Part of ONE WORK
ONE WORK is a series of online discussion events to think more deeply about how an artwork came into being. Focusing closely on a single work, these generous discussions provide space for an artist to present a recent work and talk through the work’s creation. The events are accompanied by a month-long online screening and specially commissioned written response published on the LUX Scotland website.
Sulaïman Majali took part in a ONE WORK event with us in Feburary, presenting and discussing, ‘false dawn’ (2021). Developed for an exhibition as part of Glasgow International in 2021, ‘false dawn’ was iterated here as ‘20210704_video.mp4’, as both unedited video documentation and as a“thing” itself, exploring entanglements, oranges, magic, poetry, empire and rupture.
We commissioned artist and curator Joud Al-Tamimi to respond to ‘20210704_video.mp4’ and we are delighted to publish Joud’s response below.
Joud Al-Tamimi is an artist and curator. She holds a BA in Politics and Economics and an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She worked as a curator at Darat al Funun from 2019 – 2021, where she curated the trilogy: Internet of Things: Another World is Possible, Measuring Life: Notes Toward an Impossible Exchange and Postcolonial Ecologies. Research driven and primarily based on an engagement with critical pedagogy, her practice explores value systems, insurgent economies and anticolonial futurities.
Sulaïman Majali (b. 1991/1771/1412/2941/1492) is an artist poet who brings into play rupturing, grieving and dreaming as methodologies of collapse. Considering art as an already thinking and speaking thing, the artists agitate/incite/perform towards poetic and conceptual strategies. At issue in the play is the liberatory or otherwise. Exhibitions and events include; false dawn, a solo exhibition at Studio Pavillion for Glasgow International Biennial 2021. IMG_5917, produced with Camara Taylor, commissioned by Artists’ Moving Image Festival, GIVE BIRTH TO ME TOMORROW: PART 6, LUX Scotland, online (2021). assembly of the dispersed, part of The Internet of Things, Darat al-Funun, Amman, Jordan/online (2020). strange winds, a sound commission for The Common Guild’s In The Open (2020). a dream for scheherazade, EVERYTHING HAPPENED SO MUCH, 66th International Film Festival Oberhausen, Germany (2020). WHAT’S AHEAD, WHAT’S KNOWN, Transmission Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland (2020). saracen go home, a solo exhibition at Collective Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland (2019). something vague and irrational, Celine Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland (2019). assembly of the poets, a reading as part of EARTH HOLD, Qalandiya International Biennial, Serpentine Galleries, London, England (2018). Mene Mene Tekel Parsin, Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge, England (2017). Towards an archive, 8th Cairo Video Festival, Egypt (2017).
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there where you can move under and together
In its second iteration as 20210704_video.mp4, ‘false dawn’ by Sulaïman Majali presents a trajectory of a thinking practice, disintegrated poetry, an assembly of ‘things’ that constitute an impossible film. Evoking a prior iteration that inhabits the site of the 1938 Empire exhibition in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park, it is at once an encounter and an evasion of empire.
But empire as we encounter it in false dawn is well beyond the state, territory and super power politics, and is distinct from the imperial, much more complex than just the political theater. It is evoked in a much more expansive sense. In the multitude of folds that together constitute false dawn but also the wider practice of the artist, empire is something between us, all around us, within us. But the horizon is not foreclosed. For it is in this meeting with empire in the fold that we locate moments of the liberatory.
The liberatory here is bound up with strategies of evasion and divergence that turn the task of ‘writing about’ on its head and instead invite a different kind of engagement that is a ‘speaking nearby’ and other things at once. It is an invitation to engage with the artist/clown a mode of thinking and a language that dwells in/within the ‘otherwise’. As a practice of dream/sleep that finds its grammar/form within the ‘fold’, it contains a multitude of temporalities that stretch outside of the work itself and thus propels the writer to be with the artwork and without, engaging the object(s) as part of the wider continuum of the artist’s practice, which overflows in voice notes, instagram posts, conversation, screenshots of notes, friendship as study, amongst other space-times.
refusing the object
We are walking with the artist- though we never see them- into the space of the exhibition. It is a warehouse without a facade, open to the outside. Upon entering, we see a wet, creased white towel sitting in the midst of a puddle of water. Stitched on the towel are the words:
Two months ago, while working on a project in Dakar, I wake up to a voice note that Sulaïman had sent the night before:
Um, another thing about the horizon that I forgot to mention, that I just think is cool to know anyway, is in my like.. ongoing love affair with neuroscience, I learnt that when you look at a horizon, you dilate your gaze, you spread your focus, and it has a direct impact on your nervous system functioning.. Essentially, relaxes you. There’s something in the horizon, that is, um.. like a lying down or spreading out, you know?
