TURNING ON IT OWNERS (PART 2)

The script intentionally comments on historic land ownership and the search for archaeological proof of such claims, but in a completely ridiculous manner. This false narrative becomes a representation of the contemporary archaeological uncanny, suggesting spatial and historical instabilities, perplexity, and the fine line between truth and fiction.

The final room of the exhibition features a large single-channel video projection and six flatscreens that can be viewed as the artists’ first self-portrait in their twenty-year collaboration. By Aporia Pure and Simple represents a day in the studio life of Aziz + Cucher (fig. ). The artists emerge from the 23 St-Ely Avenue subway stop in Long Island City dressed up not in their normal attire, but as two clowns: Aziz wears a militaristic costume with a giant floppy kaffia bowtie and Cucher appears ridiculously cosmopolitan, sporting an outfit comprised of different textiles from around the world including a large tie with two Stars of David. Although they had the costumes designed by Yahi Tabassoni while they were still in Berlin, Aziz + Cucher were unsure how they would incorporate them into their new work. While reviewing all of the material that they had generated once they were back in the States, they came up with the idea of the video. They explained: “We really felt . . . like clowns. Going around Israel and Palestine with the little video camera, and talking to people and recording voices.”[1]  The clowns became a vehicle through which they could self-critically insert themselves into this material: “. . . [T]he clown is always that character [who] tries to fix something that’s broken and breaks it even more, he never gives up because he’s so determined, but wrong. So we felt that was us.”[2]

The 9-minute single channel video begins with the familiar sounds of NPR’s Morning Edition with Linda Werthheimer and Steve Inskeep reporting on the Middle East conflict. We see Aziz + Cucher walking through the streets with the familiar skyline of New York behind them. They take the elevator up into their studio where we hear a barrage of media reports about the suspension of direct peace talks between the Arabs and Israelis. Throughout the condensed day there is a dizzying stream of media reports in English, Hebrew and Arabic alongside TV news reports about the Middle East that appear on a monitor. Reinforcing this palimpsest of newscasts, Aziz + Cucher also layer other sounds to conjure “the confused mash-up in [their] heads,” including Israeli folk music, Lebanese ancestral songs, recordings of the Koran and Hebrew Psalms, a flutist playing Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, and a Dub track given to them by their Bosnian guide. To increase the sense of disorientation, they sometimes play the folk music backwards or speed it up so that it is unnaturally fast and bewildering. The radio, television, and sound components simulate the media bombardment and related desensitization that Americans experience daily regarding news about the Middle East.

As we watch the artists hang up stills of photographs taken during the residency and edit their selections with black Sharpies, the camera zooms in closely on various collected unrelated images including an urban watermelon stand and a peacock waiting in the middle of a road. Throughout the video, the camera pans from photographs that fill the camera frame entirely to more distanced shots showing the artists evaluating their documentary material. In this way, the video points to Aziz + Cucher’s simultaneous immersion within the Middle East landscape while also underscoring the artist’ physical distance from the crisis. In one section we see young Israeli army inductees who march out of synch during a ceremony taking place in front of the Western Wall. Each receives a gift of a rifle and the Bible. The camera zooms in on their uncoordinated footwork, eventually cutting to a segment where Aziz + Cucher humorously approximate the militaristic movements. Their colorful clown costumes blur against the white walls of their studio as they march and spin frenetically, suggesting the overall disorientation induced by the cacophonous soundtrack and the bombardment of imagery from different cultures, locations, and temporalities. Throughout the video, we see glimpses of sketches that became portions of each of the works included in the exhibition – a building from The Time of the Empress, developing stills from In Some Country, documentary footage from Report from the Front. The video is itself a palimpsest of their journey through this new body of work, an accumulation of observations, images, sounds, and experiences that metaphorically conjure the space of the transcendental uncanny.

At the conclusion of the video, in contrast to the hysterical, unstable sensorial barrage, Cucher stares quietly looking out the studio window into the industrial landscape of Queens; Aziz collapses exhaustedly into a chair. They reunite to pose for their self-portrait in front of a group of cameras while holding a copy of their book, Residency, and then they leave the studio, walking down the street toward the distant subway tracks and city. The normalcy of their day is accentuated in six flatscreen monitors that depict long takes of people seen throughout their residency engaged in daily activities. They walk down the streets, swim at the beach, and shop in markets, demonstrating an uncanny resilience and “normalcy” in the face of constant threats. As Tami Katz-Freiman suggests in her essay, the title of this work By Aporia, Pure and Simple derives from a short story by Samuel Beckett: “One of Beckett’s characters rhetorically asks himself: ‘How do you go on living?’ and answers: ‘By Aporia, pure and simple.’” According to Katz-Freiman: “The word ‘aporia’ has a typically Becketian meaning, referring as it does to an irresolvable internal contradiction or disjunction.”[3] By Aporia Pure and Simple, and by extension all of the work in Some People, acknowledges this precise existential conundrum, creating an aesthetic metaphor for the contemporary spatial uncanny comprised of ambiguity, odd juxtapositions of reality and fiction, and the effect of “transcendental homelessness.” Some People forces us to ask, in the midst of such senselessness, what else can we do but repress the horror until it turns on us once again? Syzmborska’s poem closes with a stanza that recognizes this “old-established” uncanny and its inevitable eventual return despire our desire to forget it:

Something else will happen, only where and what.

Someone will come at them, only when and who,

In how many shapes, with what intentions.

If he has a choice,

maybe he won’t be the enemy

and will let them live some sort of life.[4]



[1] Interview with LF

[2] Ibid.

[3] Tami Katz-Freiman, “From Body Politics to Conflict Politics: Aziz + Cucher Come Out of the (Biography) Closet,” xxxx add appropriate reference related to this book here.

[4] Szymborska, 262.