Five Videos: Ofri Cnaani's YES YES YES: Five Guests and Their Jouissance

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“She was not suffering … imagine! … not suffering! … indeed could not remember … off-hand … when she had suffered less … unless of course she was … meant to be suffering … ha! . . thought to be suffering … just as the odd time … in her life … when clearly intended to be having pleasure.” (Beckett, Not I, 1973).

Open lips take some interesting manifestations on screen and stage and become a convention of representation. From Bernini to Beckett, silent to scream, physical to spiritual, pleasure to pain. Five Videos, five guests, and their source for supplementary jouissance:

“In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated my entrails. When he pulled it out, I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one's soul then content with anything but God. This is not a physical, but a spiritual pain—though the body has some share in it—even a considerable share”. (Teresa of Ávila, 1510).

The angel that pierces Bernini’s Teresa with an arrow is “not only the most beautiful angel in baroque art, it is also the most beautiful face in the entire city of Rome.”[1] Under his beauty, Teresa’s face—open lips, fainted eyes, milky cheeks—are the face of the petite mort meeting the big death. Marbled in her ecstasy, Teresa refused to accept the binary opposition between physical love and spiritual love. Her out-of-body experience reinforces man’s fantasy of seeing a woman surrender but not for any man’s trick. Her speechless lips call for so many readings. Refusing to speak, the lips become both the receiver and the transmitter: between inner body observation and external knowledge, between the lower lips and the upper ones, between being overly alive and the virtually dead.

What is she reaching for? Yes, seriously, the outlawed barefoot Carmelite…What is she getting off on? Lacan knew the answer was not the phallus. He said, “all you need but go to Rome and see the statue by Bernini to immediately understand that she’s coming. There is no doubt about it.”[2] But knew she does it for no one phallus…. Is Teresa experiencing something more than an orgasm? Can it be that women experience greater pleasure then men? Will that pleasure be an ecstasy?

 ....

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Five Videos: Angelo Plessas' Materialization

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Since the early days of the web, some of us have tried to re-contextualize materiality in the vast territory that is the internet landscape. But nowdays, it does not sound irrational to point out that online artifacts, like webpages, gifs, bots, software, or applications have material properties. Digital "objects" are physical because they are embedded either in "physical" and tangible containers such bits and bytes in local hard drives somewhere in middle America, or they take up server space in the cloud of virtual sandboxes during their journey of uploading or downloading.

Tim Berners-Lee envisioned the semantic web as the “‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize." In other words, the visionary founder of the World Wide Web was saying that the semantic web will enable users to find, share, and combine information more easily. Our machines are the intelligent agents. Since then, we all became hospitable to these "intelligent agents" using them to search for online content. Each one of us is linked with images, with associated stories, which are building a mental scape responding to our emotions.

The selection of these videos are an amalgam of these notions, offering a metaphorical and poetic view on materialization and existence either by their aesthetics, their creative process, or their conceptual meaning. Watching them in this sequence, the departure point is nature as physical reality continuing more spiritually with more metaphysical notions of life.


"The Solar Film" (excerpt) by Saul + Elaine Bass



An excerpt from the short movie created by the famous designer and his wife. A thoughtful and beautiful film about the sun and its meaning for the future. Although a film about energy and technology can be didactic or mundane, the directors did not use enviromental cliches and propaganda. Instead they used fascinating images which conveyed positive messages and thinking...

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Five Videos: Kristin Lucas' Cameras That Steal the Show

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Cameras are everywhere, they may actually outnumber us. I count three on my person at this very moment, having made no conscious effort to pack them. Cameras come between us, and their presence can divide and unite us. Having its own body, view, and memory, the camera behaves sometimes like an independent actor. The camera arrives on scene as an unintended guest.


Narrowing my search from millions of YouTube videos down to five, I gravitated toward those that share in common a moment where the camera becomes evident in the video, often in a surprising way that punctuates a social relationship, and where the line between an hospitable or inhospitable act is obscured....

 

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Five Videos: Zach Blas/Queer Technologies' Escape

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Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, a new artist will curate five videos about hospitality. This week, Zach Blas (Queer Technologies) considers escape as radical hospitality:

The art of escape is the art of constructing an indeterminate form of energy from the encounter and interference with a regime of control. The art of control is not to destroy this energy but to transform it to a new form of energy, one amenable to regulation.

—Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson & Vassilis Tsianos, Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the 21st Century

 

Escape figures as a crucial tactic of resistance against neoliberal governance and contemporary forms of oppression. Escape is a multiplicitous gathering of concepts, practices, sensibilities, acts, and affects; these variations on escape have been named exodus, desertion, nonexistence, illegibility, and idealism. Importantly, escape not only expresses a desire to exit current regimes of control but also to cultivate forms of living otherwise, or living autonomously. Escape, I would argue, is about radical hospitality: it is a collective attempt—aesthetic, conceptual, political—to eradicate forms of control, exploitation, and domination, which just might make the world more hospitable to all. 

Escape can be a leaving behind or withdrawal, such as various art schools and autonomous universities like The Public School and SOMA. Perhaps these gestures are best described by The Edu-factory Collective as an “Exodus from the Education Factory.”

Escape also relates to tactics of imperceptibility and illegibility, focused upon evading informatic capture. Media theorists Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker have recently described the current century as an “era of universal standards of identification,” referencing technologies that bind identification with locatability, such as biometrics and GPS. “Henceforth,” they write, “the lived environment will be divided into identifiable zones and nonidentifiable zones, and nonidentifiables will be the shadowy new ‘criminal’ classes–those that do not identify.” In The Exploit: A Theory of Networks, they hypothesize about nonidentifiable action, suggesting that “future avant-garde practices will be those of nonexistence.” Such tactics stress the development of techniques and technologies to make one’s self unaccounted for. Anonymous’ own social media networking site Anon Plus and artist Sean Dockray’s “Facebook Suicide (Bomb) Manifesto” evoke such an imperceptible escape as they strive to depart from social media networks that data-mine, market, police, and surveil. 

Escape takes the form of refusals against normative and oppressive logics, calculations, and measurements, often rejecting structures of legitimation and recognition from the state. Consider Against Equality’s queer critique of gay marriage, a refutation of the institution of marriage as heteronormative and perpetuator of economic inequality.

If escape is a politics, then it is one that positions itself against forms of political representation. Political theorists Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson & Vassilis Tsianos state quite clearly that politics must be a refusal of representation. What this suggests is that a politics of escape concerns itself with autonomy and transformation, changing the very conditions of political and social possibility while fleeing neoliberal control.

I have chosen videos that articulate an art of escape in these contexts. While these works might at first seem disparate from each other, they illustrate the broad, coalitional potentiality of escaping. Notably, this is not an exhaustive list of the possibilities for escape today, but these five videos do make visible some contemporary itineraries of escape currently under way...

 

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Five Videos: Jemima Wyman's The Shared Face of the Collective

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Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, a new artist will curate five videos about hospitality. This week, Jemima Wyman looks at camouflage as a tactic of grassrooots collectives:

The thronging, faceless mass convenes….Let’s go visiting. Let’s occupy. Let’s be the unexpected guest.

For the Liverpool Biennale, I invited the community to create a soft analog network that was woven out of second-hand camouflage and hunting t-shirts. For the next several weeks the community has, and will be claiming territory within the FACT building through weaving a large-scale communal skin out of individual combat clothing on hula-hoop looms. This skin is visibly hand-made and warms the cold concrete walls. The weavings are made in the space together as a group, the title Collective Coverings, Communal Skin. We occupy the space, through constructing a shared skin, and transform conflict into comfort.

Hannah Arendt’s philosophical ideas on reflexive judgment stipulate the importance of visiting and imagining positions beyond the self in order to consider the moral dimension of actions and decisions, so as to exist with an enlarged mentality. The quickest way to go visiting is to slip into someone else’s skin or share in a communal covering. I’ve been using fabric and masking in my practice as both an empathetic device and  a resistance strategy for some time. By crafting metaphoric skins that individuals can wear, or a community can share in, we bring awareness to the politics of embodiment (being) and spectacle (seeing).

This work developed from a feminist position and a desire to equalize the gaze, to make it reciprocal. To overcome the standard objectification of the female body, I started to cloak, exaggerate and extrude through fabric skins. The bodies that I represented and researched were ones that desired to be looked at and listened to in a reciprocal exchange whereby they weren’t oppressed by their circumstance.

With the selected five videos, I thought we might participate in some philosophical anthropology and visit groups that don the mask while using online media for the specific purpose of empowerment. Traditionally within western art the position of authority was behind the camera, representing the other through colonizing eyes. The decentralization of image production and on-line presentation has allowed for an empowered self-determining subject to have two-way communication with mass participation.

