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Protocinema discusses cycles of violence through hyper localised art interventions
Shraddha Nair

In a world where perpetual cycles of violence are eminent, dialogue about it seems to be increasingly either normalised, sensationalised or ignored as per convenience. When these cycles are equally, both widespread and silenced, how does one begin to have a conversation around it? For Mari Spirito, curator and executive director of Protocinema, the answer is A Few In Many Places. As the name suggests, the exhibition is split into a number of site-specific art interventions across a series of geographical locations including New York, Istanbul, Beirut, Philadelphia and Berlin.

A Few In Many Places contextualises its work against a historical narrative of violence and trauma through commissioned artworks located at street corners, in local shops or empty spaces in the artist’s neighbourhoods. Spirito explains her intentions with her curation saying, “My motivation to develop A Few In Many Places exhibition as a hyper-localised and globally interconnected show evolved both out of how Protocinema has been working for the past nine years, in a way that is deeply responsive to local contexts, simultaneously interconnected to communities in many other places. Added to this approach is the fallout conditions of 2020. We spent the first months of the year listening to and engaging colleagues and friends from many fields and places during this process, a listening tour of sorts, to come up with what form gathering may take in the coming years, we see small micro-events and IRL (in real life) interventions as the healthy-safe way to go”. In this way, the exhibition seems to read more like a chain of location specific social experiments than an art exhibition per se. These interventions rely on audience response and dialogue and because they are located with large distances in between, the viewer is compelled to engage with what is directly in front of them rather than a body of works, which alludes to a wider concept. However, this comes with the advantage of a localised narrative, which is more relatable to the audience. The works by the artists are slight and subtle ways to enter physical spaces, placing more weight on the audience reaction rather than the work itself.

Spirito discusses the way the string of five commissioned interventions interconnect, creating dynamic entry points into discussion around the subject of violence. She says, “For A Few In Many Places we invited artists who have already been critical of our many clearly broken systems, and pose a readiness to action. Especially since all of these artists are working in different cities, their experience and world view will be varied. While all of these artworks utilise a diverse range of media and material, they are all woven together by shared concerns on examining all these broken parts. These are core concerns for all of these artists, for example Abbas Akhavan’s new video Spill (2020) depicts flowers silently speaking, with subtitles, of nightmares and fear, which ends interrupted by fireflies. Hasan Özgür Top’s The Fall Of A Hero (2020) focuses on the propaganda of radical and totalitarian movements, which use masculine mythologies from the classical era to today. Stéphanie Saadé’s intervention A Discreet Intruder (2020) responds to common bullet-rigged roll-down storefront security doors, by piercing a new one with 38 new holes, which go out, instead of in, reversing the cycle of violence associated to the stirred-up history.

Michelle Lopez’s sound-installation Keep Their Heads Ringin (2020) takes on the complicated symbolism of the American Liberty Bell as an emblem of freedom and equality, which is also marked with failure: its famed crack rendered the iconic hunk of cast-iron broken and silenced at its arrival. Burak Delier’s intervention Maya (Yeast in Turkish) 2020, cultivates bread yeast with videos that reflect the history of the region, then baking and sharing his bread, for people to eat. Yeast inherently has memory that traditionally, before the industrialisation of food, goes back many generations and carries with it its own stories and traumas, which work as a metaphor for corrosive lineages in other aspects of civic life. My process of learning about these concerns comes directly out of speaking with each other over the years and even going through some of these cycles together, it all comes back to listening to each other, more than a process, it is what we are here for”.

Lopez tells us about her sound installation, which is taken around the city of Philadelphia by inner city kids on cycles, bringing attention to this culture as well as elevating the installation into an atmosphere similar to that of a protest. She shares, “The liberty bell project was about re-sounding the dead Liberty Bell and giving the sound to those not seen. I wanted to insert this sound intervention into a pre-existing street action that embodies an authentic kind of joy. It’s not just the act of ‘cycling’ but actually a whole street culture specific to American cities where young kids with BMX bikes gather to ride together while doing stunts. These kids take over the street in their own march that represents them. When they ride, they defy traffic lights and the movement of traffic, and are protected by riding en-masse together. So, as a unit, they move beyond the law. These kids on box bikes come from all over and ride together in solidarity, unified with what they see as a form of freedom on the street. This form of riding intersects with the kinds of protests that are happening globally with Black Lives Matter. Many of these kids (aged 12-28) come together with different backgrounds and are attracted to this familial community - mainly because it is about this kind of liberation and moves beyond race, so I thought this would be a good place to have the bell ringing sound intersect with their particular form of protest”.

In the next performance, Lopez will be working with Farid Barron, the keyboardist for Sun Ra Arkestra. Lopez says, “He will circle Independence Hall and Liberty Museum with his detailed car (another form of assertion of identity and of being seen through your vehicle) and will play the sound through his speakers while riding through the street. He will also play a Sun Ra piece. He will assert a new ringing in opposition to the dead bell that is housed in the museum. With the sound taken to the streets and given to citizens (different groups in Philadelphia) who have ridden their vehicles collectively in order to march, release, be seen (in the form of wheelies, motorcycles, customised cars, regular two-wheel bikes), the ringing in proximity to the dead liberty bell will create a new kind of empowerment and context. This is an ongoing performance that moves fluidly with existing movements, rather than be a sole intervention unto itself”.

A Few In Many Places will run until November 28, 2020 although these dates are subject to extension or cancellation due to the ongoing pandemic.