QUENCH, 2014, HD video 9:34 min loop by Andrew Ellis Johnson and Susanne Slavick
Contact artist if password is needed to view entire video. Excerpt at: https://vimeo.com/115867005
More than a million migrants and refugees made their way to Europe in 2015. The vast majority arrived by sea, fleeing homes that could no longer shelter and lands that threatened their very existence. In Mahmoud Darwish’s poem Unfortunately, It Was Paradise, the sea divides, not between peoples chosen or reviled, but a single people: “A sea for us, a sea against us.” Yesterday, today and tomorrow, the sea becomes both refuge and grave, a dream and disaster. In another poem, Memory of Forgetfulness, the sea itself invades the home:
The sea is walking in the streets. The sea is dangling from windows and the branches of shriveled trees. The sea drops from the sky and comes into the room. Blue, white, foam, waves. I don't like the sea. I don't want the sea, because I don't see a shore, or a dove. I see in the sea nothing except the sea.
QUENCH presents a sea partitioned, with rhythmic waves ebbing and flowing, in and out of sync. Its split zones speak of division. The wall of sea and sand intermittently fades to reveal a sectioned wall of concrete with fragments of graffiti. The expanse of water and the infinity of sand paradoxically are the very construction materials that comprise this barrier that, like so many other fences, walls, and bureaucratic hurdles, limits so many possibilities—especially concerning homelands, old or new.
The near symmetry of the waves’ movement resembles a kinetic Rorschach inkblot, used in psychological testing to determine personality characteristics, emotional functioning or underlying thought disorders. QUENCH activates similar projections; it is itself a projection on a wall of a projection on a wall. It collapses the representational and the actual, but not the reality of a wall. Walls are abused to curtail autonomy, deter agency, conceal inequity, and foster fear. QUENCH becomes a screen that frames but does not contain resentment—that creates, as well as denies, desire. Like the Rorschach test, it may evoke underlying disorders—whether psychological or political—that fail to quench the thirst for sustenance, purpose, identity and justice.