ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Noor Abed as part of our Artist Spotlight series.
Noor Abed (b.1988, Jerusalem) is an interdisciplinary artist and filmmaker. Her practice examines notions of choreography and the imaginary relationship of individuals, creating situations for alternative social and representational models in Palestine.
Abed attended the Whitney Independent Study Program in Νew York in 2015-16, and the Home Workspace Program (HWP) at Ashkal Alwan 2016-17. She received her BA from the International Academy of Arts in Palestine and a MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, Los Angeles. Abed was a fellow in documenta (13)’s “Department of Maybe Educatiοn and Public Programs” in Kassel, Germany). She was awarded the March Project residency and commission from Sharjah Art Foundation in 2016, a residency grant at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris in 2018, a fellowship at the Raw Material Company in Dakar (Senegal) in 2019, and a fellowship at Onassis AIR (Athens). In 2020, she co-founded, with Lara Khaldi, the School of Intrusions, an independent educational platform in Ramallah, Palestine.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Noor Abed: As a practicing artist since 2011 until today – examining mainly notions of common mythologies, social choreography and the public sphere – I have always merged other forms of curatorial research and community-based practice with my artistic work. These forms assisted me to further my critical dialogue within the structures that I inhibit.
My artistic and curatorial practice examines how forms of resistance and cultural production have shifted with the emergence of a neoliberal economy in the Arab region (particularly in Palestine), and the aligned global south. Through the lens of social choreography and movement analysis, my research questions how the illusion of post-colonial conditions, new forms of localism, and societal normalizations are developing through capitalist development within colonial and fascist powers. By examining public performances and the theatricality of social life, I seek to question how representations of neoliberal structures have been produced, circulated, and embodied in sites and practices throughout the social body. It is the link between ‘Political Unconscious’ and ‘Social Choreography’ that I intentionally tease in most of my projects: what is the choreography that regulates the social life of individuals, and how is the public sphere constituted through performative thought. Therefore, the consideration of ‘performance’ as a method of survival, remains a major theme throughout my work, while mostly intertwined with other forms of image making, drawing and film.
In the past few years, my artistic research has been deeply concerned with the concept of Myth and the form of Magic Realism – and its close relation with colonial and post-colonial discourses. Magic Realism is often used to present postcolonial sentiments, in order to establish a grounding mythology for their cultures: one where the marginalized overturn the characteristics of the dominant discourse, and attempt to rewrite reality as they know it. My work questions collective social identities through the means of constructing mythologies and working around a critical stance of ‘folklore’ as a source of knowledge.
This current interest comes from a wider research that examines notions of Social choreography and the imaginary relationship of individuals, while focusing on ‘movement’ as a social construct – the aesthetics of everyday movement to historical ideas of social order, I seek to examine the relation between ideology and aesthetics; how ideology needs to be questioned in its form – embodiment and practice. – It is a broader framework that attempts to think about the aesthetic (form) as it operates at the very base of social experience, and therefore, to think about social order that is both reflected in and shaped by aesthetic concern. What concerns me sometimes, through my process, is how not to censor the possibility of abstraction and poetry in relation to politics, and how not to give up on image making as a place of resistance.
AE: Can you tell us about the importance of archiving in your multidisciplinary art practice, which range includes video, film, performance and installation?
NA: Archiving for me starts from an urge to look critically into the past and intervene in it. In my work, I search for stories and narrations that are on the margins, trying to find clues to create alternative discourses. The work usually reflects the past – in its form or content – and yet it suggests a decisive connection to the future – as if it is a remembrance of things to come. Thinking of the reality we currently live in as haunted, I try to invite a shift in our memory.
Through means of video, film, and performance – and by combining forms of the staged (performative) and the ‘documentary’, I seek to establish a representational mode of documentary intertwined with aspects of the ‘magical’, the ‘mythical’, inspired by everyday life’s contradictories. The goal here is to naturalize the mode of myth within established methods of representation, as something that is ontologically necessary to society’s vision of everyday life. My aim is to decentralize images of fixity while at the same time foreground the gaps, silences and abscesses those fixed structures produce.
I seek to touch the line between the archive and ‘the imaginary’, or ‘the mythical’. Myth approaches history from a different perspective; it reflects a reality other than the one history offers. It can be seen as a collective dream and public imagination. I attempt to intervene into the archival through fiction, claiming alternate historical narratives for Palestine, and creating – therefore – a parallel space that merges with the main political reality from another perspective and highlights its absurdity. An archival document that breathes, and that is liberated from fixed monuments.
AE: Over the past two years you’ve been working on your latest film, our songs were ready for all wars to come. What was the process of creating and sharing this work?
