Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme
The Incidental Insurgents, Part 1: The Part About the Bandits, Chapter 2
2012, 6′, HDV, single channel video and two channel sound plus sub-woofer
13 June – 20 June 2016
This week, Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme premiere at Art Basel (Hall 2.1, Booth N2) the first works in a new body of research entitled And Yet My Mask is Powerful – a multi-media project that engages with the idea of ‘returns’ to sites of wreckage. For a young generation of Palestinians, these are the very sites from which to conjure a yet-to-be realised chapter in history. A fuller version of And Yet My Mask is Powerful will be presented in the artists’ first major solo show at Carroll / Fletcher in September 2016. The film programme at Art Basel includes The Incidental Insurgents, Part 2: Unforgiving Years. The Incidental Insurgents is made up of three parts: Part 1, The Part About Bandits (2012), Part 2, Unforgiving Years (2014) and Part 3, When the fall of the dictionary leaves all words lying in the street (2015).
The Incidental Insurgents
We are believing and dis-believing
We are in the midst of the not yet material
or perhaps the already determined
inhabiting a time of radical potentiality and its collapse
In search of a new language
in need of this
always on the verge
always becoming and yet…
The Incidental Insurgents is mapped out as a three part multi-layered narrative, with chapters completing and complicating each other, and unfolding the ‘story’ of a contemporary search for a new ‘political’ language and imaginary. Multiple texts and fragments, largely the writings of Victor Serge and Roberto Bolano, alongside manifestos, memoirs, testimonies, and text written by the artists, are sampled and re-pieced together to form an altogether new script. As the project unfolds and the search continues, new threads emerge that take us into expected and unexpected places, deadly serious and deadly playful all at once. Contributing to a growing density of material, where the figure of the incidental insurgent, part bandit, rebel, part vagabond, artist, returns and resurges in many forms and characters. Recast into a convoluted script of sampled text, images, objects and sounds.
The Part about The Bandits, begins with four seemingly disparate coordinates, the early anarchist life of Victor Serge and his contemporary anarchist-bandits in 1910’s Paris; Abu Jildeh and Arameet and their bandit gang involved in a rebellion against the British in 1930’s Palestine, the artist as the quintessential bandit in Roberto Bolaño’s novel The Savage Detectives set in 70’s Mexico, and the artists themselves in present day Palestine. Weaving the first part of the story by looking at the resonance between the inspiring, bizarre and sometimes tragic stories of these diverse bandits, the outsider rebel par excellence, often rewritten as mere criminals (or naively romanticised as wayward figures) and excluded from the narrative of revolutionary struggle. Ironically these figures most clearly articulate the incompleteness and inadequacies in existing oppositional movements political language and imaginary. Often desperately searching for a language able to give form to their impulse for more radical forms of action.
Unforgiving Years, the second part of the story, traces the metamorphosis of these incidental figures (Serge, Bolaño, the artist themselves) or the resonance of their final gestures years after they have been killed (Bonnot Gang, Abu Jilda), following the figures or their echo to strange places and obscure positions. Arriving at a vanguard political publishing house in 1970’s Jerusalem. Perhaps it is here that the trace of Abu Jildeh, dead then for 40 years, returns.
Where the first part of the story expresses the impulse for more radical forms of action, the characters urgent need to overcome their unbearable living conditions, the second part partially looks at what happens when these gestures are unfulfilled, for those who are not killed, somehow left behind. At the same time, it unfolds a recurrent impulse to refuse the seeming ‘permanence’ of a capitalist-colonial present, that though defeated at multiple moments continues to resurge and return. Unforgiving Years is about things lost and others glimpsed in the wreckage, about what can be conjured into being from the ashes. A victory in defeat. A provocation to rethink the seemingly un-imaginable.
“Then they would reshuffle the pieces of this story and talk to me about those shadowy figures, those occasional brothers and sisters -in-arms, the ghosts populating their vast freedom, their vast desolation”.
In the last part of the search When the fall of the dictionary leaves all words lying in the street (2015), obsession gives way to hallucination. Times, places and characters recede leaving only the impulse towards that unfulfilled desire for a radically different way of being. We are somehow in the folds and density of moments, recaptured, retrieved and made anew, embodying all the characters and situations we have lived vicariously. That is to say embodying all times.
“This was a daydream, Vaneigem cheerfully admitted – but “daydreaming subverts the world”. When this free field was finally opened by the noise of the exploding syntax, when the fall of the dictionary left all words lying in the streets, when men and women rushed to pick them up and make pictures out of them, such day dreams would find themselves empowered turning into catalysts for new passions, new acts, new events: situations, made to be lived by their creators a whole new way of being in the world”
A multi-channel sound piece is the main pulse of the final chapter, with 4 screens playing intermittently and creating a choreography of movement and pauses, synchronisation and disjuncture. Elusive traces, objects and material from this hallucinatory search appear in the space between the screen, as though they are another code we are meant to decipher, a broken syntax to be reassembled, an unfinished map. The beginning of a daydream, one that could subvert the world as the Situationist would have said.
