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
150 min
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
90 min
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
150 min
(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 Kévorkian
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

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. 

Mélanie Nittis
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.

Françoise Vergès
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.


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Bétonsalon - centre d'art et de recherche

9 esplanade Pierre Vidal-Naquet
75013 Paris