The invisibilization of political violence, its material traces and spatial manifestations, characterize (post)conflict situations. Yet counter-semantics and dissonant narratives that challenge this invisibility have been articulated by artists, writers, and human rights activists that increasingly seek to contest the related historical amnesia. Adopting “performance” as a concept that is defined by repetitive, aesthetic practices—such as speech and bodily habits through which both individual and collective identities are constructed and perceived (Susan Slyomovics)—this collection addresses various forms of performing human rights in transitional situations in Spain, Latin America, and the Middle East. Bringing scholars together with artists, writers, and curators, and working across a range of disciplines, Performing Human Rights addresses these instances of omission and neglect, revealing how alternate institutional spaces and strategies of cultural production have intervened in the processes of historical justice and collective memory.
With contributions by Zahira Aragüete-Toribio, Pauline Bachmann, Vikki Bell, Liliana Gómez, Joscelyn Jurich, Uriel Orlow, Friederike Pannewick, Elena Rosauro, Dorota Sajewska, Stephenie Young.
Preface, Introduction and Bibliography of Theatrum Botanicum publication Access here
Introduction: “A Prisoner in the Garden” Uriel Orlow and Shela Sheikh
In 1977, in his thirteenth year of incarceration in Robben Island prison, a photograph appeared in the global press of Nelson Mandela, dressed in prison clothing, leaning on a spade. This image, which appears on the dust jacket of this volume, had been taken on 25 April, during a visit by local and overseas press organized by the South African Prison Authorities. The image was captioned “A Prisoner Working in the Garden” by the authorities. Shortly thereafter, Mandela and 28 other co-signatories wrote a letter (the first page of which is also reproduced on the dust jacket) addressed to the Single Cells Section of the prison, protesting against the purpose for and manner in which the visit was organized and conducted. In the letter, they complain of the deliberate violation of the prisoners’ right to privacy by taking their photographs without permission, and of the specification by the Minister of Prisons that the visit only occur on the condition that no communication whatsoever take place between the press and prisoners.
Beyond this protest against the self-representation denied to them, the letter challenged the manner in which the press visit was organized so as to “white-wash the Prison Department; pacify public criticism of the Department here and abroad; and counteract any adverse publicity that might arise in the future.” Moreover, this representational white-washing was slyly enacted precisely through a form of what one might nowadays call “green-washing”; as the prisoners relate in the letter, “on that particular day, the span from our Section was given the special work of ‘gardening’ instead of pulling out bamboo from the sea as we normally do when we go to work.” As such, the image was used to cleanse the reality of the hard labor and lack of rights that the prisoners endured, and the image of gardening in particular was fully capitalized upon. As the letter attests, prisoners and authorities alike were all too aware of the potential use of this image and of this seemingly leisurely, therapeutic, and apolitical activity.
But if the letter protests the lack of agency granted the prisoners, there is also a flipside to the image. As Mandela wrote in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he had a “lifelong love of gardening and growing vegetables.” A few years into their 18-year-long incarceration, Mandela and his fellow Rivonia trial inmates had in fact set up a garden in the courtyard of Robben Island prison. This had started informally with a few tomato seeds given to them by well-meaning prison guards. On their way to the stone quarry where they were forced to do hard labor, the political prisoners collected ostrich droppings as fertilizer. In time they also planted chilies and other vegetables to complement their meager prison diet. Later, as Mandela was writing the manuscript for what became his autobiography, the completed pages would be buried in cocoa tins in the garden to hide them from the prison authorities. As such, the seemingly benign activity of gardening became a highly politicized gesture—that of claiming and cultivating a patch of land and using it subversively to undermine the oppressive regime—and as a consequence the garden itself became entangled in historical events.
 This image now forms the centerpiece of the Mandela Prison Archive, “a living record of Mandela’s 27 years in prison.” See Nelson Mandela, A Prisoner in the Garden: Opening Nelson Mandela’s Prison Archive (Johannesburg: Nelson Mandela Foundation/Penguin, 2005) and https://www.nelsonmandela.org/publications/entry/a-prisoner-in-the-garden.