NA: our songs were ready for all wars to come came from a dialogue with a particular location, alongside a wider research on thinking through the critical stance of folktales as a source of knowledge. I worked – in and with – an ancient location from the Roman era, in the Palestinian village of Al-jib, northwest of Jerusalem. There was a huge hole in the site, an empty water well, caves, and many smaller holes opening to the underground.
The final work was born from a process of various collaborations. For example, I shot the film on an analogue super 8mm camera, and I worked with the camera person (Hamoudi Trad) for several months on understanding the medium and its relation to the site and the proposed scenes. I have also collaborated with the musician and sound artist (Dirar Kalash) for the sound composition of the film, the singer (Maya Khaldi) for the song, and the choreographer and dancer (Noora Baker) for the main dance scene. There were many other dialogues and collaborations, which I always value in the process of creating. My father, on a random day, invited me to go with him for a ride to show me the site, as a place he has recently discovered and felt a connection with. This site became the core around which I intertwined the entire research, while my father became one of the producers of the work. I always feel that my process of creating has to be based on dialogues, observations, and such daily encounters that I trust and follow until the end.
The main presentation of the work is a screening with live sound composed on stage. Whereas the installation of the work is a film projection with a multi-channel sound. The film itself consists of choreographed staged scenes based on collected folktales from Palestine. The only narration of the film is a song, in which (together with singer, Maya Khaldi) we collaged the lyrics from Palestinian folktales that are mainly based around water wells and their connection to communal rituals concerning disappearance, mourning and death. I wanted to explore and question how folktales can become an emancipatory tool for people to overturn dominant discourses, reclaim their history and land, and rewrite reality.
AE: Can you discuss your collaborative project with Lara Khaldi called School of Intrusions? Why was it important for you to organize this experimental educational program in Palestine?
NA: School of Intrusions started from an urgency to understand the conditions of art and knowledge production in the Arab region, and specifically in Palestine. It came as a result of our belief that ‘education’ cannot be indifferent to its role in the reproduction of dominant ideologies. In Palestine, it is becoming a tool for further social and political discipline, serving both the market and conservative agendas. Posing questions around capital and privatization in relation to educational institutions is a necessity; we have to realize that more independent pedagogical structures are urgently needed.
Through practicing theory, creating experiential site-based learning (unlearning), forming communities and a sense of collectivism, and experimenting with alternative economies, the school aims to actively enact the notion of ‘the commons’ in everyday work and life. It feeds the collective imagination of its participants to unlearn dominant ideologies proliferated through the interlacing of neoliberal economy and colonialism. We have let this overarching question guide us: Where is knowledge produced?
Lara and I thought of the school as a site to experiment with how learning happens. This does not solely depend on learning theory, but more on acting and moving physically in space, and by discovering and reclaiming private spaces in the city. We started by considering Ramallah as a communal space; during every session, we met (intruded) in a private or a public site. We held some sessions on the street, inside a cemetery, on a farm, inside a cafe, or in a cultural institution. Depending on the site, we would do various related activities including reading texts which relate to the chosen site, writing, listening, walking, interacting with the space and the people in it, performing certain actions, and so on. The site always played an essential role in shaping our experience and grounding our knowledge in a local context. We asked ourselves: What kind of alternative knowledge does the site help produce? How can we be in conversation with it? And how do we use art as a tool for (un)learning?
School of Intrusions aims to produce knowledge through developing space for conversation and collaboration. It is a space in which we can rethink ‘education’ as a form of intervention into the world. With the school being transparent about its aims and with all its participants being equal, and through devising the school plan together, dividing tasks and resources, we hope to build an alternative non-hierarchical experience which we are convinced will change how and what we learn.
AE: Can you discuss your collaborative project with Mark Lotfy Yours Truly, which evolved from a research project to a lecture performance?
NA: The lecture performance Yours Truly evolved from a three-year collaborative research (with Mark Lotfy) on the private U.S military engagement in the Middle East. Highlighting the notion of ‘war privatization’ in the Arab region, we used the example of Arab nationals working as contractors in American private military companies in Iraq, where they train the Iraqi army on weapons, conduct military operations, among many other tasks.
The form of a multimedia lecture performance arrived later during the process – as it offered us the space we needed to present such a layered research. It was also essential as a space of reflection on the research from this present moment, maintaining a complexity in merging audio-visual, live narration and performative aspects.
We worked on a nonlinear docu-fictional narrative, to chart the effects of the war industry on the intimate lives of individuals, and to unveil a backstage theatre of military operations, while exploring personal and political positions in a region that has become a stage for perpetual wars.
NOOR ABED ONLINE: