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Jul 10, 2012
5000 Feet Is the Best
Assistant Professor Kris Paulsen, from Ohio State’s Department of History of Art, sat down with Omer Fast on the occasion of his exhibtion here to talk about his work and how it throws into relief the subjects and media that have helped define the decade since 9/11.
Kris Paulsen: I want to start by asking you some questions about your show at the Wexner Center and how it’s set up. The title marks the timeframe 2001 to 2011, and the exhibition contains just two of your works, CNN Concatenated and 5000 Feet Is the Best. The show makes a pointed comparison. The pair marks the years that you’ve been well known to the art world (from soon after you came out of graduate school to your piece at the 2011 Venice Biennale), as well as a very loaded set of years in political and cultural time, that of the US military’s involvement in the Middle East in the wake of 9/11. Both videos refer to this decade by their references to the war and the rhetoric of anxiety, terror, and insecurity that permeates contemporary life. Could you talk about those dates as the framing device of the show and how that relates to your career or even to the way you think about your work.
Omer Fast: I’ll start with the personal. As you suggested, the two dates are literally bookends of a ten-year span in which I’ve been, for better or worse, professionally active as an artist. CNN Concatenated is an early piece. It’s a studio piece that deals with television as found footage. It involves a lot of editing but doesn’t involve a lot of performing—unless editing is a kind of performance, which I actually believe it is. The newer piece—5000 Feet—connects with it in many ways but is obviously, in its presentation, a completely different story. It involves going out of the studio, meeting someone, and speaking to that someone. So there is a documentary trigger for the work. But it also involves taking that interview material and putting it through the spin cycle: taking it on a ride that involves references—film and genre references—often in dissonance with the social/political context the work deals with. And I suppose the larger political context is the decade you alluded to, which started with the singular, very visible event of September 11 and ends with the numerous, invisible events of the War on Terror—both of course involving pilots, planes, and the public…
K. P.: I like this idea of “the ride,” which you mentioned in relation to CNN Concatenated. You’ve culled and microedited a new narrative out of bits and pieces, syllabic moments, even breaths and sighs from various talking heads on CNN. While the narrative is your own creation, what it says is also very familiar in one way or another. Talking heads directly address the viewer in a straightforward way about the anxieties that news creates and the way television pressures us to see andfeel a certain way about our world. Television also figures in 5000 Feet Is the Best, but in a slightly different way. It takes up “television” in the most literal sense—vision at a distance. The documentary interview at the core of 5000 Feet Is the Best is about a drone pilot whose actions are in two places simultaneously: he controls a drone planein the Middle East from his cubicle in Las Vegas. He bombs buildings, tracks people, witnesses events. Television was a major reference point for early video artists working in the late 1960s and early 70s. How does it relate to your video work?
O. F.: Well, television has certainly been under attack in the ten years that the two works bookend. It’s lost a lot of its weight, its primacy, its importance. There has been, first of all, this fragmentation that began earlier than 2001 but has certainly accelerated since, where you have a multiplicity of channels vying for your attention. We almost look nostalgically back to the day when CNN was launched. Even this notion that CNN is the news source does not hold anymore. But what also happened in the last ten years is the proliferation of screens and this notion that we are not passive consumers of television, that we are able—of course this is what we are told—to choose content, to select content, to surf through content, to switch, not just with our remote control, but by going on the Internet and generating content. This idea is something that has certainly been accelerated and given a lot more attention in the last ten years. I think the earlier work presents a much more nostalgic, almost romantic notion of television—of the artist responding to the medium as it were, and doing so very deliberately, very transparently. Anyone walking into the room will know within a second how that work was made, and what that work is doing vis-à-vis the medium.
5000 Feet is much less about answering to the medium, I think. It’s much more an examination of our role, not only as consumers, but as producers of content. In the case of the drone pilot, you’re talking about someone whose working life is very familiar to ours, at least technically speaking. I think most people who see 5000 Feet have a very strong sense of what that working life is like, because it really is, in a strange way, a mirror image of what we do, brave office workers that we are. We sit in a cubicle at work, at home, in the home office, all day, in front of these screens. Of course with him there is a giant underlying paradox, as he pointed out. His minute gestures—moving a mouse this way, moving the joystick the other way, hitting a few keys on a keyboard—have giant, giant effects in places halfway across the world. So, I suppose, the two pieces do bring together this notion of the artist in this romantic, nostalgic way—reacting to the medium—and then this figure of the drone sensor operator as another sort of person who works inside of the medium, who embodies the contradiction of what the technology does to you, what it does to the people he works with. It’s funny. The drone sensor operators talk about working with people: they work with the soldiers, or they work with the people they target or spy on. In that sense, CNN Concatenated and 5000 Feet do bookend an evolution of technology: perhaps from something that is much more totemic to something that is more fragmented and much more difficult to pinpoint.
K. P.: Not to belabor this connection between the two videos, but it also seems that when watching CNN Concatenated, following the complexly edited narrative you’ve created, the faces stay centered in the middle of the screen, and the CNN logo is burned into the corner. It highlights CNN’s template. But all around the faces you see the shifting, emblematic images of whatever story the newscasters were actually talking about, or brief moments of scrolling text. So many of these words and images are about witnessing something traumatic, stressful, or sensational. The drone pilot in 5000 Feet Is the Best talks about the posttraumatic stress he gets through screen-based images as well, even although people assume that he won’t feel that same kind of mental and emotional trauma because he’s not physically present at the scenes he sees or physically connected to the actions he executes. So there seems to be this relationship of the way that trauma and anxiety move through screens. Our actions and experiences are mediated by these technologies and we are farther away from events, yet somehow their impact gets closer and closer to us. Mediation makes experiences more immediate, both in space and in time.
