Beast Type Song
18. 11. – 19. 11. 2022
Beast Type Song

Beast Type Song

Sophia Al-Maria

PYLON is excited to present Best Type Song by Sophia Al-Maria at the Nancy Spero Hall / Hellerau - European Center for the Arts Dresden, in collaboration with HYBRID Biennale.

Sophia Al-Maria is a Qatari-American artist, writer, and filmmaker living and working in London. She grew up in the United States and Qatar before moving to Egypt to study comparative literature at the American University in Cairo. She then went on to study acoustic and visual cultures at Goldsmiths University in London.

The seemingly disparate sources of inspiration for Al-Maria’s multidisciplinary practice include pop culture, anime, Arabic poetry, science fiction and her personal experiences with pollution and climate change. The artist works primarily with film and narrative text, weaving compelling stories to process her thoughts and feelings about the future, especially in light of the current climate of extinction. Her recent work is increasingly concerned with the isolation of the individual through technology and consumerism as a substitute religion. Above all, with the question of the role of action and chance in being blinded by an uncertain future.

With her friend and collaborator Fatima Al Qadiri, Al-Maria coined the term “Gulf Futurism” to describe the growing atomisation of individuals and the shifting ground of urban planning, aesthetics, and media, and their impact on everyday life in the post-oil Persian Gulf. Her cinematic artist’s videos are fuelled by the combination of critical rigour with an affective charge in their explorations of language, imperialism, and counter-histories – a deep investigation and dramatisation of the sociopolitical, economic, and environmental present.

Nancy Spero Hall

Hellerau - European Center for the Arts

Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 56

01109 Dresden

Opening Hours:

Friday, November 18 | 7pm

Saturday, November 19 | 7pm

Free admission

The online screening is part of PYLON-Lab's program COLLATERAL EXTINCTION and funded by Kulturstiftung des Freistaates Sachsen. Gefördert durch die Kulturstiftung des Freistaates Sachsen. Diese Maßnahme wird mitfinanziert durch Steuermittel auf der Grundlage des vom Sächsischen Landtag beschlossenen Haushaltes.

Beast Type Song

Beast Type Song 2019 is a single-channel video with sound in which themes of language, education and writing are interwoven in an examination of the erasure and revision of identities and histories past and future. Shown as a projection and lasting just over thirty-eight minutes, the work is made up of a constellation of images, stories and histories that come together to form an abstract and changing landscape of conflict. The video comprises a collection of what Al-Maria describes as ‘revisions’ and borrows the visual language of script-editing to inform its structure. Just as a script’s separate returned revisions are distinguished by different colours, each act of Beast Type Song is marked by an asterisk on a differently coloured background: blue, pink, yellow, green, goldenrod, buff, salmon, cherry, tan. The video is composed of nine such revisions. An artist with experience in screenwriting, Al-Maria consciously uses her medium to shed light on realities that have been obscured. Form and content intermingle through the employment of scriptural revisions to address historical revisions. Beast Type Song was shot in the derelict former campus of Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design in Holborn, London, a site that holds an important legacy in the education of many prominent British artists.

Set against this backdrop are performances by Yumna Marwan, Elizabeth Peace and boychild, as well as by Al-Maria herself. The performances are woven together by the science-fiction meta-narrative of a solar battle, with Al-Maria evoking artist Etel Adnan’s (born 1925) war poem, ‘The Arab Apocalypse’, of 1989. In the poem, Adnan uses drawing to communicate what cannot be expressed in words. Similarly, Al-Maria explores the revision of history through graphic and bodily gestures. Beast Type Song narrates violence. When words cannot express trauma, a new language of drawings, movement and music gives voice to the speechless. Drawing on personal heritage and fictional future projections, the protagonists reflect on the narratives and languages they have inherited as children of various colonial legacies. Each protagonist encounters some form of violence, whether perpetrated physically, through the hostile gaze of the camera or the erasure of histories. These forms of violence sit in tandem. The viewer is told stories of a violence inflicted on the body, but at the same time must consider the violence of the storytelling itself: the violence of imposing a narrative, putting words into someone else’s mouth, inscribing their history for them.

In the video, Al-Maria considers how reality is constructed out of and through language. The limitations of words are brought forth in new languages of automatic scribbles, movement and mumbles. The project attempts to give voices to those who have been rendered speechless, such as the Sycorax in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, or the actors who audition but are never cast for roles. Events and histories are revised and rewritten by each of the performers. The video also explores the possibility of escape from imposed narratives through poetry and glossolalia: the phenomenon of speaking in an unknown language. In the opening revision we hear children chanting: ‘A ram sam sam, a ram sam sam / Guli guli guli guli guli ram sam sam’. The words are from a Moroccan children’s song and game, but the chant has gained popularity around the world as a nonsense verse. While the words appear at first to be meaningless, their connection with the movement of the game suggests otherwise. In the inscription of these ‘nonsense’ words onto the body, the children find a translation that is corporeal, phenomenalised through gesture and freed from the constraints of written language and fixed meaning. Beast Type Song searches for a kind of understanding that is pre-conscious or primordial, a tacit language that supersedes one that is learned. It is through this intuitive understanding that its protagonists find the means to articulate narrative when words fail them.