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Cinematographic project "1395 Days without Red" at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona
From left to right: Maribel Verdu, Sejla Kameric, Anri Sala, MACBA. Photo David Campos, MACBA.

BARCELONA.- 1395 Days without Red is a cinematographic project by Šejla Kamerić and Anri Sala in collaboration with Ari Benjamin Meyers. Conceived, developed and filmed as a collaborative project, it resulted in two independent films, presented simultaneously for the first time at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA). The films are a unique opportunity to see how, having started with the same materials, the personal reading of each artist and their way of working – not only with the film material, but also the space – convey two completely different ways of understanding the same project.

1395 Days without Red digs deep into the experience of the siege of Sarajevo, which took place from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996, a period when, according to the UN, the city’s inhabitants were reduced from 435,000 to 300,000. During this time, some 10,000 people were killed and over 56,000 were wounded by sniper bullets and exploding grenades. Thousands of homes and public buildings (including the university and the library, which housed over two million volumes) were destroyed in one of the longest sieges in European history. The two films show the trauma inflicted by the conflict on the people of Sarajevo. 1395 Days without Red is a journey to the past from the perspective of the present, through a series of daily routes in today’s Sarajevo, which recreate what was once known as ‘Sniper Alley’. A temporal journey referring to the universality of emotions beyond their geographical location and through a city’s collective memory. The siege of Sarajevo lasted 1,395 days.

Šejla Kamerić
The film follows a woman, played by Maribel Verdú, walking steadily. As she walks, however, at each crossing she is faced with an existential decision: to stop or to run, to cross alone or with others. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the city, Sarajevo’s Symphonic Orchestra is rehearsing passages from Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony, Pathétique. The musicians play again and again, repeating different fragments from the symphony in the same way as the woman keeps on walking, stopping, running and walking again. The music, resounding in her head, helps her to go on.

For Šejla Kamerić (Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina, 1976) this work is a personal journey through her own recent history, a recreation of events experienced at first hand growing up in Sarajevo during the siege. The film ends in the place where her father was killed. These experiences have unequivocally marked not only her attitude as an artist, but also her way of understanding and practising art: as a tool for conveying experiences, memories and opinions, which can then be shared with others. Through photography and video, a very personal narration develops that alludes to local collective experiences – framed for the most part within the political context of Bosnia Herzegovina, and in relation or in opposition to the global socio-political context –, and to other, more personal experiences that lead her to reflect on universal values. An artistic practice firmly rooted in the search and perception of the artist’s own identity.

In EU/Others, 2000, Kamerić proposes a reflection on the values and meaning of the categories used to classify people at border crossings. To that end, she installed, on three bridges in the city of Ljubljana, signs like the ones found at passport controls at airports, which group passengers according to their nationality. In this case: EU Citizens / Others. As a result, every time somebody crossed a bridge, they had to face ‘the fact of being Others’. But what does ‘Others’ mean? Through this public action, and almost without altering the context, Kamerić invites us to reflect on the absurdity of the dominant political context, and on how the idea of a nation is sometimes turned into a fetish. Borders are designed in a process of inclusion and exclusion by means of which groups are defined, and which create distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them’, a distinction that often determines the way we value people. The artist reflects on this in the public project Bosnian Girl, 2003, where, over an image of herself taken in the studio and retouched using the techniques of the advertising industry, she reproduces a graffiti painted by a Dutch soldier on a wall in the army barracks of Srebrenica (as part of the UN Peace Keeping Forces, the Dutch army was responsible for protecting the safe area): No teeth…? A mustache…? Smell like shit…? Bosnian Girl!

Aware of her femininity, self-representation becomes an essential critical tool in the artist’s poetics. Kamerić exploits the image from different referential layers, appealing to wider socio-political contexts. Thus, the photographic series Basics, 2001, in which she appears looking at a bulb and holding a loaf of bread and water cartons, refers to those products that were scarce during rationing. In the video Daydreaming, 2004, she appears in a white box, dressed in a pink ball gown and lying on a bed, in a recreation of the advertising images of luxury products, while the subtitles can be read as a typical Western politician discourse, appealing to the cooperation of countries in situations of conflict, such as in the last subtitle, ‘if they are not with us they are against us’.

The concept of memory is fundamental in Kamerić’s work. It is a central element in our lives, and to activate it, we must be in the present with a feeling of loss about the past. Kamerić builds memories through relics from the past and found images. From the latter, she extracts their capacity to narrate, or even to re-invent a story. The work I Remember I Forgot (2008), shown at the First Folkestone Triennial, is a clear example of this: the artist installed twelve posters in various public spaces across the town, such as police station, hotels, shops, pubs. Appealing to the collective memory, visitors were invited to join a journey through Folkestone taken by atmospheric images and stories that document the changing face of the town. The story on one of the posters ends with the sentence: In the end, there was nothing left. Nothing but memories.

