“I don’t have to draw a map with the road to Happiness. But I do have some ideas how all of us could reconcile with each other. . . .How we can fly and at the same time stay on the ground.”
In 1990 Amos Oz projected in his résumé “Account on the situation of the State of Israel” a peaceful future cooperation of Israeli and Palestinians. If now the American ‘information designer’ Fareed Armaly (born in Iowa in 1957), son of Lebanese-Palestinian parents, weaves a delicate web of paths in From/To, his exhibition in Rotterdam, to follow the identity mechanisms of his contemporaries, he doesn’t try to lay out golden roads but to show paths and bridges on which the generation of Intifada had built in the last ten years their national consciousness.
It says on objective white lines on the floor, which cut into the emptiness of the space of Witte the With, “From Deir Ammaar Camp to Al-Ilasimi Al-Shemali Camp, From City Center Amman to Al Hussein Camp, From Gaza to Al-Karama Camp, From Karatia, Gaza to Gaza. . . .” These are routes which create borders and distances. Most of them have lost their geographic function for the Palestinians. This is why Armaly shows the routes as abstract data-highways. When they meet with the empty walls, the pale white shifts to warm desert-gray.
The sensorial nature of the exhibition is created by the bareness of its aesthetic. Which reflects the rough self-assertion of a desert thistle. In the beginning, the helpless visitor is lost between kilometers of postertexts, pictograms and maps. As soon as one dips into it though one soon gets into the information vortex: child labor in the closed Gaza strip, the fate of different women, family differences, organizational structures, everyday life in the Palestinian camps. The torn-apart people communicates over a telephone system which has its center in Tel Aviv, and might be interrupted there at any time. Computer terminals are an oasis within the exhibition desert out of which information from the internet bubble on the development of the society in the Middle East. Video stations bundle 29 feature and documentary films which reflect the present Palestine situation. The portrait which the young directors paint here is without self-pity, but a clear view on reality and full of human sympathy. For the first time ever the Palestinian film production of the recent past is shown publicly in the West.
Armaly’s highly politic event is without any noticeable aggression. This is where its provocativeness lies. Misery, torture, and injustice, which were answered for a very long time with terrorism belong to a unquoted past. Armaly’s Intifada generation fought with a stone in their hands for freedom and independence. So the artist took the stone to create in the exhibition a denominator for a country without a form. Armaly had his fist-sized pebble digitalized and mirrored the measurement lines as a web of paths onto the three-dimensional architecture of the museum. Within this weave of scripted stripes, From/To has an open ending, without content, ready for the future to come.
At the end, a postcard collection is situated. Since Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany visited the country in 1888 the popularity of postcard greetings from Palestine has rapidly increased. In the beginning,the postcards were meant for pilgrims, which showed natives in biblical costumes placed in front of holy places, these cards conveyed a morally perfect image. In the 1930s this image was merely changed on its surface. Now one saw contemporaries who happily constructed roads under the motto of “Joy of Work” trying to win the favor of East European immigrants. Not only the images of the postcards but also their subtitles conveyed changing identity ideals. “Palestinian beauties in Palestinian Life” reads a naive comment to a folkloristic dressed group of women on a 90s postcard. To relativize this, a representative of a woman organization was commissioned to create a fax journal in the exhibition which was to convey once a week the account of women in a Lebanese camp. Sadly the connection could not be continued after the death of King Hussein.
Armaly intentionally keeps form and content, aesthetic and information apart. The artist didn’t create a walk-through historybook, but develops with the logic of a web site brought in to a three-dimensional space a new site of museum presentation, which conveys thoughts through virtual information dimension. To secure the complex content of his project the artist asked filmmakers, historians, anthropologists and geologists to convey to the project. He invited to the Rotterdam Filmfestival nine Palestinian directors who until then had only met through their work.
Within this seemingly empty, filled with content, exhibition Armaly proves himself as an information architect and interaction designer. By asking the young Palestinians to speak up Armaly also critically incorporates a part of his own biography. Without roots, like pollen his family was spread all over the world. From this January onwards Armaly will be the Artistic Director of Künstlerhaus Stuttgart. Here one may expect similarly interesting media projects.
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(c) F.A.Z. GmbH, Frankfurt am Main.