 In their view, the minister acted with “impropriety” insofar as “total strangers are now in possession of photographs and films of ourselves.” In the letter, the prisoners protest against not being allowed to take and send their own photographs to their own families.
 More recently, the term “green-washing” has been used to describe the process by which a given organization, company, or institution’s products or policies are made to appear ecologically friendly, precisely through the use of the PR or marketing image, often masking their true ecological costs. However, this is nothing new and can be applied to environmental movements more broadly throughout history. For instance, the “green imperialism” described by Richard Grove can be read through this lens. See Richard Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600–1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). In the words of Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George Handley, Grove’s history of ecological thought demonstrates that “the environmental sciences that tell us that we can no longer afford to ignore our human impact on the globe are an ironic by-product of a global consciousness derived from a history of imperial exploitation of nature.” Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George Handley, “Introduction: Toward an Aesthetics of the Earth,” in Postcolonial Ecologies: Literatures of the Environment, ed. Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George Handley, 3–39 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 12. See also the discussion of the paradoxes of conservation in the South African context in Bettina Malcomess, “appear and they…” in this volume, xx–xx.
 The co-signatories note the fact that they had not been given the status of political prisoners: “We are fully aware that the Department desires to protect a favourable image to the world of its policies. [sic] We can think of no better way of doing so than by abolishing all forms of racial discrimination in the administration by keeping abreast of enlightened penal reforms, by granting us the status of political prisoners.”
 Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom (London: Abacus, 2013 ), 41.
 The Rivonia trial, which took place between 9 October 1963 and 12 June 1964, led to the imprisonment of Mandela and others. Mandela spent 18 of 27 years of imprisonment on Robben Island.
 As Mandela writes: “A garden was one of the few things in prison that one could control. To plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend it and then harvest it offered a simple but enduring satisfaction. The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom.” Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 592–83.
“Seeing world events unfold from South Africa, where I am currently working on a film project, provides a useful historical perspective on the question of art as a form of protest and as a conduit for change….”
The Air Will Not Deny You – Zurich’s other globality.
Kurjakovic, D., Koch, F., and Pfäffli, L. (Eds.).
Zurich/Berlin: diaphanes. 2016
Contributing Authors: Autonome Schule Zürich, John Barker, Monika Dommann, Ines Doujak, Kijan Espahangizi, Harald Fischer-Tiné, Pascal Germann, Dominik Gross, Lea Haller, Cathérine Hug, Rohit Jain, knowbotiq (Yvonne Wilhelm, Christian Huebler), Lucie Kolb, Koyo Kouoh, Franz Krähenbühl, Gesine Krüger, Konrad J. Kuhn, Roland Lüthi, Robert Menasse, Eva Meyer, Katharina Morawek, Souvik Naha, Uriel Orlow, Lea Pfäffli, Barbara Preisig, Sophia Prinz, Patricia Purtschert, Marcelo Rezende, Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv (Mustafa Asan, Mo Diener, Milena Petrovic), Romy Rüegger, Vittorio Santoro, Sally Schonfeldt, Ursula Sulser, Jakob Tanner, Andreas Zangger, Tim Zulauf.
In partnership with the Johann Jacobs Museum, Zurich; Visual Arts (ZHdK – Zurich University of the Arts), Bachelor of Art & Media (ZHdK); IFCAR Institute for Contemporary Art Research (ZHdK); and the Chair of History of the Modern World (ETH Zurich).
In this interview Omar Kholeif talks to Uriel Orlow about his recent project for Ibraaz Platform 008: 2922 Days(2014), a culmination of two earlier works that uncover the undocumented eight-year entrapment of 14 cargo ships in the Suez Canal at the outbreak of the 1967 war between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Orlow explains how his discovery of this un-authored historical moment and subsequent detective-like research developed into a project in which the ‘heterotopia’ of creativity and community-building became manifest in the montage approach he adopted for the work, connecting this ‘time-capsule’ in the Great Bitter Lake with other events taking place across the world during this period.
