PHOTOS by Henry Chan
We are told that Selma Selman, A young Roma artist currently attending University in the USA, is not at the festival. She was denied a travel visa from the Canadian government. Twice. Disappointed by the circumstances but wanting to nonetheless share her work with the public, Selman and the 7a*11d collective have agreed to screen a video of one of her performances, which will be followed by a participatory group action.
(I get it. I want to see her work. But a part of me also feels uncomfortable with this desire to make her present considering the political context that has lead to her inability to be in Toronto. I am torn. Is working around her absence a form of resistance, or a compromise?)
The lights are closed, the video begins. Forty-one seconds in, it freezes. Break to load it. I take this time to reflect on how the immaterial presence of a body is fragile, and how technology is generally unreliable despite the trust we have in its ability to simulate presence and proximity. It seems to always operate this way, reminding us that the body we seek is not actually here. Reminding us that distance is an obstacle and requires patience. Eventually, the lights are turned off again.
The video captures Selman in a beautifully embroidered dress I assume to be culturally significant, repeating the sentence “You have no idea” at the camera (and the audience) with varying intensity. She stands accusatory, or defeated, or disgusted. Held together by a very tangible anger, these emotional states fluidly blend into one another, becoming quite physical at times and totally banal at others. And, while there is nothing else to the action than the emotion of the repeated words, Selman avoids falling into the trope of the romanticized hysterical woman I am so familiar with. I deduct that it is because she remains in control and the anger she presents us with is real. I quickly recognize the layers of privilege I have that make this kind of rage something I truthfully, and perhaps thankfully, cannot relate to. The work becomes confrontational, at times uncomfortable and alienating because she is right. I have no idea.
You can watch the work for yourselves here.
The lights are turned back on and we are invited to participate in a collective performance in which we, choir like, will re-embody Selman’s action. Four people gather and, as a few people in the audience hesitate to get up, they begin.For the most part, the reenactment lacks the intensity and therefore efficacy of Selman’s work. Voices explore the sentence, attempting to settle into a rhythm, a tone, or an energy but nothing evocative comes of it. Then, quite surprisingly, a voice emerges from the choir and, with a point of the finger and some cussing, totally embodies it.
Let’s be clear, this is not the same work anymore. At this point, it has become Bojana Videkanic’s. But this return to the body, to a body who clearly does have an idea, brings valuable and important closure to the situation. And I am thankful that someone has managed to take on the weight of the work so resolutely, because between this live manifestation, which is charged and vulgar, and the video, I feel like I can finally gather some sense of what Selman’s performance would have been like to witness, had she been granted the right to come to Canada.