The Incidental Insurgents is meant as an investigation into the possibilities for the future rather then the past, where a convoluted story situated in multiple times starts to emerge. Initiating an obsessive search to figure out how we, like the incidental figures before us, find ourselves inhabiting a moment full of radical potential and disillusionment. Searching for what we cannot yet see but feel is possible.
Part 1: The Part About the Bandits, Chapter 1
Chapter 1 Installation: documents, images, personal items, desks, chairs, table, stools, office cabinet, storage boxes, speakers, two record players, vinyls, sound of vinyl crackle, desktop computer with 35’51” video on loop.
Basel Abbas (b. 1983, Nicosia, Cyprus) and Ruanne Abou-Rahme (b. 1983, Boston, US) live and work between New York and Ramallah. They are the 2016 recipients of the Abraaj Art Prize. Solo exhibitions include ICA, Philadelphia, USA (2015); OCA, Oslo, Norway (2015); AKW, Cologne, Germany (2014); and New Art Exchange, Nottingham, UK (2011). Selected group exhibitions include the 12th Sharjah Biennial, Sharjah, UAE (Recipients of the Sharjah Biennial Prize, 2015); 10th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, Korea (2014) and 31st Sao Paulo Biennial, Sao Paulo, Brazil (2014).
Their work has been collected by some of the world’s leading institutions and foundations including the Koç Foundation, the Sharjah Art Foundation and Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary.
Extracts from A Working Glossary
We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the ones who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
our names do not appear.
– Adrienne Rich, Diving Into the Wreck
If we are always named by others, then the name signifies a certain dispossession from the start. If we seek to name ourselves, it is still within a language we never made. And if we ask to be called by another name, we are in some ways dependent on thos we petition to agree to our demand. There seems to be an overdetermination of the social at the site of the name, so however particularistic we want the name to be, it exceeds us and confounds us. Naming is not only a site of trauma, but also potentially a strategy of subversive mimesis. At the site of the name, tragedy cannot be willed away, but it can certainly be embodied differently.
– Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou, Dispossession: The Performative in the Political
For months there was nothing to see but dried-up desert; who could guess that beneath the calcined ground, millions of invincible seeds were concealed, ready to germinate.
– Victor Serge, Unforgiving Years
This was a daydream, Vaneigem cheerfully admitted – but ‘daydreaming subverts the world’. When this free field was finally opened by the noise of exploding syntax, when the fall of the dictionary left all words lying in the streets, when men and women rushed to pick them up and make pictures out of them, such day dreams would find themselves empowered turning into catalysts for new passions, new acts, new events: situations made to be lived by their creators a whole new way of being in the world. And this would be a history not of great men or of the monuments they has left behind but a history of moments, the sort of moments everyone once passed through without consciousness and that, now, everyone would consciously create.
- Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century
From Oh Shining Star Testify, Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme, 2016 (the publication that accompanied The Abraaj Group Art Prize 2016).
A Few Notes
Intifada is usually translated as ‘uprising’; perhaps, more literally ‘shaking off’.
“Victor Lvovich Khibalchich (better known as Victor Serge) was born in Brussels, the son of Russian Narodnik exiles. Originally an anarchist, he joined the Russian Communist Party on arriving in Petrograd in February 1919 and worked for the newly founded Communist International as a journalist, editor and translator. As a Comintern representative in Germany he helped prepare the aborted insurrection in the autumn of 1923. In 1923 he also joined the Left Opposition. He was expelled from the party in 1928 and briefly imprisoned. At this time he turned to writing fiction, which was published mainly in France. In 1933 he was arrested and exiled. After an international campaign he was eventually deported from Russia in April 1936 on the eve of the Moscow Show Trials. Upon arrival in the West he renewed contact with Trotsky but political differences developed and a bitter controversy developed between the two remaining veterans of the pre-Stalinist Russian Communist Party. Escaping from Paris in 1940 just ahead of the invading Nazi troops he found refuge in Mexico. During his last years Serge lived in isolation and died penniless shortly after the 30th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution in November 1947.” Source: Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Between 1912 and 1917, Serge was incarcerated in French penitentiaries: “Everything in this book is fictional and everything is true. I have attempted, through literary creation, to bring out the general meaning and human content of a personal experience.” Victor Serge in the epigraph to Men in Prison.
From The Coming Insurrection, The Invisible Committee (a text included in Incidental Insurgents, Pt. 2: Unforgiving Years, Chapter 4).