Omar Kholeif: How did 2922 Days (2014) begin as a project?
Uriel Orlow: 2922 Days remixes two previous works The Bitterlake Chronicles and Anatopism – both of which are part of the work-cycle The Short and the Long of It (2010–12). The Bitterlake Chronicles consists of images presented on a display table while Anatopism is a slide projection. I wanted to explore the possibilities of combining the two works. I was interested in the time-capsule aspect of the community of sailors trapped in the Suez Canal from 1967 to 1975 – not just what was going on aboard the ships but also in the world around them. I collected book, film and music titles as well as events that occurred during the eight years of the ships’ entrapment. These are not presented chronologically in the work; my interest lies more in the connections, repetitions and developments but also arbitrary associations. The apparent standstill at the Great Bitter Lake transforms into the centre of the world and everything revolves around it.
Andrea Thal: I would like to start our conversation by considering the form and the title of your body of work Unmade Film and how these relate to the contents. Over the last few years you have created works in the form of assemblages comprising diverse media and formats, which are configured differently, depending on the context and the exhibition situation –we’ve already talked about that on another occasion.1 In the case of Unmade Film, this fragmentation and the implicit refusal to settle for a finished, fixed form has given the work its title. “Unmade” points both to the idea of a film that was planned but never made and to a film that once existed but has now been dismantled again. In that sense, the title also touches on aspects of temporality, in that it transposes us into a time both before and after the making of the “film”, in such a way that these two conditions both connect and remain in a state of abeyance. Unmade Film also addresses again questions and issues surrounding the politics of history and memory in connection with the Holocaust and, as such, the history of your own family, which already played a central part in your earliest artistic works. This return to your family’s own history in Unmade Film is characterised by the superimposition of multiple traumas and injuries resulting from the catastrophic impact of the Shoah and the Nakba. However, this simultaneous presence is extremely fragile, not only because the horror and the incomprehensibility of those events are all but impossible to pin down but also because they are suppressed, and the connection between the two is highly problematic in many respects. I would be interested to know how your personal experience plays into the complexity (in terms of both time and the politics of memory) of society’s “blind spots” concerning those events and how these relate to the form and concept of an “unmade film” and to the limits of representability?
Uriel Orlow: Already in these earlier works, which were concerned with the Holocaust, I was struggling with the impossibility of representation and memory. The unsaid and unsayable, and the absence of memory in my family were just as deep-rooted within me as the fragments of this dark prehistory that I did pick up as a child. Trauma arises from the paradox that it is not over and keeps coming back – like a symptom or an affliction – precisely because it resists memory and, as such, any form of processing. As someone born after the event, I am transgenerationally “haunted” by its implications. In these works, I didn’t want to focus on the past as such or to specifically address my own family history–it seemed inappropriate to simply attempt to bridge the temporal and representational gap. I began to think about history in spatial (rather than chronological) terms and concentrated on evidence that can still be located at specific sites. These places, for instance a synagogue in Poznan that was turned into a swimming pool by the Nazis in 1942 and became the core of my video 1942 (Poznan), are exactly the kind of “blind spots” you mentioned. The violence is at the heart of these places and they bear witness to it without representing it. So I was not trying to represent that past but rather the questions it poses for us, and approach the ethics and the politics of memory in the present. I felt it was important not only to engage with these questions with reference to my own identity but also to situate them in a wider context. In later works, I looked at other historically charged places to which I had no personal connection and started to examine my own position in relation to them (as an outsider, albeit an outsider who is implicated in a much wider historical configuration). Unmade Film unites these two positions because, although there is a personal connection, this work also required me to address a history that