I saw your performance The Third Choir Archives at the John Jones Project Space, as part of Djazaïr, curated by Ali MacGilp and Yasmina Reggad, as part of aria (artist residency in Algiers)’s programme of exhibitions, where you talked about the process of importing twenty empty, metal oil barrels for your 2014 sound installation The Third Choir. Can you tell us a little about the problems that arose in what sounds like it should be a relatively simple exercise, and how you overcame them?
After eight months planning and preparing for the realisation of the export, corresponding with shipping agencies in the UK and Algeria, I went over in April to collect the barrels and load the container which I had secured for shipping on 1 May 2014. Once I got there the first problem was sourcing them, as these specific blue and yellow barrels had recently been put out of production due to a change of shares within the oil company Naftal, subsequently including the branding. The person I had organised to purchase the original twenty barrels from had sold them by the time I got there and said he hadn't seen more than one or two in the past few months, so this turned out to be a strange mission impossible. I was driving around, calling cousins in other towns to enquire, or call people they knew to ask if they had seen any of these barrels. So in the end most of them were purchased singularly, from various scrap yards, mechanics, old petrol stations off the motorways, building sites, people’s homes etc. The complications actually began when I went to the customs in Oran to try to process the clearance for the container, which had previously been scheduled to leave in six days. I knew it would be a problem if I was to be specific about the use of the items as I knew that exporting anything affiliated with 'art' from Algeria had been illegal since the implementation of a law restricting the movement of art in 1962, so I listed the export as the movement of personal goods. This was declined as they could not categorise empty metal barrels as personal items, along with the following six proposals which were variations of this; I was trying to submit them for clearance under different categories or sub-categories of personal exports, such as using them as part of an 'architectural plan' or 'to make musical instruments'. All of which were declined, due to an obvious suspicion on the variations of the consecutive submissions for custom clearance on the same items. So as you know, the performance at John Jones was the first exposure of the six declined proposals.
The experience of constantly and consistently being at the mercy of someone else, within ranks of relative bureaucracies, and where technically nothing within your own power can shift that register. I think these restrictions are extremely interesting to work within, from the exterior, but equally in turn to find where there is potential. I really understood, to an extent, the finality which exists within 'frustration', making the idea of perseverance frantic or slightly deranged. It resulted in me needing permission from the Minister of Culture in Algeria to authorise the export when I had finally come out with the truth about the use of the items for an artwork, as otherwise it would have been impossible. It took six weeks of relaying phone-calls, emails, faxes between different customs offices in different cities as no one wanted to take responsibility in signing the authorisation, even though it had been granted permission as a cultural export.
The movement of these objects between borders and the laws and legislations which governed this was important for the work, that it faced these difficulties which gave it a momentum and energy that it may not have gathered if the process was straightforward.
This was your first performance in a gallery space but you say there is a performative element to your practice. Please can you expand on that?
Performance has always been an important element within my work, but that usually resides more in the background, within choreographing strategies during the realisation of an idea. It was interesting to 're-enact' situations which had only really existed to me in a separate body. Even re-reading the letters and proposals which I had written, to an audience, reconstructed them as a new work – something I don't usually anticipate from archives which I would consider to exist as research material. But this gave this aspect of the work a physical space to exist within, rather than only acting as a support system. I like the idea of social roles, or what I have the capacity to embody, and in turn situations that have the capacity to embody me. But I wouldn't be explicit about defining the act of performance as I don't see it as a separate entity from 'real-time'.
The performance came out of the production of The Third Choir, can you describe that work and the ideas behind it.
The Third Choir is an installation of twenty empty barrels from the Algerian oil company Naftal. Inside each barrel is a mobile phone to which a sound piece is broadcast, using a radio transmitter, amplified by each barrel. Alongside the installation is an archive of 934 digital documents; Emails, Phone Calls, Proposals, Authorisations, Applications, Custom Clearance etc. The concept for The Third Choir came after meeting with a young Algerian who had attempted to cross into Europe by sea. The groan of a social unrest and economic stagnation, all of which derived from various personal encounters fed into a frenzy of stories; pointing toward the subsequent ammunition which has fuelled this particular generation, the third generation after the liberation from France, to seek Europe as a means of escape. The burden of the information I had gathered weighed into the months that followed and became foundations within the concept of The Third Choir. It was important that the signifiers throughout this work created a relative retaliation, that the materials spoke of what they were positioned to activate within the process of the work, and that the barrels could stand as a testament to this journey.
You have a new work at the Bloomberg New Contemporaries opening at the ICA on 26 November. What will you be exhibiting in it?
I will be showing a work called 'Haraga' - The Burning which is a series of video clips I received via bluetooth last year while researching 'Haraga'; slang for the phenomenon of illegal immigration by sea. I met Houari, a 25-year-old from Oran, Algeria who had made the journey with twelve friends a few months before. They bought a Zodiac, a motor powered inflatable boat, which would run on 120 litres of petrol and set off from the bottom of a cliff just outside of their hometown. Eighteen hours later, a few kilometres from reaching the Spanish shore they were caught by a La Guardia Civil Boat, which was patrolling the sea and had already caught another group of young Algerians trying to cross a few hours before. They were arrested and held in an immigration detention centre in Valencia for forty-five days, singularly trialed then all sent back to Algeria. The videos were shot on Houari's mobile phone as they were in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, shouting and chanting and asking each other what they were going to be when they got to Europe.
I have been working with a company called Close Communications to develop a push notification wifi system in order to stream the videos wirelessly onto people’s phones. Once any device is detected in the building, a notification will be sent and the videos will begin streaming automatically, within the confinements of the signal. Using a pre-existing concentration or 'hijacking an intimacy', such as the relationship between the viewer and their personal devices, allows it to enter into a different realm which forces a relative encounter with the footage. I think information risks becoming diluted by the volume which surround it, or by default of the medium it is fed through, especially surrounding topics which only really exist to us between facts and figures and images one step removed. This makes it palatably easy to ignore.
How would you like to further develop this work?
I'm going out to Algeria in January for six months, after the show closes at the ICA to carry on working on various projects and to carry on researching this phenomenon. I say that I am planning to make a film, but I would like to experience something throughout this research that moves beyond the gathering and re-representing of information, or to put myself in the position of working through what it is that I am trying to address.