If I could see through your eyes
At Battersea Arts Centre, Now is the Time to Say Nothing explores the role of the television screen as a tool to humanise global conflict. Through interaction, immersive soundscape and intimate footage from everyday life in Damascus, this transformative piece of work manages to cross the distance and break down passive consumption of news.
Now is the Time to Say Nothing esplora la Guerra in Siria attraverso gli occhi di un gruppo di adolescenti londinesi in collaborazione con la film-maker siriana Reem Karssli. Il film Every Day Every Day di Karssli documenta la brutale realtà della vita quotidiana a Damasco, mentre a migliaia di chilometri di distanza, nel comfort dei nostri salotti, ci confrontiamo con le notizie televisive come unico modo per connetterci alla devastazione che sta accadendo dall’altra parte dello schermo.
Attraverso potenti immagini, paesaggi sonori ed elementi di interazione, siamo trasportati dal Battersea Arts Centre al salotto di casa nostra, fino agli interni della casa di Reem a Damasco e al mare aperto. Now is the Time to Say Nothing è una sfida lanciata – e vinta – alla passività del consumo di notizie e ai limiti della nostra capacità di provare empatia.
What we know about the war in Syria is gleaned by the TV screen. Too violent, too bloody, too distant for us to empathise with, scenes of war leave us horrified and powerless. We watch the news while British Parliament debates, and we try to untangle the thick plot of interests involved. Again, what is mediated through the news fails to get us closer to the human story behind the headlines.
In 2014 director Caroline Williams was asked to deliver a performance project looking at the Syrian conflict with a group of teenage participants in the Young Vic’s Taking Part project. Together, they tried to work out how their view of the conflict could change and how human connection might occur – would that be by meeting someone living in the midst of the war?
Struck by the beauty of Every Day, Every Day by Syrian filmmaker Reem Karssli, Caroline contacted Reem and asked if she would be interested in meeting the young people through Skype. During a four year long collaboration, Reem could talk about her work and her life alongside the war. The result is the video-installation Now is the Time to Say Nothing, devised for an audience of up to 14 people. As much simple as multi-layered, this intimate piece of work makes space for all the humanity you will not find in the news.
Each audience member is isolated, our backs to each other, in front of a screen with our headphones on. Images of war planes, the sound of bombs, brief segments of Channel 4 News and political debates regarding a potential political response to the Assad Regime’s sarin gas attack. We feel saddened, hopelessly detached from what we are witnessing.
Then we are drawn through into the scene. A Syrian girl is now talking to us, sharing personal reflections, feelings, concerns. We are in her house, we feel the cold damp of the walls, we sit at the kitchen table close to the stove with her family. We listen to her sister confiding how she feels. We hear the bombs outside, we wonder how far away they are, which part of the city is being destroyed right now, if Reem’s friends and relatives are safe.
We are asked to stand up and face each other, and we suddenly – and awkwardly – connect with the other audience members. We are guided towards the centre of the room, snow is quietly falling from the ceiling. We stay silent, our hands open under the snow, we understand the fighting has ceased. The relief is a physical sensation, we remain suspended for a few more moments, we feel blessed.
We go back to our seats and Reem is now heartily confiding that her childhood dreams and fantasies have been left behind to make room for the more urgent need to survive. We feel her sorrow, her resilience, we would like to tell her she is doing well, that her dreams will get back on track at some point, but we are actually not sure this will ever be possible.
The screen changes again. We are now on a crowded little boat, exposed to the wind and waves, we smell the excitement and fear and despair. We are fleeing as refugees across the sea. The audience are now invited to sit on the floor, again drawn inside and out of different dimensions. We look at each other, we touch base again and we know what the others in the room feel. The performance ends with brief footage of Reem, now living in Germany. Her art works, she says, are not about war anymore, she is in search of beauty.
Now is the Time to Say Nothing is a breakthrough that shines a light on our “psychic numbing” and brings into play our simplest and most spontaneous will to connect in order to fill the gap between different worlds. It does so by drawing from the essence of theatre: inviting to see the world through someone else’s eyes. And it cunningly succeeds.
Battersea Arts Centre
London – SW11 5TN
Until Saturday 19th October, 12 p.m., 2 p..m., 3.30 p.m., 5 p.m., 7 p.m., 8.30 p.m.
age advisory: 12+
Now is the Time to Say Nothing
by Caroline Williams and Reem Karssli
with Caroline Williams and Reem Karssli
sound by Keir Vine and Tom Parkinson
video by May Abdalla and Christina Hardinge
associate sound design Lewis Gibson
consultant production manager Andrew Crofts
production manager Nick Allsop produced by MAYK