Below is an interview conducted at First Thursday 8/2/18, by Sarah Farahat with Portland based educator Ruba Leech, and PNCA alum, Mohammed Usrof, regarding the show titled “Same war time zone” at Williamson/Knight on view for the month of August featuring the work of Claire Fontaine-a feminist collectivist duo based in Paris.
SF: Hi Mohammed and Ruba, thanks for speaking with me today. Part of the work we are going to see in this exhibition is taking a riff off of Felix Gonzalez-Torres piece and I don’t exactly remember what this piece was about…Let’s look it up before we go over there so we can understand their reference?
“Untitled" (Perfect Lovers) is an installation of two identical, battery-operated clocks, synchronized and hanging side-by-side. The viewer's response to the clocks shifts dramatically knowing that the artist created the installation while his partner Ross Laycock was dying from AIDS. Gonzalez-Torres acknowledged that clocks would fall out of synch, one eventually stopping first. "Time is something that scares me . . . or used to. This piece I made with the two clocks was the scariest thing I have ever done. I wanted to face it. I wanted those two clocks right in front of me, ticking."
Gonzalez-Torres often produced multiple versions of his installations, and his detailed instructions for their display became an important element of the piece itself. For Perfect Lovers, the instructions require the commercial clocks to be of exact dimensions and design and that they touch; before the exhibition opens the hands are set to the same time; if one or both of the clocks stop before the end of the exhibition, batteries may be replaced and reset. With such directions, Gonzalez-Torres created the basic boundaries of the work, while still allowing for certain flexibility in any given exhibition or installation.” -Dallas Museum of Art
SF: Ok so the important thing is that there are two clocks exactly the same and they start at the same time…over time the batteries may not be equal. Just the nature of two ready-made objects…a battery might not last exactly the same as another battery. It’s a lack of predictability…If we are like two clocks, one will likely stop before the other.
RL: But in her [Claire Fontaine] exhibition…
SF: I don’t know, we should see, let’s walk over there.
As we entered the gallery at Williamson and Knight which is a smallish space maybe 10’ x 10’, we noticed current U.S. news papers plastered to the floor. We looked more closely and they appeared to be a random assortment of text. There were some pages that mentioned the situation in occupied Palestine but there did not seem to be a curation of which pages were stuck to the floor. On the wall opposite the glass doors facing the street were two clocks hung up high, the left saying “Jerusalem” underneath it and the right saying “Gaza.” The clock hands appeared to be ticking at the same pace.
(screen shot from Claire Fontaine’s website)
[Ruba reads artist statement aloud]
It’s easy to be afraid of the clocks: They show the present flying away, disappearing along with the days and hours that we have already left behind us. Two clocks side by side multiply the impression of loss; the time displayed is one in which the neighbor is the enemy.
A raging war makes hostages and casualties every minute of the day. The hands of the clocks go forward but in the war zone whose time we are seeing, hours and minutes stagnate in interminable waits at checkpoints, in hospitals where it isn’t possible to be cured., in refugee camps where there is no work and every moment of the day and night are alike. It’s the time of occupation, it moves in order to stay still and every movement of the hands brings the death of an innocent, the formation of swarms of dark thoughts, the rise of desires of revenge, cruelty, the spreading of injustice like an incurable disease.
Until no forgiveness will be possible.
RL: I love all of the second part, I’m very confused about…
SF: “The neighbor is enemy?”
RL: And who are, we [Palestinians] are in Jerusalem and I’m not his (she gestures towards Mohammed) enemy. I really like the sentiment, but the wording…
We round the corner and are confronted by a large screen set on the floor. The shot is a closeup of a light-skinned arm being tattooed with a number. My mind immediately goes to the Holocaust and the numbers forcibly tattooed upon Jewish people in the camps.
RL: Is this the artist here?
SF: I’m not sure, it’s a collective, there are two of them.
RL: If they are here, I would like them to explain further. I’m feeling confused about the concept.
SF: Let me find out…
RL: It really…who is the neighbor? Because I…I live there. It hurts!
SF: Well, it [statement] also doesn’t mention names.
RL: No mention of Palestinians
SF: or Israelis.
RL: Which I understand. It’s not about that, but…that’s why I need to ask. If this is Jerusalem and Gaza, it’s by default political. If it’s default by political, whether you say name Palestine Israel, it is by default political.
MU: Come, let’s take a photograph…
SF: omg, yes, give me the camera…
Ruba and Mohammed inside Williamson/Knight
photo: Sarah Farahat
We approach one half of Claire Fontaine but he’s busy. CF’s other half walks up with her son and we approach her to ask a few questions.
RL: Very nice to meet you. Hi, I’m Ruba, a Palestinian from Jerusalem. I just want to ask you a question about the writing because I just want to voice that I found some issues. I want to ask..”two clocks side by side?” Who is the neighbor?
CF: This is a highjacking of another artwork, the whole exhibition. Here they [the clocks] represent two cities, or states that are actually one state in which things are difficult right? There is no love, so to speak. But there is a conflict going on. It’s a show, rather than being about love [as in F.G.T.’s piece] it’s about conflict. It’s not a conflict between two persons but between two peoples.
RL: But then again, I don't agree with that because I’m the neighbor. We [Palestinians from Jerusalem] live there too and we’re part of that. It’s kind of simplifying that to a lot of degrees.
CF: Yeah we could've put Tel Aviv, or…
RL: yeah, Tel Aviv would’ve been way more accurate in my perspective because Tel Aviv is built on the ruins of seven Palestinian villages.
CF: Yeah, we decided to put Jerusalem because you know, the American embassy has been moved there and it’s a very strong symbol of colonization of the city, where actually as you are stating there is a lot of cohabitation that is not as conflicted as in other places.
SF: uhhh, actually…
RL: I could get on board with that. I have spent six years in the U.S. I’ve been a teacher for thirteen years. If I’m gonna put something together, which I did. I need to live here now. I am a citizen. Part of what I know, is that any sort of ignorance that people in this country have is 99% because of the systematic lack of education, the systematic lack of [critical] media. There are a lot of reasons. So I understand. But…[CF tries to interject]…but…based on that, that’s not me.
