Beyond the museum and gallery and milk plant that house the fifty-odd artworks that compose EVA International 2014 – artworks that shine in each other’s light and condition each other’s conceptual and aesthete orbit – I experienced an artwork that upset my sense of time and place, located (out of curatorial step) on the periphery of the biennale constellation.

Before we get down to the brass tacts of the physical and psychical components that make up Swiss artist Uriel Orlow’s Unmade Film, other secondary textures need to be considered, such as the location where the work is installed (Occam’s ‘brooming’ will not suffice). Bourn Vincent Gallery is inconspicuously located in the Foundation Building of Limerick University. Being June, my visit to the gallery was influenced by that all-encompassing, holy absence that enshrouds academic institutions during the summer months. Never have environmental factors influenced such a weighty obligation to stay longer than usual with an artwork in the face of a wide-eyed invigilator, suspicious of my motives for visiting the gallery when her contact with humans had been far and few between. With the textures of time and self-consciousness still floating among the dust particles of experience, I entered into Orlow’s Unmade Film.

Unmade Film is not a film. The only moving image present is the observer’s passing reflection and shadow thrown amid the horizontally-biased installation of photographs, ‘filmic’ tableaux vivants, prop, drawings, instrumental score, and an “audio walk” experienced via wireless headphones. Amidst all this ‘still’ and fragmentary posturing of imagery and noise, Orlow pulls the proverbial flying carpet through the wormhole of temporality in his excavation of the spectres of trauma visited upon the historic Palestinian village of Deir Yassin. The artist achieves this by way of individually textured, multiform elements that communicate the anachronistic traumas that inspired his Unmade Film.

With wireless headphones on, one of those warm ‘welcome, welcome’ voices speaks directly to you with deictic expressions: “Welcome to Deir Yassin. I will be your guide and show you around. Come.” Entitled The Voiceover, the velvet diction of Nayef Rashid guides you through Deir Yassin – 1 of 418 similar villages that were depopulated in a massacre by Zionist paramilitaries during the 1947-48 Palestine War, when Jewish and Arab communities clashed when the region was under British rule. The war resulted in the exodus of over seven hundred thousand Palestinian Arabs, followed by the declaration of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948.

Like a game of musical chairs, as soon as Nabka (Day of the Catastrophe) was over, Shoah (The Holocaust) took its seat in the village of Deir Yassin, and catharsis was put on hold. In 1951 the psychiatric hospital Kfar Sha’ul was established in the remaining intact houses and school of Deir Yassin following the massacre and destruction of Nabka in 1948. The hospital’s initial function was in the treatment of holocaust survivors – one of whom was a relative of the artist, a great-aunt whom Orlow remembers visiting as a child. Kfar Sha’ul still stands to this day, as Orlow’s series of recently taken photographs of the grounds of the psychiatric hospital bear witness to. The thirteen photographs are beset by textures of absence similar to the absence I experienced in Limerick University that day: empty common rooms and circles of chairs in and around the dilapidated architecture and wild grounds of the hospital. Orlow’s visual presentation of Kfar Sha’ul feels like a car journey in a foreign country; the car windows framing fleeting, forgettable images, while the heavy accent of the radio DJ anchors you in the place’s provenance.

This sense of being out-of-time and place is duplicated by the out-of-step experience of looking at the series of photographs that are coloured in by spectral absences, and listening to thirty minutes of luxurious imagery dictated by the narrator. That perceived luxury is soon spoiled by the introduction of The Score – an instrumental soundscape that would torment the most patient of gallery invigilators. But without it, especially when it registers a decibel or two above the narrator who has his tongue in your ears, the multifaceted textures of Unmade Film  – metaphorical and physical – would not emerge from their fluctuating, flatlining absence and presence.

The last four components of Unmade Film corrupt our linear experience of time. In no particular order, like a message in a bottle, The Props consists of a simple olive bottle on a low-hanging shelf. Acting as another tableau vivant for a subplot to the Deir Yassin narrative, the stand-in olive bottle infers the true story of a bottle of olive oil found in a room not accessed for fifty-two years in the Kfar Sha’ul mental hospital in the year 2000.

(Time stands still once again)  in The Staging – a series of filmed tableaux vivants developed in workshops in Jerusalem and Ramallah, wherein the participants hold sculptural postures that emote trauma and repair . Alongside, treatment and rehabilitation is diagnosed but left uncured in The Script – a series of 60 pencilled texts drawn from psychiatric case histories that describe Nabka and the Holocaust in the Procrustean Bed language of psychology: delusional disorder ... somatic pain ... olfactory hallucinations ... While researching, I came across a fascinating conversation with the artist and clinical psychologist Yoa’d Ghanadry, that broaches the question of the inadequacy of the clinical script in relation to sustained socio-political unrest in the Middle East, where successive ‘Intifadas’ (Palestinian-Israeli conflicts) have taken place without reprieve. Such prescribed terminology as Past Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) does not fit the bill:

Psychotic and anxiety related disturbances are on the rise. According to the definitions of the DSM – flashbacks, stuttering, bed-wetting, and nightmares – most children in Gaza have PTSD. If that were the case the children in Gaza would not be able to learn, be happy, enjoy play, or do anything, but that is not the case. The trauma and life are going on at the same time: the trauma is not stopping life, as it does in the classic situation of PTSD. What we suggest instead is the term of CTSD – Continuous Traumatic Stress Disorder, instead of Post-Traumatic, because we are not post anything!1

Orlow’s The Storyboard closes but does not seal the undetermined envelope of Unmade Film. The Storyboard is a booklet of drawings made by pupils in a workshop at the Palestinian orphanage Dar Al-Tifl-Arabi in 2013. “They tell the story of Hind Al Husseini, who took in the orphans of Deir Yassin and set up, in her own house, the orphanage and school that still exist today.” Hermeneutics is the last thing on my mind when flipping through The Storyboard; children’s drawings that tell the past but look to the future, whatever that may hold.

Time and trauma fail to line up like the cherry dials on a Vegas slot machine in Unmade Film. Uriel Orlow’s efforts to activate and master the evolving mise-en-scéne of unresolved historical trauma by combing through the multiform textures of The Event end in failure; but a purposeful and compelling failure.


1    Uriel Orlow, Unmade Film, published with edition Fink, Zurich, 2014.


#6/ ‘Dear Uriel Orlow’






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