Palestinian Wildlife Series takes it name from the fact that I recorded these images from an African wildlife programme being shown on a television set in Palestine in 2011. This act of appropriation calls into question issues of mediation, displacement, and authenticity in relation to its subject.
In 2011, the same year the revolution began for us in Egypt, I was commissioned to make a performance in Palestine. The small apartment where I was staying in East Jerusalem had recently been broken into by Israeli settlers who tried to claim the apartment for themselves. Weeks after the break in we remained unnerved, our bodies tensely recording each sound in the small courtyard outside. Alone in the apartment one night, I watched a television documentary on African animals. As I’d done in Cairo for the ten months before, I took refuge in the non-human.
Why the non-human? Because in addition to our shared affection toward plants and animals, and drawing on ideas from Rosi Braidotti (2013), posthumanism concerns the failed project of humanism, the Eurocentrism of its proclaimed universality – its hypocrisies and exceptions. In Palestinian Wildlife Series, the animals presented share so much with humans that the work does not function on a metaphorical level so much as on a parallel plane. African animals are under continual threat of extinction and bodily harm, are tracked and monitored, and are relegated to enclosed areas and distant, inhospitable lands. The parallels in this case are so close to that of the Palestinian people that as an artist I do not need to anthropomorphise them – to endow these animals with human distinctions not their own.
My intention for the animal images in Palestinian Wildlife Series was to cut away the human-centred narratives imposed on them by television news media. I slowed and looped sequences, attempting to edit the images according to principles of postmodern dance. My aim was to work with the ‘natural’ movements of animal bodies, without pretence or spectacle. I was less concerned with the shape of the movements on screen, than in mining kinesthetic responses to them, I was interested in slowing the fast cuts of the original clips (often not longer than four seconds), which are so common in media today. This action was also my way of slowing time in my own frenetic context.
Recording these images directly from the television in Jerusalem (as opposed to downloading similar images later) spoke to the immediacy of the moment. I was interested not only to capture specific images but also to highlight the larger affective setting through which I experienced them: an endangered living room, in Palestine, in 2011. My background in live performance informed my interest in the lived moment – the mise en scène of watching television, as it were. The experience of watching these animal images and watching them in the fraught context of Jerusalem were inextricable. Added to this context was the images’ temporality in 2011, where unfolding revolution across the region was juxtaposed with Palestine’s long-term occupation. The silent animal images were infused with these ideas for me; though, of course, they would take on entirely different meanings in Beijing, Vienna, or São Paulo. Thus, rather than represent these images seamlessly, I was interested in alluding to their context in the television – the light of the ceiling reflected on their bodies in the glass.