Farah Rahman is an audiovisual artist who participated in our first FIBER festival in 2011. We had the chance to catch up with her and ask her a few things about the ‘European Souvenirs’ project, which premieres this Saturday at De Balie (Amsterdam).
Hi Farah. Thank you for the opportunity to catch up and talk about your exciting new project. We know you as a VJ and live visual artist and you took part in the first FIBER Festival. Right now you’re involved in a major cross-European project, a live-cinema performance called ‘European Souvenirs’. Can you introduce us to the project?
Hi, thanks for asking me. I’m very excited to be a part of this project. Beginning of this year I was contacted by audiovisual artist Malaventura, who works with the Spanish organisation Zemos98. They designed and curated this project for the Doc Next Network and it was commissioned by the European Cultural Foundation. They saw my work and thought I would fit the project. It revolves around remixing existing media, deconstructing European memories and creating new ones, crossing shifting borders in images and giving our point of view on immigration in Europe.
We spoke briefly while you were working in Istanbul, which is one of the four European cities you travelled to for workshops and work sessions. Could you describe your journey and the nature of these visits?
Our first artist residency took place in Sevilla at the beginning of this year. Getting to know each other during the first couple of days was fun, exchanging souvenirs and experiencing Spanish nights. This social aspect is interesting. To put 5 completely different artists that don’t know each other together and see how they will interact is quite exciting. Living, eating, listening, thinking and working with one another is a very important part of the process.
Karol Rakowski (Pl) / Bariş Gürsel (Tr) / Farah Rahman (Nl) / Malaventura (Es) / Noriko Okaku (Uk)
How were your days filled working on this project during your residencies?
We had intense work sessions every day, discussing the form and context of our performance; the story we wanted to tell, how we would appear on the stage, what techniques we would use.
During all of the residencies we had workshops from inspiring artists like Toni Serra, Grey Filastine, Silvia Nanclares, Chris Allen and Nuria G. Atienza (http://www.europeansouvenirs.eu/who/), who guided us in our creative process and the investigation of the existing imagery of Europe.
Light Surgeons Showreel
What does the title of the ‘European Souvenirs’ mean to you? Can you explain it through your own insight of the project?
At first the title gives me a light, fun impression, because I associate souvenirs with relaxing holidays, but there is a big contrast between tourist travel and refugees travelling.
During the workshops, we were given a closer look at immigration problems in Europe. They were very ugly to see and left me and the rest of the group feeling very emotional. For many people Europe isn’t such a nice place. A lot of nasty stuff is going on in the border areas, issues sometimes vaguely reported in regular news, but not showing the ‘real’ shocking footage.
We saw a documentary about a border community where refugees had created their own community village, because they are not welcome in europe and have nowhere else to go. The military does not provide humanitarian aid, but keeps destroying these border communities, treating the refugees like animals. The director of the film decided to give the camera to the refugees and let them film themselves. The result of which are heartbreaking ‘in your face’ interviews of people who explained why they left their home country and don’t have anything left, whilst trying to survive in harsh conditions.
You can watch the documentary here: http://desorg.org/titols/la-foret/
Did this affect you on a personal level?
It made me think more about my own identity and my ancestors, who had the courage and taste for adventure to travel from India to Suriname (at the time a Dutch colony), and about my parents, who decided to move to the Netherlands. I have a lot of respect for this. My great-granddad Munshi Rahman Khan wrote a diary about his life in Suriname. He traveled from India to Suriname by boat to work as as contract labourer in 1889. It has been published and I’m now reading his book again for inspiration. I think it’s important to investigate and include my own personal history. I guess I’m also a living European Souvenir.
The core creative team of ‘European Souvenirs’ consists out of five young artists with different skills like DJ-ing, VJ-ing, multimedia art, sculpting, motion graphics and so on… How did you experience working together with all these disciplines and how did it influence your own way of working?
I can be quite impatient sometimes when I’m working on my own, but now there’s no other way than to stay in the flow of the process. During our workshop in Seville, Toni Serra told us to see how and in which direction the water flows and to follow that stream. We were all inspired by each other and it was nice to see everybody using their own techniques whilst combining our ideas into one. I also learned a lot about preparing a big production before a performance takes off. In Istanbul and Warsaw we had some sound & visual jam sessions that you can see here: http://www.europeansouvenirs.eu/istanbul-jam-session-with-filastine/
The aim of the project is “to capture the views of a new generation of media-makers to address key concerns and issues of the Europe we live in”. What issues and concerns are being addressed by you and the team?
When we address immigration flows in Europe, for me personally it comes down to identity and what shapes your identity. Next to that, we address family, traveling stories, memories, utopia vs dystopia, borders in all forms (both abstract and physical) and the problems that arise with these subjects. For example, if you take a Dutch passport it’s just a piece of paper, but it will take you across many borders, so a lot of people dream of having one as part of their identity.
In your own visual projects, like the Light Action Drawings you exhibited at the FIBER EXPO, you recycle found materials like styrofoam packing material and process them into a surface for a new video artwork. Can this approach also be found in the way you worked with materials/footage on this project?
Yes, I think this approach has similarities since we’ve deconstructed existing media and created new memories of Europe with old found footage. We also used orphaned found footage, 8mm films found on flea markets and old slides with family histories. And a lot of people that we met along the way were happy to help with their personal stories and materials.
Light Action Drawings – Farah Rahman
‘European Souvenirs’ will result in a live-cinema performance that premieres this Saturday at De Balie. What can we expect?
Check out our teaser vid and our reference tumblr. I can’t say too much about this, because we’re right in the middle of the general rehersal. We’ve completed the entire piece during the Warsaw residency. All I can say is that we divided the performance into several narratives and chapters.
The premiere on October 6 at De Balie in Amsterdam is completely sold-out, but there’s still a chance to witness the general rehearsals at 17:00 at De Balie. You can register for that event here.