#Thinking Together

Haus der Berliner Festspiele © Phillip Aumann Haus der Berliner Festspiele © Phillip Aumann
Thinking Together #3: Agency Amid Monstrosity
“When Time is All You Have Left” is a space of thoughtful exchange, learning and analysis, but most importantly of feeling together as humans. This inclusive reading circle with Rana Issa, Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Sonja Mejcher-Atassi and Sami Khatib is a place to openly discuss the radical shift in temporalities of the contemporary Syrian experience and talk of how to narrate the experience, while exploring acts of reclaiming agency amid tragedy and monstrosity. At the very heart is a major temporal shift from the familiar but oppressive dictatorship of the Assad dynasty, determined to “live in the forever”, to the time that begins in March 2011 when people took to the streets in peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrations following public outrage over the torture of a group of teenagers who wrote that the people want an end to the regime on the walls of their school. Brutal crackdowns by the Syrian army on the protests spiralled into civil war and then quickly descended into a complex conflict involving local and foreign actors with their own regional and political agendas. As tensions and grievances between different internal (and external) groups from the past feed back into the present, the effects of colonialism and four decades of brutal repression at the hands of the Assad dynasty among other factors boil over. Many say it has its roots in the French and British mandates drawn up after World War One. In this time since March 2011 the country has been out of the full control of the Assad regime but besieged by it and its supporting apparatus. In order to enforce this notion of “forever rule” the Assad regime appears willing to slaughter the nation, its people by any means at its disposal, including chemical warfare, the targeting and obliteration of civilian infrastructure and withholding aid to those in desperate need. We discuss the human toll of eight years of this war, where human rights abuses can be attributed to all armed groups in the conflict. The mass violence, mass destruction and resulting mass displacement of Syrians inside and outside Syria through mass migration has led to temporalities of trauma, estrangement and the insecurity of living in the continual temporary, at home or abroad, with no endpoint in sight.  Syrians today, no matter where they may find themselves, inhabit this time. We talk about how to communicate the human perspective of this crisis. How does one articulate the overwhelming saturation of horrors and injustices without end?  Especially when you are living among it and just when you think it couldn’t get any worse redlines are crossed repeatedly with increasing extremity and barbarity. How do you communicate the visceral experience that shakes your core, shreds your internal reserves and leaves you speechless and wondering how to proceed in the present, let alone how to communicate it for public record? Everyday life must go on and does, however far removed from the everyday once lived. This new life is one under siege, under constant threat of death and where access to aid and basic human amenities have been strangled. How do you process this let alone narrate the experience? Sometimes language fails and you have no words. Is it a case that language needs to catch up? Is it still too raw? Are you too focused on dealing with the present? In his statement “Literature can wait; the revolution cannot wait.” Khaled Khalife wonders if literature is frivolous when individual and collective survival is at stake. He wishes that he could be a physical force that could protect his people and prevent another unnecessary death. When death surrounds, is it a time to write or act or both? Can you ever capture the essence of the experience or merely describe it and draw attention to it? And what of those scarred by the trauma who left and now occupy a different continual temporary in tents in refugee camps or trying to navigate a new language, work and social structures as refugees and the exiled in a foreign land. Now on the outside looking in, how can they meaningfully engage with the war and discourse when they too are grappling with the challenges of the new everyday and continual temporary? Syria has long been shrouded in the silence of fear fanned by decades of a brutal and repressive regime. Before the revolution people could not challenge or speak out against the regime without the fear of extreme reprisals, like death, torture, jail, interrogation or being forced into hiding. The Syrian Uprising set in motion the reclaiming of agency long denied – although one should add the war has taken its toll on this too and fear still remains, however, agency is far from being stamped out. At some stage the “how to narrate” gives way to the need and urgency to break the silence and create public discourse. To overcome the horror, the silence and above all to provide an alternative narrative to that orchestrated by state-run media or shown in the international mass media coverage with its saturation of distant horrors, and to offer the contemporary Syrian perspective from a very human standpoint. Through storytelling, “the ability to exchange experiences” (Walter Benjamin), and narration, artistic intervention, literature, prose, film, social media clips, non-violent acts of civil disobedience, humour and ingenuity Syrians reclaim their agency, visibility and the ethical control of their story. We hear of the actions from the early days of the revolution, of the time when activists turned the water