Getting ready for the Maghreb

Hi guys, sorry for the long silence, but following the blog launch last December, life has increased its pace to enormous speed and time for writing has gone into funding applications and various other lobbying emails.

Yet, Spring is finally at the door and I am getting ready to hit the road again! This time for the fascinating city of Tangier. So, let’s beat off the blues of arts funding cuts and winter cold and prepare to immerse ourselves in the colours and smells of the Medina and local traditions.

The region is hot, for reasons we all know. So surely there will be plenty to report on. Check this blog. Hopefully there will be more time to write and maybe even to upload some sound recordings of street life, Gnawa music and who knows what. Inshallah!

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Time frame

Afbeelding van den weg der planet Venus, Nicholas Ypey, 1761. Rare Books and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

A few weeks ago I chanced across a piece of information which explains the reason for the time frame of Streets of … But before I tell you more about it, let’s go back to some of the events that took place in the last few years which will shed some light on its meaning.



I started the project in 2004, but it was not until the year after that I decided that Streets of… would involve video and sound recordings in 7 cities around the world. At the time I thought that the work had to be completed by 2012. This idea came to me before London was selected to host the Olympics. In fact, I was pleased to hear about the news, as this international event would have helped to give a rational explation for a decision, which up to that point was difficult to justify although I felt instictively right. The Olympics would be the best possible opportunity to share the project with people from the countries I had and will be visiting during the project. And when, few years later, I produced an application to Arts Council England, I planned the completion of the video audio recordings by early June 2012. I was finally at ease with my decision. Yet, something was still missing, there was a clue behind this date, which I could not fully grasp and had nothing to do with the esoteric predictions around 2012.

The production of the first video sound installation piece, Streets of Naples took place in early June 2004. At the time, I was curator of the London International Festival of Theatre for which I had created a framework of collective engagement to explore the theme of international theatre in London. Together with the festival directors and other members of the creative team, we decided to invite one hundred people of different ages, cultural and professional backgrounds to respond to the question “What is theatre to you?” I had conceived this mechanism of public engagement as a process of democratic creative practise, hence my decision to throw myself in the mix, asking the same question and coming out with my personal answer. I thought that life in the streets and alleyways of Naples was the quintessential expression of theatre in the everyday life. So I decided to go back to my town of birth, get in touch with local artists, and with a small, non-intrusive mini dv camera, we went out to record peoples’ everyday movements, gestures and sounds which to me seemed to be rooted well beyond the present time.

Set at the crossroad of ancient and modern cultures, Naples is a city which strikes visitors with its breathless natural beauty, astonishing art and monuments and countless manifestations of social injustice. Its ‘representation’ of human life, with its comedy and tragedy, could be traced back to ‘units’ of movement and sound which go beyond what we see as stereotypes. My intention was to convey this extraordinary experience in a seven minutes video sound installation piece and share it with the other LIFT Enquirers and the general public.

What I did not know was that, while I was completing the editing of this piece, the transit of Venus was taking place – a rare phenomenon which happens when the Sun, Venus and Earth are in perfect alignment. Observed from Earth the transit is visible through the small black disk of the planet Venus slowly wandering over the bright disk of the Sun in the course of several hours as the planes of the orbits meet. This piece of information came to my attention only recently, while I was visiting Wolfgang Tillmans’ exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London in September 2010. As explained in Tillmans’ piece about the transit, this phenomenon happens in a regular cycle of 122 years, then 8 years later, after which it takes another 122 years and so on. The last transit took place on 8 June 2004. The next transit will occur on 6 June 2012.

So here was the explanation I had been waiting for such a long time! This was the reason behind my instinctive decision to complete the recordings of Streets of… by June 2012, regardless of friends and colleagues’ advice to be more relaxed about the project and its deadline. I am relaxed, this is the most beautiful art project I have created in my life so far and if left to me, probably I would never finish it. Its making inspires my steps and guides my hands as nothing has done before. But finally I knew why the recordings had to be completed by that time, because it is not my time, it is the time of the stars and the planets travelling around us. Yes, I know, there is still a long way to go. I have London plus three more cities abroad to visit and record, but I hope I’ll find the support I need to keep to my path and produce a result which I’ll be happy to share with you all. The only thing I can say at the moment is watch this space, I’m sure more intersting things will come.

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