Oreet Ashery | February 2020

Alessandra Cianetti: Oreet, I remember the first time we properly met was in 2016 when I co-curated a performative lecture of yours as part of Something Human’s ‘Scarred, Shifting and Sacred Places’ live art programme at Autograph ABP, London, in response to Alida Silvestri’s powerful photographic work on Female Genital Mutilation. At the time I remember you mentioning wanting to shift your practice from your focus on live art to exploring new media. Following the work you have been creating since then – if I am not wrong! – video, technology and collaboration are something you have been working with, however, I found your work still deeply performative in its essence. I wonder what is the line/border you draw, if any, between your performative practice and visual artwork?

Oreet Ashery: Thank you for reminding me of that event as it helps tracing the webs of contexts which relates to your question. I agree that my work always stems from some kind of a performance, informed by childhood and teens spent performing rituals and public interventions intuitively. Those became professionalised in later years. I don’t really draw a line between the two as I always performed to camera in a sense and my current moving image work are still deeply informed by performance practices. The difference one could ascertain is the distribution. I am always incredibly curious about forms of distributions and in a sense my practice over the years has been expanding notions of distribution as part of the work itself. So for example the web series Revisiting Genesis 2016, has been distributed episodically online, as well as in biennials and galleries, but its inherent mode of distribution has been the internet. It was born there and will disappear there. Currently my new film Dying Under your Eyes, 2019, is more of an experimental documentary about the death of my father in 2018, and as such I would imagine it could be distributed in film festivals as well as galleries and museums. Films festivals have their own planetary system, with their own logistics, just like performance festivals are. My refusal to brand my work into a specific category of distribution is political.

Alessandra: I have loved every single episode of Revisiting Genesis since it was released in 2016. Winner of the 10th Film London Jarman Award, this work that sensitively deals with the transition from life to death, has been recently shown at the Wellcome Collection as part of ‘Jo Spence and Oreet Ashery: Misbehaving Bodies’ in a such well curated and comforting space that allowed the viewer to take it all in and feel protected at the same time. I would love to know more about the process that brought you to create this work, how it has been developed, and how it links with your previous practice.

Oreet: Revisiting Genesis followed years and decades of intense professional activity which led me to consider aspects of partial withdrawal. In 2016 I felt that the pressures to self-present, self-brand, over produce and remain visible on and off line were aligned with biopolitical extraction. Intellectual property, imagination, personal histories, data, networks and the like, all serve a capitalist urge to extract from ourselves all that we can, expand and die. Digital technologies ensure that death isn’t a barrier to extraction which continues in various forms of digital and technological life extending memoralisations. And various emergent legacy service industries. In addition to that at the period I became intensely aware of peers, friends and colleagues who were experiencing various form of invisible and visible mental and physical chronic conditions which were not an open topic of conversation as they could risk employment. Some artists I knew were dying too, as well as my brother. Revisiting Gensis combines conversations with artists with real life limiting conditions and the fictional story of Genesis who is dying in some way. The work produced a much needed discourse around conditions of sickness and care and how grief might perform political agency. For further discussion please see interview at Ocula with Stephanie Bailey.

Alessandra: For the ‘Misbehaving Bodies’ exhibition you have also been commissioned a new film that was presented in autumn 2019. ‘Dying Under Your Eyes’ is a sensitive, emotional and powerful exploration of family, distance, intimacy, pain, loss and the role of technology in long-distance relationships. Would you mind to tell us a bit more about this commission and what shape your work is taking looking at the future?

Oreet: In my new book How We Die Is How We Live Only More So, Mousse Publishing, 2019, there are two interviews between Geroge Vasey and myself that explore this new film and its relationship to Revisiting Genesis. If there are any requests for libraries distribution of the book please let me know and I will send the book to the library. In terms of the future I am toying between an idea for a book I want to write and an experimental documentary film, both in the areas of biopolitical fiction and autoethnography. 

book cover
How We Die Is How We Live Only More So, Oreet Ashery, Mousse Publishing, 2019, 
Oreet Ashery, Mousse

Oreet Ashery is a transdisciplinary visual artist who navigates established, institutional and grassroot art and social contexts. The work engages with biopolitical fiction, autoethnography, gender materiality and potential communities. Ashery’s practice manifests through distinct multiplatform largescale projects that span moving-image, live situations, performance, assemblage and writing. The work turns to costume, new music/sound commissions and activism. Ashery’s practice is often collaborative, participatory and questions the modes and conditions of art production. 

Ashery’s won the prestigious Jarman Film Award in 2017 for her web-series Revisiting Genesis, interfacing documentary and fiction and looking at the emergent field of death, dying and the digital, http://revisitinggenesis.net. In this emergent context Ashery published her book How We Die Is How We Live Only More So, Mousse Publishing, 2019, including new writing by T.J Demos, Rizvana Bradley, Mason Leaver-Yap, Imani Robinson, George Vasey and Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz. Expanding this field of enquiry, Ashery’s film Dying Under Your Eyes, 2019, captures moments of intimate surveillance and assemble a collage of daily experiences and rituals, both real and imaginary, leading up to the sudden death of her father in 2018. The film was commissioned by Wellcome Collection as part of the long duration exhibition Misbehaving Bodies: Jo Spence & Oreet Ashery, May 2019- January 2020.  

In 2017 Ashery exhibited the sonic performance Passing Through Metal. For the duration of approximately two hours per concert, audiences are invited to pass through the sound of metallic-rain produced by forty local knitters who use eighty metal knitting needles, each attached to a pick-up microphone. The metallic sounds are interrupted by heavy sonic wall of growling vocal and instrumental doom from a local death metal band. The work was shown in LPS; Malmo, Donaufestival; Krems and Kettle’s Yard; Cambridge.

In 2013 Ashery created Party for Freedom, an Artangel commission, combining twenty-five live performances in domestic settings, offices and pubs, a ten-track Audio Visual album, largescale live concerts with originally commissioned music and activist public programmes People vs Freedom including Silvia Federici’s talk Land, Animals and Women. The project focused on freedom rhetoric by the far right as it collapses into the aesthetics of historical lefty artistic liberation movements.

Ashery is an Associate Professor of Art at the Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford.  Ashery’s work has been published in many languages in art, cultural and academic publications.

Featured image credits: Oreet Ashery, Dying Under You Eyes, 27 minutes film, 2019, commissioned by Wellcome Collection

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