Photo credit: Hans Wilschut (2020)

When The Fall of the Dictionary Leaves all Words Lying in the Street. Part 3 of The Incidental Insurgents (2012-2015), Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme, 4 channel HD video and 2 channel sound + sub woofer 12’53’’, 
7 wooden towers at varying scale, 3 mini projectors with 3’ video, 2020. 
Photo by Hans Wilschut. Courtesy of Eye Filmmuseum.

Trembling Landscapes: Between Reality and Fiction
Group exhibition curated by Nat Muller
Eye Filmmuseum
19.09.2020 - 03.01.2021

Ulufer Çelik ~
No Matter How Deeply Buried, That Rhythm Could Not Be Killed

Ulufer Çelik reflects on anonymity and the notion of the ‘figure’ in the context of pandemic statistics and the work of Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme. No Matter How Deeply Buried, That Rhythm Could Not Be Killed includes personal reflections and Çelik‘s own ‘Reference-Cloud’ collages.

Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme‘s video installation: The Incidental Insurgents. Part 3: When the Fall of the Dictionary Leaves All Words Lying in the Street, is currently on view at the Eye Filmmuseum in: Trembling Landscapes: Between Reality and Fiction.

I’m walking in the Eye Filmmuseum carrying my essentials: you’re no longer allowed to leave things behind -so all of the lockers stand empty surrounded by no-pass red tape. The current exhibition is: Trembling Landscapes: Between Reality and Fiction, 11 Artists from the Middle East*. In the exhibition text the asterisk notes that this term is, ‘Eurocentric and has its origin in colonialism.’ This, I accept. But I still wonder about the number 11. There is no asterisk to elaborate on the significance of the number 11. 

‘Landscape is a charged notion in the Middle East’, the text continues. Yes, I think. So ‘charged’, that it's super likely that after you die, before anything else, you’ll become a number. Before they bury you, before your reincarnation or in some cases before you even die: you will first ‘wake up’ as a number on the news. The perk is, you don’t go through this abstract transfiguration alone: 310 women have been killed by their lovers in Turkey this year so far [1]. Greece transfers 400 migrants from Lesbos Islands to the mainland tomorrow. [2] Estimates of the total number of deaths in the Syrian Civil War, by opposition activist groups, vary between 384,000 and about 577,660 as of May 2020. [3].  And yes, perhaps it is similar to follow Coronavirus death statistics.  But here, so many statistics, at the same time, in one charged landscape. And actually, ‘charged’ by whom?

Reference-Cloud, Collage 1. Courtesy Ulufer Çelik.

I’m passing by Mohamad Hafeda’s work, Sewing Borders (2017).  In the film, a finger is pointing out my hometown Antalya in South of Turkey on a map and a voice says: ‘This and the whole sea (Mediterranean) should be ours’.  It’s a sentence from a displaced resident’s story.  People, as well as the landscape, are charged over negotiating spatial, temporal, and historic borders here.  I can feel the charge from the tone of the voice.  Personal considerations of these borders remind me of how art has many more ways to in-form people than number-based-news and yet, this 'mine and yours' language still has a lot to do to transform.  After the film, I reply: ‘The sea belongs to the sea’.

The video installation in the next room by Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme comprises: five hanging screens, two channel sound and six model watch towers.  The towers are made of wood, metal and wire, and they surround this part of the exhibition space.  The work is titled: The Incidental Insurgents. Part 3: When the Fall of the Dictionary Leaves All Words Lying in the Street. (2015).  Surrounding the hanging scenes, smaller projections depict a skewed roadside landscape and overlay the model watchtowers.  They evoke the tension of being lost, they chase the visitor to follow the camera. I’m looking for and running after a landscape at dawn. We’re on the edge-of-being, in the middle-of-nowhere.  But the watchtowers inform us that we’re not yet fully abandoned: there’s still the comforting presence of panoptic control.  Reccurring glitches and errors in the surrounding sounds and images, projected and amplified, support us through a riveting and fast-paced audio-visual journey through the West Bank.  The reality of their transmission keeps us grounded as we question this area between reality and fiction.

