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The Arts Institute of Chicago is exhibiting, until January 3, 2022, If only this mountain between us could be ground to dust by Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, the first exhibition of contemporary Palestinian artists in a large-scale museum in the United States, curated by Maite Borjabad López-Pastor.
The exhibition is composed of four multimedia pieces: audiovisual and textual installations that review the contemporary condition of the Palestinian people, through key concepts such as the archive, amnesia and precarious bodies. Abbas (1983) and Abou-Rahme (1983) critically intervene the video-surveillance and control systems set up by the Zionist regime, while making sound the axis of a deep political reflection.
If only this mountain between us could be ground to dust is a phrase from a popular Palestinian song and it seems to me no coincidence that the phonetic word is the turning point by which a yearning can become a political action. The first moment of the erased, barely legible, exscripted sentences of Don’t read poetics in these lines is soon invaded by the enveloping sound of the works in the main hall. The sound makes the very notion of the main hall to be relativized: the music sneaks through the walls, to the extent that one wishes it would do so with greater stridency. But it definitely establishes a different dynamic: sound will not be a mere accent of a visual work, or a piece contained in a corner of the room, but the very substance of Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme’s artistic thought. The tension that the power of the archive releases is filtered by sound matter and its conceptual categories are dislocated: sound, as Ibn al-‘Arabi would say, is capable of any form and, from that metamorphic virtue, the categorical limit that the power of the archive pretends to establish is broken. Let us not forget that the logic of the border is also a logic of the conceptual.
Border limit, categorical limit: a mountain of distance. A certain archival logic requires this first separation, by means of which to subsequently grants a meaning or an entire narrative. Faced with it, the granular dust of music establishes a swirling logic, allowing other longings to slip through its boundaries. This new life, affective-sonorous, while also inscribing its marks in listening, it also concentrates its forces in the evanescent moment of exscription. And I suddenly think, recalling the melancholic beauty of the work of Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, that every exercise of resistance operates under this dynamic: that of dispersing the referents that seek to establish themselves in a definitive manner. Peoples in resistance are, in this sense, highly musical: they invent dispersions, creative forms of erasure, agile senses, heterodox ways of twisting the limits of categories–even from forced anomie. That’s where, as Said would say, existence and disappearance merge together, music is the first political tool of self-affirmation to the earth and the first reminder of its fragility.