Occupied Territories: Mapping the Transgressions of Cultural Terrain1

Article excerpt

an interview-essay with Jayce Salloum and Molly Hankwitz on some of the video works of Jayce Salloum

Molly Hankwitz: As a video artist/cultural producer who has worked on a specific geographic region of the globe, the Middle East, the politics of representation in general, and the representation of resistance in South Lebanon specifically, can you discuss issues of representation with respect to your work which specifically deal with the subject of resistance and who would you most like your videotapes to be affecting and why?

Jayce Salloum: Perhaps it's best to talk about this in terms of process. The process of producing and the process of viewing/reading or the reception of the material in an experiential sense. At times this work does feel like intervention, or prodding, poking with a stick, pushing or tugging at something, like seams and creases, or disjoints and fissures. I'd love to think of these as cracks in the underbelly or an implosion of the stereotypes, the conventions, but that may be wishful thinking. Intervention does not have to start out as a obvious public act, but in a psychological sense something has to take place within the viewer/reader. Somewhere in the midst of this transaction the work serves as a means of exchange. Redefinition is possible on some scale at least within the work itself and the various discursive activities that take place around it. Maybe the most we can hope for is some type of lasting effect in our community, what ever community that is, and that in itself may take all of our energies.

I think of what I'm doing as rather obscure and provisional, the years it takes to get a project off the ground and out there takes such a toll that one has to be making it for oneself first, and then for a small circle of friends and colleagues expanding outward, occasionally growing exponentially. This has happened with some of the videotapes and within other activist/cultural communities. Any 'audience' beyond the immediate one is a rather amorphous object to predict, so I set up the work to be 'read' on different levels by different viewers, at times in different languages, and sometimes through the structure and familiarity of content, specific audiences would have over others. I always try to construct an active audience, not providing easy answers or passive information as pabulum, but often aiming to provoke, producing a 'productive frustration' in the viewer where the viewers are responsible for how they're perceiving, or at least raising questions about the baggage they've brought to the work and the responses they have within a very particular/problematized 'field' or set of inquiries.

I'm not into this knee-jerk game of show and tell PBS (public television) style. I don't think 'understanding' is possible, or that the 'subject' can ever be 'known', as far as the western viewer understanding the other culture. The most we can hope for is a kind of empathy, an awareness of the situation on the ground and some sense of the subjectivities at stake. This is both a visual/aural sense as well as a sense of the political/subjective positions. I am still asked about balance and objectivity, as if there is a place where context is equivocal or there is a parity of voices and access to an audience. This question is not only naive, (often times the work isn't shown because of the overt politics of the tapes or because programmers can't find an opposing voice to 'balance' it out), it also betrays a very narrow and simplistic understanding of media. There is no such thing as Objectivity' in this domain, you have to look to and through the subjective for whatever 'truths' you find. Balance has to be looked at in a greater context than what you are seeing in one particular moment. We forget there is a whole history of misinformation, misrepresentation and blatant lies accepted as 'truths' here in this county and others like it, especially considering the history of the Middle East, and the more recent Israeli and other western aggressions there. …