SAMAR / VIDEO
'Samar' (3 mins | 2007)
The video Samar is based on interventions by Machteld Aardse and Tsui-lun Liu in the Hamra area of Beirut in Lebanon in June 2006, two weeks before the outbreak of the war.
SCREENINGS | PERFORMANCE
2007 - Aleppo, Syria, Women's Art Festival, Le Pont Gallery - curated by Issa Touma
2007 - Amsterdam, NL, De Waag Society, Killer TV 'Dreams' - Stream: http://connect.waag.org
2007 - Beirut, Lebanon, Here as the Center of the World, This time I won't be posing for the camera , performance with Ali Cherri & Tsui-Lun Li
Samar introduces herself as a dancer, then an exchange takes place. Aardse draws Samar, while Tsui-lun Liu is following them filming. Aardse gives her the drawn portrait; Samar gives Aardse her portfolio. Aardse decides to make a documentary on Samar. She calls the number that Samar gave her before the war. A new story develops, a story about destruction of dreams.
Camera: Tsui-Lun Liu
Performers: Machteld Aardse, Ali Cherri, Tsui-Lun Liu
Special thanks: Samar, Sam, Tony Chakar, Dutch Art Institute, Beirut, Libanon
MEDIA / ARTICLE
Samar, juli 2007, Dutch Art Institute
design by Scott Potnik with contributions by Althea Thauberger and Yasco Horsman.
Graphic design: Scott Ponik
Text: Machteld Aardse, Yasco Horsman, Althea Thauberger
Translation: Ranah Hamadeh, Hannie van Herk, Susan Jessop, Raed Yassin
Edit: Althea Thauberger, Mariëtte Wijne
Special thanks to: Marjo Meijer
This publication is the result of a collaborative project between the Dutch Art Institute in Enschede and the Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem, mediated by Maureen Mooren.
by Frans-Karel Weener (archeologist):
Goldschmidt in 'Wegkijken': "...tekende ik ook zelf veel naakt model. Toen ik naar ongeveer een jaar mijn tekeningen eens op een rij legde, viel het me op dat ik vrouwlijke modellen steeds op de rug gezien of van opzij had getekend. Ik was me er niet van bewust geweest, maar blijkbaar had ik me bij het kiezen van een plek...laten leiden door de angst oog in oog met het model te staan. Toen ik de serie voor het eerst in haar geheel zag, bracht me dat van mijn stuk. Die tekeningen zeiden niet zo bar veel over de vrouwen, maar des te meer over de schrikachtige jongen die zich verdekt had opgesteld. Met al die ruggen had ik een zelfportret getekend, het beste dat ik ooit maakte."
Ik weet niets van Samar maar vorm wel een mening over haar in die paar minuten dat ik haar zie. Dat ik mij een mening vorm over iemand die niets kan terug zeggen, zich niet kan verdedigen, geeft mij een gevoel 'niet eerlijk'. Samar, laat, wanneer zij danst, iets van haar zelf zien in deze korte film en dat maakt haar nog kwetsbaarder. De man met wie jij spreekt laat zich laatdunkend uit over Samar, we weten niet waarom. Zijn uitlatingen zijn naar Samar toe wederom niet eerlijk want Samar kan zich niet verdedigen en bovendien weet de spreker niet tegen wie hij deze minachtende opmerkingen maakt en welke gevolgen deze dus zouden kunnen hebben voor haar. Daarom vind ik deze korte film naar Samar toe niet fair; ze wordt veroordeeld en ze staat er alleen voor. Het laatste stukje film, Samar ronddraaiend op een platenspeler (?) verbeeldt dit goed want terwijl zij is wie zij is, draaien wij Samar rond als een stukje klei op een pottersbakkersschijf en leggen haar (onze) vorm op. Het is hierom dat ik bij het laatste stukje film machteloosheid voel. Ik wil wegkijken op het moment dat Samar danst. Machteld, jij hebt het tijdens het telefoongesprek over een sprookje en een mooi verhaal, ik zie dat niet. Wat ik zie wordt door een groot deel bepaald door de telefoonstem. Door hem zie ik een B-danseres die naar alle waarschijnlijkheid een zwaar leven heeft. Zou ik een sterke vrouw moeten zien? Haar foto's zijn theatraal, een en al pose, nep. Je filmpje is krachtig omdat het deze verschillende emoties oproept.
“Samar” (2007) is without a doubt Aardse’s most complex exploration so far into the dynamics of portraying. “Samar” springs from an afternoon of sketching during a study trip of the Dutch Art Institute (DAI) to Beirut. Being good 20th century artists, the participants had read Said, Sartre and Fanon, and they were aware of the dangers of the exotising, objectifying gaze with which western art traditionally looks at the orient. The DAI-ers did not leave for Beirut to depict the Orient – like 19th century Orientalistic painters – but to intervene into the Oriental reality (as a contemporary artist should).
