Monday, August 30, 2010

Anne-Marie Filaire - Artist in Residence 2004 / 2005

1. How did you first get involved with Al-Ma'mal?
I met Jack Persekian in Paris at the end of 2000. The year before I had began photographing landscapes in Palestine and I was presenting at that time, the exhibition, “Jerusalem Jericho Gaza”, in Paris. We remained in contact. In March 2004, Al-Ma’mal presented the exhibition “Deserted Spaces” (work done at the border between Eritrea and Ethiopa) and invited me to be artist-in-residence. It was a time of great tension, the construction of the wall was beginning and contact between the populations had broken down. It was at this moment that I began to record the changes in the landscape around Jerusalem, to note down and to photograph the landscapes in order to preserve the memory of the places. I continued this work over time, anticipating the next stage, confinement.

2. What were the main challenges of working in Jerusalem and Palestine?
Working in Jerusalem and Palestine meant a long-term engagement - confronting this violence and the necessity of acting as a witness to it. I must point out that I have always worked with the two sides, in Israel and also in the Occupied Territories and that my work is situated within this movement. It was an investigation of transfers, I didn't want to represent this confinement, but rather work within it.

What remains in the images is a spreading out of space while paradoxically the same space was closing in on itself. The description of forms and space of these frontier zones, above all acts as witness to the violence done to the landscape, and to the occupation and the destruction. The challenge was to keep the project going over time, to have the rigour necessary for the working process on the ground, as the landscape, under the grip of a strategy of occupation and confinement was constantly transforming. Following this, the challenge was, for me, to liberate myself from this 'time'.

3. What are your strongest memories of the residency / working period with Al-Ma'mal?
A very particular atmosphere, the emptiness of Jerusalem, the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas in Gaza, the spreading of the news of his death throughout the Old City and then the 3 days of mourning. The unseen violence. Working with Al-Ma’mal and having the feeling that you are at home, the necessity of putting the creation at the centre of your life, as a possible way out. Al-Ma’mal participated in this work over time as I returned twice for the residency - at the end of 2004 and again in 2005 to work on the ground.

4. Did the experience have an impact on your subsequent work?
This experience has been at the heart of my journey in landscapes and frontier spaces because it has meant a ten year in the field engagement. It is situated among other experiences, other spaces, other frontiers, other conflict zones within which I have worked around the world. But this experience has been the “fil rouge” (guiding line).

Anne-Marie Filaire, Paris, August 2010 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ayreen Anastas - 2004

In 2004 Ayreen Anastas proposed a project that would reflect upon the Italian director Pasolini's visit to Palestine in 1962 for his film "Seeking Locations in Palestine for the Gospel According to St. Matthew". The video project she produced titled, Pasolini Pa* Palestine turned Pasolini's script into a road map superimposed on Palestine's landscape. 

At the time Anastas stated the following about the work:
The video explores questions of repetition and establishes a dialogue with Pasolini. For Heidegger repetition/retrieval are terms for an appropriate attitude toward the past while the term discutere (to smash to pieces) is the Latin source for dialogue / discussion. The video does not criticise Pasolini but rather reveals the possibilities in his thought processes and works back to the 'experiences' which inspired them.' (Ayreen Anastas 2004)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Phil Collins - They Shoot Horses

It all started I suppose with my writing to Jack Persekian. Jack is the director of the Al-Ma’mal Foundation in Jerusalem. But still, I didn’t know whether he’d be interested in my idea to organize, execute and film a disco dance marathon in Ramallah, which would afterwards be exhibited as a real-time video artwork. In fact, I thought he’d hate it. Something so dumb and frivolous which spoke precisely about exhaustion, collapse and heroism but in a palette of Pop Idol colours.

When we think about Palestine it never seems to be in reference to modernity, or culture; in fact, it’s relentlessly positioned as uncivilised. The disco dance marathon would instead be a way of looking at beauty under duress, entertainment in place of routine indignities. Ten days later and I’m standing in a community centre over the road from the local mosque with Iman Hammouri, the director of the Popular Art Centre, holding auditions where I play Beyonce and Joy Division over and over. And the dancers are heart- stoppingly beautiful. They take your breath away - shy and awkward but when they rock, they really flip out.

