The Zone is an ongoing research project that has different extensions; previously it has been shown as a multiscreen video and sound installation at the New Art Exchange and the 5th Jerusalem Show. Currently the artists are continuing the research for different forms of presentation, including a publication in collaboration with artist Raouf Haj Yahia and writer Nasser Abou-Rahme.
“We will be reborn anew”- FATAH poster 1984
In what would appear to us as one of the darkest moments in Palestinian lived history, a ‘dream-world’ has somehow emerged in the West Bank: a host of commodified desires, semblance of normality, have been constructed atop the debris of political failure and collapse.
Here, new lifestyles, desires, senses of self mingle and collide with a persistent denial of the disasters of Palestine’s current situation.
The Zone when presented as a multi-screen video and sound installation, evokes both the phantasmagoria of the dream-world and the dystopia of the catastrophe, reflecting this state of being which is full of surrealism, absurdity and a growing sense of the uncanny.
The research for the project explores the particular dynamics that have brought about the construction of a consumerist regime out of the remains of an aborted Palestinian struggle. In previous works we have looked at the failure of the Palestinian resistance movement, but for this project, we wanted to focus on what happened after the failure: the transformation of the PLO into an ‘authority’ and eventually a ‘security’ regime.
What struck us as most significant is the way in which this new regime displaced the old collective ‘dreams’ and gave birth to new political discourses and desires largely centered on consumption.
Through the phantasmagoria of new commercial developments, advertisements and a political rebranding of the Palestinian ‘leadership’, a particular dream-image situated in a kind of neo-liberal creed is being projected in the public spaces of West Bank cities.
The images and discourses that had dominated the Palestinian landscape up until the after end of the Second Intifada- mostly political posters, graffiti or murals, have been for the most part systematically erased from the public space. Of course this not only raises questions about what is allowed or permitted to be displayed, but also how this visibility or its lack is shaping a radically different public imaginary at complete disjuncture with past narratives.
Continued research took us to Nablus where we discovered that the old city, in a similar way to Palestinian refugee camps, is still very much publicly marked with old political posters of martyrs from the second intifada and a large amount of shrines and monuments to martyrs.
In fact, posters are being periodically reprinted and according to residents of the old city, there are plans to expand and improve these existing shrines. Interestingly, this space still carries a visible temporal disjuncture, a publicly played out tension between the old and the new dream, in this case, quite literally translated in the spatial division between the old and new city of Nablus. At the outer limits of the old city a meeting of these two moments happens, a temporal overlay.
It is also here that we begin to witness a moment that is passing, a violent transition as it actively happens.
Yet it is not simply that the new is replacing the old, in some cases yes, but on many levels what we are seeing is the new permeated with the old. a hollowing out of the old dream/wish images rooted in a political reality (the dream of liberation that has marked the contemporary Palestinian experience for so long) and their rebirth in new ‘shells’, empty dream-images of a seemingly middle class utopia.
Many of the new advertisements appropriate a similar language and imagery to the PLO posters produced in the 60’s and 70’s, and in this way express a real utopian desire that is ultimately reified into a pure object.
New residential compounds multiply, whilst advertising billboards project images of consensual progress. The absurdities of this are clear when we just stop to consider that in order for us to invest in this new dream we must somehow ignore the increasingly visible violence of the colonial situation, this dreamworlds increasingly dystopian wider environment.
But the violence, in its political and physical incarnations, cannot be ignored. It’s in the intensifying colonial structures, the ever evolving technologies of control and surveillance; walls; watchtowers; bypass tunnels… the spatial ‘rearrangements’ that are taking place at the imposed limits of Palestinian centers.
It is here that dream becomes nightmare; this uncanny dialectic haunting a space at once filled with desire and disaster.
For two years from the balcony of our Ramallah apartment we documented an area in the centre of town rapidly developing, systematically old homes so quintessential of the place were torn down to make way for new commercial developments. Each video watched in isolation appears to depict a rather mundane, ordinary scene in a large town somewhere, but taken together begin to allude and enact a site of surveillance. Ultimately the scene is disturbed and put into question, is it just a growing town somewhere or are we in fact observing it from a watchtower?
The Zone was presented as an immersive environment, a site of ruin and dream, a physical reflection on a subjectivity marked by a double moment of colonial expansion/political defeat and impending statehood/consumptive regime.
In the narrow corridors and ominous room of The Zone the familiar feels strange, threatening, surveilled; at any given time one finds oneself navigating the dialectic of dreamworld and catastrophe, desire and disaster, past and present. The incongruence is arresting. The dissonance jarring.