We know what it is for, we who have used it: Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme

March 3 – April 7, 2019
Photos by Mario Gallucci

“The clearing. We find ourselves in the wreck once again, and then again. A perpetual crisis leaves us suspended at ground zero. The potential to radically re-imagine the world, so palpable only a blink of an eye ago, now tastes bitter in our mouths.” —Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, And yet my mask is powerful

We know what it is for, we who have used it is an exhibition by Palestinian artistic duo Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme. Extending out from their project, And yet my mask is powerful, the multi-media installation confronts the apocalyptic imaginary, violence, and erasure that dominates our contemporary moment. It takes Adrienne Rich’s poem of resistance and discovery, “Diving into the Wreck” (1971-72), as a script to the project. The text proposes heading into the past, into sites of disaster, as well as into one’s own personal history, in order to search for evidence of what can be salvaged.

For this research-based work, the artists return to Palestinian villages in Israel that were destroyed in 1948, and ask, what happens to the people, places, and things that have been violated and displaced? How can we reconsider matter and objects once the living fabric is destroyed, and who has the right to retrieve the material from these sites? Their investigation began when they first encountered Neolithic masks exhibited at the Israel Museum in 2014. Currently the oldest known masks, they date back 9,000 years, and were taken from the West Bank and surrounding areas, and stored in private collections. Abbas and Abou-Rahme give new meaning to these objects by photographing and reproducing them through 3D printing. By replicating, and returning to the sites of wreckage, the artists reconsider artifacts to be animated objects that exist and perform their own vitality. They simultaneously point to the necessity of enlivening archeological sites in order to rehabilitate unfamiliar life forms, and ultimately to re-examine histories of occupation and colonial legacies.

And yet my mask is powerful includes two layered parts. The first consists of a five-channel video and sound installation that transposes Rich’s text in English and Arabic. The work documents a group of young people as they return to the sites of ruin and perform new rituals there. Breathing new life into these places, the group’s performance conjures up the potential of a time that has not yet been imagined, and is unbound by the here and now. The second part presents printed images, notes, studies, herbs, specimens, and masks. Abbas and Abou-Rahme sample the diverse vegetation found in the abandoned sites, as emerging and resilient agents. Place is no longer constituted by its destruction, but through the living forms—its soil and flora—that infuse site with vitality and change. This persisting archive allows unfamiliar possibilities to emerge.

Through the intersections between body and artifact, thingness and virtuality, the artists propose a counter-mythology that re-conceptualizes time, the present and the aftermath of historical trauma. Stories of dispossession and resistance unfold, challenging our understanding of both wreckage and its material remnants. Meanwhile, the artists radically imagine another world, one in which ruin and debris lead us into deeper contact with others who have also defiantly taken this journey to the past, and will return again to carve out and inhabit a space that has yet to be realized.

Public programs

Sunday, April 7, 5-6:30pm at Disjecta
Landscape, We: Film program with works by Shadi Habib Allah, Maha Maamoun, and Arjuna Neuman and Denise Ferreira Da Silva.
Co-organized by curator Suzy Halajian and artists Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Landscape, We, presents works that are in dialogue with the themes present in the artists’ solo exhibition, We know what it is for, we who have used it, and in the 2018-19 The Politics of Landscape season. Screened directly after the closing of this third and final exhibition in the series, the program brings together three films that consider different contexts and stories, in order to point to the violence, power struggles, and colonial narratives that surface through considerations of the landscape, both material and imagined. In varying ways, the works unearth buried sites and histories, and challenge notions of property through a post-human lens.
This program will also be screened at the Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, April 21.
Location: Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Ave.

Basel Abbas (Cyprus) and Ruanne Abou-Rahme (United States) live and work in New York and Ramallah. They work together across a range of sound, image, text, installation, and performance practices. Their practice is engaged in the intersections between performativity, political imaginaries, the body, and virtuality. Across their projects, they probe a contemporary landscape marked by seemingly perpetual crisis and an endless ‘present’, one that is shaped by a politics of desire and disaster. Their work questions this suspension of the present and searches for ways in which an altogether different imaginary and language can emerge that is not bound within colonial/capitalist narrative and discourse. They excavate, activate, and invent incidental narratives, figures, gestures, and sites as material. Varying forms of returns, amnesia, and déjà vu enter their projects, as the artists continuously unfold the slippages between actuality and projection (fiction, myth, wish), what is and what could be.

Recent solo exhibitions include: Kunstverein Hamburg (2018); Krannert Art Museum, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois (2018); Art Jameel Project Space, Dubai (2017); Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (2015); Office for Contemporary Art, Oslo (2015); and Akademie Der Künste Der Welt, Cologne (2015). Recent group exhibitions include Busan Biennial (2018); Darat Al Funun, Amman (2018); Contemporary Image Collective, Cairo (2017); Kunstgebäude Stuttgart (2017); Portikus, Frankfurt (2016); Qalandiya International, Ramallah (2016); Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2013); 12th Sharjah Biennial (2015); 31st São Paulo Biennial (2014); 10th Gwangju Biennale (2014); 13th Istanbul Biennial (2013); 6th Jerusalem Show (2012): and the 53th Venice Biennale, Palestinian Pavilion (2009).