If the past is a foreign country, the future is an equally strange, uncertain land. Exiled from a place of memory, people often try their best to recreate it in the present, to keep the anxiety of the future at bay. The desire is especially profound for the refugee or asylum seeker who has been violently uprooted from their homeland and has lost everything they held dear or kept near. In Bani Abidi’s video, The Song, an elderly man of middle Eastern appearance arrives at what seems to be his officially designated new abode. He sets down his solitary suitcase, opens a welcome pack of German food (which he will later replace with items he likes rather more) and unlocks the door to his balcony. Air and street noise come rushing in – as do recollections of equivalent moments in the world he has left behind. We watch as he plays with the lid of a whistling kettle, as if tuning this unfamiliar contraption, and look on as he experimentally opens and closes windows, adjusting the acoustics of airflow, as if pressing or releasing the valves of a building-sized musical instrument. Days pass, with repeated trips to the world outside, and repeated climbs back up the stairs to the apartment, with sundry purchases (an electric toothbrush, plastic bottles, a whisk) that he fashions into makeshift kinetic objects (prepared by the artist, Rie Nakajima). Their low-key, repetitive sounds echo those from other rooms he has known (the whirr of an overhead fan, perhaps, or the hum of a generator). Symbols of comfort and consolation, this growing family of objects surround him like the resonant appendages of a one-man-band and cheerfully offer the back-up rhythm and accompaniment that allow him to give voice to his own unique, highly personal song.
Read Reprise by Kamila Shamsie, a specially commissioned text to accompany The Song which picks up the bitter-sweet refrain of the film and visits its protagonist some years into the future.