Nadim Choufi @ Jameel Arts Centre
Emoji summary: 🏜️ 🌫️ 🌿
I want to write in formula and template. I want a review that is more prescriptive and clear. This is what I think, laid out methodically.
Step 1: ground the artwork’s context and content within the limits of your every day life.
I am finding a value and weight in science fiction, an abstract pocket for alternate living, a space that fiction can just unspool itself into, away from the rigidity of my day where there’s no space left for suspension of disbelief or dreaming.
I want to feel warm and weird and like I am wafting through unfamiliar territory. I want the world to feel sparkling and brand new. I read Angelica Gorodischer’s Trafalgar, Elvia Wilk’s Oval, Ling Ma’s Severance; they’re soft sci fi from the past, projecting the image of a future I am already stepping into.
I read Ursula Le Guin’s essay, the Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, and now I want to sort everything I encounter into that neat binary of spear or container.
Step 2: from this foundation, describe the artwork in the terms you’re understanding it within.
The Sky Oscillates Between Eternity and Its Immediate Consequences is an 18 minute film by Nadim Choufi. It was commissioned by Art Jameel: the ~community & collaboration~ arm of Jameel Arts Centre, an institution out in Dubai. The film moves at two different speeds, they split focus and run parallel against each other.
The text is heavy, scented, poetic.
The image is glossy, cold, metallic.
Narrative winds itself out of this cloud. A closed and careful system, a time unspecified, on a different planet; far away or just far from recognition. A disembodied voice narrates us through a tightly wound transcendent logic. It plays over slick cgi choreography; sand dunes, a burning sun, daisies growing in neat rows under a glass roof, little space-y bubbles that contain the atmosphere within a firm limit. Then, it slips into something more demonstrative, a heavy symbolism: a floppy tiger falls against the rim of a glass container, little microbes waggle their tails against a baby blue backdrop, lawn furniture and terrariums. Scene changes are signalled by a blank white background with a dynamic diagram; figures come in and containers fill up.
A bubble with a glassy surface, reflects the shadows from a treetop canopy. A tiny pink microbe dances to a club bop, building and dissipating its own energy within this closed circle. Figures with a rippling chrome-y surface freeze and judder against the sand dune lunar landscape like the sculptural bodies dug out of Pompeii, while a haunt-y instrumental plays.
I can’t tell you what happened with any kind of certainty because watching it felt like a dream; heightened clarity but complete slippage.
Step 3: talk about affect and leakage.
This split register of text and image made my head spin, made my muscles crackle with the energy of movement. I couldn’t bear to sit still throughout.
Part of me feels like this wasn’t what I wanted right now. I have been snorting up books at record speed, and I wanted this to match my energy for inhaling a narrative through text. I didn’t want to pay attention to images, even though they were beautiful images. The slow aching slide through meant I missed the friction between present, inevitable future and speculative future. The weight of the symbolism in the silent moments just bypassed me, because I am feeling tempestuous and demanding and like I want the world to meet me on MY terms.
I feel bad saying this, because I don’t want anyone to agree with me, but I am sick of images. Sometimes their clarity is a bit too much, their edges are a bit too slick and something is too well made. Throughout watching the film, I took screenshots, but my favourite image of it is a zoomed in blurry iPhone pic of a paused screen. I have thought and thought about why, and I think it’s because it allows me a little bit of modesty in the layer that’s added. I want it to exist in this space between the screen and myself, in a less flat dimension, so I can choose to not be touched, or to choose the ways I am touched. I want to have a firmer handle on the terms of tactility, as I engage with artwork and surface.
Step 4: how are you left feeling? Zoom out.
Maybe the reason I am reaching for soft sci fi moments right now, maybe, baby, it is because it fictionalises a world I can already see as a clear inevitability. It makes it appear more distant. It positions my suspended disbelief as requirement, when I’d be willing to jump in neck deep into belief and complicity without being told. It asks me to surrender to the supremacy of its vision, and I choose the visions I am swallowed up by.
The push and pull between spear and container. One is meant to be linear and murderous, singular, endeavouring outwards; one is meant to hold the multitude in its tangle, transportive and capable of holding on. One is external: it ruptures the limits set to contain it. One is internal: it is the limit, the surface and the skin.
I think that split register between text and image counteracted itself and doubled back. Image forced text into a linearity that text was trying to leak out of. Image drove them both onwards into the bleak expanse of the progress bar, timeline, leaving traces of textual spillage stained across its route. Text has more power and weight in affecting me at the moment; image slips into aesthetic, and aesthetic feels too contrived or hollow to contain the powerful yearning I want to pour into it.
Step 5: Has it left a residue against the filmy surface of your life?
What is the aesthetic of the future? Is it burnt orange sand dunes, solar panels, vacant dissatisfaction, liquid chrome, sliding apathy? More and more, image feels like an empty category.
I want the multitude, the tangle, I want to be transported.
I can see dystopia now, sprawling, its gash open in front of me.
I want to fall back into an atmosphere and have it engulf me.
Nadim Choufi's The Sky Oscillates Between Eternity and Its Immediate Consequences is up on the Jameel Arts Centre website.