Off-Biennale Cairo 2018

by

David Armengou

The second edition of the Off-Biennale Cairo 2018 focuses on rewriting history.

Six curators have been invited to imagine a world that would be different.

 

Berlin based artist Sarah Oberrauch is one of the curators of the current edition. Her artistic practice and curatorial interest arise from daily life phenomena and its intertwined politics. Since 2014 Sarah and her sister run the artist residency Eau&Gaz, located in the Italian Alps, to establish a platform for emerging and mid-career artists.

Sarah‘s contribution to the Cairo Off-Biennale as a curator deals with the different aspects of „Dubbing“. It exemplifies the practice of rewriting narratives and contents in a very clear manner.

How far dubbing a dialogue into a different language is changing the original message and how are informations perceived, if they are conveyed into a different language and cultural context?

The curator invited the following artists:

 

Pierre Bismuth Jungle Book Project (2002)

Anri Sala Intervista (1998)

Asli Çavusoglu 191/205 (2009)

Kerstin Honeit Talking Business (2015)

Markus Öhrn Bergman in Uganda (2014)

Four video-works and a music record are displayed in three rooms and the corridor of an old dusty 5th floor apartment in Downtown Cairo, which broaden and change our conception and understanding of “Dubbing”.

The five works set somehow a dialogue with each other, they are connected using completely different languages. Humor, irony, politics, history, nostalgia and social defiance get interwined with great skill of the curator.

It was not easy at all to find the exhibition building, the day I visited the opening, located at the end of a dark passage in Adel Khaleq Tharwat street, taking into account that Cairo houses are rarely marked and mostly with Arabic numbers. Sarah Oberrauch invited me to join her at the “playground room”, where a green carpet with cushions had been fixed for the audience and an old Disney movie was beeing screened on the wall. After watching the movie for a few minutes, it called my attention the characters of “Jungle Book” where speaking in different languages to each other: Mowgli speaks Spanish, Baloo speaks Hebrew, Bagheera speaks Arabic, Shere Khan speaks English and so on. The artist Pierre Bismuth assigns in his video-work to every character a different language intentionally linked to national clichés. Not only animals seem to understand each other, in spite of living in a Babel jungle. The Disney fairy tale harmony reflects ironically into the world’s human conflicts. 

Next to the children’s room, on the corridor, a visitor played a record on the turntable. A rap song could be listened loud, muting suddenly the voices of the cartoon characters. The music acted as a form of censorship, which was actually the context in which this artwork arise. The song 191/201 was created by Turkish artist Asli Cavusoglu and the mc Fuat using the 191 of 205 words which were banned in 1985 by the General Directorate of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation. Words like “freedom”, “revolution”, “experimental” or “dream”.

Censorship is an act of suppression. The censor is an eraser, a kidnapper of words, a silencer of human minds and voices.

In the next video-work, located in another room, the artist Anri Sala had the difficult task of reaching the opposite. Instead of muting voices, Sala was compelled to give a voice to her mother. In the process of moving house with his family, Sala, an Albanian art student, discovered a twenty-year-old 16mm newsreel film, containing images of a congress of the Albanian Communist Party. In the film his mother, a leader of the Communist Youth Alliance, is seen making a speech, and later giving an interview. But Sala could not make out what she was saying, because the sound had been lost. So Sala takes the film to a school for the deaf in Tirana, and with the help of lip readers, his mother's words are deciphered.

It’s a funny irony the fact that a deaf lip reader, someone who can not speak, acts in Anri Sala’s video as a sort of dubber. A deaf woman is the intermediary of a repressed memory. The mother of the artist denies having said those words when she was young. We shall not forget memory is the biggest censor.

 

I grew up in a country where unfortunately most of the films were dubbed. This prevented the chance of learning languages from a young age. On the other hand, as a big cinema enthusiast, I have an emotional tie with the voice actors of the movies I watched on my childhood. I remember with fondness the Spanish voice of James Stewart, Bogart or John Wayne. And I could not imagine those westerns or film noir movies without those given voices.

The video work of Kerstin Honeit sheds light on the world of dubbing from an inside perspective. Kerstin Honeit ́s 3-channel-video Talking Business from 2015 searches for the bodies behind the German voices of the main protagonist Alexis and Krystel from the US-TV series Dynasty (1981–1989). The two women Gisela Fritsch and Ursula Heyer were dubbing the voices till they became so strongly connected to that characters, that they had to give up their own actress career.

Dubbing is essentially giving a voice to someone or to some unanimated object. Like the puppeteer, who operates puppets and makes them talk.

In the slums of Kampala´s capital, a new unique tradition of live film translation has emerged in recent years: veejays. These are people who work in makeshift cinema halls in slums and remote villages. Their art consists of directly translating the dialogue and explain the plots- as well as various aspects of Western behavior and lifestyle for the local audience. Usually Hollywood blockbusters are shown, but Swedish artist Markus Öhrn came up with the idea of showing Ingmar Bergman masterpiece Persona (1966) in this particular cultural context and documented the event on film.

The VJs commentaries resemble an anthropological exploration, deconstructing and reinterpreting white, bourgeoise art with great irony. Markus Öhrn allows the European spectator to see how the African viewer looks at him. A confusing reversal that induces us to reflect on our own perspective.

The VJ acts like a puppeteer, who no longer has an integral role in African society. Instead of keeping his face and body bowed and thus his own presence de-animated, the VJ seats with the audience. He is part of the audience and puppeteer at the same time.The VJ takes the whole control of the show through his own interpretation and explanation of the story.

Two woman, one of them talking, the other silent. The basic scenario of Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece Persona is layered with meaning. One of the woman is the artist, the other represents the audience. A dialogue between the talking and the silent, between the actor and the audience, is not only a metaphor in Bergman’s classical movie, shown in the slums of Kumpala, but also in Sarah Oberrauch’s multi-layered exhibition staged in Off-Biennale Cairo 2018.

The 2nd edition of the Off-Biennale Cairo 2018 runs until December 15th in art space darb 1718 and in different venues in downtown Cairo.

 

David Armengou is a writer based in Cairo and Berlin.

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