Memory attracts familiar metaphors. Often envisioned as a deep well or a dark pool, memory is equally frequently imagined as a dark room (or rooms), its images materialising like ghosts, or like spectres on photographic paper. But what is just as apparent, perhaps, is the extent to which memory regularly exceeds various attempts to contain it or define it. Memory is myriad, mercurial, multiform. It can be personal and subjective, intergenerational and collective, immediate and vivid, yet also strangely hazy and elusive. Alluding to all these things and more, Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind’s 40-minute opus, Familiar Phantoms, is first and foremost a deep and atmospheric dive into Larissa Sansour’s family history. Bringing together Super 8 home movie footage, family album photos and newly shot set-piece tableaux, the piece’s shifting split-screen permutations trace multiple parallel temporalities as they follow Sansour’s father’s zigzag movements from Palestine to Iraq to the Soviet Union (where he met Larissa’s mother) and then back to Palestine (where Larissa and her siblings grew up). Filmed in an abandoned mansion whose empty rooms evoke places long departed and whose labyrinthine pathways suggest the complex internal architecture of the mind, Familiar Phantoms is also a dreamy, nostalgic recollection of everyday scenes from a cherished Palestinian childhood: the sight and scent of lemons in the kitchen, the sound of her father’s car starting in the morning, toy soldiers strewn across a hallway floor. Memory emerges out of the shadows, it is said – and in Palestine those shadows run especially deep and far. Seen through the prism of recall of one particular family, Familiar Phantoms widens its lens to reflect both the vibrant identity and the enduring trauma of the Palestinian people. Leaving the viewer with a memorable trail of evocative images, it frames them within an equally haunting and resonant monologue, which not only adds to their power and poignancy but deftly draws attention to the nuances and vagaries and occasional downright falsities of memory itself.
The Whitworth, Manchester
2 March — 21 May 2023
Co-commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and the Whitworth, The University of Manchester in association with the Irish Museum of Modern Art with Art Fund support through the Moving Image Fund for Museums. This programme is made possible thanks to Thomas Dane Gallery and a group of private galleries and individuals. Supported by Arts Council England, Danish Arts Foundation, and Knud Højgaards Fond.