Selma & Sofiane Ouissi: Here(s)

Interview about their online dance performance Here(s), staged in Berlin via Skype, while both dancers where in Paris and Tunis respectively.
By Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt | Feb 2012

Brother and sister, Sofiane and Selma Ouissi are two main figures of the current Arab dance scene. They have been performing and creating choreographies together since the beginning of their careers. Their last piece, Here(s), is a dance performance using Skype as creative tool, with Yacine Sebti assisting in the software and interactive installation.

After we saw Here(s) on 13 January 2012 at the Berlin Haus der Kulturen der Welt in the framework of the Meeting Points 6 Festival, we conducted the following interview with them:

Binder & Haupt: When we entered the auditorium in Berlin where the stage for your performance was set up, we could see a divided video projection, showing respectively a clock ticking in Tunis and Paris. Already while waiting for the performance to start, feelings and thoughts about issues like "absence", "separation", as well as the questioning about "present instant and place" (here & now) were unavoidable. And knowing that you always work closely together, we felt immediately that it was not a staging of a fictive situation but a "reality", which you have experienced or are still experiencing directly. What is this reality of your lives, and how did you come about to transcend it in this way?

Selma & Sofiane Ouissi: For us, art must nourish itself from life and more precisely from our life, our conditions, our time, and our personal situation. It’s about making art not locked up in a studio (and in any case, we don’t really have the luxury of this kind of enclosure) but in the context of our everyday lives. Financial conditions, visas, traveling all come into play. Also, it’s the idea to begin from the intimacy of plurality.

There’s also, indeed, the concept of the here-and-now. This concept emanates from the work, which then places itself, not outside of time, but rather in the eternity of the present. This work demonstrates the search of a way to make art and to continue to work artistically within the constraints imposed by our respective lives: distance. (Sofiane in Tunisia and Selma in Paris; Sofiane not able to travel easily and Selma stuck in Paris because of her pregnancy, not to mention a complete lack of financial means). We could not, however, stop working together. It was therefore necessary to invent and produce differently, starting from the current context of our realities. We had to invent a different way to perform the artistic act, to dance. We didn’t want to lose our energy in a rejection of the present — the here-and-now. At the same time, it’s a paradox because this concept we’re struggling against, this here-and-now, is also marking our separation in this very moment. The idea (from Nietzsche) is to try and replay the present moment, to rework it, to use it in order to adopt it, accept it, and through these tactics, to find a realization. It’s an experience of time and space; an intimate consciousness of what we can do with space-time, from these circumstances of this precise moment in our lives. The present can write itself as an appearance. And anyway, in our country, if we don’t have this self-determination, governed by I don’t know what kind of power, the drive to continue, we would easily finish by working in an entirely different domain, so much are the difficulties of being an artist. The creative possibilities are the constants.

Furthermore, there are circumstances of a territory, the constant need to be two in order to accomplish the creative act. We don’t know how to do it otherwise. In fact, in the artistic act, we are one person. It’s a way to function, to write of which we are conscious and that we naturally assume.

To come back to the here-and-now, the idea is to aestheticize this condition of working, which is imposed upon us and to share it because it seems unique yet also common to our time. We all communicate through the Internet. All of our work consists of finding a way in which to make choreographed events. Take as evidence this intermediary surface, this between-us. It’s also an unpredictable place from which many things can emerge independent of our own desires. We particularly like this idea that this space that is on view escapes us, it envelopes itself in small allusions, clues, objects from our lives (put on in our apartments without any scenography or premeditation) which calls up different images, different stories according to the one who is looking, who contributes their own suggestions. Maybe we can find the celebration of life here, in this modesty of little things without any kind of goal but rather in action of achievement. This gave us the idea to reunite a number of different people in the same place in order share the manifestation of a kind of intimate time and immerse oneself in this experience.

Binder & Haupt: How did you develop the choreography for this piece, and when did you decide to include further visual/technological solutions by working together with Yacine Sebti?

Selma & Sofiane Ouissi: We began working with the presence of a body in space, made the body play with this space in order to see what happened in the moment. That’s where we’ll talk of a performance of the here-and-now in an environment wherein the use of certain quotidian objects is re-interpreted (or not). We have therefore proceeded from improvisations, or observations of our movements in our respective apartments. We explored different proposals of each other’s gaze and the gaze of the screen. We forced ourselves to work within these limits and also through the unpremeditated constraints of our improvisations; we wrote this visually artistic and gesticulating language for one another. This involved a live execution which developed from the limits of our environment and from instantaneously trying to capture the other’s movement as it happened, to recover the initial gesture from which point an entire series of movements flowed and a thickened space or a transformed space was then created, or at least the suggestion of this. There is also an inevitable expenditure of energy that flows from these experimentations within this environment inhabited by our daily gestures and from this separation, narrowing the abyss of our separation. It was also about the capturing and the writing of a dramatization of the quotidian body in its intimate environment; in this immediate space and with the medium the most immediate possible — the body. We performed this while trying to aesthetically infer the least amount possible from this spontaneous poetry of present-ness. We were looking for the minutia in the instant or the simplicity in presence that then changes radically with the start of this imaginary screening.

