I’m in a darkened space, watching actors in another darkened space act out dreams and memories. I hear a conversation between a woman and her therapist: the woman describes a dream in which porcelain plates rain from the sky, at first floating gently like leaves but gradually falling harder and harder, until she is cowering beneath a deluge of porcelain. She also discusses her younger sister, who was violently killed at the age of nine by unnamed ruling forces, and who sometimes still appears to her in her dreams. On screen, I see two girls in what looks, to my untrained eye, like traditional Middle Eastern dress; the older girl reaches out to the younger, who turns away.
It transpires that the woman undergoing therapy (shall we say, the analysand?) is on the run, wanted for her revolutionary political activities. These activities consist, she claims, in travelling to the future and planting fake archaeological ‘evidence’ in the form of keffiyeh-patterned porcelain plates, treated to make them seem hundreds of years old. The aim of this endeavour is to establish ‘proof’ of long-running and continuous occupation of a territory by a particular culture, who would thus be constituted as a nation heir to both the land and the finest civilised traditions. In stunning visuals, the future is imagined as occurring beneath a lurid yellow-brown sky, into which aircraft resembling wingless mechanical locusts rise to drop bombs filled with porcelain over refugee camps.
The therapist seems to take the woman’s words at face value, and asks if she isn’t concerned that the future nation established by the discovery of the planted porcelain might displace the history of her own people. The time traveller’s response is as forthright as it is startling. “It doesn’t matter. We are them, and they are us,” she asserts. Her hopes for the freedom and self-determination of her own people now seemingly rest on giving these rights to others, to the inhabitants of a different time. The adult revolutionary and her young sister take turns at lying in a white porcelain coffin, with the revolutionary’s voice remarking with grim humour that she would bury herself with the plates, but carbon-dating her bones would give the game away. (Fortunately, only the English make their porcelain with bone ash.)
There’s a thread linking the woman’s memory of her sister, her voice speaking into the darkness of the psychoanalyst’s office, and the future descendants of a forged civilisation who ate from the finest porcelain. That thread, that time machine, is a shared experience of trauma — or, as the revolutionary puts it in reference to herself and her sister, a shared identity as “targets”. Maybe this is why she is unconcerned about the name of the nation to come, whether it will overwrite that of her own.
So do I believe the woman’s claim, that she is travelling through time and planting archaeological artefacts? Yes, in the sense that she is laying claim to a past in order to bring a particular imagined future into being. Like her, I’m not all that interested in the ‘authenticity’ of this or that piece of archaeological detritus. I am interested in what possible futures the acts of remembering, imagining, and narrating — the techniques of time travel — may enable. I’ve never known what it’s like to live as a target, but now and then I catch the dullest sense of how an event changes the shape of time, falling like rain or like bombs to reorder and redistribute a landscape. Sitting in that darkened room was one of those moments.
Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind’s In The Future They Ate From The Finest Porcelain is showing at Nottingham’s New Art Exchange until 13 March. In September and October 2016 it will be on show at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.