I choose nine and I filmed two groups over successive days dancing to the same soundtrack, from northern soul to acid house, from Love Hangover to Xanadu, from 10am to 6pm without breaks. Or so I thought. I take the role of cheerleader, DJ, cameraman, bouncer. I’m like a one-man band but with more to do. Have you ever tried to dance for eight hours? It’s a killer. There’s a kind of madness or cabin fever which slowly descends upon a group. It’s insane. In the finished film they do aerobics, they do folk dancing to Gina X. Someone starts dry-retching at Aretha Franklin. They do belly dancing to The Smiths. Later on, they fall asleep to Fame. They’ve almost had it, stumbling about like drunks, bags under their eyes as Irene Cara rattles on in the background. It’s halfway through a Bananarama song in the second hour when we hear the first call to prayer which punctuates the video as we turn the music off and wait until it’s appropriate to put Primal Scream back on.

I’d also not counted on the power cuts. On the second day, the whole of Ramallah goes down. We’re left sitting in a shuttered room with everybody telling me how this is completely normal, and would I like a piece of fruit? Except that I’m getting back on the plane the next day and I know that half the dancers have to get through checkpoints which close at nine. Of course I did have the piece of fruit, and also a silent nervous breakdown. The end of each day had me in tears. The dancers showed such fortitude, resilience, grace and, most importantly, had better, sharper moves than any I’d ever seen. I wanted everyone who saw it to fall in love with them, to admire their perseverance, and to wonder why it should seem odd to us if they knew the words to Althea & Donna’s Uptown Top Ranking. The last track they dance to is quite rightly Olivia Newton John’s Xanadu. For me there really is a heroism to live in a place it’s impossible to leave, to be split from families, imprisoned by a Berlin wall and, maybe worst of all, to be forgotten by a world which refuses to understand you.

Phil Collins (2004)
Text from Artist-in-Residence Archives

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


The Tamkeen Workshop grant had run from 2002 - 2004 and covered a total of nine workshops. Owing to changes in USAID itself the grant was no longer available after that period so could not be extended. However. Al-Ma’mal continued to get valuable support from long-time partner, the Ford Foundation and ongoing funding also from the European Commission. A new supporter, the Open Society Institute, also came on board in 2004 enabling the Al-Ma’mal team to continue all of its core activities.

The Artist-in-Residence programme had being running parallel to the workshops and remained very successful throughout this whole period with only one project failing to get off the ground. This was the project of Ayse Erkemen who had proposed to work with Qalqilya Zoo, and particularly with their taxidermied animals. The two things that interested her, were firstly how the ‘freezing’ of life in the zoo had transformed it into a natural history museum and secondly the stories behind each of these animals that were often deeply sad but surreal and funny at the same time.

Brownie the giraffe dying while fleeing from the sounds of a gunfire, falling down and breaking his neck. Ten days later his pregnant partner Rudi having a miscarriage because of sorrow and then Brownie and his unborn giraffe son being stuffed to stand together in a special exhibition space inside the zoo.
Due to incursions and curfews imposed on Qalqilya by the Israeli army at the time of her residency in 2003/04, it was impossible to enter the city so Erkeman could not realize this project. However, the tale of the giraffe emerged along with several other strange news stories relating to Qalqilya Zoo during this period. The Zoo was celebrated in a 2008 book by Amelie Thomas entitled: Zoo on the Road to Nablus: A Story of Survival from the West Bank.

Other artists-in-residence in 2003 included Jananne Al-Ani, Rosalind Nashashibi and Zeyad Dajani whose images of King Hussein's half built and abandoned palace are below.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Artist-in-Residence - Emily Jacir 2002

Emily Jacir’s residency project explored the very personal idea of displacement that so many Palestinians have to live with. Where We Come From/(Im)mobility was a based on the artist’s ‘freedom of movement’ as a Palestinian with an American passport. Jacir utilized her passport to access Palestine for Palestinians who are denied the freedom to go to their own homeland and/or to move freely within it. The starting point of the project was a question addressed to Palestinians living in exile: "If I could do anything for you, anywhere in Palestine, what would it be?"

Jacir asked people to send their requests of what they wanted her to do and with her ‘golden ticket’ (her U.S. passport), she was able to move freely, circumventing barriers and connecting people to their homeland, their wishes, their dreams. In the very act of connecting people to their homeland by fulfilling their requests, the work ascertained and documented their disconnection as well.

The final form her project took was an installation consisting of photos, a DVD projection and text of requests she had been sent, including the following:

"Go to Haifa and play soccer with the first Palestinian boy you see on the street."

"Drink the water in my parents' village."

"Go to Bayt Lahia and bring me a photo of my family, specially of my brother's kids."

"Go to the Israeli post office in Jerusalem and pay my phone bill."

"Go to my mother's grave in Jerusalem on her birthday and place flowers and pray."

"Do something on a normal day in Haifa, something I might do if I was living there now."