Lida Abdul, What We Saw Upon Awakening
Thu Nov 1 2007
Courtesy Location One
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Hands tug on white ropes at the beginning of Afghan artist Lida Abdul’s six-minute video, What We Saw Upon Awakening. The camera pulls back to reveal a group of black-clad men straining mightily, as if they are trying to moor a huge ship or tether some recalcitrant animal. Projected in slow motion and accompanied by moody electronic percussion, the images achieve a kind of poetry. When the scene shifts again, we see the object of all the effort: the handsome ruins of a two-story building, which the men try, ineffectually, to bring down. Later, four of them carry a large stone wrapped in a black cloth, then bury it with their hands in the ground.
While these simple actions supply a potent metaphor for clearing away the past and laying it to rest, it remains unclear whether we should interpret this idea as hopeful or sinister. Afghanistan, after all, saw the obliteration of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban not too long ago. What We Saw Upon Awakening also suffers from an awkward installation, in which views of the floor-to-ceiling projection are obstructed by columns in the gallery. Then there’s the narrative’s implausibility, which is odd, given its realism. Are we really supposed to swallow demolition by clothesline? Why bury a rock when the ruins seem made of brick? Still, like Iranian video maker Shirin Neshat (though without her Hollywood slickness and tendency toward bombast), Abdul has a knack for evoking an Islamic world in flux.
—Joseph R. Wolin