By Eva Rosenfeld
Raida Adon rejects political categories because they fail to capture the utter strangeness of lived experience.
Displaced: Raida Adon’s Strangeness in the Mildred Lee Gallery at the Rose Museum of Art, 415 South Street, Brandeis University, Waltham, through July 24.
Popular artist and actress Raida Adon’s 33-minute video art piece, Strangeness, anchors his first personal exhibition in the United States. For two decades, her videos have been dedicated to exploring the displacement and dispossession she feels as a multi-religious Palestinian living in Israel. Like his first films, Strangeness explores a collective experience, but this time Adon is also imbued with the feeling of being alone.
The Rose Art Museum describes Strangeness as a document of “sustainable movements and journeys in search of a home”. Ironically, this description assumes the stability of a “house”, while Adon deconstructs this assumption. She breaks down the image of a “home” into its constituent elements to create scenes of alienation. Despite the serious political subject matter, the film is visually playful; each scene is an opportunity for new perceptual experiments that follow one another in a progression in trance, halfway between editing and narrative cinema. The house is depicted, in one scene, as an oversized Adon crouched like Alice in Wonderland inside a miniature replica of his childhood home in the bi-national city of Acre, Israel. The replica is in a suitcase, which is itself placed in a larger “house”. In another scene, migrants are seen walking through a forest carrying their furniture. In another, the camera explores a sunny house, stripped of all its furniture. Yet its displaced inhabitants haunt the domestic space – they sit in its empty rooms clutching their last possessions.
Artists have long produced images that question the nature of domestic space, often because they are interested in imagining the connections between the interior of our homes and our inner lives. French philosopher Gaston Bachelard directly connected the structure of the imagination to the architecture of the home, arguing that our most deeply held notions of ourselves bear the marks of the spaces we inhabit. Adon examines the disruption of this plane: what happens when the places that serve as our first vessels to the imagination are seized beyond recovery? She creates images that viscerally speak to how we inhabit spaces in childhood, such as the vision of a young girl drawing the figure of a man with wild hair on a thick charcoal wall. His figures linger in an empty house or drag chairs through the woods. They are attempts to represent the fragmented psychology of “those who become refugees” and “take with them all their memories, which pass on to the next generation in a continuous cycle”.
This notion of a distorted memory of the house explains Adon’s use of miniature homes, which appear in Strangeness as well as in his previous video works. In one scene, Adon lies down in the middle of a village of small houses that glow warmly from within. She looks like a Gulliver-esque intruder who hasn’t (and physically can’t) be invited inside. Then the flames that lit the houses set them on fire. Adon takes on a new role: she is the unaffected spectator of a scene of destruction, safely excluded from the fury. For Bachelard, miniature objects encourage our imagination to free ourselves from the rules of everyday life and enter a domain governed by a deep emotional logic. This scene follows an emotional logic; it reflects Adon’s alienation via a drama all the more powerful as his giant size is juxtaposed with the small and the archetypal. A few other moments in the movie have a similar effect, like when Adon waits for a train that’s only a few centimeters high, or slides into the sea on a boat the size of his shoe.
Adon focuses on intimate situations, which has led some critics to label his concerns as personal rather than political. It is true that Adon insists that his sympathies go not only to the Palestinians, but to all those who feel the pain of “strangeness or lack of belonging, even if we have a country and a flag”. But critics overemphasize this point, insisting that Adon must choose. She must either be a Palestinian artist creating out of protest or driven by “universal” moral concerns in the service of pluralism and narratives that show multiple viewpoints. We should turn away from this duality and appreciate the immediacy of his work, his ability to transform unnoticed images of our everyday environments into eerie representations that touch on emotional truths. In this light, she seems to reject political categories because they fail to capture the utter strangeness of lived experience. Adon suggests this idea in a text for his 2014 video homeless woman“How does our existence manifest itself? A residence with a roof under which we find refuge or a country in which we are born and live? Is it the language we use that gives us peace of mind or is it our own body that houses our soul? Where is this house, or are we doomed to be homeless? »
Eva Rosenfeld is a Michigan writer and artist based in Cambridge, MA.