If I’m an average person coming to look at this. I would literally see exactly what Israel wants to say about Jerusalem being only of Israelis and Israelis are my [Palestinian] neighbors who are my enemy. It literally erases us.
CF: You’re saying it is giving away Jerusalem…
RL: The wording of this [statement] combined with this [clocks].
CF: But I think that in Gaza, people really can’t get out where as in Jerusalem they can…
RL: Oh I’m not going to compare oppressions, with all due respect. I’m a Palestinian and he [Mohammed] is my friend from Gaza, and whenever he speaks I will put myself aside. My privilege will kill me before I even step to talking, because when he doesn’t have water, I still get water. But, but, that doesn’t mean that I’m not treated like a black person in America’s Jim Crow, and that doesn’t mean that I do not live in Jerusalem. My parents still live there and are being erased, so that combined with this wording, this simplification…that’s not true. This simplification erases me, my family, 200,000 people in Jerusalem right now who are actually erased in the minds of everybody in the world. Literally.
CF: why yes!
So, either put Tel Aviv and I will be behind it…[her voice cracks] or just change the wording a little bit and make it not be a blanket statement.
CF: We should put Tel Aviv. We actually thought of this before…
RL: Tel Aviv was actually built on the land of seven destroyed villages, so it’s actually a colonized place which seems to fit better with what you are trying to say.
CF: Yes, a shitty city where the secular Jews are treated like crap.
RL: Sadly, whether it is in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv the 99.6% of people who are ok with a war that is maybe going to happen soon on Gaza, whether it’s in either city, they are both on the same page but in Jerusalem, this is the most holy place in the whole god-dammed world where the most unholy shit is happening.
So if theres gonna be systematic brainwashing, it not only falls on us. As an educator, I work with infants, come on! We do not grow up as hateful people, it is bred into us-this [she gestures broadly] teaches us. So when you’re in the heart of it, and feeling the hate, it’s a little more justified than when you are Tel Aviv living at the fucking beach, and still having that same mindset.
CF: I find Tel Aviv much more disturbing.
RL: Sorry, to…
CF: You have every right to be…except, I totally understand what you say. Im wondering if this [artwork] feels like you are being erased?
RL: We are being erased. I’m scared of talking…you know I visited Palestine in October. This was the first visit that I didn’t spent the time, until now, to think about…[her voice chokes up]…I’m literally terrified of thinking about…My mother is a teacher in the Israeli system. She doesn’t know Hebrew very well.
Context: Amongst other recent disturbing new laws, the Israeli Knesset just ruled that Hebrew is the only official language of Israel, which puts many Palestinians who speak Arabic into systematic erasure.
RL: This [exhibition] translates right now. if I think realistically of where Palestinians are in the world…so many horrors are happening everywhere in the Middle East that we are at the bottom of the pile. It scares me when I see that.
CF: It’s very important to hear your voice.
RL: It may not have shook me two months before. When I hear leftists talk, they talk about Gaza, they talk about the West Bank and it took me years to go to Ali Abunimah [editor of the Electronic Intifada-a respected English language news source about Palestine] and say, “we’re not mentioned. When you talk with passion about Palestine you don't mention Jerusalem!”
CF: But I do see the whole of the state of Israel as a colonial state and a settler state.
RL: I appreciate this.
CF:The Golan is a monstrosity and all of the places I visited, I was also in a kibbutz which was first wave of Zionism. A socialist place that has changed very much.
RL: The idealistic notion of the place…
CF: don’t have a deep knowledge of the place, I’ve only been there a few times. But I never would have thought that this [artwork] erased the Palestinians in Jerusalem because for me, they are half of the city.
RL: But, In what the media hears…As a Palestinian that for four years didn’t exist outside of her house because…[I say] Palestine [and people say] Pakistan? It’s ignorance because of systematic stuff, but not because the people don’t care.
But that being the reality? I seriously don’t get it. Now for once, I know why they [Israelis] wouldn’t let us build on the empty lot by our house for eighteen years…we are ONE HOUSE away from the highway and the settlement [voice cracking] Now we NEED to exist.
I want you to know that I love this [last paragraph of the artists statement] but if you can change the wording if possible and explain it.
SF: Or complicate the language a little more…
RL: Or complicate the language a little bit.
MU: I think the more you complicate it, the more you put your foot in it. It requires courage. It requires a lot of courage.
RL: Yeah, seriously. You’re going to be putting yourself in the line of fire.
CF: Sure. We’ve done worse things in Israel itself and we’ve decided not to work there. We worked there for five years and we decided not to.
RL: With the new laws, God knows…
CF: No, no, we stopped in 2012. He decided he wouldn’t go back. Very practically we were trying to work, and we were getting treated like shit. There was no space. There are some Israeli people who are intelligent and are making sense.
RL: Minority of the minority…there was recently actually one person, one outspoken activist and they tried to ban her. They are under real threat, after the new law, things are happening so quickly, I cannot follow. So many changes are happening. Now they banned any speech in schools that…
MU: Yeah, but what started all of this conversation, was making Jerusalem the capital of Israel and moving the [U.S.] embassy. That’s the first thing, when I saw the two clocks. I was like, what the fuck are you talking about? Are you announcing the immigration of the embassy while people in Gaza are being killed? Is that the equilibrium that’s going on? Because that was happening simultaneously you know?
CF: Yeah, it’s definitely talking about that, because one could have put Tel Aviv and Ramallah…
MU: It’s more, when we’re talking about Jerusalem and Gaza, I’m from Gaza by the way.
RL: Part of why we [took a picture] under this clock. We would have never met if we weren’t in the U.S.
MU: When I talk about Jerusalem and Gaza…you know, some person my same color and language, with different beliefs, I’m able to communicate and see. But in reality that’s not happening. That’s what makes me disturbed. Is this clock ticking the same in Gaza as Jerusalem?