is not my own. Some years ago, when I became aware of the connection between the Israeli mental health centre Kfar Sha’ul and the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, which was depopulated in a massacre committed by Zionist militias in 1948, I felt personally affected. During family holidays in Israel as a child and a teenager, I had often visited my great-aunt in that same clinic. She had survived Auschwitz and emigrated to Palestine, where she suffered a nervous breakdown in the early 1950s. Eventually, she was admitted to Kfar Sha’ul, where she died more than thirty years later. The listless patients sitting around the grounds of Kfar Sha’ul and its desolate atmosphere left a deep impression on me. Although Holocaust survivors had found refuge in Israel and in this hospital, it was, at the same time, as though they had been put away and completely forgotten by society at large (while the Holocaust played, and still plays, a central part in the national discourse). I felt incredulous, distressed, and angry at the realisation that precisely this refuge had been constructed amongst the ruins of a Palestinian village that was ethnically cleansed just a few years earlier; angry also at the silence surrounding these circumstances to this day (there’s no commemorative plaque, for instance). This willful ignorance is not just about suppressing history, it also involves the physical covering up of one trauma with another. What does it mean when one trauma conceals another, in other words, when one trauma’s immanent incapacity for remembrance becomes the obstruction of memory for another? These questions are also bound up in the politics of memory and the position and role the Holocaust plays in the national discourse within Israel (and elsewhere in the Jewish Diaspora). At the same time, in both physical-geographical and mental-conceptual terms, the layering of the Shoah and the Nakba at Deir Yassin / Kfar Sha’ul also leads to new aporias. Although it forces us to think of the Holocaust and the Nakba together, it would be problematic if this led to making comparisons that would implicitly equate one trauma with the other. The open, fragmentary form of Unmade Film arose from precisely the impossibility of doing justice to all the different aspects and the complexity of this place and its history in a single work. The usual memory-pitfalls surrounding the Holocaust and the Nakba and the specific configuration of Deir Yassin and Kfar Sha’ul coupled with my own growing awareness of a kind of hegemony of memory (in other words, the secrecy and/or determination to suppress the consequences of the Zionist politics of occupation) became the starting point for this project. That and the problem I have already touched on, the problem of the logic of comparisons, convinced me that I couldn’t simply juxtapose the story of my great-aunt with the history of Deir Yassin, although she and my personal, emotional connection to the place were, of course, central to the process of Unmade Film (and are present in The Stills, for instance). As in earlier works, I felt it was important to get away from the temporal and narrative dimensions of history and to approach the historical palimpsest spatially, through place, as is the case in The Voiceover, an imaginary audio tour through Deir Yassin /Kfar Sha’ul. The history of the massacre of 9April 1948 and its crucial influence on the subsequent Palestinian exodus has been written about (although it is still a source of controversy and debate in the Israeli mainstream) and has in some ways come to epitomise the Nakba in Palestinian collective memory. Nevertheless, the place itself–that’s to say, Deir Yassin /Kfar Sha’ul–remains all but unknown, geographically invisible (like over four hundred other villages that were cleared in 1948). This is also due to the fact that in many senses this place is “out of bounds”, Survivors of the massacre or their descendants who now live on the West Bank are often not permitted to travel to Jerusalem; and then there is also the fact that Kfar Sha’ul, as a mental health centre, is not open to the general public, which means that it also eludes representation in a physical sense. The place is in a mental realm, in all respects.
With contributions by Pierre Bal-Blanc, Marc Bembekoff, Julien Fronsacq, Simon Pleasance, Aurélien Mole, Ilya Prigogine, Simon Boudvin, Jean Painlevé, René Daumal, Laurent Montaron, Christian Waldvogel, Alain Bedos & Christian Moncel, Superstudio, Arnaud des Palliéres, Ceel Mogami de Haas & Vianney Fivel, Simon Faithfull, Joseph Grigely, and Sealand.
A project by Maxime Bondu, Gaël Grivet, Bénédicte le Pimpec, Èmile Ouroumov.
Produced for Switzerland’s contribution at the 54th Venice Biennale, designed by Georg Rutishauser and Anna Frei, with artistic contributions by Maria Iorio / Raphaël Cuomo, Uriel Orlow and Eran Schaerf.