by Neery Melkonian
Originally published in Seismopolite Journal of Art and Politics
Based on a selection of pre Lebanese civil war family photographs and randomly collected sounds, subsequently recorded in his San Francisco studio Hrayr Eulmessekian’s “Bruitage” is a 58 minute video shot at a painstakingly slow pace that stands as a transformative meditation on the interdiction of love, loss and mourning. As the camera zooms in and out of old black and white snapshots of unidentified rural and urban landscapes, at times further distanced by hard to hear audio, we are kept in a constant state of longing for a narrative. Despite the work’s refusal to trigger memories, its resistance to a single entry into a past and its insistence on the uncanny present, by the end we walk away with a semblance of a ‘plot’.
No sooner one begins to contemplate a possible meaning from the meager references the scene abruptly changes in “Bruitage.” An idyllic orchard dotted here and there with figures strolling recall the canvases of French Romanticism where the notions of a movement are left to the imagination of the viewer. In Bruitage however, not even a rooster’s call to rise to a new dawn affects the disquieting stillness, despite the camera’s failed desire for the contrary. This desperate attempt to bring to life recurs in a scene where the calming sounds of water that hit a sandy shore only reinforce the motionlessness of the pictured swimmers on a beach. In another scene the camera focuses on a grainy white wall then moves over a poster of horses merrily running through a pasture while chitchat, laughter and sparse sounds of musical instruments are heard in the background. Thirty some minute into the film we arrive to a block of concrete apartments with windows that look more like black holes while the whining, possibly Ottoman, music adds to an overall sense of confinement. What goes on beyond those windows remains inaccessible, like well kept secrets we are left to ponder the reach of their darkness. In another scene as the muezzin calls for prayer we almost feel the sweet sun of an afternoon resting on a number of people-less balconies while drawing attention to the grids created by their modernist architecture. This is followed by a picture of several kids sitting idly on a sidewalk of an unpaved street. And across the last image of Bruitage we can’t help but notice a crease, as if a silent lightning that signals a louder, more powerful thunderstorm on the horizon.
Can someone predict a catastrophe that has already past? Could the unrepeatable things one witnesses, or the identities that remain obscured and repressed in Bruitage be referring to a bloody civil war that has not yet happened, a violence that’s past and future at the same time? The artist seems to be telling us it is plausible. By working with a group of amateur and unrelated photographs some twenty years after he left Lebanon, Eulmessekian un-mutes their and his unbearable silence. Here, all that was once forbidden regains a native tongue, through which not only a mourning, necessary to overcome the trauma caused by the disasters of a war, becomes possible, but also; the suspension represented by a withdrawal from the tradition of artistic practice, one of the first and worst casualties of wars, becomes attainable - particularly the type that bypasses preservation ideologies along with the identity politics that ensues from them.