Words – Jerram Wurlod
Tania El Khoury’s interactive sound installation Gardens Speak is an experience I wont be forgetting anytime soon. Touring internationally and here as part of the Next Wave Festival, the installation does an incredible job of bringing you intimately close to one of ten people who were tragically killed by a motor shell in Syria during some of the most heated times of the recent uprising.
Although you enter the installation as a group, each experience is uniquely individual. You are presented with a random card that is inscribed with one of ten names on a gravestone. Once inside the dimly lit room you must seek out your martyrs gravestone using a torch provided. The card then instructs you to literally dig at the base of the gravestone revealing the soft shirt of your martyr with his or her name on it. This simple act of digging in the soft soil was surprisingly exhilarating not to mention a little shocking as the soft clothing is revealed inches below the surface. At this point the voice of your martyr speaks softly to you, as you lay in the dirt, your ear to the grave. For the next ten minuets or so you are told their story of life before the uprising, during the uprising and the events that lead to their eventual death. As I lay on the cold soil intently listening to their voice (told with fantastic voice acting) I couldn’t help but feel incredibly close to this person, their story and the people who were part of their lives. The instillation is interactive and at times takes you out of your comfort zone, but it is done in such an honest, touching and individual way that the experience is ultimately very rewarding.
El Khoury was inspired to create this installation when she saw a photo of a mother digging a grave for her son in the home garden. Friends and family of these ordinary people dealing with extraordinary times have helped compile the stories. The instillation beautifully and poignantly illustrates the harsh reality that so many people dealt with then and no doubt continue to deal with today. It was so refreshing to hear this story in such an engaging way and really proved to me how numbed and disenchanted I’ve become to seeing this story told to us by commercial news channels and websites. As we know, such broadcasts seem more intent on capturing flashy images and sensationalism, yet a few simple elements have been put together here to make this story more real than its ever been for me.
The installation ends with a beautiful closing gesture that asks you to reflect on the story you have just heard and write a few words of your own. Again this simple act adds so much to the experience and left me feeling incredibly moved.
Gardens Speak runs from Wednesday 7 May until Sunday 11 May. It’s presented at the Arts House Meat Market with 45 min sessions running between 2:30pm and 6:30 pm. Check the Next Wave website for more details.