Raed Yassin: screenings and conversation with Vartan Avakian and Rami Sabbagh

The AIF, in collaboration with Dawawine, presents an evening of early to recent short films by Raed Yassin,  followed by a conversation between the artists, Vartan Avakian and Rami Sabbagh.  

This event will be followed by an artist talk, ‘Archive as Burden’, next Friday, November 6 at the Arab Image Foundation.

It all began on a train trip to Tiblisi. Actually, it began before that, but a soviet-era train wagon makes for a good setting for a script. Fifteen years ago, Vartan Avakian, Rami Sabbagh and Raed Yassin got drunk on their way to show their graduation short films at the Tbilisi International Film Festival. Between them they shared fascinations with Paradjanov, Peleshian and Tarkovski. But that’s not even half of the story. Their journey between film and video, fiction and reality as well as language, the sublime and the banal could have not been defined by this journey, But let’s say it was.

still from "Karaoke", 2015

still from “Karaoke”, 2015

Raed Yassin, born in Beirut, 1979. He graduated from the theatre department at the Institute of Fine Arts in Beirut in 2003. An artist and musician, Yassin’s work often originates from an examination of his personal narratives and their workings within a collective history, through the lens of consumer culture and mass production. He has exhibited and performed his work in numerous museums, festivals and venues across Europe, the Middle East, the United States and Japan,Yassin was awarded the Fidus Prize (2009), the Abraaj Capital Art Prize (2012). Yassin is one of the organizers of IRTIJAL Festival, and has released several music albums and founded the production company Annihaya in 2009. He is also a founding member of “Atfal Ahdath” a Beirut based art collective. He currently lives and works in Beirut and represented by Kalfayan Galleries (Athens–Thessaloniki)

About the videos

BEIRUT, 2003, DVcam, 15 min.

Beirut is a documentary on the marginal characters living in the city’s peripheries. A horse race gambler, a pigeon raiser, a squatter, a fisherman, and a street racer speak about their passions for risk, habit, occupation, and speed. Patient or restless, they occupy the sea but also the rooftops, watching over the waking hours of the city and the somnambulant wanderings of its citizens. Each hobby has its proper terminology, and every obsessive his way of circumventing the conventional flows of city life. Yassin employs simple techniques such as monochromes and slow-motion to accentuate the habitual gestures of these figures, fabricating a playful, fast-paced, and cut-up ode to Beirut, which I imagine to be itself a suburb to an imaginary city

THE NEW FILM, 2008, DVcam, VCD, 12 min.

The New Film is Yassin’s tribute to his (post-war Lebanese) generation’s enthrallment with icons of popular culture, lo-fi technologies and Egypt’s faltering film industry. After watching hundreds of low-quality and cheap video compact discs (VCD’s) of feature films produced during Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s reign (1981-2011), Yassin used found footage sourced from the films to stitch together a 12-minute single channel video.

Ubiquitously sold on the streets of Cairo, VCD’s have become the prime medium for distributing old and new Arabic films, more specifically Egyptian ones – widely watched in the Arab world. The New Film is composed of a string of roughly edited movie scenes set in police stations and government offices, in which (obligatory) portraits of Mubarak hang on the walls. The video also draws out other tropes that characterize these structures of policing and bureaucracy (the police station, the official’s office, the interrogatory room…). For instance, it constructs a sonic strip of insults and abuse that run through innumerable films, uttered directly or over the phone. At other times, it pastes together spatial leitmotifs from these rooms such as desks and long meeting tables. But Mubarak’s portrait is always there, somewhere in the background, suspended over every conversation and decision. However, as film repeatedly exhibits, a portrait hanging on the walls of police stations is not always that of a man in power, but also that of a fugitive or a criminal. A suspect. And so, The New Film changes route, halfway through the film, and becomes a trailer for The Suspect (1981)starring the Egyptian comedian Adel Imam, who, since his debut in the sixties as a sidekick, has achieved cult status. The insert is a playful homage to Imam, the antihero who outsmarts the institution. Moreover, the interruption is a reference to the notorious practice of sandwiching movie trailers within films – popularized in the VCD industry by film producers in order to maximize exposure at the expense of the film’s integrity. With a soundtrack that alternates between movie-dialogue staccato and a political shaabi song about American-Egyptian relations,The New Film is a commentary on (inter)national power dynamics and the impact popular cinema has on building collective memory in the Arab world.

DISCO, 2010, DVcam, VHS, 5 min. 30 sec.

Disco tells the story of the artists’ father, a disco-addict and a fashion designer who leaves his family to find work abroad, eventually becoming a film star in the Egyptian horror industry. This quickly spirals into a fiction, however, in which the father becomes Egyptian film star Mahmoud Yassin (who shares the director’s family name). The interplay of image and text explores a generation’s fascination with celebrity, forging a story about abandonment, voyage, longing, and stardom.

KARAOKE, 2015, VHS, 8mm, 22 min.

Karaoke begins as a story about childhood rivalries and a mother’s innocent mistake, causing pre-pubescent dreams of becoming a child star to be devastated and crushed – silently and without incident. Until one day, when those feelings of resentment suddenly rise back to the surface upon watching a wandering VHS tape, on which the scene of a star-studded concert takes place. Alongside this grainy colorful footage, the details of that dreaded day begin to reveal themselves, while the hips of a belly dancer shake, or an angelic voice woos an applauding audience. Gradually, the narrative transforms from an adorable episode from infancy, to a deeply personal and tragic portrayal of memory, loss, and the towering figure that is the mother.

More about the artist and collaborators:

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