In order to create a scenography of this space, this domestic environment, we worked with Yacine Sebti who often redesigned, deconstructed this domestic space by amplifying certain details, by working through the concept of our separation in space and time, by offering a sophisticated deconstruction. I would say that Yacine, through video images, choreographed our movements inside of our apartments and our relationship with each other.

Binder & Haupt: The delayed sound in the life transmission underscores (for the viewer) the sense of "effort" of building this technological bridge, but at the same time it has a kind of existential resonance. How do you both relate to sound and rhythm during the performance?

Selma & Sofiane Ouissi: The sound delay, at first, created problems, above all for Yacine, which seemed necessary to account for and accept in this new form of communication. We had tried, in fact, to understand it, to capture this delay in order to write our choreographed events. At the same time, this delay offered an almost amplification of our reality with all the energy that one can employ to make oneself understood and to understand another, these inevitable delays that penetrate the imagination of the other, and help us to come to perceive in real time how to compose and decompose the reality of our communication and how it could have carried out the imaginary mutation of our relationship by trying to make artistic traces out of this relationship. Finally, the delay allow us to forget preoccupying ourselves with creating a linear reading, well constructed from the work and to come closer to a kind of real discontinuity in our form of communication. This also permits an active perception of the spectator with the incessant play of recognition, of sorting, of re-appropriation, of recycling. 

Binder & Haupt: When each of you looks close into the camera, we as audience get the impression that you are directly looking at us, but when Selma picks her eyebrows using the screen as mirror, we are like voyeurs. How do you "feel" or "think" the audience during the performance?

Selma & Sofiane Ouissi: Indeed, we are playing on different meanings of the gaze: the gaze of the other, the recipient of the gaze, etc. With this particular piece, we are inviting the spectator to take on the attitude of the intimate witness of our everyday lives, our routines, our apartments. This engenders a different relationship with the spectators through which the spectator becomes sometimes witness, sometimes confidant, and to whom we voluntarily give the possibility of being a voyeur. During a typical day, our gaze experiments with the status of these different gazes and also intimate relationship with one another. And again, with the Internet, we find it normal to attend to and to circulate scenes of our intimacy.

And then, there’s also what we believe to see, what we think we master and which finally gets diverted in order to make us think that we are masters of our lives.

Binder & Haupt: In 2007 you created the multidisciplinary festival Dream City in the public space of Tunis, with participation of many visual artists, and which will take place again in September this year. How similar or different is the role of a choreographer from that of a curator?

Selma & Sofiane Ouissi: Dream City before becoming a biennial of contemporary art in a public space is the crystallization of our desire for choreography. We wanted, already in 2006, to find a way to choreograph a citizen’s march in the city of Tunis: a choreographed, collective, and festive experience that speaks to the presence and the consciousness of a population. Then, meeting Frie Leysen and Tarek Abou El Fetouh, helped us to grow this choreographed march: it would be sown with the seeds of artistic works that produced a kind of unpredictability that accompanies a collective march. We passionately created Dream City as a finished event but we organized what we call dream-upheavals which are strategies of accompaniment by selected artists in the search of different interventions: of the humanities, of art, of public space — in such interventions we meet the artist, in their doubts, in their solitude, in their intuitions, in the moment of their creation. All this in the spirit of that which changes, diverts, slows for a moment, takes off again, we see movement again, multiple perspectives of individuals and emotional beings. We love bringing all of this together. I don’t know if we were curators. We are what we try to engage — an action of becoming that reinvents itself, the rest doesn’t really matter. The final product is not important.

Binder & Haupt: Are there any aspects or preliminary information about what we can expect this year at Dream City that you could already comment on?

Selma & Sofiane Ouissi: We can say that the perceptions of those artists whose societies experienced a "liberating" revolution are unexpected. These artists’ forms of searching and of accompaniment during the past nine months are finally producing a concern for what is currently happening, developing in our society.

 

Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt

Publishers of Universes in Universe - Worlds of Art and of Nafas Art Magazine. Based in Berlin, Germany.

(Answers translated from French: Maya Sidhu)

Here(s). 2011
Online life dance performance, with the dancers in two different cities: Paris and Tunis
45 min

Concept and choreography:
Selma & Sofiane Ouissi

Software and interactive installation:
Yacine Sebti

13 January 2012
Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin, in the framework of the Meeting Points 6 Festival, curated by Okwui Enwezor


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