CF: This text says no.
MU: Exactly, it says no, but at the same time it raises the idea in the American media and the art scene that you’re talking about equals. It may be not ticking the same..
RL: Again, to someone who knows, nothing…
CF: We wanted to avoid this, which is why we didn’t pick Tel Aviv and Ramallah, because Tel Aviv and Gaza….
RL: I actually would have put Tel Aviv and Gaza..
CF: The two poles…
MU: With a picture of the two coasts, the coast in Tel Aviv and the coast in Gaza…
MU: When we are talking about X= Israel vs X=Palestine, side by side without describing the reality of what’s going on, it basically copy pastes the main stream narrative of the two sides.
CF: Not really, because I wish there were two states you know? But there aren’t…
MU: That’s the problem. But it’s not about two states.
RL: It’s about human beings.
CF: It’s about colonization
MU: Exactly and about ethnic cleansing.
CF: if you are coming to a place and colonize the place and saying this is my country and you start massacring and torturing them and then when they get violent and desperate you accuse them in front of the whole planet….
Conversation interrupted by CF’s kid and his sticker book
CF: I understand everything you said and it’s completely legitimate, but the show was actually about this geopolitics of feelings. Because there is nothing accurate in the description of what is going on because it doesn’t even talk about the prisons, the torture, you know it’s really soft. Our work is always really soft I find, compared to the monstrosities and the reality…
RL: But, it can be a little bit, it [the statement] can be not long and portray it with five sentences you can actually like, a little of the complexity, at least acknowledging that it is more complicated because it is not two sides, it is not equal, it is literally one side oppressing the other. So if you can just explain that with just three or four sentences… this for me stands
CF: I think in the original press release, I don’t know if it is still around…
RL: This one here? points to paper
SF: It still uses the word enemy, doesn’t it?
CF: maybe, so yes. [reads aloud portion of press release]
RL: “Are enemies who never meet…”
CF: Yeah, you’re right this is not true.
RL: Like, again…
CF reads more of press release aloud
SF: Just the notion of neighbors and enemies…it flattens it. Especially for ’48.
RL: As a person who lived in Jerusalem, up until the second Intifada, we called it Jerusalem that’s number 1. The people called it Jerusalem, it was one place. We actually coexisted.*
I feel like it’s science fiction when I tell people in my life that for two years I went to the Hebrew University for two years. But you know, it’s so far removed right now.
CF: I was there in ’99. It was a very different vibe and public space was…
RL: Yeah that’s the last year it was normal.
MU: Even that was not normal!
RL: Even though there’s not a wall in Jerusalem, you physically feel it. Like, it’s there. You the areas where not to go. You can feel the energy shift and go “oh I’m on the wrong street,” it’s a simple as that.
CF: Yeah, they [Israeli settlers] are sick in the head, they were throwing stones as us…I was with French people.
RL: Yeah, my experience was depicted in a comic called Jerusalem. He went through one hellish day. He drew exactly the settlement that I found myself in when I took a wrong turn. The people were like, banging on the car. It happened to me. This is why it took me four years not to be scared driving in Portland
CF: It was kind of a joke when it happened to us. Then a Palestinian guy got in the car with us, took us to their house, gave us food….
Ruba’s husband Ian interjects
IL: That’s what happened to me when an angry mob attacked. A Palestinian girl pulled me and said “we’ve got to get away” [he laughs]
RL: Yeah I went through that. How are you supposed to know?? I’m not going to be racist and say, have a star on the door, but what about a black flag or a something saying, “This is Shabbat and we take it seriously.” [giggles]
MU: Have you been to Gaza?
CF: No, I’ve been to Ramallah but not to Gaza.
MU: Have you attempted to go there?
CF: He [she gestures to her partner] doesn’t want to go to Israel anymore…and to go to Palestine you have to go to Israel.
IL: Well after doing this art you might not be…
CF: No, after these experiences we decided to join the boycott.
RL: Yeah, you probably won’t be welcome…
CF: We were never welcome in the first place.
RL: It was really nice talking to you…
CF: No, Thanks a lot for raising these things. I swear, We didn’t have these complexities in mind and it’s very important to think these things through.
RL: And to be honest, presenting these things in Europe you may actually get away with that, because people are actually more knowledgeable of stuff.
CF: They don’t know shit.
RL: But in the US it’s a continent removed and like very very controlled. And if you’re rural…
SF: I’m curious about the video and how you see that connecting.
CF: Well originally there was going to be another video there. So it’s almost like this video chose the exhibition.
SF: What was the other video?
CF: “Situations”… The other video is very interesting, it’s a video that is inspired by Krav Maga techniques**
SF: That’s the Israeli street fighting?
CF: Yes, that people use for street fighting in the states and elsewhere. So there are instructions of street fighting. It’s usually for white people. It’s street fighting mixed with Krav Maga techniques. They are really dangerous because they can break your spine and and really fuck you up, get paralyzed and all these things. It’s about toxic masculinity, it’s about being a bastard. We just show this violence. One of our friends is acting, he’s great. Both the videos are on our website. He never fought, this guy, he had to learn how to punch and stuff because he was doing it the wrong way. But anyways, it didn’t function in this space, on that ugly television. So in the end, James tried this one [The Number] for a test because the skin covers the full screen.
This is the number of James’s best friend who died six, no five and a half years ago, when he was eighty, and he was super resilient survivor of…
RL: The Holocaust?
