Ica Wahbeh - The Jordan Times Weekender
May 31, 2007
to count memories without laughter’s disruption, 2007
Two-channel Video 9’45’’
Staccato shots punctuate the flowing writing. Reversing
a vacuuming process, blue beads are shot out, tracing
letters. It appears as if sand were blown off a surface
to uncover the writing or an ink jet were shown working
in slow motion, moves fascinating in themselves. As
the letters are shaped in beautiful calligraphy, interest
picks up, as does the tempo and the sound of shooting
– or of heavy rain dropping on metal (the corrugated
iron roofs of houses in refugee camps?).
The rhythm then slows down, the sound is muted to a
vague wind/wave in the background, and the details of
bead writing (ink splashing) becomes overpowering, drawing
attention to it only, forcing the mind to read.
“Please stop me from laughing; I cannot hold my
memories any longer
Just finish making my history for I am dying of laughter
even as you are trying to kill me with it
Just finish forging my past
I will stop laughing
I will learn to forget that I can remember
I swear I learnt to forget that I can remember”
Such reads the text of Oraib Toukan’s “Trying
to count memories without laughter’s disruption”
(2007), a “two-channel video” now on display
in Darat Al Funun’s Main building, part of her
overall photographic, installation and video works,
“Counting memories”, which deal with collective
and personal memory, the act of remembering and forgetting,
and the role of the visual in stimulating, preserving
and propagating recollection.
The young artist says the video “is a raw exploration
of the self within the creation and propagation of a
history built on the concept of déjà vu. A paradoxical
narrative that speaks of the past, present and future
is written in blue beads. The sound resulting from moving
beads is systematically synthesized to create a mood
of open battle or hypnotizing seas. Together these sounds
thrust the viewer from one state of flux to another….
It presents a narrative on the sensations induced by
the over-consumption of a history that has been written
by all but one’s self. A history of one’s
own destiny witnessed, sensationalized and felt only
from behind TV satellite stations”.
“Remind me to remember to forget” (2006),
a single-channel video “is a short ironic narrative
on language and meaning”.
The split screen presents two synchronized performances.
In one, the phrase that gave the name to the video is
frenetically written in gold glitter and then immediately
inhaled through a nozzle, in the other, the sound of
breathing comes from a neck, close shot, inhaling and
The video was produced during the 2006 Israeli war on
Lebanon when, “entranced by absurd US media coverage
of the war, I obsessively wrote and rewrote the phrase
‘remind me to remember to forget’ until
I metamorphosed it into a video”.
“In making references to drug use, and rhythmically
set to the sound of stifled breathing, the video questions
an innate regional memory ‘made to forget’.
A memory somehow created to be raped, disposed of and
eradicated right before its transitions from present
Subtle and not so subtle political symbolism permeates
the artist’s work. It is discreet yet powerful,
indicative of a bright, inquisitive mind that refuses
to be shaped by anyone else’s perceptions and
projections. And not deprived of ironic wit, as clearly
shown in the interactive installation “The New
Middle East” (2007).
Magnetic foam cutouts of fragments of the region’s
countries can be “innovatively” used by
viewers to reassemble a territorial map of the Middle
“The work is a play on the so-called ‘New
Middle East Map’, a plan that has been frantically
distributed in various conspiracy theory circles and
in some mainstream media since its inception in June
2006. The map was originally suggested by retired United
States Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters, as his
‘proposition’ of ‘how a better Middle
East would look’. The puzzle was cut by overlapping
his proposed map of the Middle East with the current,
post-World War II map of the area.”
“One donkey and three phrases” (2007) is
a three-channel video installation “of a donkey
I worked with to write the phrases ‘I perceived
a past’, ‘I remembered a present’
and ‘I witnessed a future’.”
Choosing the donkey for its “particularly strong
visual memory” and the animal’s “experience
of mass exodus in the Middle East”, the artist
ingeniously places each of the three phrases in a mirrored
box “that requires the audience to peak inside
to view the footage”, the writing (with carrots)
being gradually “erased” by the eating donkey.
Again narratives and meanings constructed and deconstructed,
memories present or obliterated, outside forces controlling
events. Toukan interrogates these different “tenses”
of memory, exploring its relationship to time.
In “Man with a tattoo” (2007), a symbolic
photographic series of the tattoo of Palestine on a
man’s back, the map/dagger/eagle tattoo is prominent
and clearly displayed, gradually fading in the last
photograph, becoming a small dot, a flicker of memory,
diminished perhaps in time yet still alive.
“The series is a simultaneous depiction of the
pride and shame associated with patriotism and a fading
The “Icon series” (2006-2007) took the artist
two years to look for iconography in public spaces,
to see “what governs the collective perception
and collective identity”. In cafés, bakeries,
laundry or TV repair shops, Toukan consistently found
that “Jerusalem is an important and ubiquitous
centerpiece. God, the nation and the King also reign
supreme along with green paradises, peacocks and horses.
The end result is pictorial vocabulary that is unmistakably
ordinary, telling of the power of the normal and the
mundane in seemingly shaping explosively silent consciousness
Going deeper than the obvious, doing a psycho-analysis
of sorts, the artist believes that the photos “unearth
a vocabulary that relates seemingly unrelated elements
and anecdotes into one single narrative. The works are
inspired by the intricate layers of visual code that
are unconsciously collected in one blink of the eye.
Much of this code remains tucked away in our memory,
stored as unprocessed data, and as such is often taken
for granted. In this series, I look to bring out this
ephemeral and local visual language…. I enjoy
being part of the narrative myself by attaining at least
one gaze, be it from a person or an icon, as if taking
it to make a memorial of some kind of present and not
past. Ultimately, each frame becomes a period piece
perhaps mocking its time”.
One last installation, equally original and with powerful
impact, is “Good morning Beirut” (2006),
first installed in New York during the Israeli war on
A huge roll of paper has “all the emails I received
during the first few weeks of the war” acetone
transferred on it. Naji Al Ali’s cartoon “Good
morning Beirut” forms a point of departure for
the work. “The cartoon was originally printed
in Al Safeer newspaper in 1982 and was redistributed
by email at the onset of the war, intact and with fatal
Paper drawn from the roll crosses the room, is folded
up the opposite wall, allowing the viewer to read text
both in English and in Arabic.
“In reinstalling the piece nine months later,
I grossly exaggerated the size of the paper roll, making
it almost impossible for anyone to retrieve more information.
The work therefore becomes an isolated, static and classically
For powerful intellectual stimulation, viewers can see
Toukan’s works on display until July 19.