Wael Shawky: Al Aqsa Park (4 stars)

Collective Offsite, Sat 31 Mar

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FILM INSTALLATION

‘I do not intend to control the viewer,’ says Egyptian artist Wael Shawky, ‘but rather to construct the work in a precise fashion where every element is controlled.’ But when Collective herded its audience onto two buses destined for a mystery location, following the Edinburgh coastline down to an open-air spot to view Shawky’s new video work, nothing could be less precise or controlled than the weather.

Yet, as the buses finally parked outside the ruins of Tantallon Castle with a blood red sun giving way to a dazzling moon, Collective’s grand plan seemed all the more breathtaking for its audaciousness. Shawky’s film flashed up, projected onto the side of the huge Tantallon wall. Growing more luminous as the sky darkened, an animated, glitzy rendering of the conjoined Dome on the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque came into view. Al Aqsa Park’s history of Muslim-Jewish conflict, its annexation by Israeli forces, seemed incongruous to this pristine architectural form transformed by Shawky into a dizzy merry-go-round.

As the looped film rumbled on, however, the Al Aqsa Park’s relationship to its projection space became increasingly apparent. Tantallon itself was subject to shifting Scottish and English loyalties for 300 years until eventual capture by Cromwell in the 1650s. Its embattled past of national identities and David-and-Goliath battles with the state competed with Shawky’s modern image. Both site and film momentarily collapsed their respective histories, questioning the controlling forces at work in each, and challenging the responsibility of its viewers as idle witnesses to unfolding histories of conflict.

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