Struggle In Jerash
As the first Jordanian audio-visual works begin to fall into the public domain, a constellation of interests are translating, drafting and revising copyrights laws, trade agreements and licences to control the flow of culture and build new markets.
Against the backdrop of these emerging intellectual property markets, in 2008 artists Eileen Simpson and Ben White embarked on a period of research in Amman, Jordan – speaking to lawyers, copyright activists, software developers, artists, musicians, journalists, curators, filmmakers and critics – in an attempt to seek out the common cultural resources of Jordan’s public domain.
The result is Struggle in Jerash – a project convened around a lost 1957 Jordanian feature film of the same name, which fell out of copyright the year of the artists’ residency, and is used as a catalyst to explore value and meaning in archival material.
Artists Eileen Simpson and Ben White re-animate Struggle in Jerash by appropriating the tactic of the commercial DVD director’s commentary, subverting its standard authorial voice and placing the audience at the centre of a copyright-expired film.
In 2008, whilst on residency at Makan House in Amman, Jordan, the artists gained access to the last surviving copy of Struggle in Jerash, a VHS transfer of the original 35mm film. Part 1950s gangster flick and part tourist documentary, the 1957 film is set in historical Jordan and Jerusalem and was produced by a self-organised group of aspiring filmmakers.
The artists watched the film with Jordanian artists, curators, filmmakers and critics, inviting them to both translate and provide live commentary. Each session was recorded and edited to assemble a new multi-voiced soundtrack, creating a new film. A multiplicity of parallel commentaries emerge, anchored to the real-time of this remarkable footage of 1950s Jordan. As we are guided through the film, exclamations and reactions echo from one voice to another while laughter erupts and resonates across the composite group. Remarks on shifting borders, liberty, politics, everyday life, national identity, religion and cinema collide, forming an intricate discussion that reveals the discursive potential of the material.
Although notorious as the country’s first feature, the original film has not until now been in general circulation. In deciding to redistribute the film, the artists make a reciprocal gesture, ensuring that they return the original film – and offer their new work – to the public sphere.