Human Moments In World War III (2018)
Two-channel video and sound installation (7')
Fragments of radio communications accompany archival footage of a family from the 1960s and 70s.
Human Moments in WWIII is a follow up to A Bunker Fairy Tale (12 channel sound and video installation, 2013), a reflection on childhood as an isolated experience in a separate time and place.
The current title of this work is inspired by Don De Lillo’s science fiction short story in which two astronauts receive unidentified radio signals while orbiting above an Earth torn apart by war. These radio signals are later revealed to have been old broadcasts from Earth.
A Bunker Fairy Tale is on permanent exhibition at the former nuclear bunker of Konjic, Bosnia-Herzegovina, now turned into a contemporary art museum.
Human Moments in WWIII is part of a group exhibition on display at the Tanit gallery until April 2018. The show focuses on women artists and is curated by Mayssa Abou Rahal.
For further details about the exhibition, please click here
For Voice And Forest (2016)
video, color, sound (2'13'')
For Voice And Forest (2'05) is a sequence shot of a forest where a little girl is walking by, singing one continuous note, from distant humming to a loud scream. It is a miniature piece for the monumental voice of 8 year old Alexandra. The performance explores the spatial dimensions of sonic phenomena in a landscape by reflecting on the perception of distance, scale, and focus: from emergence to near-disappearance. The image and sound are deliberately out of sync, where the movement of the body and mouth seem to be an echo of the sound, and not the other way around.
The video is part of the group exhibition entitled Listen curated by Marie Muracciole and Marcella Lista. The show focuses on the medium of sound where works are articulated around the notions of silence and enlargement of the acoustic spectrum, whether to experiment with the limits of perception or to put recording techniques to the test. They involve different gestures inspired by a practical or imaginary experience of sound, aimed at the production or reproduction of this experience.
For further details about the exhibition, please visit the Beirut Art Center here
A Bunker Fairy Tale (2013)
video, color, sound (8')
A Bunker Fairy Tale was exhibited at the Project Biennial of Contemporary Art in Konjic, Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Biennial takes place in Facility D-0 ARK Underground, inside Tito’s atomic bunker that was held secret until the 1990's, now turned into a contemporary art museum.
This work is originally a 12 channel sound installation with a silent film that was presented inside the radio communication room of the bunker.
A Bunker Fairy Tale is the story of an imagined encounter, inspired by James M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It explores the concept of memory in a space that has not been affected by the passage of time, the ephemeral stage of childhood, regarded as a separate time and place, and the act of remembering as a way to reinvent the past.
A: Excuse me, I was wondering if you could help me find my way
P: Well that depends on where you want to go. You can start with one step back, then another step back, then all the way back to yesterday.
A: But I can’t go back to yesterday, I was a different person then!
P: So you're completely lost. Where do you want to get to?
A: It really doesn't matter...
P: Then it really doesn't matter which way you go.
Childhood is often portrayed as a safe refuge, a protected haven freed from future pressures and ordeals. Perhaps what it has in common with the medium of sound is that both can be intense but fleeting experiences that we lose as we grasp their significance.
All that remains consist of visual traces of a memory that resemble the fiction and the power of fairy tales.
The images are comprised of 8mm footage from personal archive of a birthday party in 1975, the year in which the Lebanese civil war started. The soundtrack is based on a dialogue between Peter Pan and Alice recorded in phonetic alphabet.
Dear Victoria (2011)
video, color, sound (8') | Music: Ernesto Rodriguez - Cynthia Zaven
Dear Victoria is an experimental video that explores the notion of belonging and estrangement through archive material found on 8mm films shot by my grandmother, during her trip to Armenia in 1969.
I had taken the same journey in 2005, without knowing we would be sharing experiences one day.
The Lisbon Project (2010)
video, color, sound (12')
On that first evening at the restaurant, I was seated opposite Joao, an anthropologist and a friend of our host. “So you’re a musician,” he said. “Do you know that music is very important in Portugal.” “Of course” I replied, thinking of Fado. But I was never too keen on folklore. “Music is so present,” he continued, “that even the revolution of 1974, which brought down the dictatorship, was triggered by 2 songs on the radio.” That grabbed my attention immediately. I had just arrived to Lisbon and the only thing that interested me at that point was the fish I had just ordered. Little did I know that I was about to begin a journey of sound where composers, poets and singers would entwine with contemporary history and politics to dream about a free country that eventually came into existence, and where Fado turned out to be the central original vehicle.
