Sensible Grounds: Communities of Oblivion
A Conference as Screening, Embodying, Translating, Conversing, Publishing
by Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri
In the year 2007, the artists Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri were in Paris, with their friend François Bucher, searching for and screening collectively produced films in France from the 1960’s. From Paris, one parted for Armenia and the then 13 year old autonomous Republic of Artsakh, better known in the Soviet period as Nagorno-Karabakh, to explore the conditions of life after a protracted war for self-determination in the early 1990’s. The other embarked on a trip with the idea of staging an encounter between Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra in the contemporary Arabic speaking worlds.
In 2021, in the midst of a pandemic, the artists return to Paris to show films recently produced which rely on the materials gathered in that year. One produced as a musical film essay Black Bach Artsakh responding to the invasion of Artsakh last year by the Azeri and Turkish militaries killing 4000, and forcing 60000 Armenians to abandon their homes and ancestral lands. And the second, An Untimely Film for Every One and No One, made with the late Jean-Luc Nancy, which attempts to realize that encounter between Nietzsche and the Arab Worlds in the aftermath of the revolutions of 2011 and their confrontations with organized forms of state violence.
Black Bach Artsakh, karintak, 2021. Courtesy of the artists.
Black Bach Artsakh, children, 2021. Courtesy of the artists.
The films compose two of the elements for what the artists call a Conference in Shards. Conference in Shards is imagined as it is named, in shards, films, performances, short form conversations which attempt through singular positions and experiences to try and piece together senses of our worlds and possibilities for reimagining a life in common.
The Paris edition of the conference is entitled Communities of Oblivion. The question the artists wish to share and consider in Paris is the following: Can we respond to the existential challenges confronting human life on the planet today without a reckoning with our mutilated relation to the past and the practices and the infrastructures of oblivion which constitute and justify the continued forms of violence we see, including those against earth, throughout our worlds? How do we begin to confront these states and their constructed communities of oblivion, which derive their arrogance, supremacies, powers and wealth from centuries of colonization, racialization, enslavement, sexism, coercion, conversion, indoctrination, enclosure, dispossession, exposition, exploitation, extraction, and other forms of organized violence? Resituating the questions around community today, as Jean-Luc Nancy posed them in his seminal book La Communauté désœuvrée, is a way to continue together, what another interlocutor of his, the late Maurice Blanchot, once referred to as L’Entretien infini.
Contributors to the conference include historian, decolonial-feminist Françoise Vergès and historian, foremost scholar on the Armenian Genocide, Raymond Kevorkian. For Paris, Black Bach Artsakh has been lovingly translated into French by Carla Bottiglieri. The voice-over-under-beside are enacted live by Mélanie Nittis and Gérard Der Haroutiounian. Texts expanding and emerging from the conference, the films Black Bach Artsakh and An Untimely Films for Every One and No One is also gathered in the form of a publication.
Communities of Oblivion is part of the multi-chapter program of moving image practices, Sensible Grounds, curated by Azar Mahmoudian. The program contemplates historical capacities of the cinematic space as physical and mental environments, in creating forms of sociality, through double acts of bearing witness and re-visioning worlds. The program began by thinking through the continuity of intergenerational time and memory, the apparent repetitions of contemporary political struggles. In attempts to understand such “chronic” experiences, neither as pathological loopholes, nor as pre-emptive absorptions of them by the constancies of history, the film program gradually became a collective study over potential understandings of the “chronic states”: A stretched and dilated time, in which multiple and varied presences and rhythms are possible. That is where trans-historical bonds turn into holding grounds for concurrent and synchronised desires.
Recent iterations of the program include Inhale at Fundacio Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona; That’s How We Undo It at Lux, London; and Tuning into the Rhythms of the Chronic at Nida Art Colony, Neringa, Lithuania.
Tuesday 14 December 7pm
Screening followed by a discussion
Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, Black Bach Artsakh, 2021
Armenian, English - French Subtitle
Mélanie Nittis and Gérard Der Haroutiounian performs the French version of the voiced passages in the film live.
Black Bach Artsakh, drawing.
Black Bach Artsakh is the name of a world. It lives in and as a film. Those who view it not only inhabit it, but also care for it, keep it alive by keeping watch over it. In this way, it is not a film which so much resists the makers of war and those who deny and continue to justify genocide: it is a film which outlives them.
If film is a document, then it bears witness to a place and a time. For example: This film remembers events from a place called Artsakh in the year 2007 — a middle point — exactly 13 years after the 1994 cessation of hostilities in the struggle for liberation and self-determination by Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian inhabitants, and 13 years before the 2020 invasion by the authoritarian government of Azerbaijan, which enlisted Turkey’s military and several thousand mercenaries from Syria to conquer those same lands as its country’s sovereign domain.
Then film as a testament, which this film claims affinity with, is what unsettles the domain or reign of any sovereign or sovereignty. It inhabits a time, which is neither the linear one of history nor the make-believe one of fiction: but what some refer to as that of the eternal. For this, and rightly so, Johann Sebastian Bach has been assigned as its honorary composer.
Wednesday 15 December 5pm
Screening followed by a discussion
Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, Untimely Film for Every One and No One, 2018
English, German, French, Arabic - English subtitle
An Untimely Film for Every One and No One, 2018. Courtesy of the Artists
In 2007 Ayreen Anastas made a journey through Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia, collecting materials for a film with the working title A Film for Every One and No One. The film was intended as an adaptation of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra in the contemporary Arab world. Since that initial material was collected, much of the region and the world have been thrown into ever-greater tumult. The relevance, force, and meaning of the materials have also shifted significantly. The film remains unfinished. In a collaboration with the artist Rene Gabri and the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, an attempt is made to approach the material in a collective manner and make an untimely version of it.
