KÖKEN ERGUN with MICH’AEL ZUPRANER
this presentation was made in the frame of the 'suspended spaces' exhibition at the maison de la culture d'amiens, in the winter of 2010. for this presentation, köken ergun has invited michael zupraner to talk about the community tv channel project he has set up in the west bank city of hebron.
in the first part of the talk, ergun presents his selection from the btselem archives, and talks about how this relates to his own practice. later zupraner elaborates the situation in hebron and introduces his HEB2 project.
Hi, this is a piece I have done two years ago.
starts showing excerpts from WEDDING and The Flag, while talking over them
I usually work with different cameras and I invite my friends, but sometimes friends I don’t know very well, to come and shoot with me a ritual or some anniversary or a ceremony which is only happening once a year. And prior to shooting I tell them a little bit of what I want to see and what they can shoot, but usually I really don’t know what to expect at the end. So I collect the tapes after the shooting, but I don’t watch them for three or four months, I keep a distance with the subject, and then finally I start editing. That would be the first time I look at the material. So my work, prior to this research that I made with B’Tselem, has been more kind of based on editing techniques and qualities to put images from different times and different locations together. But there is one thing in common with what we will see later on, is that they’re a bit voyeuristic. So I work in the idea of rituals, community buildings through rituals. I am a guest in them, but not a detached guest. There is always a connection that I have established somehow. I might be from the same culture, in the case of this it is indeed the same culture, it is a Turkish wedding in Berlin what you see here, but they are Turkish people living in Germany. So I come from the outside, a little bit but not totally from the outside and I shoot the ceremonies in a voyeuristic point of view with hand held cameras.
So later I was introduced to the work of B’Tselem, which is a human rights organization based in Jerusalem. At first they were like every human rights organization; primarily making textual work. But an ex-documentary filmmaker, Oren Jakobovitch, opened a video department for it. And this video department, with the participation of Mich’ael who you will listen a bit later on, has distributed cameras to Palestinian locals living near settlements in the West Bank. And they are asked to videotape human rights violations happening in their own doorstep. And this footage is going to be used as evidence, as legal evidence, when they go to the court. B’Tselem gets the tapes. And we will see some of the families here that are constantly being abused by the settlers around their neighborhood, and they shoot it, so they give it to B’Tselem, B’Tselem goes to the court and they say « look, this is the family, this is the proof of what happens to them ». So we are talking about a human rights organization, which is using not texts but visuals as their evidences.
So I there went once to see what they were doing and I still can’t find this image, but I was really moved by an image of a… a random image that they were looking in the camera, while they are uploading the tapes. It was the image of a settler constantly beating a tree trunk, for like twenty minutes. And I was really interested in it, and I looked at them and they said: « we have this material a lot » and I said: « well I think this is what I am interested in ». Because I was more interested in what people do when they take their cameras. Do they always shoot human rights violations? Because this is happening everyday. But what else do these tapes have? So I had the urge to look deep into the archive. Six month later, I went back and I watched through three hundred tapes out of two thousand or something in total, and it was a very obsessive work, and I was interested in what B’Tselem is not interested in. I was interested in personal and unexpected material from this archive. And most of the archive is of course voyeuristic. The archive is shot usually, well always, from Palestinians inside their houses, because in most cases they are afraid to go out when this confrontation happens. And it’s hand held. And then, at that moment, I realized what it means not to edit the footage, what it means not to aestheticize something. So I started to make a selection of these unexpected, personal and abstract moments of this archive.
shows footage of “settlers passing under the window, in dark”
Here this footage comes from the city of Al-Khalil in Arabic, Hebron in international language and in Hebrew.
Now let’s go to our map and see where we are geographically because for some reasons all the footage, most of the footage that I was interested in, happens to be coming from Hebron. And that’s how I met Mich’ael.
