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'It won’t only kill you, it will hurt the whole time you’re dying' by Monia Ben Hamouda and Michele Gabriele at OJ, Istanbul

When things die we realize what they once were,
One ring of smoke pulsating in space
One moon hanging in the air of a stuffy night on the cusp of nothing
Apex vitality
Trash collectors screamlaugh like demons behind the rusting black gate over the rumble of
their V8s over their hand-soldered Cumbia FM radio, riding the tendrilled cloud of curdled
milk and mildew beer and rainsoaked oil spattered cardboard, rotting in the sunlight
This arid mudpatch once birthed amphibianism
Now we trample orchids dilated flinching under explosions curled fetal digging shallow
holes, hands clinched, pants-pissing screaming power-hungry control-mad sunburning on
the dented roof of an old desert Audi
Our moment might soon be over
I want to lose myself forever in a sublime haze of loud distracting life-affirming anything
A shaky pistol emerging from a shadow
Dogs disappear out windows
Forceful sliding glass doors guillotining tails off of common lizards
Boiled grey meat, recreational banging, awaiting final bipedal opi
Draw an x over the vein on your temple with a black marker
Immolate entertainment
A deep scar scraped into the lateral line of your Led Zeppelin red convertible, Mardi Gras
beads asunder, the taste of collegiate decadence propelling our tongues
A bag of orange rocks shattered into crude clay sludge
Lost without our stupid thin and self-reflective technology in the suffocating bearhug of
nature’s icy indifference, crying, frozen, desperate phonecalls to Mom go to voicemail
No theatre, no lights, a thing was and is now not, against rationality, comprehensive, inert
Also there is no way to know things until we learn them
Things like the slow lunging beauty of nighttime, glistening, revealing itself thin and rich
and layered like the veiny tonality of bat wings
The lèse-majesté of the horizon, the sunset
Every pore is a temple!
What are we even scared of?
Clumped in a flesh heap in the bottom of a mud covered shower expelling ions
An edge of foam between wet and dry sand where the base of all life forms.
A frothy smelly mustard perfect line, where the means and ends of our bones and hopes
are picked apart by crustaceans
What are we waiting for?

— Andrew Birk, «What are we waiting for?», Special Contribution, 2017_______
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Monia Ben Hamouda and Michele Gabriele in Conversation 
with Natalya Serkova and Vitaly Bezpalov

Vitaly Bezpalov: Hi, guys, we are about to get our conversation started, so let us begin with the question of narrative. The very name of your show makes it clear from the get-go that appeal to narrative lies at the core of your project. What is crucial to you is not just the duration, the particular time span, but the postponement itself, when the delayed action, flashing, flickering somewhere on the horizon, pulls together elements of the entire structure and gives this structure a meaning.

But there is always one interesting, albeit, problematic aspect to narratives: we always catch the action in one of its intervals. That is to say, every story is always bounded by its beginning and its end. It unfolds in front of us squeezed into this very narrative framework, limited by it, and whatever happened before or will happen later is only a matter of guesswork. 

For example, the protagonist of the I am Legend, the last remaining survivor of a deadly epidemic in New York, is only confronted with horrific problems the very moment the camera is switched on. Before the outset of the cinematic narrative he had been living his regular life with his dog for three years, conducting medical research on zombies, occasionally hunting some deer. However, the minute we start watching him – and the movie – he gets entangled in all the traps laid out for him by the script maker: e.g. his dog dies, he attempts a suicide and so on and so forth. One is prompted to ask: why is it that the dog necessarily needs to die after the camera starts rolling?  And, in this respect, what do you think starts happening with the objects you create when the viewer’s gaze gets directed, waiting for the story?

Monia Ben Hamouda: Reality (and Narration) has something to do with time structures. You have mentioned I am Legend. Of course, the story is restricted to or circumscribed by the duration of the movie, but this idea of the prior events or the events that happened during the ‘after time’ makes us feel as if the very act of us watching the film is a bit delayed. It creates this illusion as if the entire movie is built around a massive dislocation of flashbacks. And we do see quite clearly the end of the world and the death of the family of Will Smith’s character.

It is all about the time (or better yet: the illusion of time passing/passed). In order to understand narration we need to understand the structure of the cinematic time.

It is just one of the ways to achieve narrative purposes.Time restricts and circumscribes cinematic narrative the same way that space restricts and circumscribes sculpture: we are talking about specific practical problems, largely faced by directors like Lav Diaz or artists like Douglas Gordon…

Nothing more.

We just have to face reality.

I think that the  «It won’t only kill you, it will hurt the whole time you’re dying» is like a cinematographic attempt at showing the “filmic” (the frame itself) and not only the “pro-filmic” (whatever is inside the frame): showing things for what they are.

For example, the techniques used for building a suspense, for preparing the viewer to what he or she is about to witness (i.e. a traumatic on-screen event, an accident or catastrophe, etc.) are worked into a very precise script made of ‘installed’ elements: broken glasses, blood, abandoned wheels, vehicles engulfed in flames, etc. This is how these kinds of scenes are constructed in filmmaking.

But in fact, these abandoned wheels and broken glass have never been integral parts of a given car or a window. They were created to symbolize parts of the destroyed whole from the very beginning.

We tried to understand those elements for what they truly are… not parts of something, but objects made for the specific purpose: to represent parts of something to which they have never belonged in the first place.

What came out of our reflection is something that inhabits the in-between space between fiction and reality.

