As Reman Sadani’s film ‘Walkout 1’ premieres at Jerwood Arts, Anneka French sat down with the artist, one of the winners of the Jerwood/FVU Awards 2020, to discuss her new work and the impact the award has had upon her practice.
Can you tell me more about the origins of ‘Walkout 1’?
The project started from conversations with friends about the spaces they wanted to travel or move to. Yet every imaginary departure that people described seemed to mark the breakdown of our current structures or cities. It felt like there was a growing sense of frustration with the status quo, and an inability to see what lies ahead of us.
Although my initial desire was to abandon the spaces and cities we inhabit, and come together with people to describe an alternative space we could move towards, I had to take a step back and construct a narrative around the frustration and lack of clarity that clouds our present moment.
Faith, sacrifice and prophecy are all at play within the work. Can you tell me more about these ideas in relation to ‘Walkout 1’, and to your practice and research more widely?
I don’t normally deal with those themes in my work, yet they seem to be inevitable consequences of the crisis in the narrative of ‘Walkout 1’ itself.
I modelled the narrative loosely on what I understand to have happened in my country of origin, Iraq, since the nineties. People went through one crisis after the other, without being able to pause and describe what was unfolding. For a while, there was no tangible solution available to fix the situation. Many found refuge in faith and hopes of a saviour, and some looked to the past, comparing how things once were.
‘Walkout 1’ tells the story of a fictional crisis where a cloud of dust arrives and settles over a city. When there is no tangible solution, a prophecy of an elder becomes the only hope and the young people are chosen to manifest it.
Over time, the young characters suffer from a loss of clarity and choice. They become occupied with an absurd labour to ‘clear’, ‘collect’, ‘offer’. They have to physically handle and collect the dust that they want to be rescued from.
The film is trying to ask: in a state of crisis, how can you trust the collective vision? How can you trust that it is representative of all our different outlooks? How can you make a choice? How can you remain together? How can you celebrate difference?
How do you feel that the work speaks to contemporary issues of climate change, community and labour?
The film is trying to hint at the fact that there is an inherent generational gap in our vision of the future, especially when the youth are simply used as tools within the system to produce a promise of a future that they have no participation or choice in.
Personally, I think that today we’re numbed as young people. In this growing economic precarity, our survival has become dependent on work. This gives us no time or space to think and choose what we are collectively moving towards. There is a crisis in the tools and methods of our present moment, and many are rushing into the future without acknowledging the breakdown at the heart of the system. So, to a certain extent, the young characters walkout in the film to gain some perspective and locate the path they want to take.
As to climate change, I think the film is not directly addressing environmental issues. However, spaces in the film are literally treated like a set or a backdrop against which the narrative unfolds. In the narrative, I place the problem or crisis in the surroundings of those characters to create a shared reference point between them.
I think the environmental problem in the film (i.e. the dust cloud) keeps trying to tell us something. The space is showing us its breakdown, alluding to something that is not working and maybe some bigger change that needs to happen. For instance, at one point in the film when we’re in the apartment—the sand dune in the backdrop starts to crumble and sand starts falling. It’s as if the space keeps breaking down to signal to the characters to wake up and announce rejection.
What impact has the award had upon your practice?
The award has been a great experience. It offered me the chance to work with a big team and meet many incredible collaborators. It allowed me to experiment with many elements that I have always been drawn to such as staged sets, sound-design and working closely with actors.
There is something beautiful in different people coming together to make a piece of work and I hope I get the chance to collaborate again in my upcoming projects.
What are your future plans and ambitions for your work?
At the moment, I feel ever more drawn to narrative film and I want to create works that are more accessible on the level of plot and language. I’m also in the early stages of researching the road film genre in independent Arab cinema.