in the fountains red and it took one week for the government to replace it. Then there are the Ping Pong balls with the words “freedom” written on them that rained down the streets of the city forcing armed soldiers to scramble to contain the bouncing balls of “freedom”. These non-violent actions provide strength to the people and instil hope for change. As the war progressed social media platforms have been used to provide instant storytelling and also to spread propaganda. “We Are Coming to Slaughter You” is a video by Bidayyat for Audiovisual Arts, made in Beruit in response to two viral videos that show children from opposing factions being used to propagate sectarian hate through songs, which include the taunt “ We are coming to slaughter you,” one in retaliation to the first. Bidayyat uses black comedy to highlight the insanity of this spiraling rhetoric (and use of children), making the point that wishing death on someone/your foe/different religious groups is akin to wishing “Death to the human race” and “Death to humanity”. One member of the group is seen wielding a massive cartoon-like soft toy knife. There is a place for black comedy and sarcasm as too one for personal reflection, literary prose, essays and analysis. We read together the prose of three female human rights activists spanning three different generations: Samera al-Khalil, Razan Zeitouneh (both of whom were abducted in 2013 along with two others shortly after releasing a critical report citing human rights abuses by all armed groups in Syria, there whereabouts are still unknown) and Marcell Shehwaro. Their prose, spoken with different voices, humanizes the contemporary Syrian experience through everyday scenes, references to loved ones, glimpses of the life before, the fractured caught between, the horror of the present and their wrath, told through a relatable human presence. Their words strike deep and we have to fight to keep our composure. We are moved. The crisis we struggle to comprehend is given an orientation point, a human one and it is powerful. We thank the voices so rich and diverse who risk so much to narrate this experience to ensure the human toll is spoken out loud, visible and cannot be denied or easily dismissed, and who provide strength and hope for change. Let us move beyond the idea of simply showing solidarity, which is a loaded concept. We agreed that it is essential to create spaces where we can talk together, think together and be human together and go from there. Public discourse is imperative as is collective action. We hope for meaningful change to the Syrian crisis soon. Thank you for the exchange.
Haus der Berliner Festspiele © Phillip Aumann Haus der Berliner Festspiele © Phillip Aumann
Thinking Together #2: Unstuck in Time
Marc Couroux’s “Memories of My Temporal Illness” is an immersive and exploratory journey of “getting unstuck in time” through music, art and media. Couroux charts various temporal ailments in the form of playful excursions (and the occasional more jarring instances), from artists, musicians, ensembles and media outlets as well as Couroux himself, where time is intentionally and physically reorganized within a piece of music, performance or media. Being “unstuck” in time is to shed the shackles of clock time, the conventional linear progression of the passing of time and time structures, of keeping time and being in time with others, not to mention our grasp on the past, present and future. What occurs is a temporal liberation. Taken out of its usual context and constraints we see time reimagined and repurposed. Time becomes a variable element at play: malleable and manipulated. The works presented show various manipulations (of temporal ailments) where time passes in unconventional ways: against time, with kairos (opportune time), time that back tracks and even turns back upon itself, time in camouflage, among others. We journey through varied, non-linear tempos, rhythms and structures. There are layered overlays in a discordant but pleasant co-existing. We witness “intangible scores”, “loops of speech”, sensations jumbled in a refusal of time as a stable given. Alternative methods of playing together as an ensemble are presented through desyncronization, perpetually falling behind, incursive approaches to structure, group energetics and relationships that expand, compress and deconstruct time. Time loops in möbiusoidal temporalities. Video action experiments manipulate time structures in feedback loops with the past, present and future estranged, intertwined and simultaneous. Deep learning systems and computational acceleration are used to exploit cognitive quirks. In Chrono Economics Couroux talks of computational accelerations that impose new time structures on existing media to optimize monetary return. “I Love Lucy” (an American television sitcom from the 1950s) reruns were sped up to increase advertising. The idea of an acceleration of that shrill (which we don’t hear unfortunately) is perverse to imagine as too the fact that it goes unnoticed by regular audiences and the intention behind it. Well, time is money. Not to mention the experimental explorations of chronic disorders like background music, low-level noise and the “slow death”, which are bad for wellbeing and cognitive health. We see that playing with time in music, art and media comes with a variety of intentions and background agendas attached. Each example is rich in conceptual narrative, the knowledge of which can help the listener/viewer orientate. These works challenge the listener/viewer to make sense of the jolt and disorientation (or not) of time reimagined. Thank you for this journey of temporal illness, so sweet and opaque.
