political art
sound art

Ten Minutes of the Canebrake, or How Documentation Warps Reality

The sound artist Else is exhibiting a sound installation on the three-year anniversary of the Mahshahr massacre in Iran. The work can be heard at the Zwitschermaschine, Potsdamerstr. 161. In this article, they elaborate on the artistic ideas behind the work, and question the role of documentation in political movements.

Glitchy image of an explosion in a grass field. Text reads 18-20 November Zwitschermaschne. !0' of the Cananbrake."
Image by Else.

Three years ago, from the 18th to the 20th of November 2019, the Iranian regime committed a massacre. It was done in the shadow of a total Internet blackout, and it was done brutally. The carnage happened in an already long-oppressed town called Mahshahr, and to people with silenced voices, therefore it did not get the coverage it deserved. Even people across the country didn’t hear about it until a few days after the event. The death toll was shocking.

Three years later, on the anniversary of the incident, a sound installation about the Mahshahr Massacre is being exhibited in Berlin. Rather than attempting to recreate or document this incident whose facts have been suppressed, the artist tries to capture a sense of what happened in those three days to the people of Mahshahr, using the small amount of information which leaks out of the only existing video documentation of the incident, as well as reflecting on and criticising the notion of documentation itself.

The world is a complex system of parallel and intersecting incidents happening concurrently, where the effect of countless parameters on each other could never be contemplated fully. Yet, among all the influential elements within and through the system, some are more visible, forceful, and arguably violent, tending to overshadow the smaller flows of information that do not work in their favour. Cutting down on the flow of information transmitted within this system is one of the most pragmatic ways of preventing a movement of the collective consciousness. It is purposeful what political powers document and spread, and what they disguise.

With faulty receivers and transmitters and a shaky connection in between, our interpretation of the objective truth—if such a thing can exist—and all the associated activities attempting to portray the truth through documentation are fairly susceptible. We rely too much on documentaries of all sorts, whether it is news journalism or just a Netflix release, without questioning them much. Even if we argue these documentations of events shed a light on a portion of the truth, they could still be fundamentally false, in the worst case through intentional fraud, and in the best case, only giving a weak impression of what might be the reality. Documentaries are biased towards the values of the creator, whether right or wrong, good or bad, harmful or innocent, as they’re coming from their framing of the actual event. However, as always, we have no choice but to persevere. We need to critically document events to transfer the knowledge to other people. So, the question of “should we do it at all?” slowly transforms into “how should we do it better?” and “how to reflect on its glitches and flaws?”

Since these problems are not really solvable in 10 minutes of the Canebrake as there ist not much information available about the event, the approach was to first: be as true to the reality as possible, by gathering all the possible information about the incident, and secondly, to be bold and embrace the inevitable part of any documentary work, which are errors and incompleteness. 

We hope you go to see the installation this weekend.  More information about the work is available here.