The Scar is a film in three chapters (The State of the State, The Mouth of the Shark and The Gossip), inspired by a true event with names, scenes and locations having been fictionalised through the use of Magical Realism. In chapter one, we see four passengers on a journey in a black Mercedes, unaware of their significance as state archetypes: the Chief of Police, a politician and a right-wing assassin. The fourth passenger is Yenge, the only female traveller, silenced by the genre conventions of her role in the film. In chapter two, Yenge’s noir voiceover begins to interrupt the male characters’ forced bravado as they are haunted by the Resistant Dead – the residual movements created from stories of people refusing to be forgotten. The film’s final part, The Gossip, addresses tales of female emancipation and empowerment, where a group of female activists transcend time, geographical borders and linguistic barriers to gather in a neutral nether-realm of conversation and mutual support.
"Brad Butler's and Noorafshan Mirza's five-screen narrative installation, The Scar, 2018, unfolds in three filmic chapters: “The State of the State,” “The Mouth of the Shark,” and “The Gossip”—the latter being a three-channel presentation. The artists began an early iteration of the project in 2015 during their residency here as part of a program titled “The Public Domain.” After the initial premiere of The Scar at HOME in Manchester earlier this year, the artists have brought the work back to where it first began, a homecoming of sorts which will involve an extended schedule of talks, performances, and workshops.
In the gallery, the lights are low, the room made darker by the burgundy wallpaper. An interruptive, sometimes violent white-noise soundscape hangs heavily. In lieu of gallery notes, the viewer is provided with four noirish archetypes: Kaptan, the chief of police; Ağa, the politician; Reis, a right-wing state assassin; and Yenge, the taken woman. The film, loosely premised around a car crash in Turkey in 1996, smudges true events with altered narratives and dreamlike sequences (hallucinatory visions often haunt our protagonists). In the first two chapters, our characters swerve through the night in a black Mercedes, the men partaking in misogynistic banter. After her silence in the first film, Yenge begins to interrupt the male dialogue in an internal voice-over in the second. Her soliloquy about the “Resistant Dead,” murdered by the state, and the violence enacted by her fellow passengers, feels like evidence or oral testimony. There’s a sense of history being authored, as well as its dissent. This chapter culminates with the introduction of the “The Gossip,” named for a chorus of female activists who, pursuing justice, devise a supernatural utopia where the constraints of language and time do not apply. For Mirza and Butler’s characters, the possibility of resistance is commensurate with the imagination. Despite its framing of emancipation and transcendence within a magical realist lens, the chapter suggests the potential for our own world’s revitalization—for wounds to close, and become scars". - ArtForum Critic's Pick - Philomea Epps
This multifaceted exhibition at Artspace is conceptualised as an infinity loop, which branches out in two directions linked through a central space near the entrance to the gallery. Here visitors are presented with two adjacent doors that offer different access points to the exhibition, and through which one must return to complete the picture. Mirza and Butler riff off Duchamps bespoke door in his tiny Paris apartment which was famously hinged on a jamb shared by two openings, thus serving two thresholds and three rooms simultaneously. A door that closes in one direction opens in another.
"The Embassy of Non-Participation at Artspace is by turns fascinating and disturbing. The artists present a gallery-wide installation of works that examine resistance to neoliberalism, from the provocative You Are the Prime Minister in which you, as British PM, are asked to draft a speech justifying police firing on protesters in a future London wracked by civil unrest to a video of actual footage of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, to more videos and pamphlets and wall works. The sense of the here and now in the Artspace show is strong and without any of the escape provided by utopian sci-fi." - The Guardian
"Its equally appropriate that Artspace, an artists squat in the 1970s, with form since then in radical artistic experimentation, should become the Embassy of Non-Participation, showcasing a multi-faceted look at protest by Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. The standout piece here is a remarkable video, The Unreliable Narrator (2014-15), which intercuts CCTV footage of the 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai with Bollywood versions of the event, and includes phone conversations between the attackers and their controllers". - Financial Times
"That passive or non-participation as a form of resistance or comment is a theme played out more pointedly at Artspace as the Embassy of Non-Participation, another highlight of this Biennale. Its renaming takes its cue from the artist collaborative of Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, whose ongoing body of work confronts the social-political in artworks by using the idea of non-participation as a threshold for change that is both unstable and malleable. Rosenthal continued of their work: For me their work was so important because they cover two aspects of what I think is important in non-participation and how art can reflect that: the way they engage with material on YouTube like the Mumbai attacks and how they use existing material, and on the other side, how you can resist with the body and how resistance is inscribed in the body and how the body memorises traumatic experience. The space materialises out that dichotomy by offering two routes of entry into the exhibition, playing out the metaphor: a door that closes in one direction opens in another. To the right is a work that moves between alternating position of terrorist and spectator of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, while to the left is the work Hold Your Ground (2012) inspired by the event of the Arab Spring and the artists discovery of the pamphlet How to protest intelligently. Rosenthal added: In a way this Embassy of Non- Participation, which feels small, is somehow woven into all the other embassies. It is perhaps the most politically overt work across the Biennale, an exhibition that is alleviated from the usual pummel-mentality and allows breathing space for the viewers own considerations to surface". - Atrshub
Everyhting for Everyone and Nothing for US as part of the exhibition MIRRORCITY 2014
This prequel to Hold Your Ground has its main character using a TV studio as a site for training the body. She starts with audio extracts that take the frequency of a political speech by Margaret Thatcher. Our heroine listens and then uses movement to exorcise this voice whilst employing the camera to analyse her body for areas of self disciplining and censorship.
