“An archive that’s only written through and by power is a closed, static, even dead archive.”
Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme
Collaborators since 2009, artists Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme create work that combines hypnotic soundscapes with multilayered video, drawing on Abbas’s background in sound and music production, and Abou-Rahme’s filmmaking expertise. Abbas and Abou-Rahme were born in 1983 in Nicosia, Cyprus, and Boston, Massachusetts, respectively, and now live and work between Ramallah and New York. Starting from their own position in relation to the Palestinian condition and thinking globally, they ask, in the face of occupation, colonization, and apartheid, “What are the tools that we can use to not just survive, but also generate different [political and artistic] possibilities?
The artists’ creative approach moves between the collective archive and the personal. In their work The Incidental Insurgents: The Part About the Bandits (Part 1) (2012–15), the installation encompasses a wide array of ephemeral materials such as documents, desks, chairs, storage boxes, record players, records, and a desktop computer with a looped video; it feels like walking into a version of their studio. The project considers the idea of an outlaw who was significant at a moment of political unrest but has since faded from collective memory. In a single-channel video playing within the installation, Abbas and Abou-Rahme superimpose the outlaw’s narrative onto their own political reality, which is in part defined by a feeling of stasis in the midst of crises in Palestine. Built through community-sourced information and materials, this work poses questions about an archive’s power and utility, and the history it prioritizes. Here, the artists use the position of activist-as-archivist to challenge dominant historical narratives and create space for alternative retellings of the past. They find power in truth, but also in the idea of questioning the shared idea of that same truth. “The archive has, for the longest time, been central to how power is both productive and repressive of life itself,” they have said. “An archive that’s only written through and by power is a closed, static, even dead archive.”
Abbas and Abou-Rahme’s artwork Postscript: After everything is extracted (2020) is a blend of overlapping browser windows, text boxes, video clips, and glitching AI-generated figures. “As audiovisual artists engaged with the idea of malleability and the methodologies of ‘sampling,’” they have said, “we have always been interested in material on the fringe; poor images, mutated copies, and re-inscriptions.” The text interwoven through the video was written prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, but takes on an especially prescient look at the pandemic, as well as the ongoing political unrest in Palestine. Part one of the three-part project May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth, this live interactive Web experience responded to the collective mourning and ambiguity that permeates our world today. By constantly moving and swapping images, video, and text on the screen, the work portrays a consistent state of discontent, while its use of inverted images and nonlinearity give it a sense of incompleteness in a moment that includes a multitude of perspectives.
Abbas and Abou-Rahme’s work joins a lineage of other artists, such as Walid Raad, Nam June Paik, and Jean-Luc Godard, who question the archive, resample materials, and play with the boundaries of time. For Abbas and Abou-Rahme, this creates a virtual realm, one that does not simply correlate to digital space, but refers to a relationship to temporality unbound from a simple past, present, and future. When your existence is called into question, and often erased from history, you are denied a future. How can you open up a relationship to possibility outside of a linear connection to time?
Morgan King, Archives, Library, and Research Collections Intern, 2021