My initial plans to include Heads Up festival within the future culture post changed after seeing NOW IS TIME TO SAY NOTHING. I really want to tell you the multilayered story of how the installation made me feel and what impact the festival has on people.
NOW IT IS TIME TO SAY NOTHING by Caroline Williams and Reem Karssli is a 60 minute long interactive video installation, that also requires viewers participation.
Reem Karssli is a Syrian film-maker who witnessed Syrian conflict living in Damascus. Caroline suggests to connect with a group of young Londoners via Skype and talk about her life and work. It turns into a four year long collaboration and the end product is a powerful 60 minute long experience. There are no words that I could type here to give justice to the work, it is something to be experienced.
The idea behind the installation is to question and challenge the armchair passivity. The installation starts with a circle of comfortable armchairs and a small, old fashioned television in front of each chair. The viewer puts on headphones and delve into the armchair for the unknown.
Throughout the installation there are various stages where you are asked to get up and get together with other viewers. Again to challenge a perception of emotional safe space that you save for yourself when most vulnerable.
Over the years I have seen a few contemporary art installations, exhibitions, cultural experiences, but never before I felt speechless and emotionally shattered at the end. I needed a few moments to be able to look up and discuss what I have seen, but as soon as the words crossed my lips, tears started choking my throat.
The moment during installation where your hand was inches away from the screen and you felt the static nipping your fingers was the only thing I could imagine visually as a photograph.
The rest was an experience to be felt with every inch of your body, every brain cell.
My mind was in a state of confusion. The most powerful part was the young niece expressing her hopelessness, interviewed by Reem. I wished at that very moment that I could show that part of footage to the evil that is behind the Syrian conflict. Tie him/her/group of to the chair and make him/her/them watch it over and over again until he/her/they can’t see the screen and hear a word. I was upset and angry. The other moment that I will not forget was the falling snow and dancing in a circle with myself. I embraced the moment and it took me to my own experiences in the past. It was beautiful and sad at the same time.
Over the following days I felt an urge to discuss the installation with others, I wanted to know if others had the same impact. On Saturday before another Heads Up event I met up with Michelle Dee, the writer and freelance journalist who reviews all the shows. The fact that she was also feeling similar was comforting. In her review she wrote:
“I’m tearing up even now recalling the image of a young girl, Reem’s sister I think, carefully folding and refolding a red shirt, packing it away into a suitcase in a cramped bedroom. She is clearly traumatised, she breaks down, her words escaping her mouth faster and faster, until becoming a cry of despair. She says that she would rather die than face the daily, monotonous torture of being trapped inside by the threat of the bombs falling outside.
What can one person do about a war that is happening thousands of miles away? The pillars of democracy in the west are about as stable and secure as the crumbling remains of the bombed buildings in Syria. Now is Not the time to say nothing. ”
Today nearly a week after of seeing the installation nothing has changed in my life. I still watch television occasionally from my sofa or bed, I hear news, watch documentaries and allow everything pass quietly as I am too busy to live my own reality. But there is this lingering shame and feeling of helplessness that I am not part of the global concern about the conflicts that happen around the world or social issues in my own community/city. I question if small actions and good causes can make up for the ignorance? Or if everything is just too big to grasp and I need to focus on my own life and family?
I can definitely say that Now It Is Time To Say Nothing is the most important contemporary art I have ever seen.
Heads Up festival is a very special festival – a mixture of theatre, contemporary art and installations that makes you think, question, imagine and explore. For the third time I had the honours to photograph the events and I am so thankful for the opportunity.
Thanks to E52 team and artists involved for amazing feedback.
Here are the highlights from heads Up 2019
Did you had a chance to see any of the events? What are your thoughts?