Somewhat skeptical about the standard criticism on Orientalism, Aardse decided to put it to the test by going into town to portray a female Oriental – she chose the ‘exotic dancer’ Samar – and to have her own portraying gaze registered by a video camera. In this way, the ‘western’ gaze on the east would, as it were, be tripled: a western artist's gaze is being registered by a western camera’s gaze, resulting in a video that is then being watched in the Netherlands by the gaze of a western art audience. But whereas criticism of Orientalism supposes the person portrayed is thus subjected threefold to the western gaze, Aardse experienced something different. But whereas criticism of Orientalism supposes the person portrayed is thus subjected threefold to the western gaze, Aardse experienced something different. Because making a sketch (as opposed to taking a photograph) takes time, during the sketching, space emerges. This space gave Samar the opportunity to do a small performance and to present herself as an exotic dancer, playing with the Western and Eastern clichés surrounding this dance form. During the drawing process, it was not a voyeuristic scene the emerged, but rather a small theatre in which Samar performs a fiction about herself. Aardse then ‘laid down’ this fiction; that is to say, she tries not so much to register Samar’s performance quasi-photographically, but she looks at the spectacle like a psychoanalyst listens to a patient, namely to form an image of the fantasies that give cohesion to someone's personality. Samar’s fantasy is that she is an exotic dancer. A star.
How subversive this form of portrayal is, becomes evident in the ‘second’ scene, that emerged after the portrait had been finished. After giving her sketch to Samar, Aardse returns to the Netherlands. There she tries to contact Samar by dialing the phone number Samar gave her, but she gets, so to speak, ‘the wrong number’: instead of connecting her to Samar, the phone number puts her through to someone who turns out to be Samar’s pimp. “Samar is not a dancer,” he states bluntly. “She never was a dancer. She is a whore.” His voice shows irritation and contempt, not just towards Samar but also towards the western woman who wants to portray her.
The video Samar subtly confronts us with the short circuit caused by the ‘wrong connection’ between Samar’s performance and the reality of her situation as revealed in the telephone conversation. Whereas the image track shows us the scene of drawing and a series of pictures from Samar’s portfolio as ‘exotic dancer’, on the soundtrack we hear the denigratory voice of her pimp. It thus shows that the image Samar is trying to evoke, is embedded in a situation that is far more grim than the drawing scene suggests. “Samar is nobody,” repeats the voice of her pimp with a violence that is progressively less veiled. And: “Don't make her famous.”
Whereas at the beginning of the film, the conflict between the images and the harsh reality of Lebanese prostitution seems ironic, even breezy, the video ends with the total disintegration of Samar's portrait. “Don't make her famous,” the soundtrack repeats again and the image we see now is a cut-out picture of Samar as a dance figure going round and round on an LP. By beginning with a portrait-drawing session and ending with a cut-out doll, Samar shows us the complexity of portraying. Cut loose from her context, Samar remains little less than a figurine, a souvenir that fits easily into a suitcase. As a ‘figurine’ perhaps she could become famous; as a person portrayed she has disappeared.
Yasco Horsman (NL, 1970) is assistant professor of Comparative Literature at Leiden University, where he teaches courses on literary theory, semiotics and gender. Prior to this, he taught at Columbia University and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He is currently preparing his dissertation “Theaters of Justice: Arendt, Brecht, Freud” (Yale University, 2004) for publication.
SAMAR, video stills, 2007
SAMAR, video installation
Le Pont Gallery, Aleppo, Syria 2007, curator Issa Touma
PERFORMANCE / This time I won’t be posing for the camera
The title “ This time I won’t be posing for the camera” of the collaborative project of Machteld Aardse, Ali Cherri and Tsui-Lun Liu is related to the text Ali wrote on the basis of material collected by Machteld en Tsui- Lun during their research in Hamra. Machteld and Tsui-Lun used the physical appearance of themselves as two obviously foreign women as a tool for creating little interferences and collecting little stories and images from Hamra. Tsui-Lun filmed the actions of Machteld, who was making portraits of the people living or working of Hamra Street. Their project left traces in Hamra: drawings that were given to the persons who had been portrayed. The images and the stories of the encounters told by Machteld and Tsui-Lun were the material for the text written by Ali Cherri, who was surprised by their discoveries - their open approach resulted in answers that would have been difficult to obtain for anyone Lebanese. Both worlds came together in a performance in Marignan theatre.
TEXT / This time I won’t be posing for the camera
This time, I won’t be posing for the camera (Video of taxi driver)
(A portrait of Hariri)
On 15th of June, Tsui-Lun and Machteld landed at Beirut airport. It was hot and moist. That day, I decided not to take Hamra Street when driving my car.
Later, I learned that Tsui-Lun and Machteld were leaving hand-drawn portraits all over the nameless streets of Hamra.
(Show all portraits)
When I first met them, they told me how they were called for by Hariri’s posters plastered all over the city. A face that did not need a name or a text under it in order to be read; a face that was the actual text. Since, they started reading the city as faces; faces that need to be saved, faces that long to be drawn so they can tell their stories.
When they told me about what had happened to them, I ran back home, picked up Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and read on page 64:
Cities & Desire
From there, after six days and seven nights, you arrive at Zobeide, the white city, well exposed to the moon, with streets wound about themselves as in a skein. They tell this tale of its foundation: men of various nations had an identical dream. They saw a woman running at night through an unknown city; she was seen from behind, with long hair, and she was naked. They dreamed of pursuing her. As they twisted and turned, each of them lost her. After the dream, they set out in search of that city; they never found it, but they found one another; they decided to build a city like the one in the dream. In laying out the streets, each followed the course of his pursuit; at the spot where they had lost the fugitive's trail, they arranged spaces and walls differently from the dream, so she would be unable to escape again.
This was the city of Zobeide, where they settled, waiting for that scene to be repeated one night. None of them, asleep or awake, ever saw the woman again. The city's streets were streets where they went to work every day, with no link any more to the dreamed chase. Which, for that matter, had long been forgotten.
New men arrived from other lands, having had a dream like theirs, and in the city of Zobeide, they recognized something from the streets of the dream, and they changed the positions of arcades and stairways to resemble more closely the path of the pursued woman and so, at the spot where she had vanished, there would remain no avenue of escape.
The first to arrive could not understand what drew these people to Zobeide, this ugly city, this trap.”
I said to myself, did they fall into the trap?
Or could it be that the woman of the dream is wondering the streets now, but the men had forgotten how to look for her?
(Samar Video without the dance)
On the next day that she had met Samar, Tsui sent me this email:
Last night, I had a dream. I dreamt of a boy and my piano music.
I met the boy long ago at elementary school. We were in the same class when we were ten. Since then we have not talked to each other.
In junior high school, his classroom was down the hall and sometimes I saw him running on our sports field. He had dark skin and slender body.
Later he entered a boys’ high school and I went to a girls’. I heard that he was dating one of my classmates. They talked about me.
I was at his place once when we were ten. We talked and played together with his younger brother. The brothers had different family names. His mother is the only girl in her family. When their parents married, the deal was that the first boy would have father’s last name and the second would have his mother’s. When the younger brother was born, the parents got into a fight, because the father regretted the idea.
I sat in front of a piano that had a pile of music on top of it. I was surrounded by acquaintances. I knew he was in the room just next to me. I could not see him but I knew he was there.
He was playing some melody with his right hand. I recognized it was Brahms’ Intermezzo.
(Music of Brahm’s Intermezzo)
I knew the piece. I wanted to play it so he would notice that I was just beside him. But as I kept trying, flipping through the music, I would play a few notes, and then stop, play and then stop: every piece seemed to be the one, but none of them was.
I was looking for the notes I wanted to play, but I could not find them. I woke up in tears.
All the best,
(Continue music till the end)
“Where do you come from?” He asked her.
“I’m from Holland,” she replied, “and my friend is from Taiwan.”
“That’s a long way from Beirut!”
“Can I make a portrait of you?” she asked
“If you would leave a lock of your hair for me,” he answered after a long silence.
(Video at the hairdresser)
“Can I make a portrait of you now?” she asked me.
“Why would you want to draw me? I am not part of your city! I am not part of your dream!” I said, adjusting my pose in the orange chair of Wimpy.
She smiled as if she did not hear what I’ve just said. She took her drawing pad and a pencil that she started sharpening with a knife. I found her gesture aggressive, yet seductive. I said nothing.
(Portrait of Ali)
“I look like I’m one of Jean Cocteau’s characters!” I said, unable to retain my distress.
“Maybe! Maybe that is what you look like,” she replied with a grin that looked more like sarcasm.
“It can’t be! I cannot be a character of Cocteau. Cocteau has made the film The Eternal Return, but me; I am definitely getting out of here and will not be coming back; you will see.”
“No one ever came here and was able to leave. Let’s go dancing tonight! I want to learn belly dancing”.
I sat there watching her long hair from the back as she was leaving the café. (Samar dancing)