Hold Your Ground premiered and was conceived for a site at Canary Wharf in 2013, this work calls forth the struggle to turn ‘fugitive sounds’ into speech, addressing an audience predominantly in transit.
"Our Canary Wharf film has no interviews. It has some archive footage from Northern Ireland, from UK demonstrations, from Egypt and a few other places. But mostly what it has is a character who is both attempting to teach and attempting to speak a protest language. In fact, she only says four actual words, so a lot of her actions are about attempting to construct language. The reason this is relevant to Canary Wharf is because in particular we were alarmed by the indefinite political injunction taken out by the Canary Wharf Group during the occupation of St Pauls, stopping any gathering or form of protest in Canary Wharf. So our protagonist is calling to the workers in transit to think about their relationship to speaking out, to think about where they place their body, to find new gestures of protest, to address their frustrations in finding the freedom to speak out about issues, to find connections".
How does one participate in or withdraw from political realities, individually and collectively? What social spaces support or deter such actions? And how can art represent, facilitate, or intervene in this process? Made up of film, sound, text, and performed actions,
For the US debut of the Museum of non Participation, Mirza and Butler transform the Walkers Medtronic Gallery into a multilayered installation and evolving social space that interrogates the shifting allegiances, contracts, and new deals between nation states and their citizens. A selection of video works highlights the precarious nature of this relationship as witnessed through significant geopolitical events, from the Lawyers Movement protests in Pakistan to the Arab Spring and widespread austerity rallies in Europe.
Incorporated as a central feature of the exhibition, a live production set serves as the backdrop for the artists and members of the Twin Cites community to workshop, rehearse, and stage one of Bertolt Brechts short learning playsThe Exception and the Rule, a tale of corruption, exploitation, and injustice.
A program of informal public conversations and commissioned texts for the Walkers website further animate the exhibition.
Curators: Yesomi Umolu, with Susy Bielak
(Extract) On Aesthetics and Activism (interview by Julie Caniglia)
At the Walker youve added a subtitle: The New Deal. Whats behind that amendment?
Firstly, it refers to the Walkers 1939 transformation from a privately funded museum founded by T.B Walker into a public art center, via the Works Projects Administration, which was part of President Roosevelts New Deal focusing on relief, recovery, and reform that is, relief for the unemployed and poor; recovery of the economy to normal levels; and reform of the financial system.
The New Deal also refers to a work we are making for the exhibition using four United Nations Reolsutions on Iraq: two dated 1990, and the others from 2002 and 2003. These Resolutions are significant not just in their claims and content, but also in their voice, grammar, sense of authority, and rule under law each is a single legal sentence of escalating length.
Our aim is not to attempt to represent Iraqi sociocide as an image it is, after all, impossible to depict the scale of the violence of what has happened to Iraqs people as well as its entire societal structure and culture. Ultimately, this work goes beyond the facts as to how Iraq is erased, implicating these UN resolutions as a script authored by the Deep State. That term is widely used in Turkey to address the largely covert state within the state that utilises violence and other means of pressure to manipulate political and economic elites, and to ensure specific interests are satisfied within a seemingly democratic
For The Daily Battle Karen Mirza and Brad Butler are occupying a column space in the UK/Urdu newspaper The Daily Jang (translated back into English as: The Daily Battle) as a temporary site of creative contemporary discourse about the role of art in society. Each day of the exhibition a different cultural thinker will publish an uncensored text that is their own interpretation of this context. 100 copies of 10,000 Daily Jang print run will be delivered to Vivid each morning as the focus of an installation within the exhibition.
