Introduction for Youmna Chlala

Youmna Chlala’s work, which spans book art, video, writing, installation, and performance is invested in what she calls a “simultaneity, which feels like a truly contemporary condition.”

Memories involve the home, and time stretched over distance just as much as it is stretched over years. In this setting comes this warning: “Be careful what you say, it will be recorded, you said, cautious of writers.” Leading us to the question, who is recording and where? Beware the unexpected perspective, Chlala taunts. Empty your pockets in to mine. Can a child be playing back a “recording” many years later? How does a warning echo in the shape of returns? The caution of what you say being the crystallization of the curiosity. Or the script foreshadows the transgression. The recording seems friendly and transgressive. The Paper Camera, as a title, and a means of collecting language, elicits a riff on the most high-tek spry camera, where the technology is now accessible and adaptable to absorption. It is foldable which makes it portable. Chlala is focused on being “at home” with the most intimate view.

Two boys are playing soccer on a walled balcony in Cairo, Egypt in Chlala’s video “Days of Being Wild,” which was just on view at Art in General’s Musee Miniscule in Spring 2013. The view of the wall is included, the soccer ball jumps up above the laundry lines dotted with clothespins. Or Chlala’s video “I was Very Happy Really”(2009), which features women wearing swimming goggles while cutting onions. The Goggles are like a party hat. A prevention in a uniform. What is under-narrated on the domestic is playfulness beyond the purview of childhood. The interruption of being overly protective disrupts the motions of tears on the real tears?

People can also be sentences, to cover up the body to look at it better, for Chlala, so we make shape of the less visible in the body. What we see of the mind and what it thinks and says struggles to take a physical shape. “your hair was still young, soft and gray at the roots and you, but a clause, small sentence, in between.” Or Chlala writes: “Her foot arches when she steps on bits
 of stories, but her boots are too thick to know.”

And a city, it’s buildings become the layers of a cake. Visually collapsing. What is delicate and what is strong get conflated with expectations reversed. Chlala titles a series of drawings from 2008-2010, “This is a city, not a cake.” In The Paper Camera “Wires and nests grow underneath the seven layers of a wedding cake, a sunken city.” Youmna is always figuring out “ways where city-based (as opposed to nation-based) methodology generates new modes of cultural production.”

One of Chlala’s tenants is to “push the edge of fiction and name it reality.” How can words be mispronounced and mean two different conflicting things? Or “a rabbit’s foot [get] sweaty” inside a pocket. The ways something we think is just an object becomes alive in her writing. The misunderstanding is part of the potential.

I was thinking of a paper airplane while reading through Chlala’s paper camera. How much can take place in departures and arrivals and waiting times. Ushering between one city to another, Chlala’s writing is like an escort to an unpredictability. “I knit a plane, wings crocheted from orange blossoms fastened to each other with a green line that I stole
 from your pocket, on a sleepy morning when buses jumped through bullet
holes in buildings.”