“Irony is about the tension of holding incompatible things together because both or all are necessary and true. Irony is about humor and serious play. It is also a rhetorical strategy and a political method.”
—Donna Haraway, First test space monkey
Hospitality is the name of our game.
Our artistic approach is grounded in several fields at the same time: the geo-traumatism of day to day politics, the celebration of Arab female poetry (Etel Adnan, Nazik Al Malaika), our friendship, our bodies, our wild practices, speculative fiction. Our research practice translates this “ironical” state defined by Donna; holding on to many objects at the same time: painting while singing, playing music while reading the news—allowing our world to grow by itself.
We look at wars in the middle east, Star Trek, tarot cards, economic crisis, real/fake manifestos, queer politics, camouflage, weird fiction, structural social violence, destruction of the biosphere in general, childlike dances. In this project the idea is pretty simple: to hold on to our “newspaper” practice, to use all this knowledge we had acquired about the state of the world, and use this as material to imagine the future. This is an old technique of course, and it’s the most common divination technique: data analysis and projection of heavy tendencies. But we don’t care about the “data”. We don’t care about rational projections. Our approach is to force the poetic upon the political. To use poetry as a tool to transform the future instead of trying to predict it.
We learn from afro-futurists the simple precept: if the “real future” is being robbed from under your feet, then what is left is the land of impossible worlds, of speculative fiction. We use a “hospitality method:” in order to hold on to otherness, we host uninvited guests: Syrian astronauts, child dances, broken machines. Once you open the door to complex displays, such as science fiction, the middle east, or floating attention, then objects and people start to invite themselves in your work. The idea was to try to hold on to those uninvited guests, see if we could make them sit in the same room and what would happen then. We have irony. We have deep dark tides. We have poetry.
The more we host otherness, the more we generate potential for transformation. We are oracles and oracle making machines. future friend/ships is a house for all of us: tides, scarabs, planets, poets, astronomers. As we said somewhere else: projecting oneself into the future is more often than not a privilege reserved to a happy few, and a way to reproduce sameness. future friend/ships casts a different kind of physical fiction: we host the uninvited to conjure the curse. If there is no hope around here, we might as well become space dwellers. And since we cannot build proper spaceships yet, well then we can invent them in our minds, and share them as immaterial objects. Again, future friend/ships is not an identity/ cultural project around the preservation of some glorious past or special Arab identity. It borrows from the absolute chaos, the madness, the desperation, the hospitality to strangers and strange things. Our tools are migration, misunderstanding, multiplication of political machines unfolding inside our political subconscious.
When we got stuck explaining the project, we couldn’t agree on any texts for press or promo until we described it as “an idiot’s perspective on violence and despair.”
What are we doing? Making a performance about everything, motivated by the most depressing and violent situations we can bare to witness, even with only one eye open. And the other eye distracted by everything else… lust and inspiration, candy and whiskey, poetry and online news, constant travel and protected time at home.
Early in the process, Jassem started drawing, mostly portraits of Donna Haraway as a mystical animal, hybrid concept, or secret avatar. I joined in the play with pastels and paper. Mapping war as a potential back tattoo. Our studio looked like a busy kindergarten classroom displaying every student’s sincere artwork.
We bought white rubber butcher’s aprons and tried dancing with animal masks that were uncomfortable and blinding. Then we traded Jassem’s vulture mask for a cardboard box with a happy face. Music was teased out of broken machines and excesses of cassette tape exaggerated by contact mics. We danced like fools with high hopes and no technique. We tried to fly cheap drones but they kept smashing into walls. Our drone is broken but it is ours so we kept it alive, meaning it has a life in the performance.
We didn’t want to say it was a piece “about” Syria but we bonded on how much we tried to understand what was happening there when so many others had given up or had never even tried. And then things just kept getting worse. And then refugees. And backlashes. And statistics. And Russians. And Hillary’s emails. And Trump bragging about torture. And the United Nations funding Assad’s wife to offer services to the people being hurt by Assad. And more refugees. And bombed hospitals. There were Youtube jokes about homemade guns in Aleppo and the blog by a fake Syrian dyke actually written by a white American married guy. There were our trips to Istanbul, Marrakech, Cairo, and Greek islands that seemed relevant and yet unproductive. We wrote, “Trying and failing to better understand the wars in Syria, we are crafting a magical poem of Arab Futurism. Poetry as political practice.”
Arab future fiction. Arab futurism. Poetics of speculation. Imagining impossible futures as a means to counter despair. We went looking for Arab and Muslim astronauts and feminists and astronomers and poets. Needing support in multiple realms, we adopted Iraqi poet Nazik Al Malaika and Palestinian/American professor Edward Said as ancestor guides. Tracking contemporary poetry zines from the region we learned of an ancient ritual of infusing water with herbs and flowers.
At dawn on a spring morning, the aromatic and medicinal water was used to wash the faces, children first. It was called Thursday of the Plants / Jeudi des plantes which means that we learned about it through the orientalizing gaze of settler colonialists. We went to the supermarket in Hamburg and bought basil and roses, sage and chamomile, and prepared our own water for ritual bathing in the hammam of the future.
future friend/ships became a place to share frustrations, make art, and wash our face. Maybe yours too.