Layers, Transmissions, Memories
It’s that time during a meal where the fast eaters (or those with little appetite) have already finished. There are three dinner plates, half-eaten food in the middle of the table that probably doesn’t look as well presented as when it was first served and residual grains of rice stuck to translucent plates, the cutlery is in disarray.
Impending dishwashing, refrigeration.
A child climbs from their chair at the table, while a woman holds a spoonful of rice to her mouth, consumption imminent. The moment is preserved in a quick, impromptu snapshot as the woman gazes at the camera, perhaps in slight surprise at being photographed.
Amongst the normalcy of this image are superimposed pictures of bullets and grenades of varying sizes. Their scale, placement, light source and indeed subject matter seem incompatible with what’s underneath. Scattered across the surface of the scene, they are shiny and almost decorative as they frame the figures. They look as if they have risen to the top of the image.
Upon viewing this image, I thought about the notion of depth and the idea that surfaces are not always fully indicative of what is underneath them. As one image is layered upon another it transforms it, making it new in some way. I kept returning to the concept of flatness, in its many guises. Indeed, war physically flattens or obliterates landscapes, leaving a disastrous path of destruction and loss of life. Concurrently, I thought about my own perception of war as someone who has not encountered it directly, and the extent to which Western media’s portrayal of war glosses over or flattens the humanity of a place when it becomes broadly known as being ‘war-torn’. This layering of imagery in the collage allows a glimpse at this persisting humanity and the everyday, while not letting us forget that violence lingers.
This collage belongs to a selection of works by Katayoun Javan that draw upon the artist’s early life in Iran, as well as the experiences of others living through the eight-year Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s. War Mixtape (2020)is a collation and amalgamation of visual and auditory sources, including home video from Javan’s family archive, harrowing imagery and sounds of warfare, and found footage reminiscent of the artist’s childhood television viewing habits.
Each of these references weave in and out of one another, sometimes overlapping to devastating and eerie effect. A group of women continue to laugh and chat despite the deafening screech of explosives punctuating such a joyous moment. A light, melodious tune coincides with an image of a child soldier dressed in combat garb, wedged between imagery of children playing happily. A strong feeling of discomfort arises amongst scenes of such jarring incongruity, scenes that envelop the everyday in violence. The artist coaxes this tension out and allows it to sit with the viewer, however uneasily.
The innocence of childhood might have disintegrated in parts of the film, but in other places, it thrives. Instances of unadulterated familial and childhood enjoyment are simultaneously delightful in their ordinariness and striking in their existence amongst shocking images of violence. The home movies and family photography bring a personal, intimate element to the works, closely connecting them to Javan’s memories of this time.
The reality of war is never far away here, but occasionally it seems like it might be.
Even for a small fragment of time.
While public television is transmitted widely, it ultimately reaches people in their homes, a deeply private domain. Television’s role in shaping the cultural and societal landscape of the many places it reaches, especially during its supposed peak in the second half of the twentieth century, is significant. For Javan, this was amplified, as much of her time was spent at home during the stress-filled war years, with television and video cassettes forming a large part of the entertainment she consumed. The first frameof War Mixtape comprises the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting’s logo and it pops up again on occasion throughout the film. Newsreaders speak solemnly to the camera with messages of encouragement to the soldiers at war, despite the grim realities many faced. The public, private and political realms fold into each other, collapsing.
Additional found footage resembles the Western and Iranian content of video cassettes that Javan and many Iranians would rent illegally during this time. This footage hints at a more extensive transmission of popular culture and media lurking beneath the surface in Iran during the war. Indeed, there seems to be a somewhat elusive quality to many aspects of the work itself; there are split seconds of footage to process almost subliminally, layers to ponder and memories to reflect upon. These have been subsequently melded into a broadcast or mixtape, ready to be transmitted and viewed exactly at this very instant.
– Clare McLeod is a current participant in KINGS Emerging Writers’ Program