PAST-Inuous shares stories of refugeehood

Edinburgh-based dancer and choreographer, Farah Saleh, takes us behind the scenes for a closer look at her interactive dance piece and explains why she’s pleased to be taking part in Refugee Festival Scotland.

Tell us a bit about PAST-Inuous.

It’s a 12-minute interactive dance video which aims to unearth hidden Palestinian narratives.

The piece features 11 dancers, with input from four video artists, a composer and sound artist and a set designer. We are mostly third-generation Palestinian refugees based in Palestine and Gaza, Berlin, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Nablus.

The film will be open to view all day on Friday, 18 June. People are invited to watch – and join in – in their own time. It’s not a passive experience of watching, it’s a collaboration.

The dancers will be asking the audience to re-enact some of the gestures that we share. At the end, we’ll ask them to record and send an action or gesture to us on Facebook.

The refugee artists will then try to re-enact these gestures. It’s an exchange, a learning that goes from one body to another.

What does this piece mean to you?

For me, it’s an experience of learning and exchanging gestures of refugeehood and their resonance in our bodies.

I’ve been working on an archive of gestures since 2014. In my long-term research, I work with the body as an archive. It is where knowledge is shared and experienced.

The body is where we carry history and lived experience. We also transmit that lived experience and history through our bodies.

When you re-enact a gesture, you integrate that gesture into your own body. You experience it and get some of the feeling behind it. It’s a way to connect and understand each other.

PAST-Inuous is an online installation. How does sharing art in this way compare with performing live?

One of the things that using a digital platform has enabled is more accessibility – video really can reach everyone.

I actually began planning this piece before lockdown but it has worked really well with the current situation.

From an artists’ point of view, working with dancers in different places to create this work was very inspiring. Coming together through gesture and movement is a way of defying or overcoming distance and separation.

PAST-Inuous is evolving all the time. It’s really a work in progress. Right now, it’s an interactive video installation, but it will also transform into a live performance.

We’ll be touring it as a live performance in Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh at the beginning of 2021. Myself and another dancer who is based in Edinburgh will there in person, while the other performers will be projected onto screens – they’ll be joining us live from Gaza and Berlin.

You performed at Refugee Festival Scotland in 2019. How does it feel to be back?

I enjoyed being part of the festival in 2019. It was exciting to meet other artists from refugee backgrounds and people from the Scottish art community. I really enjoyed learning about other people’s work and backgrounds and I’m looking forward to having the chance to do that again this year.

To share this work is to share stories of refugeehood, not only related to the Palestinian cause, but in general. It’s important to be involved in these conversations and exchanges. It’s a chance to interact and exchange with the audience and experiment with that.

PAST-Inuous opens at 8am on Friday, 18 June.