Let’s start with the Zapatistas: They use technology strategically to promote international discussion around their cause and to bypass the Mexican government. There is a poetics to their movement, women are included, and it is primarily non-violent. The balaclava (or ski mask) is the shared face of the collective, it is the all-in-one and the one-in-all.

“Behind us are the we that are you. Behind our balaclavas is the face of all the excluded women. Of all the forgotten indigenous people. Of all the persecuted homosexuals. Of all the despised youth. Of all the beaten migrants. Of all those imprisoned for their word and their thought. Of all the humiliated workers. Of all those who have died from being forgotten. Of all the simple and ordinary men and women who do not count, who are not seen, who are not named, who have no tomorrow.” (Member of the EZLN/ Zapatistas, Major Ana Maria quoted in “Unbounded Publics: Transgressive Public Spheres, Zapatismo, and Political Theory” By Richard Gilman-Opalsky)

In this video Subcomandante Marcos acknowledges the importance of independent media to challenge dominant ideology and to report on social struggles that cotemporary world news refuses to cover...

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Five Videos: Jennifer Chan's I Like To Watch

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Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, a new artist will curate five videos about hospitality. This week, Jennifer Chan considers web videos before and after the age of Youtube:

The notion of hospitality prompts me to think of radical openness— an approach that accounts for anomaly, dissent, and oddity. Openness is widely associated with participatory nature of the Web 2.0, but by nature of the longtail, not all information on the web is useful. As the use of “YouTube video” has become interchangeable with “online video”, I’m going to explore what amateur video looked like before and after YouTube’s advent in 2005.

“All Hail The Necrowizard!”

In the early 2000s, simple Flash animations like Stick Death and Return of the Necrowizard were a source of cathartic entertainment for bored youngsters on the internet. These animations could be found at game portals and entertainment websites like Newgrounds and AddictingGames.com. Originally hosted on Stickdeath.com — which is no longer active — Stick Death included short animated webisodes that depicted stickmen performing antisocial gestures to themselves and each other.

StickDeath, Auto Thefts, (2002)

Return of the Necrowizard (2006) is a fan video for an acoustic Black metal band called Impaled Northern Moonforest. Promoted through their hokey website and online video, the DIY music project consisted of Josh Martin and and Seth Putnam (now deceased), who are former members of a grindcore band Anal Cunt. In this video, poorly drawn witches, frowny moons, and upturned crosses satire the androcentric sadness of Black metal.


Author Unknown, Return of the Necrowizard, 2006.


V is for Vernacular

Within an art context, “vernacular” is employed to describe something as “referential” to a ...

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Five Videos: Anahita Razmi's Exile TV

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Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, a new artist will curate five videos about hospitality. This week, Anahita Razmi the open secret that is satellite "exile TV" in Iran.

“Iran: one of the fastest developing consumers markets in the Middle East…” That’s how the video clip “Why advertise on PMC“ starts. PMC is the acronym for Persian Music Channel, an MTV equivalent for the Iranian population. The channel is broadcast via satellite and is very popular. I remember watching it several times with friends when visiting Iran.

The clip “Why advertise on PMC" was uploaded just 4 months ago, a significant time as this is amid threats of war and heavy sanctions on Iran. By highlighting the TV advertising possibilities for western brands in the country, the clip gives a particular insight into Iran’s consumer market and media landscape. At the same time, it is leaving essential things unsaid. Most notably in comparing state TV to satellite TV, it neglects to mention that satellite TV itself is completely illegal in Iran.

Official TV stations in Iran are all state owned and mostly show little entertaining, untempting propaganda. The counterparts to these are “exile” TV stations broadcasting from outside of the country via satellite. PMC is broadcasting from Dubai, other Iranian channels are based in London and California. The list of these channels is long, the audience is large.

Despite their illegality, satellite dishes can be found everywhere in Iran. When I was filming last year on the rooftops in Tehran, I saw a sea of dishes more or less hidden on every roof. Mohammad Rasoulof’s documentary “The Dish”  is a very informative piece to watch about this subject. 

I find this teaser from MBC PERSIA, showing mostly western movies and productions with Farsi subtitles, a very entertaining example of a channel advertising their programming. “You have an opportunity. This is a rebirth,” says George Clooney to the music of David Guetta’s “Titanium.” It might also be seen as a reflection of the producers themselves about Iran’s media reality, as well as the channel’s own working conditions.

The clip also shows that watching satellite TV in Iran might not be so much of an underground political issue as some would like to see it: people want to get entertainment and Hollywood is there to provide it.

Other examples of popular channels fulfilling this need are FARSI1, mainly showing soap operas and game shows, or MANOTO1 that is producing formats like “Googoosh Music Academy” and a Persian version of “Come Dine with Me.”

Even without understanding any Persian, one easily gets what these teasers are about; the formats are standardized and one-to-one resembling western channels.

The decision of the Islamic Republic to ban these channels does not affect their popularity, even though police forces frequently come to private homes and roofs to destroy or take down the satellite dishes.

Furthermore, many channels are forced to repeatedly change their frequencies as the state regularly tries to jam the signals of unwanted media. BBC PERSIAN, a channel broadcasting from London, is very much affected by this chase. This clip was aired as a teaser for the launch of the channel in 2009:

Alongside other formats, the channel is showing news in Farsi, tackling Iranian political issues from a designated non-ideological point of view. Last year, they broadcasted an interview with Hillary Clinton, offering Iranian viewers the opportunity to pose questions via the internet. Also last year, the Iranian authorities arrested six filmmakers, accusing them of having worked for BBC PERSIAN.

Here the fear of the authorities over satellite broadcasting seems to come into play when entertainment is mingling with information:  a fear that — while eating popcorn — the revolution will be televised.

— Anahita Razmi

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Five Videos: Lucky PDF's Sincerely Yours

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Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, artists will curate five videos about hospitality. This week, Lucky PDF looks at online personalities of questionable authenticity.

A good guest is expected to do a lot of pretending. Our gratitude may be genuine, but our immediate reliance on our host, and our proximity to them, requires careful social construction. It is rare that people want to know what you really think, though they want to believe you're being sincere. Hosting on the internet is a more impersonal arrangement. You probably don't know name of your server technician, and you won't go out of your way to thank a forum moderator for job well done. It's much more likely you'll give them your honest opinion of their service and the decision to suspend your account. The internet gives us an opportunity to be honest because we know the repercussions are limited. Social media can be so anti-social because there's no immediate consequence to us being inconsiderate. For the same reasons there's no requirement to tell the truth, and few easy ways to verify what's real.

It is in this environment that the Troll thrives. Trolling is not the art of lying, it's the art of convincing others that you're telling the truth, which you might well be, even if only in the moment you hit 'post'. A good comments thread allows everyone to fully engaged in an argument, thunderously angry and completely without self-doubt, where an offline discussion would be limited by politeness and awareness that you have no idea what you're talking about.

The result is a change in the use and value of truth. Existing only for one person in one moment, truth becomes atomised and incommunicable. We're left with only what we believe other people believe. All interactions are tinged with suspicion as we assume everyone's online sincerity is as fleeting as our own. Other people become less real because we're not being entirely real ourselves. Honesty becomes a tool to be used in communication, a material property of language. An unexpected guest might be one that does not behave as expected, one who give us honesty when there should be none and takes as sincere that which should be treated with suspicion. 

These five videos take the techniques and content of Troll and comment culture, using the unfixed honesty of others, and their own, detached sincerity. Each takes the degraded truth of online communication and in different ways rehabilitates it into something real, each shows an example of our developing ways of communicating, relating to other people, caring about things and meaning what we say.

1. Molly Soda - Full Inbox

Molly Soda is an artist, she's also famous, or rather she's tumblr famous. She has more tumblr followers than anyone else (almost) which makes her a very powerful figure within online culture. If not quite a trendsetter, she's surely a tastemaker. She knows what's cool, that's why you follow her. It's this knowing (and tumblr's Ask Me Anything option) that prompts many people to seek her advice and opinions on a wide range of life, fashion and tumblr related subjects, so many that her inbox got full. In order to deal with the mass of requests, and presumably the guilt of not responding, she videos herself reading out every single question. It takes ten hours.

Questions about her hair colour, who she follows and obscene insults are treated with an equal and total disinterest. Disarming the trolls by showing the scale of their insignificance she also discards the fan mail from her young, impressionable admirers. Perhaps this is exactly what all of them wanted, a few seconds of her attention, the knowledge that she cares enough to spend ten hours not caring. This is a cathartic performance and a reminder of the inhuman scale to which our online presence can grow.

2. Lynnteenporno - Dillon McSingle Makeup Tutorial 

The fan/troll relationship is symbiotic - both of them need the other to properly function. There's no point attacking something unless there's someone to fight back and no better way to prove your fandom than mounting a defence (not that anyone will ever win). But there's a thin line between love and hate. Lynn loves Dillon, so much so that she'll smear cream cheese and foundation on her face to look like him. 