CF: In Bergenbens, before that he was in the Warsaw ghetto. He went to the work camps and then they took him to Glasgow and he was completely assimilated and he had a very confused idea about Israel and stuff and he married a woman who was not Jewish. He was totally assimilated. He left his name. He always broke his kids balls because he didn’t want to die with this number. He was a gambler and the rabbi would always say, “you’re cheating” and no it’s my system a primitive algorithm. He was a tailor because he got injured. One of his legs was fucked up. He was shot and left for dead. He ran from the train when they were getting liberated. He was shot by a soldier so he couldn’t really walk very well so he had to become a tailor because he had to sit down and he made him [CF’s partner] a suit because he always wanted a male son, and he was obsessing of the tattoo, he wanted to cut it, it was his lucky number. None of the kids gave a shit and they didn’t want to do it. They said it was creepy, disgusting, and…
SF: He wanted to save the number…
CF: He wanted to save the number. He didn’t want the number to die with him. Because for him it was the story. He had a very positive vision of being a survivor, for him this was hope, this was why he had a very positive vision of Israel. Also we had so much shit for this work. Because at the same time, Zimesky, an artist that is Polish, we asked to take our work out of a show with him. he does a lot of stuff about sadistic things like torturing people…like doing Pavlov test with people showing through filming that they behave in a gregarious way. So this guy, at this time, his neighbor was a very old frail man. He was a guy that upset somebody, wasn’t Jewish, wasn’t Communist, just a mediocre guy who upset someone and was sent to the camp. He had a tattoo and it was fading it away. He was wrinkly and old and saggy and Zimesky wanted him to re-tattoo the number on his arm. And he was like “I don’t want to do that.” and he said yes, you do that. So you see this scene where the guy’s at the tattoo and at the end he’s showing the tattoo and asking “are you happy with that” and he’s going “no I’m not happy with that. I don’t want this thing on my skin” The guy’s probably dead now. So this video made a lot of noise because it was nasty sadistic shit. It didn’t mean anything politically because the guy was doing the same thing gesture as the Nazi’s. So even though our video came out at the same time, people said it’s the same shit as Zimesky. And we were like, no, it’s a bit more complicated than that. But he fucked it up. And he [Peter] found out many kids and grandkids have taken the tattoos of their family. But not many people outside of the family have done that, also people who are not Jewish. It was really a friendship. Its about resiliency, I think this work is more about resiliency.
RL: And, like, it was his wish. Like, he actually wanted the number to be passed on so he passed it on for him. You know? Regardless…
Kid interlude…and we said goodbye to Claire Fontaine. We continued talking a we walked back to the PNCA parking lot.
RL: That was really difficult for me. I was shaking, but then I was enraged [laughs] Rage helps me way better!
SF: Yeah. Anger can be productive… ok, So say the clocks are actually functioning the way they were intended. If we want to pretend it’s actually Tel Aviv and Gaza, how does this function with video of the guy re-tattooing the number of his friend? Together…
RL: Oh my gosh this bugged the crap out of me. That in a way displays the neighbor part. Mmm, because, because Israel is playing on the main stream media, don’t forget the main reason that Israel was able to go as far as she did because she played the Holocaust card until it didn’t need to.
IL: What do you mean until they didn’t need to?
RL: Until, habibi, now they don’t need to use anything. They have the right to do whatever…There’s no talk of Holocaust. That gum has been chewed until there is no more flavour.
MU: No the card is still playing itself.
RL: But, in my view, that is what a mainstream American who doesn’t know anything, he would think Israel was built on the ruins of the Holocaust to save the Jews. That’s literally what the simplification of this is, why the country of Israel was created, and that’s why Israel has the right to defend itself because, because its “the only place”…that’s literally the pretext.
MU: Frankly, if they had picked Tel Aviv it would be more disturbing.
SF: In a good way or a bad way?
MU: In a worse way.
RL: What do you mean in a worse way. For whom?
MU: Because now, we are dealing with it as a fully Israeli entity and it’s completely built on ruins. On like, peoples lands and dreams, and remains.
RL: This would actually be…
MU: So you are technically recognizing this ethnic cleansing and dealing with it, disturbingly normally and comparing it to what’s going on in Gaza.
RL: Uh….but Mohammed, there’s no city that you can compare that is not built on the ruins. You know what I mean? That’s at least a more legitimate starting point for a conversation, because yes it is more complicated.
MU: To say Tel Aviv?
SF: I think we are referring to their statement which says “neighbors who are enemies” which is the problematic part of the statement.
RL: As a practical fact, for me, on the ground 2018. The occupants of Jerusalem are both [Palestinian and Israeli], the occupants of Tel Aviv…
MU: I don’t care about Tel Aviv, I care about neighbors in regards to Tel Aviv and Gaza too.
RL: Wait, so I’m confused. Are we in agreement that it shouldn’t be Jerusalem or are we in disagreement?
MU: I feel like it [the art work] shouldn’t be in general.
RL: Well I agree with you on that. I agree with you on that.
MU: Because you are putting me in a Sophie’s Choice thing, like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. No, I’m sorry!
RL: Give me another city then. There’s not one city that…
SF: interjects, So what I’m hearing is we’re trying to make this thing…
RL: One moment, I’m basing this on the fact that the exhibition exists. We are not going to erase it. People are going to see it whether we like it or not. These are people who are making a statement about us whether we like it or not.
MU: I’m not talking about the people, I’m talking about the art itself.
RL: Yeah, but they’re making a statement through the art right?
MU: Who are they?
SF: So, Mohammed thinks the artwork shouldn’t exist at all, you’re trying to fix it. Correct? Or…
RL: No, I’m not trying to fix it. I’m trying to be realistic in what the situation actually is. Honestly, if they [CF] asked us, yes it should not fucking exist. I’m with you one hundred percent. This is fucked up. Because, literally when I say name another city that it could be, not one applies. This is all about simplification and portraying one as an enemy. In Jerusalem (and I never got the chance to say this), in Jerusalem, Muslims, Christians and Jews existed together. There are Jews still today in what they [Israelis] call Judea Samaria [the West Bank of Palestine] that still are as vilified as any other Palestinian because they believe that this is called Palestine but we never hear or speak about this shit. So in theory, I don’t, I one hundred percent don’t agree with this.
SF: But it’s there…
RL: It’s there, if it’s gonna be shown…it’s here and as I’m speaking to you people are passing by it. I can’t judge everybody because I don’t what their level of knowledge but I can tell you one thing. This sounds like a fishy…just to switch for a second I was talking this morning about Palestinians being like a gum that’s chewed for every government around elections and then spat, that got me to think about the DSA and Alexandra [Ocasio-Cortez] and in three weeks how she shifted her position on Palestine.
