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Interview with Tamara Al-Mashouk: I’d search forever, I want to remember

Updated: Aug 4, 2023



I’d search forever, I want to remember is a multidisciplinary work created by artist Tamara Al-Mashouk that centres on memory, matter and refugees. The project began in 2018 with a 10.5 hour durational performance in which Tamara read the names of 34,361 refugees who died on their way to Europe off The List (published by The Guardian, 2018).


Earlier this month Tamara gathered a collective of artists and took over a disused detention centre in Dover - a 1700s fortress on those famous white cliffs - for a day-long programme featuring an exhibition, guided tours, ceramics and craft workshops centering memory and place, a dance performance by Fadi Giha and food and drinks served by Borough Market’s Juma Kitchen. It began in the morning and finished at sunset with a participatory performance which invited the audience to hold space together with the artist(s) for a moment of collective remembrance. The exhibition features a wave machine that contained water from the English Channel brought in as witness, a three-channel film that explores the psyche of the detention centre and a photographic series that engages with the shoreline as a site of poetic multiplicity.


And this week, the exhibition is coming to Frieze No.9 Cork Street, London from 20th-23rd July, alongside images taken in Dover and artefacts created during workshops there. Fadi Giha will also perform on the opening night, July 20th.


We interviewed Tamara about the upcoming exhibition, her time in Dover, collaboration and remembering.


Could you start by introducing your upcoming exhibition ‘I’d search forever, I want to remember’?


I’d search forever, I want to remember is a multidisciplinary body of work that asks if matter and place remember the way our bodies do. It features a wave machine that contains water from the English channel brought in as witness, a three channel film that explores the psyche of a disused detention centre and a photographic series that explores the shoreline as a site of poetic multiplicity.


In Dover I spontaneously decided to also exhibit the water jugs used to fill the water from the English channel; they felt like important containers of memory.


The exhibition was born out of a durational performance in which you read out the names of 34,361 refugees who died on their way to Europe. It sounds like an incredibly powerful piece. How did it come about, and can you share a bit about the journey between this piece and the exhibition?


Thank you. The performance was in 2018, the year The Guardian published The List, which is collated by United for Intercultural Action and updated every year. The gesture of reading it came from a desire to create a relationship between my living body and the anonymity that populates it; the majority of The List states N.N (No Name).

The morning after I spent 10.5 hours reading The List, I went back to where I was standing, put my hand on the wall I leaned on and was certain it remembered. This was the seed that ultimately grew into I’d search forever, I want to remember.


You’ve just spent a day performing, workshopping and creating space at a fortress on the cliffs of Dover, in the first iteration of this exhibition before it comes to London. Can you speak about how it felt to be there, and to be offering that programme in that space?


We’ve been having lots of conversations about how the work will translate from the fort in Dover to the white walls of a gallery in London.

In Dover the whole site functions as a container of histories; the detention centre sits right outside the exhibition spaces, the English Channel is visible from the moat where we collectively read The List.


In London the water is severed from its source thus really embodies its role as witness.


Further to the artworks themselves, the exhibition in Dover flung open the gates to a fortress that had never been open to the public and injected into its history a radical space of remembering and healing.


The works presented in the exhibition have come out of a gathering of artists. What has it meant, to you and the project, to think together, discuss, collaborate?


Work of this scale is only possible with a team. I had been thinking, researching, writing and designing for years but the whole body of work was created this summer between early May and June.

Whether rooted in artistic decisions or within production capacities, each team member and collaborator brought their subjectivities, skills, and the radical way they live/move through the world into this work and that’s what gave it its nuance.


I also consider the workshops, which were led by Lorella Bianco and in partnership with Samphire (an organisation which was initially called the Dover Detainees Visitors Group and were founded to support those detained at the detention centre we filmed) as a vital part of the body of work. The first workshop was hosted at a drop-in outside of Napier Barracks and the second in the centre of Dover at Samphire’s Multicultural Festival. The contributions from people born and raised in Dover as well as people who have newly arrived and are waiting for their asylum claims to be processed anchor the work in place and time.



What does it mean to remember? What does it mean to forget?


On my first site visit to The Citadel in Dover I was introduced to all the plans that were underway for its regeneration. Among the renovations of historically protected buildings, the disused detention centre was set to be demolished -- it’s the only building that isn’t protected. The question of what parts of our history we concretise versus what we chose to forget became the launching pad for the three channel film.


The more time we spent in the building during filming, the more we uncovered notes written on the walls that had been painted over by various film sets. Layers of paint covered notes, names of countries, well wishes to those detained next, phone numbers, drawings of partners. The walls were calling to be remembered.

 

July 20th - 22rd in London: Artworks will be exhibited at Frieze No.9 Cork Street for three days, alongside images taken in Dover and artefacts created during workshops there. Fadi Giha will perform on the opening night, July 20th 6-8pm.


Frieze - No.9 Cork Street, London, W1S 3LL


Open to the public: 21st - 22nd July 2023, 10am - 6pm





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