Shows a map of the region, with close-up on the division of Hebron
This is Israel and here is the West Bank, which is under Palestinian authority, but it’s actually not the case because all of the area is occupied by Israel and there are settlements in many, various locations in the West Bank. And here this spot is Hebron. And Hebron is divided into two parts because of the tomb of Abraham, which is sacred to three religions. This area has been under both Israeli and Palestinian control and it is the only city in the West Bank, which has a settlement in the heart of the city. After the second Intifada, there were much more violence in between groups, so the Israeli army cordoned off the section surrounding the Abraham mosque, which also happens to be the actual financial center of the city. So imagine, the main shopping street of your town Amiens cordoned off, and you live there on this street which is right going out from the Maison de la Culture, and you are suddenly not allowed to walk on the street. So all the shops had to be closed after the second Intifada. So it turned into a ghost town and the inhabitants, most of them, left after the second Intifada, because of these restrictions, because you cannot walk on the street… So what they do, they reach their houses from roof to roof and they are given special roads to go from behind. And to protect their houses from the stones of the settlers, they installed iron fences on their windows. Here what you’ve seen was one of the houses on that street.
Mich’ael, later on, because he comes from Hebron, will tell you more about it; you will have a better understanding of the environment.
Watching through numerous tapes in the archive, which came from Hebron I wanted to see the town with my own eyes, and I wanted to meet who is actually providing this footage, who is doing all the works, and they have put me in touch with Mich’ael. Mich’ael runs a project there, which is now developing separately from B’Tselem and he will talk about it with you a bit later on.
Shows the footage of “the mirror kids”
Now, the houses are very very close to each other so the Palestinian children were shooting, the Jewish children on the other side are confronted with this image, which was getting my attention.
Now, if you stay there, if you are from there you know that there is occupation. And B’Tselem is telling people: « show the occupation and this will be useful for you in return ». But when the locals use the cameras they also record some things on the sixty minutes of the tape, some things that are actually not directly related to occupation but include occupation inside, sublimely in a way. So these are the things that I was interested in, also from a very very personal aesthetic point of view. You know these are the images I like basically, but it also tells me something about what documentation is and how we can approach and represent. A difficult solution in a very very remote culture where we can actually not excess very well. The “Suspended Spaces” project is also something like that. The artists here have been asked to go to Cyprus and to make new works there, but these artists happen to be mostly from Europe. So then a question comes to mind: how can you represent a culture while you are not so familiar with it? Second question: how can you represent such a conflict area without having been living in it? So I think the best way to understand it is actually to see what they see and to do what they do, in other words, to live with them for a while. Cultural anthropologists like Victor Turner called this the anthropology of experience. Based on the erlebnis theory. Erlebnis in German corresponds to lived experience in English. This kind of observation is way much better from just (the artist/filmmaker) going there and making a documentary, and getting back to his/her own country/culture shortly afterwards. Therefore, it is maybe a better way of representation, if we just borrow images or stories shot or told by people of that culture, and just carry that image outside of its context for a while, and to show it to the viewers on the other side. This, for me is more accurate and most of all more “in earnest”. So for example if you would ask me to describe the occupation in the West Bank, I would show you just this image shot by two Palestinian kids in the garden of their house in Hebron:
Shows the footage of “soldiers passing through the backyard”
It’s basically the back garden of the childrens’ house and they’re practicing with the video camera, when suddenly two young soldiers come in and just pass through, then they exit from the other door. That’s it…
Shows the footage of “robot on the street”
Or when they are watching a robot from their roof. This is a robot used to dismantle suicide bombers. It looks like a practice that the army is doing there, on yet another street where Palestinians are not allowed to walk.
Or the very unexpected things like the video camera directing its gaze to the TV screen and we see a music video from the beginning to the very end. There are many of these examples and I will show you my favourite one now:
Shows the footage of “video clip in which man strangles woman”
Now I’m starting to think about how to present this big archive. The initial drive is to show to other people around the world what is in this archive, because this kind of material are not in the interest of B’Tselem, which is very normal, this is understandable. And first it was dealing with documentary, dealing with the aesthetics of documentation and dealing with artistic representation in general. Then it became also interesting for me to pose the question of what if we don’t do anything and just borrow images of somebody and show it, so you are like somebody who carries the water from here to there.
