Anri Sala‘s video art engages viewers with its soundscapes as much as its images. The music of Sala’s videos aren’t always separate soundtracks, but are often performances within the video, such as improvisation saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc‘s playing in Long Sorrow (2005), the first of Sala’s short films shown at this past Videoart at Midnight. He mixes spheres that we often compartmentalize, such as politics and music, yet in reality all are necessary and present for our experiences and memories.
At the screening of the first of his four films, we wait second by second and yearn to discover the origin of the squawking saxophone riffs, which at first seem to be the only sign of life in the scene. We are looking out of a window at the opposite end of a room above a radiator, window slightly open, some kind of object visible at the bottom of the frame. Though without a traditional narrative, each shot seems to be a portrait of the scene, such as close-up shots of the dreadlocked man whose head is what we later realize we could see from inside. His freckles, sharp inhales, and fluttering eyelids as he plays fill the frame. Sala refuses to let us see the entire scene from a distance. Outside of a Berlin high-rise building, the musician floats through the air, suspended as a surreal ornament to the building.
The opening film sees much of Sala’s strategies, as he surprises and entices viewers to consider unusual boulevards of perception. In the second film Answer Me (2008), we are in a dome of one of the former listening towers at Teufelsberg, with a woman repeating the title phrase as her counterpart bangs on a drum set. The result is a racket of percussion and echoes bouncing off of the web of antennae that make up the dome.
The third film also considers how we perceive individual sounds and the formation of songs. Parts of The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go are played with a cranking music box that reads perforated pages. Different people play at their own pace with pauses that don’t let the viewer or listener realize what the song is at first. Even the viewers have differing receptions of the song, as some may recognize it from just a few notes, yet others need to wait until the end for the entire melody to make sense.
These three films have more cultural and political references mixed in, such as the building histories in Long Sorrow and Answer Me, or the Aztec ruins and protest sites shown in Tlatelolco Clash (2011). But the most political and emotionally affective video of the series shown on Friday was the final, 45 minute-long 1395 Days without Red (2011). We follow a young woman who constantly checks over her shoulder, wide-eyed. She must run across the street, fearing snipers in open areas. The specific time depicted is the siege on Sarajevo in the 1990’s, during the Bosnian War.
The young woman is a musician en route to practice. During the split seconds that she decides to risk her life at each intersection, the music of the already-practicing chamber group plays Tschaikovsky’s Pathéthique, a moving soundtrack and his final symphony. The music furthers the collective fear and memory of this four-year period during which Sarajevo was known as “Sniper Alley.”
However, much of this information is only gleaned from reading about the video. The specific references build meaning and emotion onto what we have seen, but the most moving aspect of the video originates within our immediate reactions of fear and empathy. Our differing space and time doesn’t matter, we cannot separate ourselves from these experiences shaped so carefully by musical performance and visions of others.
More information about the event: