Larissa Sansour, Søren Lind February 21 2017

Envisioning Future States With Science Fiction


Larissa Sansour was born in East Jerusalem, Palestine and now lives and works in London. Her work is interdisciplinary, utilizing video, photography, sculpture and installation. She describes the central theme of her work as exploring ‘the tug and pull of fiction and reality in a Middle-Eastern context,' and has recently used both science fiction and comic books to explore this. Her work has been exhibited at Tate Modern, London; the Centre Pompidou, France; the Istanbul Biennial; Sharjah, UAE; and the Louisiana Museum of Contemporary Art, Denmark.

Interview with Larissa Sansour conducted by Alexis Gambis, Executive Director of Imagine Science Films

What is the common thread in this Sci-Fi trilogy? And what are some of the scientific issues that are evoked?

In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain completes Larissa’s science fiction trilogy along with A Space Exodus and Nation Estate. Under the common themes of loss, belonging, heritage, and national identity, the three films each explore different aspects of the political turmoil the Middle East. While A Space Exodus envisions the final uprootedness of the Palestinian experience and takes the current political predicament to its extra-terrestrial extreme by landing the first Palestinian on the moon, Nation Estate reveals a sinister account of an entire population restricted to a single skyscraper, with each Palestinian city confined to a single floor. In the trilogy’s final installment, In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain, a narrative resistance leader engages in archaeological warfare in a desperate attempt to secure the future of her people. Using the language of sci-fi and glossy production, the trilogy presents a dystopian vision of a Middle East on the brink of the apocalypse.

A Space Exodus (2009)

How does science fiction propose readings of our present time?

Working with science fiction is not escape from the present tense or present social and political problems. Science fiction often forecasts future scenarios and warns of the dire consequences of problematic human activities in the present. In these films, science fiction sets up a made up world functioning solely on its own terms and vocabulary to find a different way of tackling present-day issues and avoid the pitfalls of the expected political rhetoric. We live in a rather troubled period with rising far-right movements, censorship, bans and segregation/separation due to fears of the other.

In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain (2016)

Our most recent film, In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain, revolves around the very notion of the post-factual. Although it targets the politicised archaeology taking place in the Middle East and the effects of myth and fiction on history, fact and documentary, in the current climate the criticism applies to political discourse on a much less local scale – not only to the Trump presidency but to all likeminded efforts to manufacture and control narrative regardless of its truth value. With the dissemination and strength of a narrative being far more important than truth value, the very notion of a rational argument has become an outdated virtue.

The themes of exile and migration are very palpable in these shorts. And yet does exile or migration only refer to displacement or dislocation or also hint at possibilities for a better life, exploration, and adventure. What are the optimistic views about our future?

Optimism is not a trademark of any of these works. If anything, the optimism lies in the various protagonists’ efforts to reverse or thwart the projected dystopias, their refusal of the status quo. Finding the will and means to react requires a degree of hopefulness. So at best, these three films lay the ground for the very possibility of a future optimism.

Nation Estate (2012)

Is science fiction often represented as distorting or falsifying science to make it appealing to the broader audience? How would you respond or refute this? How do the past and present inform your future depictions?

The odd thing about the future is that even when you go to lengths trying to envision it, the present has a way of catching up all too soon. In our recent film, we took certain scientific liberties to prove an academic point, most notably with the protagonist suggesting that she has manipulated her archaeological evidence to make it stand the test of current ceramic dating methods. This fiction of ours has since turned into fact, with such a method now entirely possible.

Your work is presented in film festivals and art galleries. What motivates the choice for how the work is featured?

In recent years, artists' film has become a bit more of a complicated practice. More artists work with bigger budgets and therefore resort to film funding to achieve that. Also, there is a shift from the hackneyed notion of the video art piece that runs on a loop in a gallery to a more narrative-driven work. The best way of viewing artists' film is still confused. More narrative based artists' film benefits from a cinema setting as a film can be seen from beginning until the end without interruption. Also, cinemas have the right projectors and sound systems to show the work optimally, something that galleries and museums don't often have. But the film audience remains largely different to that of an art audience where an art film can benefit from. A lot of film festivals and filmmakers have also tried to cross over into art, so this category is often blurry. There is still a long way to go before art film sits very comfortably between the two spaces.

Palestinauts (2010) - 30cm tall hard vinyl sculptures. Originally developed as a part of the A Space Exodus installation, the Palestinauts have long since taken matters into their hands and are now touring in smaller groups.

Why is it important to create a dialogue between science and art?

Such initiatives are important because they break the rigidity of separate disciplines. Insisting on the isolation of each discipline from the other sounds pretty archaic by now, and the more each discipline is stretched, the more expansive its range of commentary can become. It is always exciting to venture into new these new frontiers.