From Brian O’Doherty’s Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space (1986):
“A recurrent scene in sci-fi movies shows the earth withdrawing from the spacecraft until it becomes a horizon, a beachball, a grapefruit, a golf ball, a star.
“With the changes in scale, responses slide from the particular to the general. The individual is replaced by the race and we are a pushover for the race – a mortal biped, or a tangle of them spread out below like a rug.
“from a certain height, people are generally good. Vertical distance encourages this generosity.
“Horizontality doesn’t seem to have the same moral virtue. Faraway figures may be approaching and we anticipate the insecurities of encounter. Life is horizontal, just one thing after another, a conveyer belt shuffling us toward the horizon.
“But history, the view from the departing spacecraft, is different. As the scale changes, layers of time are superimposed and through them we project perspectives with which to recover and correct the past.”
-Brian O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space.
My name is Mays Albaik.
I am a second year grad, here, in the glass department.
I am a third generation Palestinian Refugee, who doesn’t have a proper palestinian accent. I’m also half Syrian, and I definitely don’t have a Syrian accent. I was born and raised in the UAE, where I acquired an undefined dialect.
I hold a Bachelors of Architecture from the American University of Sharjah, and three-years’ experience as an architect and an art coordinator at the Sharjah Art Foundation.
In my practice I’ve been interested in ideas of place/space for a while. of location and dislocation and relocation.
The past year, I’ve been focusing spaces of genesis, and in particular those of the genesis of speech in our bodies.
I’ve been thinking about the space inside the mouth.
The origin of words.
The psychological, conceptual space that is the back of the throat, where words have started to come to be but have not quite yet.
Vilem Flusser, a Czech philosopher of phenomenology and technology, writes in his book, Gestures (1999):
“If you lie in wait for a word at the moment it comes out of the mouth, try to catch it, to chew it before it is spit out (and that would actually be to grasp the gesture of speaking), you notice that you are always a second too late. Somewhere, somehow, before pronunciation and behind the mouth, the word has already been formed.”
So I started thinking, are there ways that we can capture the gesture of speaking? Can the information encoded in the space of a mouth before we arrive at the pronunciation be recorded? Before pronunciation is conceived.
Does that render the words impotent? Does that make pre-sound permanent?
What happens when speech doesn’t come out into words? if it sits inside for too long?
Does it fester? Break open like pustules on the tongue, ulcers in your cheeks?
Does it flow like lava and melt craters in rock?
Does it continue to be silent?
I was becoming interested in the political manifestations of speech (and of silence)
What form do these caustic words take when they escape.
Let’s actually come at this in reverse–
Were chants just soft words, when they were still clouds adrift in our bodies, before they became chants?
Just words sitting inside, pressing together, until they finally calcify, not clouds anymore, but slow rock.
And around them, around those words-rocks, tongues morphed. Teeth, the teeth that were ground to keep the old innocuous clouds in, bled then broke then, around their debris, regrew anew. lips flayed, then regenerated, then sat, Newborn words’ sore and swollen gates to the world.
What other forms can speech take out in the world outside our bodies?
Flusser argues that speech is somewhere before pronunciation, before the mouth.
Speech is before sound.
If the pure, platonic idea is a pre-sound pre-word, then sound is a translation of those ideas.
Language is inherently a translation.
let’s go back to our question. what other forms can speech take, out in the world, external to our bodies?
Words. Words are vibrations of the air.
Light is also vibrations.
And we translate concepts into light all the time. Projections, reflections, screens.
Can we encode the prewords of speech in light.
Can we record it?
Rachel Rose, in her video installations sits with the uncertain experimentation of the role of light as courier of complex content. her installation, Everything and More, deals with ideas of mortality, living and nonliving, through the experiences of astronauts in outer space. Complex ideas that she investigates with simple, everyday materials projected, with light onto surfaces. Those light recipient surfaces sometimes react, or don’t react, to light. Not just from the projection, but from sunlight too.
Rose says about her Whitney installation “In the work, I’m thinking about what it’s like to be in infinite space from the point of view of a finite being, like a human,”
Her dark space is not four walls, but three walls and a window, that, at certain intervals, would project through an image of the terrace into the screen, collapsing the dimension in which the audience exists into the surreal and dreamlike one of the installation.
And space is interesting. We all have personal relationships with celestial bodies. Stars, the moon.
In the midst of my research about speech, chants, light, I started delving into arabic poetry.
If chant’s are words deformed by pressure and by heat.
Like lava rock..
Like impact craters…
But perhaps the celestial debris of putrid words can manifest in different ways–
Not chants, but poetry.
The Moon in Arabic Literature.
Arabic literature across history, both scientific, philosophic and poetic, is saturated with imagery of the moon.
Images of the moon as a theological device.
As a character in celestial cosmography.
And more recently, a symbolic device in the Committed literature of the Levant, most notably by Ghada Samman. Samman, an acclaimed Lebanese writer, published a collection of stories in 1998, titled The Square Moon: Supernatural Tales. The collection mixes traditional lebanese folk and pop materials with the shocks administered by her characters’ entry into Western settings (most often Paris)
Samman’s choice of title alludes to the natural orbit of man in their natural place, and poses the question of unnatural form and unnatural place. A quote from a review of this collection:
“She is a prisoner of a limited square, holding her back from running. She steps through her circumscribed orbit into worlds of delusion and madness and disease and irrationality. And who can predict what happens to a moon once it’s out of its orbit and past the point of return and lost in foreign worlds? “
Another example, less known yet still significant, is Mai Al-Sayegh’s Awaiting the Moon published in 2002, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Front and a poet, where the moon hangs over the open air prison of Gaza, a signifiers of the waning and waxing of people’s morale, the ebb and flow of their spirits, the cycles of silence and violence.
"Muhammed Splits the Moon," an illustration in the person manuscript Falnameh, “The Book of Divination”, 1550-1599.
Illustration of the moon in Al-Qazwīnī’s (circa 1203–83) “Marvels of creatures and Strange things existing”, National Library of Medicine.
From an undated manuscript by AlQazwini who lived in the 11th century.
Al-Qazwini tells us that the earth was swinging in all directions, until God created an angel to bear it on his shoulders and steady it with his hands.
Here we see the figure of the moon, the phases of which Qazwini linked to ailment and wellness in the body, depicted riding his ox, which were traditional Mesopotamian signs of the moon, due to their crescent horns.
So I ended last term with this fascination with the multiplicity of the moon in arabic literature.
I now feel I should be in that departing spacecraft, looking through layers of my practice that are superimposed.
I am starting to put together the threads that connect my interest in the gesture of speaking, the political manifestations of speech, and the representation of the moon in Arabic literature, and I think it’s phenomena: light, sound (silence), affecting the experience of our bodies in space, are gonna be the couriers or the tools that can push this exploration forward and bring these connections closer.