Remote Closeness: Art In The Time Of Physical Distance

Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the past 18 months, you would have noticed how the world has had to adapt to the constant stopping and starting of life as we go into and out of lockdowns. In response to this, a Jordanian initiative called Remote Closeness launched as an event that concentrates on the theme of connectivity, during a time in which the boundaries of our screens and the outside world have become blurred. 

Taking place between July and September, the event develops new approaches to remotely connect with the public, featuring 17 projects created by more than 20 creatives from various disciplines and backgrounds, with artworks that address the concepts of physical and emotional proximity. Remote Closeness consists of an online exhibition, a public program with talks and workshops, an interdisciplinary exhibition at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, along with art trails through different neighbourhoods of selected Jordanian cities, where QR codes link to the artworks exhibited within the event.

Gallery Girl spoke to one of the exhibition’s curator’s – Aya Al Obaidi – and artist’s – Liam Sibai – about how the project came together:

Guided Tour as part of Remote Closeness

How did remote closeness together?

From brainstorming sessions to numerous zoom meetings and calls. Through our experience writing the proposal and introducing a hybrid event that connects and links artists and audience together led us to come up with “Remote Closeness”. The event came together through notions of co-creation, creating a community and inclusivity.

How did you select your artists?

We had a clear criterion that whoever participates should touch upon the theme whether it was through the method or the concept.

Self Propulsion by Kateryna Bortsova as part of Remote Closeness

How did you go about digesting the program?

We tried (and I’d like to believe succeeded) in creating different layers of the event, one that translated the artworks into a physical space, one that creates an experience through the city but in the virtual space, and a public program that creates communities and emphasizes on learning and cocreation with the QR codes as our key to unlock these 3 layers, everything fell into place.

The event took place across the breadth of Jordan – do you feel that helped to bring audiences and artists together?

To be more specific, the event took place across different countries – not just Jordan – as we’ve created art trails with the artists in their cities (here’s the link to Lahore’s trail), which emphasizes one of our main pillars: creating communities, and connecting artists and their audiences together. Not to forget that several artists crossed this border by creating artworks that interact and integrate with the audience.

Laboratory of the Future as part of Remote Closeness

Which works and projects would you highlight?

We’d like to highlight how all of the participating artworks echoed the theme of “remote closeness” each in its own way and its own interpretation but yet they’re all in cohesion and in sync. For instance, the interpretation of the confinement period that the world went through was interpreted through Doha Abdulaziz’s video artwork as a monotonous spinning fan video that loops with the audio of hustle and bustle of the streets of Cairo that replicates the sense of “losing sense of time” while being frozen in one space. This is in contrast to Amjad Al-Mestarihy and Ariane Königshof’s work which was a music piece composed, also during the confinement period, by random sounds created by people across different countries to emphasize how music creates communities and bring people together. The solitude that Doha went through is a completely different statement from the musical work that Amjad created during the same period.  And this applies to many of the artworks that were exhibited, where we see some parallels and yet multiple interpretations of similar idea.

We’d also like to highlight the curatorial freedom that we had as organizers and curators of the event in selecting the display form for several artworks, since the artworks were all digital we had the challenge to find interactive and non-monotonous methods to exhibit them.

For example, for Engy Mohsen’s Work, End Meeting for All, an installation was made with the elements that hang from the ceiling to interplay with these different layers and look at them as single elements but from afar as a group. Another work that was reimagined in its physical form is Fatima Butt’s Dayneh project, where actual ears were moulded and sculpted to recreate part of her database in physical form.

Geo-Imposition by Liam Sibai. Image courtesy Remote Closeness

Liam, how did the lockdown affect your art practice?

The lockdown didn’t really affect my artistic practice all that much. Recently, my practice has basically been writing, as well as curatorial and archival work. Lockdown actually opened up some more room in the art world for the type of work I was interested in doing, which is largely immaterial.

Can you tell us about your contribution to Remote Closeness?

For remote closeness, I prepared a project called Geo-Imposition. There were a lot of different aspects to it. There was my mostly textual intervention onto different images and artefacts. I also curated a set of similar images and invited an audience to make their own interventions onto them. I displayed all of the audience’s submissions. There was also a lecture that was part of the larger project. The lecture was very exciting for me because I not only got to explicate a lot of the ideas that appeared in the different interventions and the project as a whole.  I was also allowed to expand on the ontological implications of the structures that appear in the images.

Guided Tour as part of Remote Closeness

Your work is interactive, why was it important to you to have a collaborative feel to it? Were you surprised with the results?

There was a social media campaign which was more or less driving the whole project. I have to thank the people at Remote Closeness for making that possible Without them, I really don’t think I would’ve had the same exposure, in terms amount of people submitting work and participating in the project as a whole.

In a sense, my project (though certainly interactive) is about the creation and withering of the self, or at least it was my intention to make it as such. When I say the self I don’t mean the individual, I mean that which one see’s themselves as a part and is conceived of as a whole. The self can be the ethnicity, the nation, the ideological body, the species, etc. So the interactivity in my project, I tried to organise it in a way that allows the audience to lose one kind of “selfhood” and find themselves in another. I wanted to force them into producing an image within a context which they did not choose to be in, and simultaneously also begin to identify with it and ultimately change that imposed context. This was of course what my experience with Remote Closeness was; that there was a prompt imposed on my work, limiting it in a sense, but this limitation is also what made the project possible. So, Geo-Imposition, I think is irreducible to either me or RC.

I was very pleasantly surprised. I received so many great submissions. I was especially happy with Izz’s submission, which totally turned the tables on me by sending me images that he had created and asked me to intervene onto them. I was very happy with that.

*Remote Closeness is organized by a team of interdisciplinary cultural actors from Jordan. It is realized as part of Factory’s Public Art Program by the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, the Goethe-Institut in Jordan and the Institut Français de Jordanie and funded by the Franco-German Cultural Fund.

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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