The events of Armistice Day 1918 in the town of al-Hindayyah in what is now modern-day Iraq are a graphic encapsulation of the turbulent forces that had recently been unleashed there and an ominous augury of the century still to come. Refugees massing on the streets, the aftermath of a violent killing, men with weapons merging with the milling crowd; bustle shadowed by apprehension: these scenes – starkly etched and tragically repeated across the history of Iraq – are indelibly engraved on an ornamental brass tray that now resides in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In Jananne Al-Ani’s widescreen video installation Timelines, this historical object becomes the receptacle for a contemporary re-imagining, as the camera homes in (in ever-more extreme close-up) past the transitory surface features, as if to evoke the mythical bedrock continuum below. Sometimes tracing the course of a riverbed, or swooping over looming, apparitional mountains, the camera-eye travels like an all-seeing drone. Punctuating its dream-like passage are fragmentary echoes of a female voice (actually that of Al-Ani’s mother), evoking a forgotten, between-the-lines history of British women who had moved to the country with their Iraqi husbands and raised families there – her personal memories and recollected emotions contrasting poignantly with the contours of this elemental and intractable landscape.
Co-commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and Towner Eastbourne with Art Fund support through the Moving Image Fund for Museums. Supported by Arts Council England.
With thanks to Res and The Mill.