Review - Into the Unknown: A Journey through Science-Fiction here
In the Future, They Ate From the Finest Porcelain (2016) by Larissa Sansour & Søren Lind
Festival-style exhibition Into the Unknown: A Journey through Science-Fiction at Barbican is divided in four sections. The third one, Brave New Worlds, might be a darker vision of our society. We can witness a number of film and television clips from the likes of Alex Proyas’ Dark City in the 90’s; Patrick McGoohan’ The Prisoner in the 60’s; as well as architectural plans and designs from Ben Wheatley’s recent blockbuster High Rise.
Located in a separate black room in the foyer, In the Future, They Ate From the Finest Porcelain is a delicate and highly poetry charged piece on the visual and text scale.
This 28 minutes film is written by Danish children book author and philosophy writer on mind language and understanding Søren Lind. His partner in crime for this project is Palestinian interdisciplinary, immersed in current political dialogue who utilises film, photography, sculpture Larissa Sansour.
Sansour and Lind’ film explores the role of myth for history, fact and national identity using sci-fi, archaeology and politics.
This exhibition is not celebrating sexism, but one has to put context into it its genre as a past reputation for addressing to boys, men and objectifying women, I wanted to ask a few questions to Larissa about her participation and her work.
Sci-fi world has a long history of being addressed to boys / men as well as being pretty sexists when featuring women. How did you feel to be part of this exhibition?
I think it is precisely because of this conception of science fiction, that I was drawn to explore it more. In most of my work, I try to accentuate tensions of expectations, be it gender or geographically related. I am interested in taunting the clichés in the art context as well. I like this crossover of disciplines and consider working with highly polished visuals and in a discipline that one does necessarily associate with fine arts to be an important formal gesture.
You have many references to past or / and future with complete absence of present time. Yet present is omnipresent because you / the narrator use/s it to mislead the future. What’s your relationship with “Present”? Do you feel you don’t exist? / You are not allowed to exist?
It is very hard to address trauma or trace it in history. For Palestinians this trauma has become part of their identity and I find this an important aspect to explore, in order to begin the next chapter. The Palestinian psyche is closely tied to the Nakba of 1948 and a constant deferral of a real Palestinian state. The Palestinian character seems to be hung up in waiting, so the presence is very hard to pinpoint, unless one addresses the past and future simultaneously. In the film, temporality is meant to be anachronistic, because only in this dialectic territory, can the Palestinian singularity be truly examined, I believe.
How did you get into sci-fi?
It seems a bit strange to contextualise the Middle East in a sci-fi context, but the more surreal the situation got on the ground, the harder it became to just resort to documentation. My work has slowly moved from more straightforward political documentary to a more fictionalised realm. I think that move was necessary to escape the stalemate of the political rhetoric when it comes to the reality of present day occupied Palestine. I need to create my own universe in which I can use my own terminology rather than having to succumb to a vocabulary that dictates the same repetitive outcomes to the various problematic questions regarding the Middle East.
I feel that I can tackle those subjects with more honesty and directness within the sci-fi genre. Sci-fi also carries within itself a sense of nostalgia. All of our predictions for the future and its feel are those conceived in early futurist works and I feel this sits well formally with the Palestinian question. Palestine always projects a future state, yet still lives in the past, remembering the Nakba (the catastrophe of 1948) and yet the present is in a limbo. I feel this mimics our idea of modernism, and more precisely futurism in this instant, in the science fiction genre.
The psychiatrist (your sister) -> Sometimes it feels like she is the narrator’s hypnotiser. Why the confusion if any?
The psychiatrist’s identity or persona is supposed to be a bit unclear and in turn cast a shadow of doubt as to the mental health of the main character, the rebel leader. The viewer is meant to oscillate between seeing her as a psychiatrist and a journalist with an access to a rare secret interview with the heroine. I think the confusion is there to create a mistrust of what the main character is saying, what is real and what is made up. In the end her dreams are interwoven with her actual endeavours, questioning the premise by which we accept historical narrative.
There are a few references to “digging”; “excavating”; “archaeology” “searching deep down” in relation to the concrete world. Is it a metaphor about your own personal search or about a population search? Trying to understand your own people? What happened to them?
By extension, it’s like your sister death has no longer any importance because her death is part of a global issue?
It is almost impossible to talk about the personal tragedy without talking about the collective damage and distress that the entire Palestinian population has experienced. Throughout the film, the rebel leader tries to navigate between her own personal loss and the grief and erasure of her entire people. Archaeology is used as a tool to reclaim belonging to the space that Palestinians are slowly and methodically denied access to. In that way, archaeology plays more than one part in the film, it is instrumentalised towards the rebels political end and it functions as one layer in our historical narrative. Excavation is also a great metaphor for delving deeper into psychological analysis.
Can you explain “deeper in apocalypse, an accelerated microcosm”?
I think this is in reference to climate and political disasters that are forecast for the future globally. Only in the case of Palestine, these almost apocalyptical changes are almost already happening in a small geographical space and happening fast. The methods used in cementing occupation are causing a great human tragedy and environmental disasters.
There is a constant voyage between concrete and abstract, reason and reverie... “Rulers have long since removed us from their equation. I’m adding new numbers, messing with their maths” etc... It’s very abrupt and condemning, can you talk a bit about it?
Throughout the film, the rebel group tries to intervene with the accepted current historical narrative. The fact that they are willing to go to extreme or surreal lengths only testifies to the impossibility of the task at hand, but also reflects the fiction of their own reality.
When the rebel leader says, “rulers have long since removed us from their equation”, she is directly referencing the mechanisms of occupation, where Palestinians are not even considered subjects by the state of Israel. She is also referencing the problematic of revolutions in general, the oppressed only gets noticed by the ruling power when they rebel, if they don’t protest, they become invisible.
What are your references in sci-fi?
My references, I guess, are a bit less directly sci-fi. I am not a sci-fi buff, but I think using sci-fi in a Middle Eastern context subverts the genre. Hence it also reverses expectation of gender roles. Filmmakers that I feel influence my work are Kubrick, Tarkovsky and Bergman.
Watch clip: https://vimeo.com/148158228
More info on the exhibition: http://www.barbican.org.uk/intotheunknown/
Sybille Castelain email@example.com