DAY 224: Bank holiday

August 31st, 2017 § 0 comments

Those of you who are forty years old or more will remember (if you haven’t been forcibly reminded of it) that someone called Princess Diana and her friend Dodi al-Fayed died 20 years ago in suspicious circumstances in Paris. From my memory – it seems likely – it was a Bank Holiday weekend, I was off in Wales which Diana used to be the Princess of. Discounting obvious theories (e.g.

diana-car-crash

they were assassinated by the British Royal Family), I’d like to more modestly suggest the following which I call the ‘Entertainment theory of History’. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the First Gulf War, and the long and bloody civil war in former Yugoslavia, the people who run the world felt things had suddenly got boring with the 1995 Dayton Agreement, and some spectacular event was needed to keep up the masses’ interest. It took a bit of searching around, but the death of Diana, whoever thought it up, was a stroke of genius – it’s an ‘everyone remembers where they were and there was nothing on the TV’ event, Elton John wrote the music, and surely Osama bin Laden was watching and making notes.

Which leads naturally (did you think I’d forgotten the refugees?) to the way God threw our first parents out adameveof Iraq (I think) six thousand years earlier for having broken the rules about fruit or nakedness or sex or perhaps all three. And installed the equivalent of razor-wire to keep them out, so that in Milton’s formulation:

“They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate
With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms:
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.”

In other words, the role of refugee and wanderer is natural to humans; to have a Heimat is an artificial construction. It was much later that God came up with the idea that nations should be separate and have passports and languages and stuff (the Tower of Babel and the Flood being two of his disastrous stages in what we can only see as a rake’s progress). And then, worse still, chose one people, and kept telling them – as Netanyahu has learned so well – to kill off the occupants of their land. Who then was the refugee? Did Joshua have a passport when he fit the battle of Jericho? But I digress, as so often. When Adam delved and Eve span, as John Ball asked, who was the gentleman? What, as Engels asked, is the origin of the family, private property and the State (including its borders), and can we just get rid of them all in one moment of carnival? As Lacan said (I think, anyway he’s always good for a quote), what do the signifiers ‘ladies’ and ‘gentlemen’ point to? Back to bank holiday.

At the Movies

In the absence of a cappella sopranos, who seem all to have taken off to Snape Maltings or somewhere, I’m continuing to watch unusual offerings from third world directors: of which perhaps the most unexpected is Larissa Sansour’s 2013 film ‘In the Future, They Ate From the Finest Porcelain‘; a completely strange and beautiful Palestinian short (30 minutes) which disrupts your expectations of the genre by showing no checkpoints, soldiers, fedayin, or even olive trees. But then it’s science fiction, of a very unusual kind: which has been recently attacked (surprise!) as antisemitic for showing the ‘invention of a past’. I wonder why. I really urge you to find the Vimeo link and watch it, twice if possible. I cite Julia Johnson’s review (when it was first seen in Liverpool, as part of an installation, which I unfortunately missed) – it’s as good a way as any of filling up my word allowance.

‘What do we really know about the past? For most of us, our understanding of history comes from a mix of school memories and TV documentaries. In these contexts, we are required to buy into a particular historical narrative – the one that gets us the marks in the exam. And why question it?  British history, with its focus on monarchy and wars, is rooted in dates and events which seem unquestionable. And unlike in contemporary political debate, voices which disagree with the accepted version of events are often killed off or written out.

Or are they?

Disrupting accepted narratives is exactly what Larissa Sansour’s In the Future, They Ate From the Finest Porcelain seeks to achieve.

The exhibition is based around and named after a 30-minute film. It’s a sci-fi film, set in an inhospitable world. A world filled with intimidating, insect-like spaceships, which look far more at home here than the human figures. A world of grief, with the loss of a sister a recurring motif, and of conflict, where bombs fall from a foreboding sky.

Sansour’s ideas and intentions are explained through the conversation which narrates the film.  Porcelain is a symbol, intended to change this world’s historical narrative. Porcelain is non-native to this desolate wilderness so by burying an imported, luxury material, future archaeologists may reconsider the lives and means of the people who lived here. They may begin to think that their lives were better than they’d previously considered. Sansour’s protagonistIntheFuture2_Larissa_Sansour_reduced_MED couldn’t be accused of being selfish – accepting her own fate, she is working for a future justice and dignity.

As in all good sci-fi there is no reference to real nations, however it’s clear throughout the exhibition that this work is about the Israeli-Paletinian disputes. This becomes a fact in the documentary photographs on display in the Cloister. Sansour is herself Palestinian, and has made the film’s vision of burying fragments of an imagined past a reality. Scattering them across Israel is no doubt controversial, but such a suitable way of approaching the debate The Holy Land’s places and objects confirm the beliefs of millions across the world – if these small fragments even did disrupt their story, the effect would be felt universally.

Across the rest of the exhibition, the film’s visuals are expanded into objects for the present.

We see the plates on their production line, their ordinariness striking when you know their potentially world-changing purpose. The co-ordinates for the locations of the buried porcelain are in bomb-shaped cases, appropriate considering their incendiary content.

Bluecoat is also debuting a new addition to the installation, And They Covered the Sky Until It Was Black. The effect of the hundreds of black spaceships which have swarmed the Gallery is unnerving. It’s visually and physically oppressive – they’re wherever you look and step. Like the Biblical locust plague they represent, they’re a powerful symbol of the forces which may work against us, seeking to destroy.’

In the Future, They Ate From the Finest Porcelain was created in 2013. But in how Sansour powerfully stands up for the rights of her people – and all people – to be recognised with dignity and justice, it feels incredibly timely.’

 

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