facebook twitter tumblr newsletter
By Maryam Monalisa Gharavi
Whose universal is it anyway? South/South 2009-2012
rss feed

Propositions for Twenty Unmade Works of Art


Open a map of one country Open a map of another Using one set of small objects—like erasers, matchsticks, pearls, hairpins, pits, or seeds—artificially connect cities on one map to another

Collect expired or revoked passports in the approximate number of the inhabitants of your country

Record the musical interlude opening every television channel’s evening news broadcast Piece together the musical interludes without any dialogue from the news anchors

Spend one full day at an airport Leave behind sketchpads, writing materials, or recording devices Observe your surroundings with care, regardless of fatigue or boredom Return to your studio and make a work in any genre Title it “Nothing to Declare”

Use spray paint, nail lacquer, or acrylic to reorient the colors of a chess piece into the colors of your country’s flag The white pieces become one color, the black pieces another, the base of the chess set another Let dry and play as normal

Plan a silent party for a roomful of people Inform invited guests ahead of time about the party’s only rule: speaking is strictly forbidden At the end of the night, provide sheets of paper on which guests can write or draw a note predicting their death and their burial wishes Install the notes anonymously

Do not use any electrical or digital appliances (including phones, computers, ovens, etc.) for an entire day Spend time composing a poem about each appliance without ever using its name in the poem

Procure court sentences for juveniles dating back at least three decades. Read them out loud Title the performance “Minor Crimes”

Create a performance using a rosary (or any other string of prayer beads) and the meditative refrain “A rose garden was promised, a rose garden was never promised”

Make a work directed by the instructions or wishes of a spam bot

Using only textile, construct a work relating to land dispossession

Select films made at least 50 years ago Make photo enlargements of the extras in the background of major scenes

Create a work using items in a local grocery store most susceptible to robbery Title it “Island of Prosperity”

Build and maintain a termite farm Print maps of colonized regions on Kraft paper or Balsa wood and allow the termites to feed on them for several weeks Photograph the new maps

Make a work based on the hazards of your job Be specific and unsparing

On the night of a major planetary event such as a solar eclipse, make the subject of your work an intensive care unit

Travel across a town or region and interview people on the street, in shops, in office buildings, and in parks about their attitudes toward sex and gender roles† 

Procure five speeches from the most current year of the annual summits of world leaders Have them read by performers in various costumes from the animal world

Film, write, draw, paint, score, sculpt, or build a scene based on a tenant-landlord situation

Create a new dictionary or database of new connections by hyper-linking words to the “wrong” images or definitions For example, a picture of an airplane linked to the definition for “mother.”







Shadow Games


This is the last photograph I took in Jordan. Isn’t it ugly?

There were many other photos taken with pleasure and curiosity and the errantry of free time—sibling street cats in milk crates, the ruins of a Byzantine mosaic, a neighbor’s abandoned TV in the middle of a garden. But it was this photo, snapped on the way to Amman’s airport, that stopped me cold.

When the plane hovered over us a tremor ran through the trees near the Byzantine ruins. The alley cats ran away. The neighbor stuck his head out of his second-story window for the first time in two weeks.

“It’s the Royal Jordanian Air Force,” said one passerby.

“It’s an aircraft from the American military base here,” said another.

“It’s an illegal Facebook post,” said a third.

“It’s a kind of military climatology springing virtually out of nothing.”¹

“No, it’s just a stress shadow,” said the last eyewitness. “A stress change produced by the state indicating that many nearby dangers were relaxed by the deployment of the military plane. This relaxation results in a ‘shadow’ effect by creating a fearful region in which future dangers are delayed.”

Wall, Ground, Air

This month Léopold Lambert interviewed me for Archipelago, a podcast platform of The Funambulist.

Walls, Ground, Atmospheres, and Bodies in Palestine covers border geographies as enduring conceptions of security, separation walls in Brazil and Palestine/Israel, the air closing in, and cataclysmic events that throw even the most secure ideologies into disarray.

This conversation with Maryam Monalisa Gharavi can be divided into three chapters, all corresponding to one physical aspects of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in relation to Palestinian bodies. We begins with the physicality of the wall and compare its securitarian spectacularity with the ones built at the edges of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas in the last decade. We then address the question of the ground and its ability to shake our convictions when no longer providing the resistance to the entropy named gravity, like during the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Finally, we talk about the colonized atmosphere on the traces of Frantz Fanon, and the difficulty one finds in breathing within it.

The Labor of Performance (Part Two)

Part One precedes this post.