So I want to show to as many people as possible this footage. But I don’t want to be the only one doing this. Every time I want to invite somebody for example visual anthropologists, academics, filmmakers, documentary filmmakers… For example a colleague and friend of mine Hito Steyerl who is theorist and documentary filmmaker. Her interest is specifically in documentality, how reality can be reconstructed in and by using documentaries, also had recently co-edited a book with Maria Lind, titled The Green Room: Reconsidering the Document and Contemporary Art. For example she was immediately driven into this video. I would like to have a conversation with her in the future. I mean the video archive would be open to other people and we would also like to make publications about this.
Shows the footage “fashion tv”
The usual duration of images in the archive is usually short, one or two minutes or three minutes, because they shoot something and they take their finger out and then it’s a clip of three minutes. But finally the videos that we see from the TV screen are the longest ones. And here he is prepared; he is putting the remote to the volume.
So it’s capturing the moment but in a different way, where I intuitively and very personally find interest in. My selection here is indeed very personal.
Shows the footage of “the eagle”
It’s a very short clip, it’s just showing an eagle. The eagle happens to be the symbol of the Palestinian authority, and also in many cultures, power.
And here is the longest tape in the archive out of the three hundred tapes I have watched. It’s documentation from the window of the Sharbati family, which is on the street that I mentioned you, that they are not allowed to go in, in Purim ceremony. The Purim ritual is very important to the Jewish culture. People get dressed up, and very contrary to the Muslim community, they drink alcohol and that’s a very important aspect of this ritual for the Muslim onlookers. So in a street where they were not allowed to go in, there is a Purim parade. And they are also curious, the curiosity of watching what’s going down on their street. And this is sixty minutes long but I will not show you the sixty minutes we will just see fifteen or ten minutes of it. of course this like other footage of this kind has never been used by B’Tselem.
Shows the “purim parade”
Mich’ael, would you like to tell us a little bit about what Purim is?
Mich’ael: Purim is one of the Jewish holydays. It has its origins in the Jewish bible. It’s related to a story about the Jewish community in Persia, and it’s basically a celebration of the survival of the community, but in some point it’s under a risk of being exterminated and the tables turned on its internal enemies, and its enemies were killed instead. So there is a massacre of the Jewish community and because the king was in favor of the Jewish over the persecutors the tables turned and the enemies of the Jewish were killed instead. Specifically in Jewish modern, especially Israeli tradition every year we have a celebration, it’s kind of similar to Halloween where you dress up in costumes and you make a big parade celebrating the survival of the Jewish people. Specifically religious people drink on this holyday, Jewish usually don’t drink very much, but on this holyday its considered part of the tradition and specifically in Hebron because the Jewish want to have a break because, I’ll talk to you about the situation in Hebron after Köken, but because the Jewish want to have a break the entire area is closed off to Palestinians, and the surroundings as well, and Palestinians spend their time watching the parade which is very colorful, with costumes and lights and so forth. They spend it watching it through the windows.
Köken: So, it looks like a big crowd but it’s actually not a very big crowd. At the beginning there is security, and then the group of settlers, and at the end again security, well the Israeli Army.
Now a very famous anthropologist, an ethnologist, Victor Turner, says in one of his latest books… He taught anthropology around the world for many years, and you know anthropology is still an essentially a textual science. But in reality, it deals with the people, because it’s anthro-pology; about the human. And he says that he believes no longer in the education of anthropology using monograms, which means books, and he says we must perform ethnographies instead of writing about them. And I say that we must watch ethnographies instead of talking about them. Simply because performing them might be unapplicable at times. So the best way to understand what is really happening in a conflict zone or any zone is to watch it with their eyes, which is something an artist will not be able to do. It can be but not as much as this. So I think visual anthropology is also looking into this field, what we are actually showing you here. And for example I will finish up with some of my other favorite clips from this archive.
Shows the footage of “fireworks”
This is again curious because I thought it was the Ramadan’s day but Mich’ael just told me it was the independence day of Israel celebrated by the settlers over the other side of the hill. Again the camera is used by the Palestinians living in Hebron.