But the horizon is not, you know.. in real world terms, this particular person was talking about screen time and reading and writing and the importance of having to look out of the window and to dilate the gaze away from something that’s really like specific and focused you know. Anyway, I just think it’s interesting. Both in terms of what we’re speaking about. In terms of the text, but just generally, you know. Yeah. Hope you’re alright.
I play it again hours later, as I stand at the edge of the Atlantic.
The writing on the towel is a reference to the title of the piece ‘false dawn’, which describes the zodiacal light visible on the horizon before sunrise, but also- as a figure of speech- it denotes the failed beginning. The horizon appears here as an ‘impossible thing’ conjuring entropy. It negates itself, and is, in its impossibility, already an otherwise.
This reference to dawn is also a moment where Sheherazade is invoked by the artist. Beyond her role in folklore as a storyteller who narrates stories to the tyrannical monarch Shehrayar and stops with the breaking of dawn, securing her own survival and that of the other women in the Kingdom, the work summons Sheherazade as a device that inhabits the colonial. Occupying the space of the impossible, she simultaneously discloses a reckoning with the liberatory as a radical time and space traveler and as a narrative magician who performs this operative magic against encountering power.
Away from these references and allusions, the materiality of the towel also makes its presence felt. In its deconstructed form, it is a refusal of the art object. It speaks this wanting to exist on the cusp. At the same time, the towel is thinking the puddle and its speakability. We listen to it as it says something of being held and contained, of refusing opacity. But also, there is something of the horizon in the puddle, a play between surface and reflection. It elicits this thinking about the floor and the sky. Speaking about the floor and disbelieving in the floor. Speaking about the sky and disbelieving in the sky. Still, in its materiality, it collapses both the floor and the sky, which come to meet each other in the fold. In doing so, the puddle performs a radical disbelief in the borders between things, but it is a radicality that takes itself lightly, because in many ways it speaks like a joke, delineating a practice of the artist as clown.
the orange is a snake is a stick
As the camera moves away from the towel we get a sense of the space. We are in it. The spatial arrangement of the objects performs the divergent, the scattered, the dispersed. It spreads the trajectory in all these directions. It is a spatial evasion of empire that speaks the linguistic evasion of the “anyway”.
Amongst this assembly of the dispersed composed by the artist, we spot several oranges on the ground. An orange is called orange and is the color orange. It is a moment of thinking about naming, categorizing, barricading and bordering as inherent to the ways in which empire operates. Embodying a linguistic fold in its own right, the orange becomes an instance of the collapse of a thing, slipping together, things that come together, meet at a point. It is a poetic strategy, a thinking thing rather than a defined destination. It speaks of a disbelief in what matter is. Matter in the sense of materiality but also matter in the sense of why something matters, therefore bringing to the fore the inextricable relationship between categorisation and value. But it is equally this gesture of holding something and laughing at it.
We spot the orange again as we accompany the artist moving within the proximity of an image plastered on a wall. Against a black background, we see two white gloves embodying a certain hand gesture that seems to address the only second element in the image; a peeled orange that conjures the movement and form of a snake. The two are a meeting place of various thinkable things, namely, the archive, or the archivist, or the person that inhabits the archive and the magician. But the archive invoked here is separate to that of the state and the institution. Instead, we encounter the magic of archiving in the sense of being able to hold this nexus of things; the archive as garden or home. It is an invitation to sit with the question of what it means to locate oneself as part of a whole.
On another level, Moses as a device inhabiting the pharaonic structure, comes through. The gloves gesturing to the orange/snake call to mind the moment of Moses naming the stick. At stake is a poetic device that breaks down the lines between the ontological and epistemological. It is as simple as recognising that the stick is not just a stick. According to the theological narrative, the stick becomes the snake. The artist seems to ask; what makes this device suddenly a weapon; is it the way that we use and name the thing? The snake is invoking the question of what things are and what we think them to be. Again, a refusal is performed of what is invoked in the site of the exhibition: the strict categorisations of empire. This refusal is accentuated by the scratches that appear on the black background as it collapses the perfect image associated with the colonial construct of the exhibition.