Reference-Cloud, Collage 2. Courtesy Ulufer Çelik.

In this space, the two-channel sound functions as a heart/drum beat.  It keeps us alert.  The bass-filled atmosphere that the sound creates both underlines and pins the time and place.  Though these sounds may characteristically remind us of the beginnings of things, archetypal notions of cave or womb, within this installation the sound functions as an instrument of the future: an alert, a call, an invitation - to radically desire.

Pulsating poetry flashes through the hanging screens: ‘To be anonymous, to reappear as another figure, to have many returns’, it reads.  While reading this fractal lullaby, my senses are buzzing around.  We’re behind masks these days, they cover half of our faces, we’re one step closer to anonymity.  Yet it is an in-between phase, and like any other phase, we’ll get used to this.  I breathe in the CO2 and am put in a half-asleep zone but I still want to contemplate how to reappear without being another figure, and ‘have many returns’... 

Abbas and Abou Rahme describe the Incidental Insurgents 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’.  In this work, the last part of the search: When the fall of the dictionary leaves all words lying in the street (2015), poetic fragments wait to be harvested from a field of daydreams.  Thoughts greet images: moving, calling, offering - a speculative potential for change.

Reference-Cloud, Collage 3. Courtesy Ulufer Çelik.

But where are we in the work?  The landscapes I see depicted, could be a part of many places in the world.  They could belong to a timeframe before cities were built or after cities have been demolished.  These might be ancient lands or non-existent times.

While the visual fragments of the installation collide with each other at every blink, the work requires you to step in, and lead a reciprocal path.  As I found my own way through, a graveyard popped up on a screen.  A graveyard full of ‘figures’ who were once people warming up soup; figures that are numerically countable.  Such numbers could be a list of bodies.  This figure is drawable; you could describe its shadow-like shape as you see others [4].  We are in a constant zone of transfiguration between the number of dead bodies and alive shadow figures.  The consensus here is that there is anonymity between worlds, and ‘the figure’ we see lacks the possibility of being commemorated.  Despite this, the figures are pinned to the present: ‘Even now I think I can see them.  No matter how deeply buried.  That rhythm could not be killed’. [5]

Projected onto the hanging screens, shadows populate the landscape among recurring text fragments and buried/tracked bodies in the tombstone filled space.  As a number, or as a shape, both ‘figures’ are traced in Abbas and Abou-Rahme's work to build a getaway to an abstracted inbetween, for the sake of the revolution and for the sake of a comeback - this time as the desiring subject.  Responding to the rhythm and the call, weaving through the installation, taking this in step by step as a viewer is a hard task at times.

Abbas & Abou-Rahme’s radical imagination gives you the temporary status of having ‘no fixed abode’[6], inhabiting the role of viewer-as-stranger.  You are tasked with connecting the dots and therein lies the radical potential of your freewill: reforming agency as a hopeful responsibility.  If repeated rhythmically, can such poetic and symbolic action affect our reality?  What should the stranger do now?  Did she ever take others’ lives?  And how can the stranger feel lighter than the weightless shadow?  Between the millisecond frame of pulling our masks down and having our faces back again, let's not give up the conditions of anonymity so quickly: it might be that an embodied gateway to a space between worlds can ignite in the stranger a revolutionary desire.


1. Zeren Göktan, 2013, Monumental Counter, web-based art work.

2. Alessio Dellanna, 2020, ‘Greece Transfers almost 400 migrants from Lesbos Island to Mainland.’


4. See also: Ulufer Çelik, 2017, Reference-Cloud Collage, in prior publication: ‘Back and forth between now and 32,000 years ago’. Ulufer Çelik, 2017, ‘Back and forth between now and 32,000 years ago.’

5. Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme, 2015, The Incidental Insurgents. Part 3: When the Fall of the Dictionary Leaves All Words Lying in the Street. Text fragment from video installation.

6. Franz Kafka, 1913, The Cares of a Family Man. (Special thanks to Derya Yıldız, who introduced me the term ‘no-fixed abode’, and this short story by Kafka).

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