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Image as Witness - Archeology of the Past: Interview with Steve Sabella | Wafa Gabsi | Contemporary Practices Journal

Volume XI, 2012

Developed throughout several years, the photographic works of Sabella represent a place of memory and a hotbed of imagination. Being mysterious and fascinating at the same time, his photography has often been seen as the imaginary product of an internal exile, revealing a process of uncovering layers of history through the investigation of the relationship between image and reality. Without denying the link with his territory’s history, the artist uses iconographic patterns, leaving the way to catch a glimpse of fragments of objects or details reproduced, with an ambiguous meaning. The latter draw a temporal space, where both the notions of presence and absence merge. He tries to capture the track of his country, left by several fragments of images on his memory space. The new works of Steve Sabella, 38 Days of Re-collection, are like an expression of the memory affected by an image which remains ingrained in the past. The artist creates new photographs, pictures-witnesses, which shake up the relationship between the real image and its copy. These photographs are printed on fragments collected from the walls of his childhood home and other homes in Jerusalem. These fragments are built out of a juxtaposition of layers of wall particles of different color shades, which give his works a sensitive, yet original and unique aspect. By this reconstruction of history’s elements, the artist, just like an archaeologist, creates a kind of copy of an historical memory, where war memories, land fragmentation, identity and country memories jostle. Behind these achievements of carrying stories and testimonies, which emerge as a series of fulfilment, a fragmentary aspect still stands: can’t we finally see 38 Days of Re-collection as the end of an imaginary process?


Wafa Gabsi (WG): What is the impetus behind creating 38 Days of Re-collection?

Steve Sabella (SS): Since 1948, many Palestinians have been displaced by Israelis who occupied their homes. In 2009 I subleased one of these houses in Jerusalem from an Israeli family and I lived there for 38 days. While there I became an obsessive visual investigator and I examined every object and corner, trying to make sense of the history of this space. When I reflected on my experience, I felt unsettled. In search of a way to come to terms with my 38 days, I journeyed to the Old City of Jerusalem to go the house I was born in, and I collected very thin, fragile, and multi layered fragments of paint from its walls. I painted light sensitive black and white photo emulsion on the fragments, and printed images taken in the occupied house on them.


WG: “We need pictures to create history, especially in the age of photography and cinema,” writes Georges Didi-Huberman. Your work utilizes photography to create imagined spaces that discuss memory and history. What role do these photographs play? Do they have an unknown force or unconscious form, what Didi-Huberman called “visual” and portrayed as a “nothing” - nothing visible , nothing readable.... Yet essential within the meaning of the image?” What’s your relationship with the picture or the image?

SS: Didi-Huberman continues to say, “But we also need imagination to re-see these images, and thus, to re-think history”. Because pictures create a consciousness of the world of their own, I wonder if the time has come to stop focusing on the connection between images and the so-called real world. Maybe we need to explore the visual components of the world by looking into the image itself - just like in scientific research. We need to study images, the connections between them, their characteristics, and especially their origin by looking at them directly and not in constant comparison with reality. This may allow us to discover the infinite possibilities that are hidden in images. People are still obsessed with trying to rationalize photography’s indexical relationship to reality. In my work, I take photographs from several different angles, and then I create a collage to give a new form and shape. Now I ask myself whether I am creating or unveiling something that is already out there waiting to be discovered.

In brief, my relationship with the image is like being on a space odyssey, in search of understanding image formation. And since an image is part of imagination, unlocking the code will allow us to see beyond our own reality.


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