, following an audience’s question on the nature of his relation with the prisoner, asked if Nabih Awada wanted to add something. Was it the fact of bringing to the contemporary art community, in a contemporary art center, a person with a whole different experience and background, in the tradition of a never exhausted exoticism?


I still don’t know how to understand the real prisoner’s role. If he was an actor in the script, his role was with no doubt different then the one of the actors reciting prisoners’ testimony in Akram’s earlier film, “All is Well on the Border”. This live intervention somehow undid the script, the script of the gallery, of the commercial show, of the research’s weight. It testified for a particular relation between him and Akram.
I came to realize that you (the artists, the researcher) can have sustained and grounded relations with the people that you re/present in your work, the people you work through, the people that give you information, testimony, time, while simultaneously producing products (these two entities, where traditionally and I don’t know if logically separated for me).
That there is always exploitation and economies at work in human relations but that it doesn’t prevent engagement, although it also does not imply it. This is why I thought Akram was “nice” and that became somehow important as a position that could be attributed a certain value, beyond personal character. I do think that the economy between Akram and the prisoner is a surplus one. This surplus sometimes materializes in his work, making drawing of flowers actually smell like flowers ( Nabih Awada’s said  that through Akram’s work, he was able to smell the flowers of his own drawings).

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