The artist’s refusal of boundaries is echoed again in several other moments constituting this work. As we move away from the image on the wall, some of the objects we see in close up mode are a stack of lenticular bookmarks placed on the ground. They are an object, moving image and gif all at once. On the bookmark, we see crusader knights swiping a sword at the viewer. We are implicated. Sitting within this trajectory choreographed by the artist, these bookmarks doubt the image once more. It is another moment of disbelief in these boundaries that is looped ad infinitum.
Beyond its instrumentalisation as a methodology of collapse, this moving image/object/gif carries an underlying narrative of the crusades as this overlooked fundamental aspect, the foundations of which constitute British identity. And these being Scottish crusader knights, the reference is specific to the Scottish context, where a lot of these things are wilfully forgotten and the responsibility for empire is almost entirely negated. This material/temporal crease seems to ask something around what it means to invoke the crusades in a place like Scotland?
a heavy language of grief and other things
Elsewhere in this ‘garden’ unfolds a poetics of mourning and grief. We sense it in the coming together of the bees wax and a clay stone tablet leaning against the left wall. It has something of the grave in it, a tombstone moment. On the other side, dry tulip leaves are interspersed across the ground. It is hard to tell whether these remnants of empire have been pushed inside by the wind (included by the artist in the list of materials) or have been intentionally picked up and placed in there by the artist. We see one of the red tulips lie in the midst of the puddle bleeding. Either way, we are invited to listen to this thing that bled its pigment into the water, to sit with the unthinkable and unspeakable.
The ‘gravestone’ also functions as a cosmic marker. It is used by the artist to map out where the sun arrives at various points in the day (the sun comes here at 3pm), alluding to methodologies of space telling and time telling, but also lunar and solar compositional methodologies engaged by the artist. What does it mean to go by the sun and the moon? It is a moment of mass rupture where we all release time as it exists in the 12 hour system. The latter is dispelled as an illusion and yet another limitation enforced by empire. Facing the tombstone on the other side, is a mirror marking the moment in time where the sun is in the midst between zenith and sunset.
that’s the divine for me
The glove makes an appearance again in an A4 sheet of felt plastered right above the door on the left wall. But this time, it is invoked as a ghost. What we see is the sunbleached outline of a white glove.
I ask Sulaïman about it in one of our conversations: “It is the language of the studio coming through. This is an object that was in my studio in Edinburgh. When the pandemic happened, there was no going to the studio. I left the place and put the white glove on the surface, and a year later the sun created this image where it bleached the outline of the glove. It is one of those magic moments. I could have never made this. I have nothing to do with it. I actually considered having nothing else in the space apart from this image. It is the madness of love. I adore it.”
This ties to many other conversations we had where the studio comes through as a space of devotion and study. But the object also entangles more cynical histories. A few years ago, the artist was pulled up by the Prevent Anti Terror Legislation at university and interrogated for terrorist material. Years later in a residency at another university, the pandemic having enforced the absence of bodies in the studio, the university staff stepped in to clear the space and cataloged all the things that were in there. Pictures were taken of everything; newspaper clippings, texts, etc. The artist was sent all of these mugshots and this was one of them. The object is speaking the whole thing: “I would have never seen this unless empire decided to categorize these objects/incarcerate them. It made sense to bring it to this show. The image is speakable now. It says what it needs to say.” That being the speakability of the ways in which it is essentially the same moment but also not at all. The object became this fold where the artist encounters the machinery of the institution in ways that are at once different and the same. What is at stake in both these instances of cataloging and surveillance is the artist’s vulnerability in this machinery: “it is much more a conversation of so-called care, right..” And the alleged terrorist material is uniform through those years: “what is deemed terrorist material is essentially just the garden, that I move through and with and in..”
At the same time, the sheet of felt registers in many ways as a threshold at the edge of the unknowable, the unthinkable and the divine. But the latter is all encountered through the lens of empire, by way of this process of logging and archiving objects in the studio. “That’s the divine for me”, says Sulaïman, “it’s an unthinkability”.
ONE WORK is a series of online events that focus closely on a single work. These generous discussions provide an opportunity for an artist to present a recent work and talk through how the work came into being. Each work is available as a month-long online screening, followed by a specially commissioned written response that serves as documentation of both the work and the discussion.