MU: interjects I agree but until what time do we need to water down our narrative? To baby step…
RL: Let me finish…
MU: I’m disturbed.
RL: I am too! But ok, I come from a different place. If this is something that is right now on the ground I’m not gonna come to you and attack you because the only thing that you’re gonna do if I attack your art point blank and remove it you’re gonna say fuck you, there’s no place of conversation here. If I come to you telling you, I actually see your intention, and everything that she said, this woman really knows a lot, I really had an icky part with the kibbutz part and I really want to educate her about Zionism but…again, that’s besides the point. Her point, literally is point blank in the right place ok? Like, I can ask her, maybe if I become friends with her, I’ll ask her to remove it in a week but in that week God knows how many people have seen that piece. God knows how many people just walking by have read that fucking paper and literally reading through the same narrative that we are…[being fed]
SF: Which equalizes…Israel equals Jerusalem, Gaza equals Palestine
RL: In the meantime, if she actually decided to take it down. What are we going to do with the damage done by the people that did see that but are pro-Palestinian but the artists are not there to explain [their] narratives. I’m sorry, Tel Aviv is a fucking colonized space. At least if you’re gonna put something and not be there to explain it, at least have it be something controversial. At least have it be a juxtaposition that is there.
MU: The thing is that…
RL: That is the only point I disagree with you on.
MU: What are you disagreeing with me about?
RL: I differ with you, I agree on the part that this should be removed.
MU: No, wait a minute…
SF: laughs This is the reform vs. revolution argument!
MU: I will never ask an artist to take down their thing, but I was answering a question in regards to Jerusalem vs Tel Aviv? No, none of them!
RL: What city do you suggest?
MU: She’s doing like, what Trump is doing all the time. He should not exist. But at the same time this is disturbing in a way that this art, if you show it to any fucking max or streetcar rider it’s not going to stand up. It’s not going to let them think. Why? Because it’s normal. It’s playing the narrative that Jerusalem is in Israel. That’s not true! And why the chaos is underground…
SF: You mean the newspapers?
MU: Yeah, what’s it doing there? I mean they’re not…
SF: They’re not specific.
MU: Yeah, is it just there to make us think oh it’s chaotic? So we should step out of it?
SF: Right. Is it [the “conflict”] too confusing, complex, we don’t understand?
MU: What’s it supposed to give you? You know? Oh my goodness these are two conflicts…is it the same? No it’s different, but at the same time under your feet the world is chaos. The world is fucking problematic.
SF: …and then the only concrete skin is the artist getting the tattoo of the Holocaust victim?
MU: Exactly and why is the fucking Holocaust there?
SF: Why is that the only body skin you see?
MU: No no no! Why the fucking Holocaust is there? Like why?
RL: That is one point that I don’t…that fucking TV should be smashed.
MU: Do you see what I mean? That would be…why the fucking street fight??
SF: The street fight would be worse!
MU: Yeah. [laughs]
SF: An Israeli street fighting video then becomes extra confusing.
MU: Yeah, that’s like completely…this is an artwork that…every fucking artist has good intentions. I don’t assume that everybody has bad intentions but what’s going on on the ground that this thing does not raise a question in anybody’s mind if they don’t know about anything. So therefore the recipient is completely neutralized you know? This is the status quo and you have basically receive it.
RL: interjects Yeah, that’s actually very true…
MU: There’s no newspaper on the ground that talks about the inauguration of the Embassy in Jerusalem while people are being killed in Gaza.
RL: You’re absolutely right. When you walk in, it’s like the only real thing that’s there is the two clocks that tell you nothing. You are absolutely right. Everything you said I’m totally with because when you step into that place [gallery] reading…what the fuck does LeBron James opening the school have to do with that?
RL: I didn’t get it. Does it mean what’s happening with the world is, there’s a lot of shit happening and Trump is in some of the pages…
SF: In fact the artist’s statement becomes one of the more clear parts, more than the artwork!
MU: Yeah, that’s why my first question was, where’s the artists statement…
RU: When I saw the tattoo I was like…that literally sounds like a whitewashing like…
SF: I mean, the idea of passing down of trauma if it’s your family member…but then what that?
RU: interjects I feel like that is a different artwork.
MU: Or do it with the key***
SF: I know! That’s what I was thinking about. I was like, yes it normalizes, but if you’re talking about trauma you should at least have a shared equalization by showing the key or thinking about the trauma passed down by Palestinians.
RL: Yeah, like literally you see the number and even an ignorant person would know what that represents.
SF: Then it talks about the pain of the Jewish people. So all you get out of it [the exhibition] is…
MU: interjects Is Jerusalem and Gaza…
RL: Let me step back and build upon what he [Mohammed] said. This is exactly chaos, like I would logically draw that ok, this is talking about current news. Jerusalem/Gaza uh, ok. Even an ignorant person knows that from the news, also very crazy…we know that from the beginning, #too complicated and then you see the tattoo. So the only representation of a Palestinian is in the clock in Gaza but all of this chaos and Jerusalem=Israel. Chaos-hm could be linked to Israel, the conclusion that this is about the Jewish suffering is going into that room with the tattoo. It literally provides the exact opposite of what she’s trying to do.
MU: It puts refugees, and suffering and war in the art statement, that’s something to draw into the sexiness of immigrants, the sexiness of disturbance.
SF: But you are sexy Mohammed…[laughs]
MU: I’m fucked up with this…
SF: But seriously, the more I started thinking about it while you guys were conversing, I was thinking wait. These things reinforce the already created narrative in the U.S.
MU: Yeah, but I don’t think she did anything creative.
SF: Ok so going back to the beginning. If you refer to the two clocks, which were supposed to be two lovers in Felix Gonzales-Torres work right?
MU: That’s why I wanted Ruba to stand there [under the clocks] because that was an actual representation…
SF: laughs Aw…I think we actually…I think we took a photo of you guys and your idea Mohammed was…that was actually a beautiful artwork!