Column contributors include Nada Raza, Sara Wajid, Gemma Sharpe, Rahila Gupta, Auj Khan, Shanay Jhaveri, Karen Mirza & Brad Butler.
Within the exhibition Mirza and Butler will also present their award winning film The Exception and The Rule. Shot in Pakistan in 2009, the film avoids traditional documentary modes and within the context of civil unrest, incorporates performances to camera, classic observation and public interventions. The Museum of non Participation is an ongoing interest in seeking out thresholds in language and intervening in new possible sites of exhibition and (non) participation. Mirza and Butler phrase this within their practice as an exploration of the politics of translation, translation within language and a performance of the condition of the 'untranslatable'.
The Daily Battle is presented as part of VIVID's LANGUAGE season, a series of exhibitions, talks, and films exploring the constructs of language and meaning from far reaching cultural perspectives.
Launched with Artangel Interaction, The Museum of non Participation situated itself as a museum without walls, inspired by its founders experiences moving between their home in Bethnal Green and the city of Karachi in Pakistan from 2007-2009. The resulting ‘socially engaged practice’ from 2007-2016 included interventions, newspapers, wall chalking, reading groups, language exchange, performance lectures, audioworks, walks, political theatre, and Speech Acts. The Museum launched in London in a space behind a barbers shop on Bethnal Green Road where Butler and Mirza hosted a space for language exchange between Urdu and English Speakers. A newspaper collecting a multitude voices on this project was published as a supplement in collaboration with one of Pakistan's largest media grouos: the Daily Jang. The Museum culminated in 2016 in a solo exhibition at the Sydney Biennale.: ‘The Embassy of non Participation
The film, shot in Pakistan, India and the UK employs a variety of strategies in negotiating frameworks of partition and colonialistion through a cumulative assembly of voice, image, citation, actor, participant and situation
Premiered at The Museum of non Participation launch and London Film Festival,
Winner of Chicago Experimenal Film Award. 39 mins 2008
Commissioned by Artangel Interaction projects which places emphasis on process rather than product the Museum of non Participation is supported by the UK institutional structure while carving out of space in the larger social sphere both physically, outside the gallery context (a room behind the barbershop), and conceptually, through its paradoxical open condition. This in-between state was deeply inspired by political event that occurred during Mirza and Butler's artist residency in Islamabad in 2007. While visiting a nude exhibition in the National Gallery of Islamabad, the artists witnessed first-hand the lawyers movement riots which arose as a result of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhy's refusal to obey military ruler General Pervez Musharraf's order to resign his position as the chief justice of Pakistan. This refusal sparked a chain of events, including massive rallies and so called 'Long Marches' then, in November 2007, General Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, an act reserved only for the country's president.
Watching the violence unfold from the window of one of the most disputed art exhibitions In the National Art Gallery, the city outside and the gallery inside were transformed into sites of confrontation. Sandwiched between these two manifestations of protest the artists found themselves in a liminal, paradoxical space, which became the inspiration for the Museum of non Participation. The museum visitor experiences this paradoxical experience at face value: upon entering the room behind the barbershop, the visitor was confronted with the question: How can I not participate in this museum now that I've entered it? Following the artist Andrea Fraser's claim that 'we are the institution', the intelligence of the Museum of non Participation lies in the impossibility of its being captured because it is everywhere where we are not. This paradoxical experience leaves the audience in a moment of uncertainty, or non-closure, and arguably of self agency, which differentiates the museum of non-participation from the first 'social turn' of 1990s relational art.- Maxa Zoller Art Monthly 2009
Much discussion of The Museum of Non Participation has focused on its identity. What is it? How does it function? Where is it? These queries are best answered through its enterprises. Unique to individual relationships with the initiative and paradoxically dependent on participation, The Museum of Non Participation is a cumulative and experiential project. Standing against the formal traditions of art, The Museum is a state of encounter. It is a presence developed and challenged through contributions to its voice. – Josephine Breese, This is Tomorrow, 12 October 2009
Using film, video, found footage and photography, The Exception and the Rule throws its own site, narrative and production into question, particularly through use of direct (though unacknowledged) citations, its ambiguous application of fictional elements, and through a use of text and spoken English or Urdu. – Gemma Sharpe, Afterall, 6 July 2010
If the Museum of Non Participation is a non-museum, The Exception and the Rule is a non-documentary film. One learns as little about a foreign culture via the media as one learns about the vital artistic moment (symbolized in myth by the muses) via a museum. The film entwines images of the Other in a complex interweave of medial references and formal refractions; it insists on the moment of non-communicable experience – and thus exacts from the viewer the direct, ‘uncomfortable’ encounter with the real Other. – Marcel Schwierin, EMAN, 2009