Lynn is 16 years old. Dillon is one of her online friends. Dressing up as someone else is complex statement and it's hard to tell if she means it as a compliment. "You know Dillon only likes boys because Lindsay Lohan likes boys." There's a thin line between over-appreciation and homophobic cyber-bullying, but in an attention economy there is no unwanted attention. When you 'do it for the haters', then your troll can be your best friend. 

3. Kari Robertson - Can Dialectics Break Beverly Hills?

"You can't fight alienation with alienated means" says a character in René Viénet's 1973 fully detourned film 'Can Dialectics Break Bricks?' If you're looking for alienation, or just looking for a fight, then head to YouTube comments and click 'see all'. Glasgow based Kari Robertson takes the comments of 1970s political videos and dubs them over the more personal struggles of (original) Beverly Hills 90210. 

Rendering the comments as dialogue shows just how little communication occurs in a comments thread (probably about as much as between a teenager and their parents). No one fights to win in YouTube comments, but it's a good place to study your enemy. Fights can be picked and dropped without consequence. What you're not practising is grammar. YouTube commentors are the avant-garde of the English language. Unbound from the accepted rules that tie writing to communication or sense, every Alt Lit possibility is open to you.

4. Mark McGowan - BOO!!! George Osborne BOO!!! This Government

Mark McGowan has always been an artist in search of an audience, with a practice based on media-friendly stunts designed to get him on TV (he had to publicly apologise for suggesting on a radio show that he was with Yoko Ono, eating a dog). His current YouTube persona of Artist Taxi Driver allows him to troll trending news topics, turning the reactionary rant, usually a preserve of the right, against the mainstream media, big business and the current Conservative government. 

Mark's work has always used protest-politics as its form, rather than its content. In the comments threads and his twitter following he collects around him anti-government conspiracy theorists and slightly embarrassed left-liberal art audiences, lampooning them both by showing just how easy it is to really care about something.  That said, when he's shouting about the university lecturers going out on strike (he's a lecturer and a union rep) he does really mean it, presumably.

5. Ed Fornieles - Dorm Daze

Imitation is the sincerest form of trolling, but if you're pretending to be someone as an honest aspirational appreciation of the cultural archetypes they represent, maybe it should be taken as a compliment. 

Trolling always relies on hiding behind another identity, even if that's just the online you. The participant characters in Dorm Daze created strong, and at times very touching, relationships using amalgamations of movie clichés and real people's 'scalped' profiles. Convincing to a British ear, the narrator's American accent tells the story of the melodramatic events roll-played by the participants over three months, a reminder that if the internet is getting a bit boring, you can always just create an anonymous profile and ramp up the drama. The internet is a great place to tell stories. 

—Lucky PDF

 

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Five Videos: Ming Wong's “Forget it, Jake… it’s Chinatown.”

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Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, an artist will curate five videos about hospitality. This week Ming Wong considers issues related to the uneasy history of Chinatowns in Western urban centers.

 

“Forget it, Jake… it’s Chinatown.”

So concludes, famously, that 1974 neo-noir Hollywood classic directed by Roman Polanski, ‘Chinatown’.  In one of the pieces I am showing at the Liverpool Biennial, I replace Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston in their iconic roles in selected scenes from the film, speaking about that place called ‘Chinatown’, posited as a space where ‘you can’t tell what’s going on’. 

Despite the axiomatic utterance, I, however, could not forget it, I could not forget Chinatown, and in the subsequent months after making ‘Making Chinatown’ I delved into research into the history of the Chinatowns in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

I discovered a parallel history in Liverpool, home to the oldest Chinatown in Europe. San Francisco and Liverpool were the first and biggest port-of-call for Chinese immigrants coming to America and Europe at the turn of the 20th century. 

Despite having been brought over to build the railroads in America or having fought in the war for the British navy, the Chinese suffered discrimination on both sides of the Atlantic.  Anti-Chinese sentiment ran highest during the Great Depression and the post-war years, when laws were passed to restrict their numbers and chances of survival in the ‘host’ countries.  The phrase ‘Not a Chinaman’s Chance’ came into use during this time.