Haus der Berliner Festspiele © Phillip Aumann Haus der Berliner Festspiele © Phillip Aumann
Thinking Together #1: Don’t Panic
“Time Wars” offers reflections on the complex, diverse and divergent temporalities of our time – a time of layered temporal haunting, insecurity, and surprisingly one of promise. How do we come to terms with acute self-awareness (and self-loathing) in this time of the Anthropocene, neo-liberalism, the war machine, nationalism, mass migration, climate change, cyber insecurity, apocalyptic imaginings, and future transitions? How do we negotiate this rapidly accelerating, overwhelming and frightening time in a meaningful way? “Don’t Panic” we are reassured. Thinking Together is a good place to start … and time is very much of the essence. Contemporary context reveals many perspectives of time: from the subjective to the regulated, governed, oppressive, the restrictive, unforgiving, fractured, the inconceivable, subversive, liberating and not to forget playful and the shifting. Mass migration both forced and voluntary is very much of our time. We explore “Living in the Temporary” where suspension of time occurs through displacement and exile. Refugees search for familiar reference points in unfamiliar terrain amid the uncertainty of a state of the continual temporary with no specified end date. Long-term suspension of time and spatial orientation on a folk and the individual through war, displacement and exile is massively disruptive and destructive but hope can be found in individual and collective agency, which can even temporarily erase boarders. Thoughts on the continual temporary lead us to the search for humanity in the machine and the relentless and never ending pursuit of the next soon-to-be obsolete technologies. In “The Planetary Test” otherwise known as “Demo or Die” we are reminded that “smart” explorations and “responsive environments” are experiments, test-beds that don’t necessarily predict stable, habitable or likeable outcomes. In “The Sliding Moment: Cybersecurity and the Politics of Time” big data, large-scale interconnectivity and sweeping mass vulnerabilities come to the fore. Here we see public discourse easily thwarted and subverted by way of meddling, fake news, bots, data harvesting and analytics: think Cambridge Analytica. Cybersecurity policy in its rush to strike back on the offensive may lead to problematic, shortsighted policy, a denigration of civil liberties and power placed in intelligence communities. It is no wonder that the perpetual now, light distractions and instant gratifications such as social media diversions consume. We may not find humanity in machines even in those that “sense” and we are urged not to leave important decision making to algorithms. Where does this all fit in broader context? That brings us to the capital war machine. The cycle of war and peace that was replaced by war and revolution has since been replaced by the war of the government and the governed. Maurizio Lazzarato says we need to drop the idea that we are living in a period of peace and consider the new ways war has emerged since the 2008 crisis. We presently live in the war of capital, in its victories. Before you despair. Please remember that temporalities are not only governed by dominant or negative forces but “generative flourishes” of rupture, transition, resilience and agency abound. Systemic cracks are indeed showing. It is high time for large-scale political and theoretical rupture. As discussed, we need to look at apocalyptic imaginings not as an endpoint in time but one of transition into a new political and social order. It is time to jump into the radical not knowing, to rethink and reimagine a collective and just way forward. We are urged not to lose democratic oversight and accountability no matter how fast we proceed. But to take the time: thinking time, thinking together, co-presence to form long-term strategies for these urgent times.
Sand im Getriebe unserer Getriebenheit
Berno Odo Polzer stellt das Programm von MaerzMusik 2016 vor.
Hydra ohne Zigarre
JungeReporter (XI): Wer sind die grauen Herren mit den Zeitzigarren?
Thinking Together
Die dreitägige Konferenz im Live-Stream