RL: Yeah “Gaza and Jerusalem meeting in the U.S.” that is what the artwork is about.
IL: laughs “Where enemies become friends.”
RL: You can stay “Spoiler alert-Jerusalem is Palestine in this context.” Just so they don’t think I’m fucking Israeli, cuz they will. I could be anything. I passed all of my life Sarah, and I used it. I’ll use it as long as I can!
MU: No it’s disturbing. I remember why I don’t like to go to these type of exhibits.
IL: It just shows the pitfalls of being a foreigner and trying to make art work in the name of someone else’s struggle.
MU: They’re killing us in the name of creativity. Do you see what I mean?
RL: Yeah. With good intentions.
MU: Fuck good intentions. Frankly.
RL: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
MU: It should be Tel Aviv vs Tel Aviv.
RT: There are no Palestinians in Tel Aviv.
MU: Yes there is. I don’t care if there’s one Palestinian. They’re there.
RT: Very few. Again, in the context of 2018. And by the way, that’s the part they now call Yaffa. They actually physically divided them both. Even Yaffa they call Old Yaffa and…No! There’s the Palestinian Yaffa now. I’m sorry guys. I don’t live in Jerusalem but my friends live in those places and they ARE. Yaffa literally is being called what Jerusalem is being called.
MU: Habibti, Yaffa is my city!****
RT: Again, there’s a reality on the ground in 2018. I’m sorry…I’m pro art. I’m pro describing what’s on the ground, and in 2018 if you can be careful enough. Like, Latuff as a characateur, he nails it! He nails it every goddamn time! God Bless Grandma Palestine….But anyways I’m pro art. Especially, in the case of Palestine Israel, for it to be real, at least, like, I’m agreeing with you, I would put or add to that. Gaza…1948 Tel Aviv…
MU: interrupts Just don’t drag Gaza into this!
RT: I would put Tel Aviv with a year, and Tel Aviv with a year.
MU: Just leave Gaza out of it!
At this point our conversation devolves into a good natured swearing contest, at which point a Moroccan guy walking by hears our Arabic, laughs and joins in the conversation.
MU: I see Gaza as an accusatory statement here.
RL: I totally agree with you. It should be Tel Aviv with a date…
SF: Which dates? 1948? 1947?
RL: 1967…1948 or you can put any city past and present. Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Yaffa Yaffa! I have the books with pictures. It’s in the books. You see the pictures of the villages and then you see the pictures of a wide fucking field.
SF: I have one more point that seems strange. The original art [by FGT] was about a lover who passed away. So which one is it? Gaza or Jerusalem?
RL: Yeah that’s…again I don’t think you were there I asked Mohammed, which clock is gonna stop first? Like, I’m assuming Gaza.
IL: I think they would say Gaza.
RL: If I’m an artist and I’m supposedly making this about Palestine, Gaza’s gonna be the one that stops before.
MU: That’s disturbing.
RL:Yes I know
MU: They’re tokenizing Gaza
RL: We should go back and tell her it should be Tel Aviv vs Tel Aviv
MU: I don’t care about what to tell her!
IL: So this is my interpretation of it…the whole second one [in the artists statement] is basically talking about Gaza, until no forgiveness will be possible. So who’s the one that has to forgive?
IL: Clearly, the clock’s gonna run out on Gaza because the time will run out on their forgiveness.
MU: What’s the position of Gaza in the entire exhibit?
RL: What the fuck forgiveness? Forgiveness for what? We should be the ones forgiving them for occupying us! What the fuck forgiveness? I wish you pointed that out then.
SF: There were too many [problems] in the statement. So Mohammed I have a question for you. Making an artwork that is representing the dire circumstances that are happening in Gaza, without it meaning the…going to the extreme of death, even though death is existing currently there through the occupation. Like, what do you think about art work thinking through intense circumstances vs the possibility of resiliency or of fighting back or retaliation. Is there any way to make an artwork about Gaza?
MU: There is! There is for example an artist in Gaza, . He just brought a doorframe and a big red carpet ok? With the door and placed it by the sea, and then took a photo.
SF: Mmm, you walk the red carpet to the sea?
MU: To the sea! Where’s death? That’s an artwork. Here’s another point. Those people have never been to Gaza, you know? When the question was like, why you didn’t go? They said he’s not going to Gaza because he’s boycotting Israel. The point is we are still being tokenized, being talked about without people trying to go there…and the art in Gaza does not have a chance to show outside. Why the only way we have is social media. So, the thing is. The world is not giving Gaza a chance to speak up but the same time you’ll find an artist in Sheikh Jayeeh Gaza bringing wood and stone in front of a house that’s just been demolished an bring two kids to balance on it [like a see saw]. That’s fucking art.
SF: So ok, I’m curious, Mohammed is talking about the artwork tokenizing Gaza and tokenizing Gazans and the experience of Gazans. Is it conceivable for a person not from Gaza to make a work that talks about Gaza? How? Could it work?
IL: I think so…I mean I’m not Gazan, but there was an artist that with a Palestinian person applied for visas to all of these countries and filled up their passport with like, the denials of visas and used it as an art project. I though that was pretty interesting.
SF: What do you think Mohammed?
MU: Well, Joe Sacco but he’s been there…
SF: And that a whole story, that’s a narrative that has the possibility of complication.
MU: So, you need to have our narrative. Like, literally nothing about us should be done without us. I mean imagine mean going to Flint Michigan and I’ve never been even to Michigan and do some art without going there to see what’s going on. Of course yeah I’ve read about it. I can do some writing regarding about how it is similar, but how authentic is that? How real is that? If I even don’t know what that means?
SF: Can you make a work in solidarity without ever having been somewhere?
MU: Well, we’re doing it. I’ve been doing in regards to Jerusalem, Yaffa. Nabi Saleh, I haven't been to these places but I consider myself part of it. I mean I’m Palestinian, and there’s two things. There’s solidarity work and there’s those peoples work [Claire Fontaine]. So if I’m doing something in solidarity, I’m an ally.
