2016 - 2018 Alaa Abu Asad: "How do we communicate? And how do we translate representation’s potentiality?"

Alaa Abu Asad's 20 minute presentation, created and performed in collaboration with and Ulufer Çelik for CONSTANT CRAVING ~ PERFORMING UNDER CONDITIONS - DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, June 2018 was entitled

I love it when translation can be found to agree with our weird desires


As the last act of the first day of Constant Craving, it’s custom at the DAI to introduce the presenters with a loud applause. With the applause the audience greets Alaa Abu Asad and Ulufer Celik, the first duo performance. Even though more graduates have collaborated with their fellow graduates for their performance, this is the first performance this year that is truly a shared endeavor.

The two presenters are seated a bit apart on the stage. Alaa starts reading from a large rectangled booklet, the cover is white paper with black lettering. He reads in Arabic, undoubtedly incomprehensible to most in the audience, but the feeling of being read to is enticing. Simultaneously Ulufer, seated next to him, shows us drawings, that seem to illustrate the story Alaa is telling us. The images show a person lying on the ground, with a jackal next to them. In the top corner of the picture, a sun is drawn.

Suddenly the story switches to English, Alaa starting, followed by Ulufer. They are both continuing the story now in English, but with a delay between their spoken stories. To many the story becomes familiar now, even though the delay between the two spoken voices, raises the incomprehension of the story. At one point, they stop speaking and stand up. They proceed to take off their clothes, silently they switch places, and swap clothes, Alaa now in a skirt, Ulufer in pants.

They start reading words to each other, a phonetic exchange between Arabic and Turkish. Alaa is holding a book; on each page a drawing of an object, a word in Turkish and a word in Arabic. The translation moves between sign and signifier. The pronunciation most of the times sounds a lot alike, but on a few occasions the resemblance is smaller. With the story we just heard in the back of our minds, we are also activated to search for meaning, to distinguish the signified. 

After they go through a whole alphabetical order of objects and their translations, Ulufer starts reading a story in English, now from the beginning, and we hear the title of the book: Jackals and Arabs by Franz Kafka and we start to understand that this is the story that was illustrated in drawings and the story Alaa was reading in Arabic. After a short while, Alaa joins her and starts reading, also in English, but again there is a delay in their reading which diminishes the comprehension.

Ulufer continues in Turkish, by herself, Alaa is showing drawings of the story of the jackals and the man. We see images of a man an ankle lenght garment, he is holding a whip and opposite him is a man in a hat, sitting on the ground. In the background the jackals are eating a carcass. The story opens, for most of us, with an open end, the story itself and its meaning unclear, but our position as readers, of translations, of connotations, of relationships is clearly engaged.

Maria Lind
Maria Lind started by saying that one of the most interesting part of this piece was the very personal and affective interaction between Alaa and Ulufer. The narration as a way to relate to one another is not only visible in how both performers behave on stage, most explicitly in the changing into each other's clothes, but also the gazes to each other. This creates a very special atmosphere in the room.  In addition, she appreciated the visual format of narration: the drawings, with their visual simplicity, reminded her of Le Petit Prince. She noted that, in the end, it perhaps wasn't so important what the story was about, but other things took over, which made the piece literally particularly special. Furthermore what was striking to her, and what wasn't only exemplified by this piece by Alaa and Ulufer but also by others during the Graduation Acts, is the belief in language and the spoken word as part of the work, which seems to be very particular to DAI.

Hypatia Vourloumis
Hypatia is in agreement with Maria and reiterates the captivating sensibility of the storytelling, even though most of the words were uncomprehensible to her. The actual translation part of the performance carried a musicality, in the form of a duet almost, which emphasizes the very particular and personal dynamic between Alaa and Ulufer. The performance wasn't so much about translation but as much about pictorialism, and the tension between materiality of language and representation, a tension between sound and shape. She notes that the representation of both language and the visual were profoundly political but arbitrary at the same time, in the Saussurian sense. Until we get to the images of Europe, at which point Europolitics becomes very pronounced in the narrative. And with the knowledge Hypatia has of the project, its inherent activism and the intention of Alaa and Ulufer to provide the project to people on the move, this element of the performance became all the more interesting.

Sven Lutticken
Sven notes that partly the piece, or project, seems to be to engaged in acts of translation, in the literal sense but also in a cultural sense; the performance of translation seems to want to counteract the toxic connotations and projections an entire language can be trapped in. The performance also creates a hierarchy in the audience, since some of the audience members have understood more than others, which emphasizes how the piece plays with the idea of opacity. The way it is performed in this piece provides a beginning and opening, rather than closure, with the effect of a very engaging opacity.

Learn more about Alaa Abu Asad’s written MA thesis: Photography and the Representation of the Palestinian

Learn more about Alaa Abu Asad’s "life after DAI" by means of Alaa's website