Here is a video of the story of Angel Island in San Francisco bay, which served as an immigration station from 1910 -1940; today it is a museum where you can still see the calligraphic poems carved into the walls of the detection barrack where the Chinese immigrants were once detained:

 

In Liverpool, in 2006, a memorial plaque was unveiled at the waterfront to commemorate the Chinese seamen who fought for the British, but who were then forcibly deported after the war. Many of them leaving behind their English wives and Eurasian children who never saw their husbands or fathers again. Here is the story of one daughter.

During this era of ‘yellow peril’, pulp fiction writers began to use Chinatown as a crime setting, feeding the public’s fear and imagination of the unknown, such as Sax Rohmer who wrote the infamous ‘Fu Manchu’ novels.

Eventually this practice of employing orientalist setting and casting made its way into the cinema, especially in Film Noir : ‘The Shanghai Gesture’, ‘The Lady from Shanghai’, ‘The Big Sleep’, ‘Daughter of the Dragon’, ‘Mysterious Mr Wong’, ‘House of Bamboo’, ‘Betrayal from the East’, ‘Macao’, ‘Saigon’, ‘Across the Pacific’ to name a few.

The new work I made for Liverpool Biennial ‘After Chinatown’ acknowledges the uneasy legacy of these noir films.  In it I portray a detective as well as a femme fatale who wander through a space called ‘Chinatown’.  It was shot over the summer on location in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Hong Kong, so in a way I was retracing the journeys made by the early Chinese immigrants.

In a scene from ‘The Lady from Shanghai’ you can see Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth running through the Chinatown in San Francisco, ending up in a Chinese opera theatre.  Some of these locations also feature in ‘After Chinatown’.

(**jump to 4:30)

In contrast with film noir depictions of Chinatown, consider Wong Kar-Wai’s ‘Chungking Express’, in which the actress Brigit Lin dons the femme fatale uniform of blond wig, sunglasses and trenchcoat and runs through the underworld of Hong Kong.

—Ming Wong

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Five Videos: Adham Faramawy's Leave the Ordinary Behind

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Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, an artist will curate five videos about hospitality. We begin this series with Adham Faramawy's selection, considering science fictional luxury and hypercapitalist imagery from hotel adverts in Dubai.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai

In response to the Liverpool Biennial’s theme of ‘Hospitality’, I decided to take a look at an aspect of the hospitality of a city that has become important to me, Dubai.

Dubai is one of the emirates of The United Arab Emirates. It is both a city and a corporation where the government has set up industry specific free zones exempting companies from the usual tax laws. As a city, Dubai exemplifies neoliberal business and culture. Watching the development of this emirate has been like watching a myth in process.

I’m Egyptian, based in London, born in Dubai just before the economic boom. My mother and sister both live in Dubai and work in the Media City free zone. Some of their work as journalists involves attending product launches and receiving corporate hospitality in the hope that they will cover new products, spas and beauty treatments. For me this has meant looking at a lot of Facebook pictures taken in hotels and the occasional chance to tag along for an interview with a businesswoman or the first lady of Malaysia at Atlantis on The Palm.

Some of the videos I’ve selected were produced by the Jumeirah Group to advertise their facilities. All the videos employ utopic science fictional visual language to display spectacular ‘luxury’ experiences.

In these videos, the hotel experience is constructed in terms of the superhuman. With the laissez-faire attitude of Randian capitalism, the idealism of an athletic body post-Riefenstahl is sublimated, defining the very character of the building it inhabits. The architectures in these short narratives are set up, as with every successful advert, to create a (potentially phallic) lack in the prospective consumer. As such the neoliberal luxury experience of the spa is offered as the filler to satisfy that lack, a near spiritual solution to the stresses and speed of corporate business.

It is here that I would like to point out the similarities between the video adverts for the Talise Ottoman spa in the Zaabeel Saray hotel and videos of the Damanhurian Temples of Humankind, located inside a mountain north of Turin, Italy. Both spaces appear to refer to an arabesque style in their backlit stain glass windows, which alongside their skyscape frescos act as a nexus between Islam, ancient Rome, and new age spiritual systems.

As much as these spaces and the videos advertising them draw on a nascent spiritualism to attract consumers, they also use images of the active body and celebrity.

In 2008 Andre Agassi and Roger Federer played tennis on a specially turfed court on the helipad at Burj Al Arab. In an exciting and peculiar display of integrated spectacle, the content produced is part advert, part celebrity reality-curio fashioned for television. The pair ascends the building in a glass elevator, invoking the childlike awe of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, as they discuss the impressive scale of the hotel to a soundtrack of The Never Ending Story, appealing to childhood fantasy narratives more directly...

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