SF: Right, this artwork didn’t claim to be an ally, even though the second paragraph was speaking about the problems going on in Gaza.
IL: The thought they were.
MU: But that’s how a white proud person would say about themselves, “I thought I am…”
IL: I think the thing that you brought up is that you can do work in solidarity but you should always consult the victim. I feel like you could do work about Israel from a victims point of view because they’re the oppressor.I feel like you, as a person who’s being oppressed can certainly do work about the oppressor, but doing art about the person who’s being oppressed when they’ve only lived in Israel without consulting the persons being oppressed?
MU: That’s a big question mark!
IL: I mean because they lived in one side of it but they missed the very important part about the victim. So you could probably do work about Flint as long as you consulted you know, someone in Flint. But people in Flint can certainly do work about the governor without having to consult the governor.
SF: Laughs Right. So it’s conceivable that you could make an artwork and then share it with someone from the place…for example Claire Fontaine could’ve said “this is what we’re thinking of…now…say hey Ruba and Mohammed I’m thinking of making this artwork, what do you think?”
RL: Make an effort! Try to reach out to Palestinians. The same goes for Syria…and not one. Gain a perspective, not one opinion. Gain a perspective, and then ask them here’s what I came up with, what do you think? Before taking it to the public…and I would add to that, to what Mohammed said…I speak about Gaza, but I’ve never set foot in Gaza. But at the same time, one thing that he and I do simultaneously without ever thinking about it. In his presence I never ever talk about the Gazan experience. I can’t. In my presence, he never claims to speak about the Jerusalem experience. We…I’m ok with ever generalization he makes about Jerusalem. I know where it’s coming from, and so does he. There’s that respect. Just when he talked about going to Flint, that’s a really great example. Again…this feels like a hot topic because it’s in the news. Again, gum [she makes a chewing and spitting out motion.] It…
MU: I don’t think it’s a hot topic…it’s very watered down…and that’s the danger of it.
RL: This is a bad exhibit. Dissecting the pieces. It’s bad and altogether it’s bad because honestly. That video, the story behind that is legitimately good.
SF: Separate. On its own. Separate. On its own.
MU: Yes, without dragging Gaza into it.
RL: Yes on it’s own without dragging me into it.
SF: Yes, you don’t even have to drag Israel into it!
MU: But here, the narrative is completely changed.
RL: You can not, not draw that line. It’s from one to two. Even if you were maybe gonna think of the Holocaust, she’s like “Here, let me remind you.”
SF: Yeah yeah and I think it’s interesting that those things come out. Can we escape the implicit bias that the media helps create in us? Even as people who are then living in a situation, they lived there. As outsiders feeling the tension, witnessing the oppression, still have this it seems to me, an implicit bias in the way that they’re framing the exhibition, that they don’t even realize that they’re having!
MU: That can say something about Israel more than them too. What type of people are they meeting that are feeding them.
RL: What kind of narrative…it’s very scary, the people that support you, have that narrative! It’s going to take ages to get to through that, now let’s talk about the two state solution…you’re gonna have to go miles, let’s go visit Gaza and the West Bank and all of the fucking walls. Tell me how are you intending to work out a two state solution?? Tell me. Bring it!
MU: Sorry buddy.
RL: Two state solution. oh my God…
SF: Don’t forget “forgiveness.”
RL: Because we have enemies we need to forgive…we need rise above our enemies while they’re killing us before they even stop killing us. It’s all about forgiveness girl!
MU: Hakuna matata!
SF: Thank you both for speaking with me.
RL & MU: Thank you!
*For a history of the term coexist, see Ilaria Lupo’s article The Museum on the Seam (I Ask Myself) p23 in The Beirut Journal for Radical Activation https://sarahfarahat.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/english-with-cover-small.pdf
** Israeli street fighting
***The key is a symbol of Palestinian liberation struggle. Many families still hold keys to their homes which are currently occupied by Israeli families
****Many Palestinians now residing in Gaza are actually refugees kicked out of their homes in other parts of historic Palestine.
As a series of flash bangs shook my body yesterday in Portland I wondered two things: 'Why did the Portland Police decide to put families (whom they allegedly protect) at risk by firing harmful gases, semi-lethal projectiles and deafening, trauma inducing sound grenades in the middle of a peaceful demonstration, while simultaneously canceling the march from the back, denying access to the disability truck and splitting the marchers into scared bunches without a clear exit or end destination?' Shame on the City of Portland. The second thing I wondered was, 'Who gave you, Black Bloc, the right to put my body in harms way by your actions?' Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting property is more important than people-in fact I am consciously weeding out the word from my language-especially in regards to land management, but I do think we need to have a serious conversation about tactics. When I first heard the phrase "Diversity of Tactics" I thought, 'huh, yeah that sounds good.' We can all poke at the beast from different sides with sticks of our choosing, but when I realized that actually means that we don't have to come together and decide on a course of action that protects people who are at heightened risk for arrest (and possible deportation or torture), I rethought the term.
In the Bay Area for example, I see folks organizing their own direct actions in concert with the general protests. While we might not know that an action is going to go down if we are not core organizers, there are trusted security there that are aware of the general plan in order to keep everyone else as safe as possible. Among other strategic actions in the Bay, activists in San Francisco used people power to block the ICE garage from shipping people out yesterday! Now that is something I find worth defending. Yes, the Black Bloc isn't responsible for police violence, the police are, but the bloc needs to be more aware and take responsibility for actions that will most certainly put others in danger.
At Standing Rock we stood together on the front lines and that shit was scary. I still suffer from PTSD which gets triggered after a day like yesterday in Portland. But what was different about Standing Rock? We all agreed to be there, in full understanding of the consequences. We prepared ourselves with supplies and had medics standing by that also consented to our tactics. We all agreed to support our brothers and sisters as they risked arrest by not forgetting about them. Free Red Fawn! We went there with prayers in our hearts and when those prayers wavered because it is really easy to hate a cop, we were encouraged to sit down, to feel the earth and re-focus our purpose. OUR. PURPOSE.
