Tyneside Cinema, Pilgrim Street, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 6QG

Oreet Ashery: Revisiting Genesis

Tyneside Cinema

28 October - 6 December 2016

Review by Mette Kjærgaard Præst

I started writing this while watching ‘Episode 9: Our Nurses’ of Oreet Ashery’s web-series ‘Revisiting Genesis’. From the first episode this work is affective and while listening to the nurses’ conversation it became clear to me that ‘Revisiting Genesis’ is impactful not only because it portrays how some of the social concepts we may have taken for granted are slipping away, but because, in this work, Ashery poignantly portrays her (and mine, and I expect others’) sincere feelings about these changes and loses.

Taking form as a web-series in twelve episodes, originally released weekly in soap-opera style, ‘Revisiting Genesis’ explores, amongst other things, the philosophical, socio-political, practical and emotional implications of the processes surrounding death and withdrawal. Although the narrative of this work is abstract with parallel narratives and sometimes abrupt editing, it speaks clearly and cleverly about complex and timely issues.

The main narrative focuses on Genesis – a woman artist who is slowly disappearing. Her story is told through conversations between her concerned friends and a nurse who is trying to re-materialise Genesis through a digital slideshow that highlights key moments of her life, many of which draw on elements of Ashery’s own autobiography. Through the conversations and the digital slideshow we, the audience, get an insight into her life, and her (approaching) disappearance.

It is old news that women artists disappear. They have always been disappearing – and so have many other women: philosophers, writers, makers. The issue is that women artists (and other women) are still disappearing.

It is not long ago that the co-convenor of the MA in Gender Media and Culture and Director of Centre for Feminist Research at Goldsmiths University, Sara Ahmed, resigned from her post in protest against the failure to address a problem of sexual harassment. On this occasion, Ahmed wrote in a post on her blog: ‘Resignation is a feminist issue.’ In ‘Revisiting Genesis’ one of Genesis’ friends similarly asks, ‘Do you take part in the art patriarchy or do you withdraw?’ and answers, ‘you withdraw.’

In ‘Revisiting Genesis’ we are introduced to a number of women pioneers, such as the progressive and flamboyant artist Dora Gordine (1895-1991) and the celebrated musician Amy Winehouse (1983-2011). Genesis’ disappearance is somehow related to both Dora and Amy. The work seems to revive these two outstanding characters, bring them back to our consciousness, and ensure them an afterlife, a reincarnation.

‘Revisiting Genesis’ further introduces matters like the commercialisation of life, death and legacy, the demolition of meaningful non-commercial networks such as educational systems and the ever-present class barrier in the arts. These are all subjects that in the last few years have become increasingly relevant and which affect ever more of us daily.

I would like to return the episode ‘Our Nurses’, and to the subject of care and community discussed between the nurses. In this episode they share their thoughts and experiences in working with dying patients: the grief they feel, the guilt they feel when they have to let go of the grief and ‘just move on’, and their feelings of emotional burn out. The conversation is honest and left me with a lump in my throat. It left me feeling sad, emotionally drained, and it also left me, surprisingly, a little relieved.

Genesis’ disappearance seems to be a physical manifestation of a psychological reaction to the traumatic losses she is experiencing. I and many others are experiencing the loss of the same things that ‘Revisiting Genesis’ mourns and hopes to revive: social welfare, the NHS, equal affordable educational systems, non-commercial networks, spaces for outstanding underdogs, friendships and communities.

Experiencing these losses is depressing. Feeling sad and angry about the current state of affairs makes sense – so why this feeling of relief? I feel relief because Ashery’s ‘Revisiting Genesis’ is refreshingly sincere. Ashery shares her opinions and her emotions without obscuring them with filters of irony, distance, glamour and indifference otherwise so trendy in contemporary art. Despite its melancholy, this is a work that actually still believes that art matters. And watching ‘Revisiting Genesis’ reminded me that so do I.


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