Memory is also a journey to the inner self, a time for self-reflection initiated by Kamerić in 2004, after a period that could be qualified as being more collective. At that time, she felt the need to ‘reconnect’ with her ‘earlier life’ and her present memories of it. Her own feelings and emotions are behind Sorrow, 2005, an appropriation of Van Gogh’s famous drawing, in which she reproduces her naked body accompanied by a quote from Michelet: ‘How can it be that there is in the world one woman alone – deserted’ The work refers to gender rules and to contemporary art strategies, while putting forward an intimate and melancholic view of the artist. Another work referring to the loss of childhood memories is What Do I Know, 2007, a short film and four-channel video installation centred on her grandparents’ country house. Here, memories are interwoven so places are linked to different stories that have children as silent witnesses and sole protagonists.

Kamerić’s work is characterised by its capacity to dissect the dominant frames of knowledge, or ideologies, that we use to understand ourselves, by putting ourselves in the place of others and participating in their mechanisms for functioning at an emotional as well as an ideological level.

Anri Sala
The siege of Sarajevo lasted 1,395 days. During that time people in the city were advised not to wear bright colours in order to avoid becoming the targets of snipers.

1395 Days without Red intertwines a daily rehearsal of the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra with a musician, a woman played by Maribel Verdú, crossing the besieged city on her way to the rehearsal. While a series of difficulties with the tempo interrupt the orchestra’s run-through of the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, the woman’s progress through the city is halted by a succession of street-crossings that the siege has turned into probable dead-ends.

At each crossing she stops, holds her breath and continues. After each crossing she catches her breath and resumes. Breath held, breath released: portions of time that evolve into measures of humming that enables her to carry on. She runs through the music while crossing the city. She runs through the city while rehearsing the music in her head.

Like an improbable score, where two instruments respond to different stimuli while playing in tempo with each other, humming and the orchestra synthesise into one tune, a tune of continuance and persistence against the odds.

In his films, photographs and installations, Anri Sala (Tirana, Albania, 1974) has developed a body of work in which the notions of space, time and sound become interlinked key elements approximating fragments of a more complex reality. In 1998, he presented Intervista (Finding the Words), a video essay about the recent history of Albania based on personal experiences. In this work, Sala tells us how he discovered a fragment of a film in an old cardboard box. The film turned out to be a document from the time when the artist’s mother was a member of the Communist Youth Alliance. It included several images, such as a television interview whose sound had been lost. Sala decided to reconstruct the missing audio with the help of a school for children with hearing impairment. The work traces a journey in which the history of the Communist regime, the artist’s mother’s memories and his search for the missing words, are intimately connected.

In this work, Sala appropriates the tools of cinema narrative. Through a seemingly simple story, he places the viewer in a complex scenario from a social, political and historical point of view. By making documentary videos, where fictional material is mixed with fragments from real life, the artist recreates a strange temporal and spatial sensation, making viewers unsure of where they stand, and at times producing a feeling of emptiness and disorientation – a kind of ‘lost landscape’, like those in Arena, 2001, a video containing images of the dilapidated zoo in Tirana. Packs of dogs are seen wandering while we hear the sounds of wild animals. During the Communist era, this zoo had only indigenous animals, but in the early nineties, exotic African animals were brought in, so the zoo could compete with European ones. Later on, with the country’s bankruptcy and the subsequent social revolts, the zoo was left abandoned and most animals were either taken away or put down. Only the strongest survived. The zoo is used as an example of a space on the margins of society mirroring current political events.

This preoccupation with space, understood as a political reformulation, lies at the core of Dammi i Colori, 2003, a video representing the utopian vision of the Mayor of Tirana, Edi Rama, who radically transformed the city by painting the buildings’ façades. For him, colour had the power to create a feeling of community and belonging, to the point where it would be possible to turn Tirana into a city where people wanted to live, and not just the place where destiny had taken them.

Beyond their political content, these works help to contextualise the importance attached by Sala to space, whether in his recent works, which re-examine the way space relates to image and sound, or in their form of presentation: the relationship between the works and the space is key to understanding the works.

An example of this relationship between sound and space is Answer Me, 2008. It was filmed in Teufelsberg, the centre of American intelligence services in West Berlin during the Cold War, and features one of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes: an abandoned space with extraordinary echo used by Sala for the staging of a rupture. The film’s narrative structure is based on the resonance (acoustic vibrations and sound frequencies) of echo, and stages a rupture between time and space: the voice of the woman saying ‘Answer me’ appears not to reach the man playing the drums, as if they were out of sync, condemned to never understand each other.

In many of Sala’s works, sound is an essential structural element that requires a huge conceptual leap: he does not make sound tracks for his films; he makes sound track films that are increasingly musical, less narrative and extremely abstract. Such is the case of Long Sorrow, 2005. For this film, Sala invited the famous saxophone player, Jemeel Moondoc, to improvise while suspended in mid-air outside the top floor of an apartment building in North-West Berlin, nicknamed by its inhabitants Lange Jammer (Long Sorrow). His music is a response to, and an extension of, the architecture of ‘long sorrow’.

The concept of space is, therefore, extremely important in Sala’s work: not only the abstract space referred to in his films, but also the exhibiting space. Museums and galleries are fundamental elements in his presentations, which are conceived as installations inseparable from the exhibiting space. In the artist’s own words: ‘There is a point where you do not use the space just to show your work, but you use your work to release the space.’

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