Shows the footage of “snow in hebron”
And this is snow in Hebron. By the way all the families are aware of the fact that we are showing this footage. Because one of the other discussions into this project is: B’Tselem, the human rights organization, actually has the copyright of these images, so the people who shoot this footage for capturing “their” moments, are not so much aware of where the footage is going usually. To give an example, something I have witnessed when I was working in the archive in Jerusalem. Representatives of world media comes to B’Tselem and ask for example “Can I have an image of war, can I have an image of tunnels in Gaza, can I have an image of something?” And I’ve also seen filmmakers coming and saying: can I have an image of the market in Hebron? And B’Tselem gives it to them for free with very good will. But sometimes in the loop, the owner of the footage’s mention is of course missed. So this is why I wanted to go to Hebron and, with Mich’ael, we have been in touch with the people who shot the footage that you’ll see outside and also here.
For example this is a sunset.
Shows footage of “sunset”
I didn’t know the story when I saw this but later on Mich’ael told me the story, so maybe you can tell us please Mich’ael. This is taking place in South Hebron hills, which is the most poor area in the West Bank, people live in almost caves.
Mich’ael: It’s a very remote area. The young person filming this was infatuated with one of the B’Tselem female workers, and had a crush on that woman, and so was very inspired to make these tapes for her and tried to, I guess, collect visuals that he thought would be beautiful and impressive. And so sunsets and sunrises are very common in these tapes.
(Question in the audience that we can’t hear)
Köken: They are constantly under danger, they are constantly under occupation and the occupation takes shapes everyday, different shapes, so it’s unpredictable completely of course, and I didn’t talk about it because I think it’s the obvious part. What I am interested in is usually the ambiguous unobvious part. It’s the curiosity combined with the frustration of course. Capturing the moment is both a little bit possessed in a way, like they have to because they want to document these provocations, but also I’m pretty sure that there is an esthetic element behind it that is common to many people, but we think it’s usually in the hands of the possessed artist. So for me it is also in my personal journey when I am asking: why am I doing this, why am I aestheticizing other people’s rituals and putting them in a work? So I’m also curious what will happen to my practice after working with this kind of footage. The other work I’m showing is the Philippine beauty contest, as I realized is much less aestheticized than the works I had made before for example.
Question: What did you tell the owners of the footage, that you will do with their footage?
Köken: We gave them a brief description of what it will be. We say that we want to show it to other people in a cinema or in a museum, but it’s very difficult to explain for example the word installation. I mean Mich’ael can tell you more because he actually talked with the people.
Mich’ael: I just say something specific about that point. Hebron is the biggest city in the West Bank, it’s about 200 000 people, the district of Hebron is the biggest district in the West Bank, it’s about half a million people. There isn’t a single movie theater in the district of Hebron. So you can talk about presenting something in a cinema, but people have no experience of cinema to begin with. Just to make that point. But in general yes, people are aware that the material is shown, and I got to talk about it when I talk about what I’m going to show, but these people are aware this is a way for them to communicate. Just as this sunset.
Question: Where have you showed this project since now?
Köken: We’ve just started this project, this is the fourth presentation. The first presentation happened in Jerusalem to a Jewish and Israeli Arab audience. Then it was in Ramallah, and we told them that we showed it but I don’t think we got many reactions. And then the last one was in a more close artist circle in Istanbul, in an artist institution. So when Mich’ael goes back of course he will have the chance to talk with them. But it’s very new.
Question: in your opinion who is the real owner of these footage?
Köken: As I said, the images are copyrighted by B’Tselem, but we believe that the owners are the people who shoot them.
Question: Would you also interested in what the settlers, the other side might be shooting?
Köken: Definitely, definitely. The first question I asked to B’Tselem : why don’t we have the view of the settlers ? But Mich’ael has some.
Mich’ael : Yes, maybe I’ll show it. I guess I can talk about that when I’ll talk about the situation in Hebron : how the cameras have also affected the settlers.
Köken : If there is no other questions, we would like to pass the microphone to Mich’ael and his project HEBRON2.
end of part one - in part 2 michael zupraner will speak