Filmmaking through displacement and dispossession | Iury Lech

Ahead of his eclectic showcase of Palestinian short films, we speak to curator Iury Lech about this niche genre’s ability to react to and comment on the difficult subject to Palestinian identity, and how it is shaped by constant conflict 

Iury Lech
Iury Lech

When selecting the films, did you have common factors, or an overarching thread in mind? If so, what were they? If not, what was the reason you went with these particular films?

Selecting video art and audiovisual pieces is like an immersion into the unknown depths of your consciousness. What moves me to do a particular selection of videos is a drive to search for risk-taking and beautiful aesthetic hidden behind images, sounds and cinematic experimental narratives.

The selection of Palestinian video art at the VIVA festival comes from a programme I curated for MADATAC, the audio-visual art festival in Madrid, Spain, which I organize and direct, which was titled ‘Unexplored Territories’ – two words which I think adequately sum up both the overall concept and the individual works that form part of it. But they’re also a poignant reminder of the injustice perpetuated in occupied Palestine – its inability to be recognized as a free country, and the sacrifice of many of its souls.

The films appear to span a wide variety of genres. What do you think this says about the way Palestinian filmmakers are approaching the issue of occupation and national identity?

Basically my approach was to select and show Palestinian experimental video works from all kinds of perspectives, to let the audience contemplate, enjoy and judge for themselves the kind of video art that can emerge from the particular political, social and cultural conditions that Palestinian artists have to endure.

Then, in a subtle or more direct way, we can see that all of the video creations carry implicit the identity stigma of the displacement, the dispossession and the dispersal of the Palestinian people by Israel, known to them as an-Nakba, meaning “catastrophe”.

Unfortunately, given that short films – perhaps much in the same way as short fiction or poetry – may not be the most popular storytelling art form at the moment, do you think this becomes a problem when you want to tell a political message? Can short films have the same impact as a popular film or novel? And if not, how would you say they contribute to the (social, political, aesthetic) conversation across the field?

Speaking in a general way, I doubt that art with a political message can change complex socio-political processes, more so when the ‘problem’ is religion, or at least some form of religious belief, which is the most powerful way of influencing the masses these days.

Video art is, as you say, a kind of moving image poetry, and for that matter a minority art discipline… certainly when compared to the feature film industry, which is not an art form as such but a commercial spectacle with the power to manipulate crowds of people with terrifying efficacy.

A video artist is actually the closest thing there is to a poet in this field – who instead of a writing tool grabs a camera to reveal things invisible to the human eye. He acts as though nothing exists outside that what the camera can, and wants, to register.

Compared to the control and pomp of the film industry productions, video art restores back to the artist-director the connection and the control over the creative process. Thus we can say that video art retrieves the pleasure of the individual art.

Video art is a tool of investigation of the unconscious that activates the flows of personal inspiration and transcends the linearity of social ataxia.

Video art defies the conventions, does not pander to a logical understanding and opens the doors to irrational metaphors that reflect on its own essence, making visible the invisible, encapsulating the real into the virtual.

New technologies facilitate the creative work, a factor that must be considered as something that isn’t, in fact, detrimental to the creator. The issue lies not so much in the artefact as in the ability of perception and recreation of the intangible. Contemporary audiovisual art should be first and foremost ecstatic and cathartic, and maybe this will help us to understand more clearly each other’s positions and rights and find solutions to these aberrant immobility situations and human tragedies.

Do you think the films will be able to overturn the media narrative about Israel and Palestine? And unlike, perhaps, the more ‘monolithic’ storylines of feature films, do you think short films are ideally placed to do this, given that they can offer varied vignettes over ‘grand narratives’?

I think that we can agree that video art should not be established as a tool of entertainment such as feature films or TV series and shows. The video art proposals have to transgress the inbreeding discourse of entertainment media, renew the language of kinetic conventional narratives, to be framed within a universalistic process in which predominates experimentation, investigation, innovation and transgression.

Video-creation thrives on dystopian highways, is entropic and metaphysical, and reflects on an idealised future and as well as a present expanded to multiple permutations and interpretations.

Maybe it can move human perceptions to a new and never before seen level of manifestation of collective consciousness.

Are you looking forward to exhibiting the films in Malta? What kind of reaction are you expecting?

I expect this showcase will serve not only as a multi-faceted and stirring impression on the never-ending Palestine-Israel conflict, but also as a new way of watching and interpreting the visual language codes, locked within new media art.

Unexplored Territories: Palestinian Video Art will be exhibited at St James Cavalier (Studio A), from August 31 to September 20. The event forms part of the Valletta International Visual Arts Festival (VIVA)

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