I have always been interested in the social and political aspects of music. As a music teacher, I often find myself explaining the historical circumstances in which a musical score was composed, what were the events that influenced the composer, and what inspired him or her. But in a broader context, I found the opposite even more fascinating: no matter how powerful the influence of any given environment may be on the production of art and music, any shifts in artistic trends – no matter how subtle – may engender such profound consequences in society that the Greeks went as far as to suggest a ban on changes of tone, mode, or rhythm within a given musical structure. Plato even warned that “any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole state and should be prohibited."
When I decided to look into the relationship between music and politics in Portugal in the 20th century, I realized that very little had been written about the subject. In fact, the first music encyclopedia in Portugal had been published only a few months earlier. It was very important for me to meet some of the book’s contributors, as well as other scholars of musicology, ethnomusicology and sociology in order to learn more about the effects of music on broader social consciousness and the political culture of revolution-era Portugal. I also connected with local musicians; with some I had the chance to perform in improvised music concerts on two occasions. My research primarily focussed on Fado and the many changes it underwent before, during and after the Salazar regime, the classical composer Lopes Graça, and Jose Afonso’s intervention songs that led to the Carnation Revolution in 1974.
video, color, sound (17'17) | Camera: Marco Milan | Music: Sigbjørn Apeland - Cynthia Zaven
We were more than two thousand passengers, crammed on the decks of a ferry that couldn't contain more than a few hundred. The Beirut airport was closed and the only escape route was by sea. It took 24 hours to cross the 200 kilometres that separated us from Larnaca, the overcrowded ferry advancing heavily as it also pulled three floating containers filled with suitcases. This journey, that felt more like an exploration of uncharted territory, took place in the midst of the war in April 1989. The boat was targeted a few times by the Syrian army, but we arrived, slowly, very slowly, to Cyprus.
Seven months later I took the plane back from London to Lebanon. During those 7 months I had a recurring dream: I was returning by boat, and just as I was about to reach the shore I would find myself in the sea. It felt like a struggle to keep the city in sight, a struggle to breathe. Was it the city that was drowning, persecuted and perverse, martyr and luxurious, or me. Everything around was a constant menace. But strangely it wasn't unpleasant. The skies were blue and the water was warm and comforting. Whether it was an anxious prelude to returning home, or a strange prediction for impending troubles, this dream would always haunt me.
Untuned Piano Concerto With Delhi Traffic Orchestra (2006)
video, color, sound ( 2 hrs. 05 mins. ) | Sound recording and camera: Michael Northam
One day before my performance, a young Lebanese minister was killed in Beirut; it was part of the long parade of political assassinations that had started with PM Hariri in Feb 2005. I decided not to tune the piano. It suited perfectly with the chaos of the country I was in (India) and the one I was from (Lebanon). A different chaos, but one nevertheless. I had taken the piano out of its normal 'habitat' therefore de-contextualizing an ordinary setting, and was going to play on it on the back of a truck, driving through New Delhi: using the instrument to interact with a city that was not mine in a language I knew best.
We drove around the busy roads with me sitting in the back improvising on the piano, challenging the instrument to connect with the urban environment, almost like trying to fit in a place I didn't belong to. Some drivers would beep back, some would just stare in awe thinking it was a movie that was being shot. Feeling the instrument turn into a purely sonic interface to communicate with cars, rikshaws and trucks was both an intense and painful experiment...
After 2 hours on tortuous roads, the soundboard disconnected from the piano that eventually gave up.
Below are some excerpts from the piano improvisations. What started as a performance was shown later as a video and sound installation called the Untuned Piano Concerto with Delhi Traffic Orchestra (Nov. 2006, Khoj, Delhi)
Published on 12" vinyl http://staalplaat.com/recording/yokomono-35
“(…) Rutherford-Johnson has no interest in constructing a new canon of Great Men, or of Great Women, who are carrying on the saga of heroic musical innovation. (The suffocating maleness of music history is at an end, even if the news has yet to reach most big-league orchestras and opera houses.) Instead, he presents a decentered, democratized scene, in which famous names collide with figures who may be obscure even to plugged-in fanatics. Reading his book took me months, as I stopped to search out Internet evidence of the likes of Cynthia Zaven’s “Untuned Piano Concerto with Delhi Traffic Orchestra” (2006), in which the composer improvised raucously on the back of a truck being driven around New Delhi.” Alex Ross, The Sound Of Music In The Twenty First Century, The New Yorker (August 27, 2018 issue)