Noor Afshan Mirza & Brad Butler: The Scar

The Scar installation view. Image courtesy HOME, photography by Lee Baxter.

The Scar a fictional video installation by Noor Afshan Mirza and Brad Butler (Artes Mundi 6 nominees 2014) is presented at HOME, curated by Sarah Perks. Split into three chapters playing simultaneously on three separate screens, ‘The State of the State’, ‘The Mouth of The Shark’ and ‘The Gossip’, it is recommended to save at least an hour to see the whole film as it dances between actuality, reverie and terror.

Expertly curated, you squint your eyes to gaze around the dimly lit installation. Screens are cloaked behind mysterious chiffon curtains and gnarled sculptural installations hide in corners, instilling a feeling of morbid curiosity in visitors as if to be looking upon the actual scene of a crime or accident. Politics, conspiracy, oppression and trauma are all subtly confronted throughout the film’s simple yet archaic narrative, with primary ideas introduced in the first chapter ‘The State of the State’ which then develop in surprising ways in the latter two. ‘The State of the State’ is set with four characters inside a vehicle on the road, a familiar setting in cinema that lures the viewer into a false sense of security. As abstract visuals disrupt the familiarity, what is reality and what is imagination is questioned. It quickly becomes a consideration that perhaps even the car itself is a psychological place. Even so, the very real people and events depicted leave the same bitter taste as a gritty gangster film.

All four of the characters introduced in the exhibition leaflet overtly represent societal archetypes labelled as ‘The State Assassin’, ‘The Politician’, ‘The Taken One’ and ‘The Chief of Police’. This could be seen as satirical, however the intimacy of the first chapter focussing solely on the four characters in such a confined space enables them to transcend their sociological reference, having a complexity of emotions and depth of personality. For example the hint of kindred warmth between Yenge (The Taken One) and Kaptan (The Chief of Police), or the way Aga (The Politician) is always on the cusp of understanding the joke. By establishing this intimacy in the first film and choosing to subtitle – resulting in the viewer internalising the voice of the characters – the writers successfully prepare the viewer for the further abstractions in the following chapters. Through the metaphors, personalities and physical bodies of the characters the viewer is explicitly confronted with the themes of the human condition and politics that Mirza and Bulter explore without impersonality in their work.

Considered the most compelling character, Yenge (played by Yasmine Alice) is the only female and protagonist of the story. In the first chapter especially masculinity pervades the scene, so much that amongst their gangster talk and almost grotesque power plays she is silenced (the dialogue being most remarkably virile during their metaphoric conversation regarding killing a chicken, as a reference to the 2012 Turkish film Once Upon a Time in Anatolia). Despite her silence, her face dominates the film’s opening frame, the shots revolve around her and her persona is built through the males’ undoing. It is through her eyes that male power dynamics are confronted, both towards women and amongst each other.

The essay that accompanies the installation – an excerpt from Birds Die, Remember the Flight (2017) by Birgul Oguz – further establishes the gender politics of the film as something to be considered. It explores the intergenerationality of female power, an idea that is also presented in the film. The male power dynamics are also confronted in terms of generations; for example Reis, The State Assassin, boasting to Kaptan, The Chief of Police, how he recruits young men to nationalism. During this conversation, the film keeps cutting to Yenge’s symbolic glimpse of freedom, referring to their assertion of power from a female perspective and in relation to emancipation. The strikingly emotive shot of Yenge’s hands cupping a positive pregnancy test, paired with her longing for freedom, analogises the film’s overall kerygma that the agency of resistance transcends one’s own lifetime. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the insignificance of existence is alleviated with the promise of the future.

Though it may only be recommended that you take an hour to see The Scar, to carefully consider all its concepts and contradictions will undoubtedly take the rest of the day. The climatic soundtrack by Istanbul based band Ha Za Vu Zu, noir aesthetic and chilling narrative will create and unnerve any curiosity that lingers.

The Scar, HOME, Manchester.

10 February – 2 April 2018.

Jessica El Mal a freelance writer living and working in Manchester and Southern China.

Published 28.03.2018 by James Schofield in Reviews

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