triangle circle square diamond

Tag: spatial histories


Yellow Limbo

The starting point of Yellow Limbo is an extraordinary episode which has all but disappeared from official histories; namely, the failed passage of fourteen international cargo ships through the Suez Canal on 5 June 1967. Caught in the outbreak of the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and Syria, the ships were only able to leave the canal in 1975 when it re-opened. While stranded for eight years, the cold-war political allegiances of the multi-national crews were dissolved and gave way to a form of communal survival and the establishment of a social system. This involved the organisation of their own olympic games in 1968, amongst other activities.

Yellow Limbo interleaves vintage photographs and Super8 film shot by crewmembers with the artist’s own recent footage on location and is shown with a slide projection of particular relevance, general importance or personal interest from the eight years of the ships’ confinement. This three- way comparison of events, disembodied from the timeline of experience, creates a complication of concurrence, consequence and dissociation, giving rise to a sense that time is pleated, causality radiating and that this rippling expanse of saltwater somehow communicates diagonally through time.


Remnants of the Future

Remnants of the Future combines elements of documentary, sci-fi and electro-acoustics. It portrays the precarious existence in a post-Soviet ghost-town, an inverted ruin of the modern that is still waiting to fulfil its utopian ambition of communal living.

Remnants of the Future is set in Northern Armenia in a vast, unfinished housing project called Mush, named after the once flourishing Armenian town in Eastern Turkey and built on the orders of Mikhail Gorbachev to house the people displaced by the 1988 Spitak earthquake. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 abruptly halted the ambitious housing development and it has since remained in a ghostly state of incompletion and near desertion, inhabited only by migrating birds and isolated human scavengers who salvage scrap metal out of the hollow shells of concrete and live in parts of the big, skeletal housing blocks. As the day turns into night, the soundscape, composed by Mikhail Karikis, moves from the sounds of animals and everyday activities of the few inhabitants to modulations of radiowaves emitted by pulsars, or dying stars, which still reach us after the star has died. Out of this electro-acoustic cloud a woman’s voice announces: “I am an emissary from the future….”. The time traveling character from Mayakovski’s “The Bathhouse (1930)” invites those left behind by failed state capitalism and the neglect of free markets to join her in the commune of the future.


Ornament And Crime

The video shows a slow close-up pan which creates an tactile inventory of the surfaces and materials of the café’s interior and its ornamental vocabulary, making an implicit reference to Adolf Loos’ 1908 essay of the same name, in which Loos denounces ornament as a crime against both aesthetics and function, and which was written in the period of utopian fervour prescient of Modernism.


The Naked Palace

The camera trails a guide on a tour through the labyrinthine architectural complex of Ogiamen’s palace in Benin City (Nigeria). This extraordinary building was constructed in the 12th century and is one of only a handful of houses that survived the British punitive expedition of 1897. Ogiamen’s family inhabits it to this day. As the camera follows the guide’s navigation of the ancient palace and records his explanations, the image oscillates between jerky disorientation and lingering close-up shots of architectural details and textures. The portrait of the palace remains fragmentary and ruptures between seeing and understanding, between a historical imaginary and the contemporary conditions become palpable.


1942 (Poznan)

“As the video projection begins, we see a tiled floor. The camera rises in a vertical pan to show a swimming pool with a lone swimmer. We hear singing in Hebrew: it is the mourning prayer, ‘Aw Harakhamim’ (sung by the former cantor of the Jewish community in Szeged, Hungary). The camera continues its steady, inexorable movement, and the viewer who is familiar with Jewish places of worship begins to see, in the austere and beautiful symmetry of the building, the structure of a synagogue, with its seating area over the main door, and vaulted ceiling. The title, 1942 (Poznan) contains the clue: the site is the Poznan Synagogue, converted into a swimming pool by the Nazis in 1942.

Through the juxtaposition of the image with the sung prayer that takes us beyond the visible, Orlow releases an evocative power of the image that calls up the repressed memory of the place, turning it into a memorial to those who once worshipped there, most of whom would have perished. If the swimming pool contains the suggestion of baptism (as well as, perhaps, the Jewish ritual baths), the pull of the prayer works precisely against an art of resurrection—the dead are not resurrected by being represented, nor are they redeemed.”

– Michael Newman