Jumana Manna’s A Magical Substance Flows into Me
In this exclusive two-week screening, the artist and filmmaker explores a Jerusalem archive of music from different ethnic and religious groups.
Sep 28, 2022
Jumana Manna’s A Magical Substance Flows into Me screened here September 28–October 12, 2022. The video is no longer available for streaming. Join us for the next Hyundai Card Video Views screening, beginning October 19, 2022.
After embarking on filmmaking early on in her career, Jumana Manna has developed a multidisciplinary practice that encompasses video and sculpture. Her works dig into focused topics to produce narratives that expose how history and its accompanying value systems are constituted. Manna traverses the limits, assumptions, and contradictions surrounding the preservation of particular stories, sites, and human and non-human entities—as determined by the varied institutions of academia, archeology, science, and the law—to open up new possibilities for understanding. While all archives, by definition, exclude, they can also align with or push against particular systems of power. The small and the big come to a head in many of Manna’s works. For instance, her recent films have taken on gene banking, industrial farming, and the effects of environmental legislation in contrast with independent preservationist efforts and the traditions of everyday people in the Levant region. Two of these films, Wild Relatives (2018) and Foragers (2022) are currently on view in Manna’s MoMA PS1 exhibition, Jumana Manna: Break, Take, Erase, Tally, alongside a series of new and existing sculptures.
As she prepared for her exhibition at MoMA PS1, I spoke with Manna about her film A Magical Substance Flows into Me, and how this earlier piece relates to her more recent films and sculptural installations. A Magical Substance speaks to the myriad implications of the archive, including how it can fix knowledge around traditions—in this case through music—even as they transform. In the film, we see the role individuals play in keeping certain ways of life alive, and how simple gestures can maintain diversity and preserve complexity in the face of hegemonic forces. Join us in October for the next installment of the Hyundai Card Video Views series, which considers artists’ engagement with a technology that has become central to our daily lives.
—Ruba Katrib, Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs, MoMA PS1
A still from Jumana Manna’s A Magical Substance Flows into Me. 2015
The film has a scene in which a dabke musician talks about not needing notation. And notation seems to be a running thread throughout the film. There’s a dichotomy between the tradition of being passed down orally versus a written or a recorded tradition.
Lachmann was strongly against the usage of notation for oriental music. He argued that Arabic music is too emotional to be written down, and that its quarter-tone system doesn’t match the Western system of notation that’s based on the octave.
Oud player and composer Wasif Jawhariyyeh, like many other Arab musicians of the time, disagreed and was open to adapting this system of notation, because he felt it was a way to record oral traditions that were being performed less and less during this early modern period.
I thought it was telling that the local was much more open to hybridity and so-called Western forms, and didn’t see a problem in using and adopting those forms to a local context, whereas Lachmann, the Orientalist, wanted to see the traditions remain separate, “pure,” and untouched. In a way, the film’s response to Lachmann is to say the only true idea of tradition is hybridity. It’s something that’s in constant flux and change.
In a way, you’re creating your own archive of music that people are performing, but the conditions are so different.
This was a very valuable thing to come across. The double bind of a lot of the archival materials that I deal with is that they are “preserved” documents of a culture that might have changed or not exist in the same way in the present, but remain as fragments in archives that have participated in the history of erasure. In this case, the National Library of Israel, which is full of Palestinian books and documents that were confiscated during or after the 1948 war. That is one of the contradictions of institutional preservation and archival practices that I’m interested in.
A Magical Substance Flows into Me
Food is also a main character in your films, particularly in A Magical Substance Flows into Me. There’s a lot of cooking and eating.
A lot of the film is a restaging of my first encounters with these musicians, when I went to visit them in their homes. I was visiting people in their different localities, to avoid suggesting the idea of “congregation,” as the country is highly segregated today. Very often when you walk into somebody’s home, they ask you, “What do you want to drink or eat?” So it just happened that a lot of these first encounters took place in the kitchen. It wasn’t something that was written into the film.
But the food and eating came to make sense, and was kept in the editing, as the film is very much about telling history through the senses; through muscle memory, sound, and taste.
Hyundai Card Video Views
Andrew Norman Wilson’s Workers Leaving the Googleplex
In this exclusive two-week screening, watch the artist’s critical examination of Google’s labor practices.
Aug 24, 2022
Hyundai Card Video Views
American Artist’s Blue Life Seminar
In this exclusive two-week screening, watch the artist’s meditation on identity, state power, and implicit bias.
Jul 20, 2022