Little is known about why Palestinian camps are put where they are—or about the trajectories of their communities.
Reflecting on ideas of refuge and the sea that connects them to Palestine, Dictaphone Group worked with four residents of the Rashidieh Refugee Camp on the coast of Lebanon, just south of the city of Tyre. Filming their everyday routes from their homes to the sea, each participant would lead the film crew to a final scene in which they choose a spot on the seashore.
Along the way, the residents weave narratives about the history of the land, their arrival, the struggle to build, and everyday life in a camp situated away from the city, bordered by agricultural fields and the sea. The four videos are each projected on the walls of a gallery. The audience is invited to pick up a set of headphones in the middle of the room and listen to the soundtrack to one of the videos, hearing one story but seeing all four.
Camp Pause is presented as part of the INTERSECTIONS initiative. INTERSECTIONS is a program of the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, which seeks to build bridges between visiting artists and Houston’s Muslim and non-Muslim residents, with a focus on University of Houston students. INTERSECTIONS is made possible in part by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters; Building Bridges: Campus Community Engagement Grants Program, a component of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.
Artist Words: An Exclusive Interview with Tania El Khoury and Abir Saksouk of Dictaphone Group (January 2017)
Mitchell Center: What spurred the title Camp Pause?
Dictaphone Group: The title is a direct translation from Arabic. The word “istiraha” in Arabic means “a break” as well as “a rest house.” While working on the project, we found ourselves going back to an “istiraha” on the beach, a rest house café owned by a young camp resident who later became one of the characters in the project. We like the term “istiraha” as it evokes both a public space and a state of mind.
Mitchell Center: Who were the residents you worked with?
Dictaphone Group: We worked with four residents who have different relationships to the camp and their environment. An older lady who was born in Palestine and was made refugee in 1948, a young schoolgirl who was born in the camp in Lebanon, a young fisherman who runs the café on the beach, and an older man who was involved in armed resistance. Each had a compelling story of their own, their family history, their understanding of their condition, and their journey or the lack of it. We tried to focus on their relationship to the sea as residents of a refugee camp set up on the seashore.
Mitchell Center: Can you discuss the relationship of the world where these refugees came from with world in which they live?
Dictaphone Group: No, we can’t really talk for them. We tried to focus on the space of the camp and the four residents relationship to the sea. We prefer we take their words rather than ours.
Mitchell Center: How does Dictaphone Group do work?
Dictaphone Group: Dictaphone Group is essentially a collaboration between live artist Tania El Khoury, Petra Serhal and urbanist and architect Abir Saksouk. It is a marriage of research on space with live art practice that takes different shapes depending on the project. We collaborate with various artists and activists and communities to produce knowledge on space shared with audience in an interactive way allowing them to embody these spaces and their narratives.
Mitchell Center: Can you discuss the art direction in Camp Pause?
Dictaphone Group: We worked with two collaborators on the videos. Karam Ghossein on camera and Ali Beidoun on editing, both of whom we worked with before and agree with on the ethics of filming and representing communities. We try to move away from the clichéd representation of camps and refugees. The idea was to film the four participants in their domestic space (the room would be of their choice) and then the journey from their home leading to the sea. The final scene on the sea was also of their choice.
Mitchell Center: How do you envision the gallery set up with the films?
Dictaphone Group: The four videos are each projected on a wall in a gallery room. The audience finds themselves in the middle: they pick up a set of headphones and listen to one of the video’s soundtrack. They hear one story but they can see the four. At the very end they find themselves in the middle of the room surrounded by the sea.