Chisenhale Gallery holds Jumana Manna’s first solo exhibition in the United Kingdom.
Through film and sculpture, the American-born, Jerusalem- and Berlin-based Palestinian artist explores notions of power, the body, nationalism, history and the construction of community.
Running until 13 December 2015, Jumana Manna’s solo exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery in London comprises an installation of sculptural works alongside her newest, feature-length film A magical substance flows into me (2015) – co-commissioned by the Sharjah Art Foundation and Chisenhale Gallery with Malmö Konsthall and the Biennale of Sydney.
Jumana Manna (b. 1987) works primarily with moving image and sculpture. She holds an MA in Aesthetics and Politics from CalArts, Los Angeles (2011), a BA from the National Academy of the Arts, Oslo (2009) and a BA from the Bezalel Academy for Arts and Design, Jerusalem (2006). Currently, she is based between Jerusalem and Berlin.
In her moving image work, Manna explores how power is articulated through relationships, whether at a basic social level such as that of coach and athlete or a higher, political one such as Norway’s role in the Oslo Peace Accords. In sculpture, she “investigates the historical and political resonance of materials and the physical relationships between objects and bodies”, as the press release explains. For this, she draws from a variety of sources, including archaeology, car mechanics or Modernist architecture.
Investigating musical traditions
For her latest film A Magical Substance Flows Into Me (2015), Manna took inspiration from German-Jewish ethnomusicologist Robert Lachmann’s (1892-1939) research in Palestine, and constructed a personal continuation of his work through her own research in Jerusalem and its surroundings.
In the film, Manna records her exchanges with musicians from diverse communities in their homes or places of work and of worship. For these “private performances”, Manna used provisional architectural settings, which she then transferred to the gallery to utilise as seating for the audience while watching the film. Talking to Chisenhale Gallery curator Katie Guggenheim about why she used music to present a historical narration of a country through film, Manna says:
Music can be a place to transcend identities and affiliations, geographies and temporalities. But it can also be used, and it has historically been used, to strengthen feelings of collective identity that are based on exclusion of ‘the other’, based on who doesn’t figure into that collective identity. I’m interested in this double bind of music or double-potentiality of music. I think music both can hide and reveal politics at the same time, almost like a masquerade.
Lachmann researched the Oriental Music broadcasts – a series of radio programmes from the 1930s – for the Palestine Broadcasting Service, established under the British Mandate (1920-1948). For the broadcasts, Lachmann recorded musical performances of the ‘Oriental’ groups in Palestine, which included Eastern Jews and Palestinians. Manna went on to revisits the same communities, comprising Kurdish, Moroccan, Yemenite Jews, Samaritans, members of urban and rural Palestinian communities, Bedouins and Coptic Christians. She used both Lachmann’s recordings as well as new ones she made during her research trips.
The film was shot in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel, and was a way for Manna to explore the complex and fragmented histories of her hometown. She attempted to trace links between physically, culturally and linguistically separated communities, showing how these now segregated identities are historically and traditionally intertwined. The press release reads that “The film dissembles false binaries and puts into doubt the logic of partition and segregation, and their colonial discourses.” Manna explains in the interview with Guggenheim:
I chose not to emphasise borders, in terms of what is Palestinian territory and what is Israel. Lachmann’s radio programme took place before the partition of Palestine. I thought of Lachmann’s program as radio waves spilling out across a territory, defining a certain polity, and participating in shaping the territory. In a sense, when making the film, I physically follow those waves.
Manna followed the path of Lachmann’s research, as if performing those radio waves. She brought along her iPhone and the recordings to the different areas and communities, which are now more segregated than ever before. Through this process, she expressed both the loss of the political space that was once historical Palestine and her own effort to try and retrieve it. She explains:
This labor, and the traversal of various borders are not to idealise the period of the British Mandate, but rather to provide a space from which another Palestine can be imagined. It is part of my interest in going beyond the logic of segregation and separation. This paradigm of partition, the two-state solution that is still the prevalent one for Israel/Palestine, is, I believe, no longer realistic or appropriate.
Awakening corporeal memory
In the exhibition, the film is installed alongside a series of sculptures made of hollow plaster that emulate anthropomorphic shapes, while resembling discarded, empty vessels. Plastic chairs and waste bins – representing “the vernacular detritus of daily life” – provide a contradiction to the ‘assemblage’ that parallels the contrast between impasse, and vitality and desire in the film.
The corporeal memory that is embedded in music is further highlighted by the physicality of the installation surrounding the audience during the screening. The sculptures, as fragments of a body, are like “spectres” for Manna, which have also become mutated vases. These vases suggest archaeological objects or “something from the past”, like Lachmann and the recordings are spectres in the film. Their physical presence belies a deeper one, hidden from view, but which is perceptible in its invisibility all the same, like the feelings and physical reactions that music awakens.
In the interview, Manna says about the connection between music, memory and the body:
[…] this was also why I found it so interesting to do a historical narration through music. If memory is a symbolic representation of the past, embedded in a set of practices and affiliations, I think that musical memory is the most libidinal form of it. It’s something that is deeply ingrained in your body. Based on what you grew up on, you immediately have stronger connections to certain kinds of beats and certain kinds of tunes than others. And that’s not something that you necessarily choose. So it also creates bonds with others, with groups, with territories, or with areas, that are unexpected or that are simply not always a matter of your own choice. It’s something that you, at least in part, inherit.
Through sculpture, Manna is also exploring sensibility, touch and physicality. She is interested in “what kind of memory lies in the senses, if it’s accessed through audio, through touch, or through smell”. Manna says about listening and music:
When you hear something you have to understand it because it’s going into you, it’s becoming a part of you. Listening collapses this division of self and other, or of singular and plural, or inside and outside. […] Your whole body has to shake while you are listening to it. This idea of the body as a medium, and as a place of resonance has been something that has followed me. Both throughout the film, and also through the making of the sculptures, which are hollow chambers and containers. They are empty, like our bodies, which are also kind of hollow, and are filled with fluids, other matter and air. The idea that sound is taking place in space but it is also spreading within me.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
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