Exhibition: In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain – Larissa Sansour (by Mara Sprengel)

Exhibition:
In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain
Larissa Sansour

New Art Exchange, 31-41 Gregory Boulevard, Nottingham
15 January – 13 March 2016

by Mara Sprengel

Larissa Mansour

I begin with a disclaimer: I am enamoured with the work of Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour. This lends this piece a certain amount of bias which, to be honest, I am not entirely unhappy about!

Sansour’s work is interdisciplinary. She uses film, photography, installation and sculpture through which she interrogates questions of Palestinian nationhood, territory and identity. Confronted with a situation often described as Kafka-esque or unreal, a hostile present of bureaucratic restrictions of movement and heavily controlled land, resources and airspace, and an increasingly contested past, Sansour turns to the genre of sci-fi in order to further distort reality and to attempt to answer the ‘question’ of Palestine. The collection currently being shown at the New Art Exchange comprises three films: A Space Exodus (2009), Nation Estate (2012) and In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain (2015). Film stills and sculpture installations, including a gang of Palestinauts (2010) which scamper up the walls, offer variety to the exhibition. A poster ‘advertising’ Nation Estate parodies Franz Kraus’ iconic 1936 ‘Visit Palestine’ image, destabilising its intended Zionist and orientalist notions. The works are ideally displayed on black walls which serve to focus attention on the screens and well-lit sculptures whilst also creating an intimacy which envelopes the viewer.

With a running time of just over five minutes, A Space Exodus (2009) is the shortest of the three films. We journey with Sansour as she travels to the moon in order to claim an alternative homeland space for the Palestinians. Elements of traditional Palestinian culture are cleverly intertwined with dominant narratives of space exploration and expansionism. Such narratives, often Western and masculine, are challenged and subverted here by a Middle Eastern female astronaut striking out on her own to claim territory for her people.

Set in a near-future dystopia, Sansour’s Nation Estate (2012) provides a witty but surreal ‘solution’ to Palestinian claims for a nation state and counters the issue of ever-diminishing space in the West Bank. Palestinian sumud [1] and resolute refusal to leave their ancestral homeland has been nightmarishly re-envisioned and as the film progresses we see that a grotesque paradoxical compromise to the issue of territoriality and land ownership in Israel/Palestine has been reached. The Palestinians remain in-situ and maintain a very visible presence in the landscape. However their location is absolute and they are intensely surveilled, ghettoised and prevented from moving outside of a very defined and specific space. All opportunities for contact between Israelis and Palestinians have been removed and the very essence of Palestinian life has been neatly compartmentalised into a sterile and internationalised space. Palestinian identity has been reduced to a series of motifs which figure throughout the short film, with monuments and relics reproduced in a form of Disneyfication, providing a stark contrast to the reality of the occasionally visible ancient landscape ‘outside’.

The confusion of tenses in the title In The Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain (2015) indicates a temporal disruption and, as we travel through time with a self-proclaimed ‘narrative terrorist’, we begin to understand why. As she distributes shards of porcelain decorated with a keffiyeh [2] pattern throughout space and time for future generations to discover, the protagonist seeks to write the Palestinians not only into history but also into time. The viewer is responsible for piecing together the narrative which is offered in the form of layers of historical photographs, film, visual tropes and an oral soundtrack. This allows the film to examine the role of fiction in history and in doing so not only challenges accepted notions of truth and historical entitlement to land but also subverts archaeological strategies utilised by Israeli authorities to legitimise claims to land.

Sansour’s use of sci-fi to produce meaningful and intensely politicised works enables the creation of a potentially limitless and liberating cultural space through which Palestinian identity can be renegotiated and considered. The highly polished aesthetic of her films results in a beauty, despite the disquieting subject matter, and the use of Hollywood tropes and references in her work facilitates cultural interconnectivity and a crossing of boundaries. When the three films are viewed as a collection, ideally in chronological order, you can chart the progression and development of Sansour’s ideas which are crystallised in the final film. I can’t wait to see where her next project leads her and I urge you to take the opportunity to see Sansour’s inventive and challenging work whilst it’s in Nottingham. She will be discussing her practice with curator and critic Nat Muller on 26th February 2015. See you there!

Notes:
[1] Arabic for ‘steadfastness’ although the wider Palestinian implications of the term are linked to themes of resistance.
[2] Pattern taken from a scarf which is synonymous with Palestinian nationalism.

Further reading:
 Larissa Sansour http://www.larissasansour.com/index.html
 New Art Exchange http://www.nae.org.uk/exhibition/larissa-sansour-in-the-future-they-ate/96
 Makhoul, Bashir, ed., Palestinian Video Art: Constellation of the Moving Image (Palestinian Art Court – al Hoash: Jerusalem, 2013)
 Dabashi, Hamid, Dreams of a Nation: On Palestinian Cinema (Verso: London, 2007)
 Gertz, Nurith and George Khleifi, Palestinian Cinema: Landscape, Trauma, and Memory (Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 2008)

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