ACMI is proudly supporting two artists who are participating in the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (NIRIN), Tarek Lakhrissi and Aziz Hazara. ACMI curator Fiona Trigg met with Aziz to ask him about his work, Bow Echo (2019).
Aziz Hazara was born in 1992 in Warduk, Afghanistan and he currently divides his time between Kabul, Afghanistan and Ghent, Belgium. He works across photography, video, sound, language programming, text and multimedia installations to explore questions of identity, memory, archive, conflict, surveillance and migration in the context of power relations, geopolitics and the panopticon.
Bow Echo is a five-channel video work installed at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). Each of the large screens, which surround the viewer in a pentagon shape, feature a similar image of a mountain ridge overlooking the city of Kabul, with stormy skies in the background. Young boys battle the fierce winds to climb up to the top of the ridge and blow into small plastic toy trumpets. The work runs for just over 4 minutes.
Fiona began by asking Aziz about the origin of the work.
Aziz Hazara: I have an interest in toys. I did a project in 2017 where I was looking at migration through the objects that were coming from Europe, America and Australia to third world countries. I was checking out all the toys and I found some strange ones: toy grenades and an AK 47 attached to sweets. They are funny objects, and for a long time I was thinking about what I would do with them? Then I found these little trumpets. The sound they make – I thought it might work on some level – I played around with them for a few months. At some point I was thinking about how sound can be political and at the same time poetic, and how it triggers memory.
The location we shot is west of Kabul, a city surrounded by mountains. This place was controlled during the civil war by one of the warlords. He and his militia could literally see everything in the landscape, and they could bomb house to house.
Fiona Trigg: How did you find the children?
AH: The boys? I’ve known them for a long time – that’s the spot actually we go and hang out when we don’t want to be in the city, we go up and have a cup of tea. The boys live in those hills. I know their parents and their families. The boys are incredible. It’s a little bit tricky to work with kids because they are in their own world. They don’t give a damn about what you want to do, but then you have to find strategies and ways to just be a boy yourself, and be that age, and just be with them. If they want to do it, they will do it, otherwise they won’t do it! You can’t direct them.
FT: You can see that they are very much part of that landscape, the way they play with the wind.
AH: The wind comes from time to time, but they live there so they know it, they are very familiar with what’s happening in the environment. Those trumpets and grenades, they buy them, they are cheap, five or ten cents. They buy them, and then because the plastic is so low quality, they throw them away and then buy another one.
FT: The sound of the wind is very evocative, but you’ve also added in other sounds?
AH: Yes, drones. We added the sound of drones when the boy is falling and he starts fighting the wind, and then we have the climax of the drone sound, which gradually overtakes the trumpet sound until the drone sound is very loud.
FT: You can feel the sound waves vibrating strongly in the gallery walls. Those children must have grown up very familiar with fighting and with war?
AH: It’s an everyday phenomenon for us. I grew up with it, my parents’ generation grew up with war, these guys are growing up with war, so we have always been in that situation. Violence is very normalised in our part of the world, especially suicide bombs. You will hear the sound and recognise that probably it’s a suicide bomb. Maybe you know the location. It’s a constant presence. On some level it is a political sound because someone is making the sound just with his body. Blowing himself up.
FT: Are you going to continue making work in Afghanistan?
AH: I don’t want to bind myself to only live and make work in Afghanistan but certainly I will continue. There are a lot of stories to be told from that place. There are a lot of stories that the media and other folks won’t cover. It’s the role of artists to bring other perspectives. It’s not OK that 100,000 people have died …
But I would also love to produce a work in Australia as an artist, and look at the context here, what’s my relationship to the wider world?
FT: It must be hard to find ways to talk about the dramatic and violent situation in Afghanistan. Your work avoids being too literal and has a thoughtful, almost peaceful quality.
AH: I have a lot of struggles – especially making this work – because the context is so overwhelming. Everything you pick up is talking about war, and every inch of that place has bloodstains on it. So, it becomes very difficult. How are you going to talk about that, what are the ways you can talk about that? Probably the easiest way would be to make a documentary and show it on TV but then how long will that documentary last, how long will the response you have last?
FT: It’s very powerful the way the wind blows against the bodies of the boys, while at the same time they are using all of their breath to make this harsh sound with the trumpets, which evokes a mix of battle cry, wailing and exuberant play. You’ve achieved a lot with very precise image and sound making. You were never tempted to include more narrative elements?
AH: No, it’s very simple, just three to four elements: landscape, sound, wind, boys, that’s it. Minimal.
FT: Can you explain the title?
AH: The title is Bow Echo. It’s a type of storm, which forms in a kind of bow. It doesn’t happen often but when it happens it destroys everything. It’s a very dangerous storm, which war is. It destroys everything it comes into contact with. So, I thought it might be appropriate.
FT: What’s it like for you to see the work in the context of the Biennale?
AH: It’s important for my practice to see my work in relation to others and to see other forms of making images, of telling stories. For me personally, I have learned a lot from the other works. Often in your own studio you have a narrow perspective, you think you are the centre of the world, but you are not!
FT: Thank you so much for talking with me today.
The 22nd Biennale of Sydney, titled NIRIN, first opened on 14 March. After coronavirus-related closures, NIRIN has reopened with extended dates until 6 September 2020.
Under the artistic direction of acclaimed Indigenous Australian artist Brook Andrew, NIRIN is an artist and First Nations-led endeavour, presenting an expansive exhibition of contemporary art and events that connect local communities and global networks. Meaning edge, NIRIN is a word of Brook’s mother’s Nation, the Wiradjuri people of western New South Wales.