A metaphor for self-reconstructing ignorance
Collaborations within the same discipline can be challenging. When a multi-disciplinary work operates in several media, the challenges are all the greater.
If the artists set out to make a work at once
politically direct and aesthetically strong, you may wonder whether they’ve devised a game that can’t be won. Metropolis Cinema Sofil, the venue for day-four of Irtijal, hosted a pair of cine-concerts Sunday evening.
The second half of the program saw Tunis-born electronic musician Oussema Gaidi accompany Lars Von Trier’s 1991 feature “Europa” from his laptop. This second act wasn’t exactly commercial fare – Von Trier’s film isn’t among his most cineplex-friendly movies and you won’t be hearing any of Gaidi’s atmospherics on the radio any day soon.
The evening opened with weightier fare. “Porta Chiusa” is a multi-artist collaboration comprised of performance, video art and live music. Most present was the musical component – a clarinet trio led by Beirut-based Swiss composer-instrumentalist Paed Conca, accompanied by Hans Koch and Michael Thieke.
Conca’s clarinet trio was composed to accompany a video projection in several parts. The most compelling (and best-realized) part of the collaboration fell in its first half hour.
The black-and-white frame is split in two, with a camera set on either side of a glass door. The figure of artist Giorgio Andreoli steps before the cameras – with one side of the frame catching him from the front and the other from the back.
Standing before the glass door, Andreoli dons a blindfold. Reaching into the granny pack hanging from his waist, he produces a large piece of black oil chalk (think family-sized wax pencil) and applies himself to covering the glass.
For the next 30 minutes, that’s the full extent of the projection. The left side of the frame follows Andreoli’s labors from behind and occasionally the rather monotonous full-frame shot is broken up by more-detailed close-ups of layers of black being applied to the glass. On the right side of the frame, meanwhile, layers of oil obscure, and virtually conceal Andreoli’s form from view.
Mundane (and eccentric) as it is, this gesture is rich in possible readings. At once deliberate and agonizingly labor-intensive, the figure’s effort to blind himself to whoever or whatever might be standing on the other side of the transparent door is a fine metaphor for self-reconstructing ignorance.
Conca’s trio accompaniment to this half-hour’s toil is equally well-conceptualized. A more old-fashioned composer might have chosen to orchestrate the piece for three different instruments, whose complementarities make for assonance or sweetness of sound.
Though Conca’s contribution to “Porta Chiusa” is highly dissonant, his deciding to score the work for three clarinets probably doesn’t itself guarantee the piece will be discordant. What the lack of instrumental diversity does do is give the piece a monotonous tone that lends it ready political readings – having only clarinets isn’t unlike having a meal with only one flavor, or a political system without diversity of opinion.
This reading happens to fall within what the collaborators had in mind for “Porta Chiusa.”
The project description declares that this performance is based “on the conflict that we are living at the beginning of the 21st century ... world ... in which we still speak about color and race and within which nutrition, health and access to education are still greatly conditioned by hierarchal classification.”
In this regard, after Andreoli’s performance, the video, credited to Giovanni Di Stefano, veers to documentary-style footage of men (the camera averted from their faces) being hustled onto airplanes by uniformed security. It seems Di Stefano shot these images of asylum seekers being deported from Zurich/Kloten Airport in 2008.
Artist Heike Fiedler adds a further layer of collaboration, devising the trans-lingual word “Forteressensiemangerneles,” variations on a theme of which play rather blandly across the screen in the work’s final leg.
It’s one or two layers of collaboration too many.
In its first leg – when it is effectively a collaboration of Paed Conca, Hans Koch, Michael Thieke and Giorgio Andreoli – “Porta Chiusa” is an elegant multimedia metaphor for deliberative ignorance.
If, by the end of the piece, that elegance has been weighed down to the point of becoming ponderous and heavy-handed, there are a couple of reasons for this. On one hand, the other contributions are simply aesthetically weaker.
They are also rhetorically more direct. Certainly there is no reason that powerful art cannot be infused with a strong political conscience. The problem with the political conscience redolent in “Porta Chiusa” is that some of the collaborators prefer to express it in political rather than aesthetic terms.
Irtijal performances resume Wednesday at 8.30 p.m. with a series of shows at the Masrah al-Madina.