Veronique1 Veronique2 Veronique3

How mesmerizing could a choreography based on ballet and spoken word be? Very. I find it difficult to approach Véronique Doisneau (Jérôme Bel and Pierre Dupouey, 2004) with anything short of endearment.

The Paris Opera Ballet commissioned a documentary about Doisneau from Bel, a “low-rank” dancer a week away from retiring after a 20-year career. The evening of her last performance makes up Veronique Doisneau. Doisneau delivers a monologue like Zidane, but through direct oral address. Physically she is featured front-and-center onstage, not unlike a TED talk speaker, only gripping. She reveals that her career was marred by a back surgery at the age of 20, and works up to more revelations in a soft but resilient tone.

Doisneau never rose to the ranks of full étoiles or principal ballerina but remained a sujet, a performer who dances as a permanent fixture of the corps de ballet, often as a background dancer to the soloist. Her measured cadence and whispery tenor belie rarely spoken, even taboo, disclosures: she divulges her monthly salary, as well as her belief that she may not have been talented or physically strong enough to become a principal soloist. Like the inscrutable-turned-expressive Zidane in Gordon’s film, Doisneau breaks the performer’s fourth wall through monologue. Direct address places her in a spare but engrossing economy of language.

A full 85 seconds (6:15-7:40) of pacing, heavy breathing, doubling over knees, and rehydration to regain her composure (much like a professional athlete). An unaccustomed scene, watching a stage performer caught in the breaks of her act. As Ramsay Burt enumerates in “Revisiting ‘No to Spectacle’: Self Unfinished and Véronique Doisneau,”: ”One could tell from a strain in her voice which movements were the most demanding, and one could hear her becoming increasingly out of breath as the extract progressed. At the end, she took her time to get her breath back, sipping water, her heavy breathing broadcast throughout the auditorium. Her exhaustion was perhaps surprising. Not only had the stately quality of the material she performed not seemed especially strenuous, but ballet dancers conventionally strive to create an illusion of effortlessness.”

Doisneau’s physical exhaustion—her abrupt break from the airy perfection of ballet to the lethargy of a grounded earthling—is mesmerizing. (Here I must disagree with Burt when he writes that “watching her get her breath back was boring.”) I was made uncomfortable not by my own inactivity, contrasted against Doisneau’s actual breathlessness, but by the pleasure induced by watching such exertion. An guarded stage secret is set free. It’s literally mortifying watching gods humbled to mere mortals.

Pleasure is a funny and flawed concept, and Bel x Doisneau interpolate all its ambiguous parts: the pleasure of making art (a “calling”), the pleasure of pain, and reciprocally, the spectator’s pleasure in watching a working performer deconstruct their work.

Doisneau declares herself a spectator and great admirer of fellow ballerinas. In a memorable segment she invites Céline Talon on stage to dance Mats Ek’s Giselle as Doisneau herself watches in a clever mise en abyme. (I had to look up both the name of the dancer and the piece; despite her protestations, Doisneau remains a riveting étoile here.)

Of being one of 32 dancers to perform immobilizing poses in Swan Lake: “We become a human decor to highlight the ‘Stars.’ And for us, it is the most horrible thing we do. Me, for example. I want to scream, or even leave the stage.” Stripped of her 31 colleagues onstage, the previously wrenching and frenetic act Doisneau performed collectively hushes down to a frozen, staccato-like solo.

Both Gordon x Zidane and Bel x Doisneau rustle up a documentary form without being conceptually bound to the label at all (Bel calls his a “theatrical documentary“). What joins the works together is the dismantling of spectacle at the same time that we are caught almost helpless before it. Through the raw materials of performed labor—sweat, breath, technical skill—they furnish a rare space to visualize labor typically hidden from view through atomization, cheapened human life, and the technical flawlessness of spectacle.


Little Earthquakes


“Come, contemplate these frightful ruins,
This wreckage, these shreds, these unfortunate cinders”

Accourez, contemplez ces ruines affreuses,
Ces débris, ces lambeaux, ces cendres malheureuses

—Voltaire, “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster” (Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne), 1756

At the end of a two-week residency at Darat al Funun in Amman, Jordan, I’m delivering a lecture and visual performance called “Performative Ground,” which takes its name from a photographic series being developed in Palestine.

I’m formulating connections between the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, the devastation of Gaza, the arbitrary nature of survival, friends and enemies, nature un-naturalized, and the transitory and vulnerable quality of the ground, which one must never take for granted.