Natalya Serkova: You have mentioned something really interesting, Monia. You have just said that the objects you create exist somewhere between fiction and reality. It seems to us that today it is extremely difficult to separate fiction from reality. To be more specific: what claims to fully belong in contemporaneity, should simultaneously have the outmost degree of fictitiousness to itself. The only things that we do not believe in today, the things that seem to have fallen out of the current flow of time, are things that are not fictional enough, like academic art, orthodox left-wing politics or stories, in which the plot enfolds all too neatly and things fit the whole picture all too easily. Such phenomena simply scream about their non-fictional origin, whereas we live in a total mystification. And that is the way the objects of «It won’t only kill you, it will hurt the whole time you’re dying» become truly real due to their position beyond the predefined order of things. The object must be broken so that we could believe that it can function.

At the same time, your objects unambiguously indicate that they are artifacts of the catastrophe that has already happened and remained outside the frame, did not get included in it. We do not know whether these objects are broken because they have survived the catastrophe, or they have survived the catastrophe precisely because they had already been broken before the catastrophe erupted. And in this sense, speaking of the issue of time you have also mentioned… What is now happening around all of us and is manifesting itself in your artistic practice…Is it, in your opinion, the consequence of the catastrophe that has already occurred, or is it just a process of production and the ‘screening out’ of things that will be able to survive the apocalypse that is yet to come?

Michele Gabriele: Most of the elements in our exhibition are captured in a precise moment of their temporality and of their materiality.

I believe that is easily recognizable or hypothesisable how they possibly could exist before and what could become of them in the future.

This precise timing that they express themselves in is best defined as » being in the middle of something».

We do not know whether they are broken because they have survived the catastrophe, or they have survived the catastrophe precisely because they had already been broken before the catastrophe began.

Because we do not really know whether they have survived yet or not.

The exhibition is a cadenced rhythmical path but repeats a single time-lapse again and again without actually ever progressing. We present an illusion that it is something that grows. A Climax. We tried to keep this tension and the pathos. But we froze everything at a specific moment in time.

At this time, we did not have the courage to let these objects show us their final destination. We have chosen to focus on the previous moment in time, the time when it was clear that our subjects could not escape from what they were part of, and yet they were as hibernated as before they had known what would happen to them. We did not let them take a risk and we did put them in a state of hibernation to make sure they would remain in place. We did that so as to prevent them from disappearing, even if this was only a fleeting possibility.

And so they remain: poised and on the razor’s edge.

We have tried to remain focused on this fragile and passionate and even passive tension.

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NS: Michele, what you are talking about is a very vivid characteristic of  contemporaneity. Now, we all are profoundly confused about where to and where from time moves, as well as about how it moves more generally. Once upon a time it was conceived of as something linear, then it became looped, then it went backwards, after which we witnessed the end of time so that now we are confronted with a striking range of possible temporalities, of possible movements of time, and sometimes it seems easier to die in a catastrophe than to understand how to deal with all of this. In this sense the acute desire to stay balancing on the razor’s edge becomes fully understandable.

Along with this, such a halt gives a clarion voice to the very objects that you stop, arrest in time. Resting your gaze on something that has already fallen out of the flow of time allows you to feel as if you yourself are falling out of this flow, too. In this sense, your objects claim to be «outside», yet, at the same time, also claim to inhabit this gap between the common motion of time and the one that, in the strict sense, is not human. This makes your objects non-human, detached, separated from a person who made them and those who look at them to the greatest possible extent. In that case, that ‘it’ that is going to ‘hurt the whole time you’re dying’ is obviously not quite human already.

MG: Here we are, we have been super-busy with the post-production of the pictures from the exhibition, and we did not have the time to get back to you. You know that documentation has become integral to our creative process, and it is very important for us to do it together as it helps us highlight some aspects of our concept and to flesh out the exhibition experience by preserving and showing the most vivid memory of it.

You have mentioned the question of time, which is part of my research and with which I often find myself playing. I am glad that you have noticed this thing about the objects being detached from the hands of those who have created them. It is very important and it is one of the elements I require while I work, and that I always need in order to feel that my artworks have been complete.

I work very hard on the silicone part of my artworks so as to eliminate or at least hide my every gesture and every touch. The idea is to make everything look as if it has already been this way before, as if it has always been there. I use things that I find along with other objects to piece together my artworks.

But anyway, these are some peculiarities inherent to my research. In this show, however, the way we think about things is slightly different. The suggestions we have shared have led us to conceive of our works as if they were different objects. Thinking of objects by «scenographying» them.

MBH: Yes, the starting point for our work on the exhibition was a very powerful and vivid idea. For example, my pieces were made according to the pre-prepared scenario that we have discussed in advance. Those images, the emptiness as a form of fullness, scenography as a form of reality…

Somehow, the pieces are parts of something, but we have to accept them for what they are. They belong to something, but you cannot be sure what it is exactly that they belong to. They belong to reality but at the same time they do not.

They are ambiguous, and this is an important point in my research.

Furthermore, this idea of ‘partial’ is closely related to some of my more recent works that reflect my thinking about how human beings often use other living beings’ amputations as amulets and symbols.

Here and there, partiality becomes a symbol and characteristic of the concept as a whole.

VB: In this way our feeling of catastrophe is ambiguous, too. We are unable to grasp whether it has erupted already or it is still approaching. We have to remain suspended between these two catastrophes, the future and the past one, creating art and thinking about this art as if we and our objects are not ‘here’ anymore. Still, we feel a very powerful urge to figure out what is going on right here right now, we feel the need to act and we do not want to be scared. Suspended but, at least, not lost… we are not alone, we will wait ‘till the end of time…. 

Michele Gabriele / Monia Ben Hamouda