For Nietzsche, untimely meant, among other things, something not belonging to the order of the tastes, expectations, and procedures of its time. If the original film was to stage an encounter between the writing and thinking of Nietzsche and the contemporary conditions of life as manifested in the Arab world, then this film stages that encounter in the lapse and disordering, in the historical black hole which has opened up in the ten years since the meeting was staged.
7pm – Notations by Françoise Vergès
Approaching Communities of Oblivion from within the French colonial history and decolonial-feminist ethics.
Thursday 16 December 4pm
Screening followed by a notation
Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, Black Bach Artsakh, 2021
(Armenian, English - English Subtitle)
Mélanie Nittis and Gérard Der Haroutiounian will perform the French version of the voiced passages in the film live.
7pm – Notations by Raymond Kevorkian
Approaching Communities of Oblivion from thinking through the afterlives of the Armenian Genocide and the infrastructures of oblivion which continue to deny it.
Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri
Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri distrust the biographical. The tendency of the biography to veer toward a specific form of identity and life, in which the potency of writing devolves into fulfilling a function. Released momentarily from this function, whatever could be called the coefficient of art or poetry, would allow even a biography to say something other than its predetermined genre, to avoid a fate built into the category. What would a biography be if the subject or subjects it purports to describe were unhinged from the restrained logic of interiority/exteriority, cause/effect, will/action, origin/finality. Leaving aside momentarily the embarrassment induced by "success", this biography may ask "what is an accomplishment in a life" and "does it reside with and is it attributable to the person". Where do the conditions of support, the air, the water, the diet, the historic, social, political and geographic forces come to play. And what if life is perceived as a weaving of events, dashes, jottings, becomings, moments where something may come to existence momentarily or burst the buttresses of recognition, rather than seen as a monotonous continuous line of narrative with that depressing arc of a beginning then a middle, concluding with an end? A biography, short as this, may not answer these questions, but its refusal to fulfil its objective already clears it as potential space of revocation. (01/2020)
Gérard Der Haroutiounian
Gérard Der Haroutiounian is a musicologist who also teaches music and art history. He plays the tar, and his numerous visits to Armenia were an opportunity to develop his technique with the Master Hovannes Darbinian. He plays with numerous musical ensembles and participates in art projects where he composes for plays and fairy tales. He also studied opera singing at the conservatory with Mrs Véronique Hazan.
In addition, in 2006 he was awarded a degree by the Sorbonne University for his research on Armenian music. In this role he participates in conferences, seminars and radio shows: Radio-France (2006); Festival Baroque de Pontoise (2010); Cité de la Musique in Paris (2012); No Border in Brest (2013); International conference on Komitas in Paris (2018); France Culture with Yann Lagarde “Komitas gardien du répertoire arménien” (2020)…
He has also written various articles: the booklet for the CD Ararat by Canticum Novum in 2017; Les ombres sonores by Tina Modotti (Paragone, 2018); Les Héros arméniens (Campus numérique arménien, 2020)…
Raymond H. Kévorkian is a historian, director of research emeritus at the Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis, president of the Armenian Genocide Museum – Institute Foundation (Yerevan). His work focuses on the long history (curating exhibitions and museums in Byblos and Jerusalem) and the Armenian genocide and its consequences, and more generally on mass violence.
Latest publications: Le Génocide des Arméniens, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2006; Comprendre le génocide des Arméniens, Paris, Tallandier, 2015 (with H. Bozarslan, V. Duclert); Collective and State Violence in Turkey, The Construction of a National Identity from Empire to Nation-State, New York/Oxford, Berghahn, 2021 (with S. Astourian).
Azar Mahmoudian is a curator and educator. Recent projects include multi-chapter program of moving image practices, Sensible Grounds (Different venues, 2018-2021); program of seminars, residencies and production grants Shifting Panoramas (TMOCA, and various off-spaces in Tehran/DAZ, KW, Berlin, 2017-2021); and exhibition and conversation series, When Legacies Become Debts (The Mosaic Rooms, London, 2019). In winter 2020 she initiated the independent study program, A Summer School: For a Summer Yet to Come, in Tehran.
A Hellenist and ethnomusicologist, Mélanie Nittis is a part time lecturer on the arts in Greece at INALCO, where she also lectures on ethnomusicology focusing on Central and Eastern Europe. She is a member of the French Society of Ethnomusicology (SFE) and of the Society for Neo-Hellenic Studies (SEN) for which she is currently secretary. She is also an associate researcher at the Centre d’Étude et de Recherche sur les Littératures et les Oralités du Monde (CERLOM).
Winner of the Prix de la Maison des Cultures du Monde in 2014, in September 2020 she defended her doctoral thesis titled L’improvisation poétique chantée à Olympos (Karpathos, Grèce): dynamiques contemporaines d’un rituel paraliturgique (Poetic improvisation sung at Olympos (Karpathos, Greece): contemporary dynamics of a paraliturgical ritual). For this work, she has just been awarded a thesis prize by the Chancellery of Universities.
Her research focuses on the performance of musical and poetic improvisation in the southern Greek islands, where sung poetry is usually accompanied by the lyra fiddle.
Writer, activist, feminist, public educator, independent curator.
Last publication: De la violence coloniale dans l’espace public, Paris, Shed Publishing, 2021.
This program is presented by the European Cooperation project 4Cs: from Conflict to Conviviality through Creativity and Culture, organized by ENSAD in partnership with Bétonsalon – Centre for Art and Research in Paris. The 4Cs is a project co-funded by Creative Europe (2017-2021) under the coordination of the Universidade Católica Portuguesa, in Lisbon.
For more information please visit here.
Bétonsalon - centre d'art et de recherche
- 9 esplanade Pierre Vidal-Naquet
- 75013 Paris