I can call this progress to halt at LACE
“How does saying coincide with feeling? Where? When do they catch up?” asks Alejandro Cesarco’s “Allegory, or, The Perils of the Present Tense” (2015), a video installation reflecting on longings and promises. A hand flips through a photo book of On Kawara date paintings, water laps against a concrete surface, and a pair of hands brushes the back of a woman’s head. These images mark the passage of time, anticipating some as-yet-unfulfilled desire or future.
Images, words, and actions featured in I can call this progress to halt, curated by Suzy Halajian, prefigure an alternative body politic, forging visual and affective bonds that unite those excluded from the promises of the past and present. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s wall sketching of “I CAN CALL THIS PROGRESS TO HALT” (2008), drawn from a longer series of notes and drawings, lends its title to the exhibition, the “I” a flexible subject while “progress” and “halt” take on multiple meanings. Calling something to halt can be a refusal of visibility or legibility, the withdrawal of labor or affect. The threat of ceasing an action summons the possibility of creating a new world, disrupting business as usual. The gestures of protest or unrest featured in the exhibition, whether it’s a physical riot or speech act, offer ways to surface new social relations, the potential for a commune untethered to time and place.
The distance between saying and feeling recurs in Sharon Hayes’ “I Didn’t Know I Loved You” (2009), a series of filmed speeches on the streets of Istanbul in which individuals deliver impassioned monologues about love and politics. The two become conflated as personal desire enters the public sphere while politics becomes an expression of how one personally relates to others. Performed in front of an unwitting public audience, these speech acts disrupt notions of propriety by openly expressing public and private emotions, and calling for revolution in the guise of vulnerable lover and political firebrand.
In Marwa Arsanios’ film “Olga’s Notes, all those restless bodies,” the artist recounts the history of a Cairo ballet school founded in 1963 by President Gamal Abdel Nasser. On screen, a ballet dancer re-enacts the school’s first major production, a performance modeling disciplined, athletic bodies meant to glorify the state. Other dancers appear on screen as “restless” bodies trained to perfect movement and emulate progress. The loud impact of the dancer’s feet, along with the sound of the dancer’s breathing, makes the choreography seem more like hard labor than effortless performance. The vision of strong, healthy bodies is undermined by the physical toll and violence of performance. For whose benefit or pleasure, do these bodies ultimately suffer?
Michelle Dizon’s three-channel video installation “Civil Society” (2008) reflects on the artist’s personal history of immigration and belonging, juxtaposed with footage of three events separated by time and distance. “Justice lies outside the frame,” the artist explains, as the camera pans across a neighborhood of the Clichy-sous-Bois commune of Paris, epicenter of the 2005 French riots. She wonders aloud how to translate the riot’s invention of a new political grammar, the recuperation of “commune” from government and bureaucracy. Aerial footage of Los Angeles, with its arterial highways and expansive sprawl, appears alongside videos of the 1965 Watts Rebellion, where a language of the riot also began to express conditions that seemed ineffable. Blurry video of Rodney King’s beating by the LAPD plays at a glacial pace, a mere eight seconds stretched out to over two minutes, as if the long passage of time could abstract or lessen the brutality of what took place. “Ruins have nothing to do with cities,” Dizon says. “Ruins are myself.”
Ruins are what some may imagine the besieged Gaza Strip to be, but Rosalind Nashashibi’s “Electrical Gaza” (2015) presents a more colorful and resilient view of Palestinian life, where children play in alleyways, men have conversations over tea, and horses bathe on the beach. The film intersperses real-life footage with animated scenes, vacillating between images of militarized surveillance and the calm of public life and community. In one animated frame, soldiers stand guard on a street, while camera footage of the same scene is devoid of them, giving lie to the notion that perception should be utopian or idealistic. Life in Gaza, in all its complexities, can hold multiple realities at once.
The legibility of Bedouin life is the subject of “Dag’aa” (2016), Shadid Habib Allah’s short film about the nomadic people of the Sinai Peninsula. Armed men drive across vast desert country, traveling and convening by night, their itineraries and allegiances as illegible to the viewer as the bones in a ribcage that one man in the film describes as “showing” the way. Elusive and stateless, they travel the liminal spaces and outermost reaches of a nation that claims to govern them. This way of life is illegible, even chaotic, to the outsider, but it takes on a structure resembling what we might call society.
What we see now may not correspond with our imagined futures, but beneath the surface of these images and sounds lies the possibility of new forms of public and private life that goes beyond borders or nations, markets or economies. We can call this progress to halt if we refuse to recognize it as such, and invent new ways of situating ourselves across time, place, and memory.
I can call this progress to halt was on view at LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions) in Hollywood from March 8 until April 23, 2017.