Some say that the Bloc just exposes pre-existing State violence and police brutality. But I ask the Bloc, 'Who are you trying to teach? The babies? The glitter bloc that can't necessarily run away quickly from a police barricade? Our black and brown brothers and sisters at the front of the march?' Surely they had no idea that police violence existed until the Black Bloc pointed it out. Thank you Black Bloc. Or are we trying to start a revolution? Cuz if that's the case, we need the numbers. Personally I'd rather organize with someone who asks me first whether I support their tactics and listens to me when I offer my concerns, shows me their face, and times their actions appropriately. Does the Bloc even need to be related to a march? In fact if they weren't, I think I'd probably be more likely to support them.
As a Street Medic, not only am I concerned about my own safety, I've chosen to take on the extra responsibility of caring for the people around me. I can tell you that people were near tears. I think about trauma a lot and in particular, the trauma and re-traumatization caused by State sanctioned violence. This violence as we all should know by now, disproportionately falls on the backs of black and brown folks. No, the Black Bloc didn't force the marchers to disperse in less than five minutes while surrounding and dividing several city blocks creating an unsafe situation for everyone. That was the Portland Police.
Sure we can debate the efficacy of a sanctioned march as an organizing tool, or whether we even have the time to debate in this urgent time. However, there is no part of me that feels like what happened yesterday challenged the State or the Trump Regime let alone got us any closer to an end to Capitalism or Fascism. What I predict from yesterday's march is that it further alienated many people from the Black Bloc. Which is unfortunate, because obviously some of these masked-primarily white males are willing to throw down for the cause. As someone who does support the theoretical idea of anarchism, while simultaneously believing that it isn't attainable on a large scale in my lifetime, I find it hard to understand how these tactics benefit the whole. I ask you Black Bloc, 'Who do you protect? Who do you serve?'
In conclusion, I leave you with the words of one of my favorite writers from the very well organized EZLN movement, Subcomandante Marcos, who wrote,
"I should confess something to you. When I laboriously climbed the first of the steep hills that abound in these parts, I was sure that it would be my last. I wasn't thinking of revolution, of high human ideals or a shining future for the dispossessed and forgotten of always. No, I was thinking I'd made the worst decision in my life, that the pain that squeezed my chest, more and more, would end up totally closing off my increasingly skimpy airway, that the best thing for me would be to go back and let the revolution manage itself without me, along with similar rationalizations. If I didn't go back it was only because I didn't know the way back."
1. Our Word Is Our Weapon: Selected Writings, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, 2001. pp 214-215.
One of the most amazing things about participating in the Standing Rock water protection movement is the commitment of all of us to non-violent direct prayer ceremony and action. Sitting here right now it is hard not to fuel the rage that is building in me, directed very pointedly towards the orange bag of hot air sitting in the Oval Office. I know many of us are thinking, if only we could pop that foul balloon, everything would be ok, the EIS wouldn't be revoked and native land wouldn't again be subjected to the desecration that has been the signature of U.S. colonialism since inception.
But if there is one thing that this election has taught many of us, it's that there are some very major wounds in the heart of this project called America. Yes, I use that word knowing full well it seeks to subsume the land north and south of it, to presume front and centre. The thing that is so fascinating about a black hole is that it is a force you can feel but cannot see. Maybe it's not the best analogy for what is happening in our government right now because they are all right there. Yup, all those white men are very visible, but if you imagine that this is a gathering of force that is visible but yet untouchable, perhaps that is closer to the heart of it. How many of us truly truly believe that with enough calls to our senators we can actually get the little orange hot bag of air to shift a policy like the Dakota Access Pipeline? If I search my heart of hearts, that is not the way.
Direct action at the pipeline site has become almost impossible due to the blockades and approved military force. We saw on November 20th what the North Dakota police force is willing to do to peaceful protectors of Mother Earth. I was there. I felt the sting of the gas and I will forever hold a pain in my heart watching as icy water was sprayed at my brothers and sisters of all ages in below freezing weather conditions. I was there when flash bang grenades shook our bodies. I was there when Grandmothers were arrested and sacred objects smashed. I too could not sleep because low-flying planes loomed overhead and they robbed us of the night sky with their wasteful bright lights. I saw young people worrying about their post-traumatic stress, their eyes puffy from pepper spray, dance and smile when beautiful music was gifted to the camp. I was hugged by a Grandma who fed thousands of people each week because she knew her gifts were necessary to nourish our spirits. I saw small bags of herbs sent from all over the land by those who know how much we needed to be healed. I read cards from young children who understood better than the government how much water means. Perhaps because they still remember the sacred water that held each of us for nine months.
So this is a time of joy and mourning for many of us. The resistance is not over by any means, nor did it even pause in celebration for the mandated Environmental Impact Statement. The government of the U.S. has broken or left unfulfilled so many treaties with the indigenous peoples of this land that until the last piece of pipe has been pulled from the ground, we believe not words, but actions. So I ask each of you now, to remember what you hold sacred. That bird that wakes you each morning, that river that you make pilgrimage to each summer, that tree that holds you when your heart is broken, that rain that makes the morning smell of life itself, and the rainbow which beams after the darkest hour, an overarching miracle. These parts of the whole that we keep close to our hearts, the love that we have is what brings us such sadness and anger in times like these. As we gathered to pray tonight in the Square, an Elder reminded us that if we forget this love, if we give in to the ease of anger, we have been transformed, that we are no stronger than those we are resisting. So tonight please try to see your anger, your sorrow as a tiny drop in the ocean of your love. Hold firm to that love with a strong heart as we move deeper into a time which tests us. We are being challenged to get more creative, to be more ingenious, more open and most of all, more loving. As the great love poet Pablo Neruda wrote, "Podrán cortar todas las flores, pero no podrán detener la primavera." (You can cut all of the flowers, but you cannot stop the Spring from coming.)