O. F.: But of course trauma presupposes a removal from the event that hurts, from the event that triggers the trauma. I think even within the more classical notion of trauma, you must have this removal of the body and consciousness from the traumatic trigger. And so it might be a semantic difference. Nevertheless, I think it’s very interesting and it’s very critical for the drone sensor operator to insist that he indeed suffers from what he calls virtual stress. In other words, the kind of stress that he experiences comes from interacting with the clients, interacting with the people he works with via the screen, via this technology that places him half a world away in complete safety. But, at the same time, this very technology is not able to dissociate him from what he’s doing completely, from impacting him, from registering emotionally in some respect.
K. P.: We might imagine that this is just like a video game, and the people who operate the drone sensors are cut off from the real world on the other side of the screen. But it isn’t the case. Your point is well taken. Even in Freud, if you have an actual horrific physical injury, that in some way steels you from psychological trauma. It’s when you are just missed that the experience opens you up to traumatic repetition and that kind of anxious reliving of or dwelling on the traumatic moment.
I want to pick up on what you were saying about documentary a moment ago and ask you to talk a little about 5000 Feet Is the Best and how your working method takes its seed from a documentary practice and then becomes something quite different, something that takes us on this “ride.” The Casting (2007) and Nostalgia (2009) have these braided narratives, where fact and fiction move in and out of each other. 5000 Feet Is the Best, Nostalgia, and The Casting all involve stories that originate from a real person and his lived experiences, but the stories are then fleshed out or surrounded by reenactments, dramatizations, and illustrations that remove them from that grounded, real experience. It seems manipulative, but this is documentary as we’ve always known it. How does your work take up the tropes and methods of documentary, and how does documentary lead into fiction or fictionalization?
O. F.: It’s useful, I suppose, to have these two categories of fiction and documentary because we know what they refer to. But I don’t believe that the difference really holds up under examination. Something I read—I think it was by Bill Nichols, who writes about documentary—talks about there only being documentary films. What we normally consider documentary and what we think of as fiction film (you know, the things we go to see at the multiplex) are arguably both documentaries. One is a documentary of social representation, of social issues, which is what we normally call “documentaries.” The other is a documentary of wish fulfillment and what we usually call fiction films. If we follow this line of thought, you can consider any fiction film as a document that attests to the kind of fantasies, the capabilities, the budgets, the costumes, the decisions that were made in order to represent a particular story. Even why that story is being told at a particular time is for me something that is very much about documentary, rather than fiction.
But let’s put that aside for a second. What I would label documentary, for shorthand, in certain works I’ve made is their return to this notion of the encounter or of the meeting and the conversation. It’s not so much the need to document someone’s life or opinions, or report about what he or she does, although that is certainly covered. The documentary really resides in the fact that the encounter involves two bodies, two people in conversation, one of whom has certain ideas that he or she wants to relate, something about his or her job. And the other body in that encounter is me: the listener, the interviewer, the confessor, the artist, the filmmaker, the idiot: all sorts of roles that I like to play with and that are there during this encounter. And I’m highly, highly aware of that when I meet these people. Although they are very rarely people who are aware of contemporary art, they’re not naïve. I don’t think I have made works with people who tell their story for the first time on camera. It’s important for me to have people who at least have transitioned from having that experience to becoming protagonists in retelling the story, becoming active storytellers in a way. As a documentary, the work examines those dynamics: what happens in that process when we go from having an experience, which is not documented—to becoming performers of that experience. That is an almost nostalgic notion, that there is a space between the event and its representation. And this notion has obviously been very much strained, especially in the last ten years with the rise of reality TV. But in the last couple of years the works have always tended to start with that encounter, and to have that encounter as the “big bang” that initiates the works and gives them a sort of momentum and energy. I’m not sure how long that’s sustainable and to what degree. The most recent work I made, Continuity (2012) for Documenta*, is completely fictional and came out of the ashes of an attempt to start a work by interviewing certain people in the area of Kassel in Germany. I decided to give that up, and I wonder whether that means there’s some kind of transition afoot for me.
K. P.: Can you tell me a little bit more about the Documenta work?
O. F.: Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev invited every person participating in the show to visit a site in Kassel, which has a very strange, convoluted, and wonderful, horrible history. It started out as a Benedictine monastery. During the Reformation, the monks were kicked out, and the community had this giant building that they weren’t sure what to do with. And so they did what I suppose clueless communities do: They built a wall. They bisected the cathedral, chopping the floor plan in half. The small head of the cross was maintained as a Protestant church. The lower bit of the cross was built up as different floors, and they began storing grain and agricultural produce there. Soon after, though, they transitioned to storing human beings there, who were, let’s say, violating certain norms and mores of society at that point. These were vagabonds, people who were homeless, and of course, women who were prostitutes or were “loose.” Eventually, it became a house for women and for girls, and during the Third Reich it expanded again to include political agitators and undesirables. After the war, they placed young women in this institute who were, again, loose, free, consorting with, let’s say, American soldiers, black American soldiers, and whatnot. (I’m not sure why I’m getting into this because it has nothing to do with the work that I eventually made [laughs].) But then the Baader-Meinhof people worked quite a bit with these issues. Ulrike Meinhof did a radio program about this. It was her last before she went underground. Her radio broadcast and their activism sort of helped make this place public, and eventually it was closed in 1973, I think.
Well, I thought of making a work that dealt with this particular location and so I went there to speak with women who had been internees in the 1960s. But this ended up awfully. Plus a friend of mine was making work that ended up being very similar to what I came up with. And so we had this crisis meeting and I decided to climb off that tree. I began to have doubts…. I mean, these women were, in the worst way possible, ruined by their experience, and it felt really wrong to use them as material for the work. No matter how many ways I tried to contort myself into implicating myself in the awful sort of morals of doing this, I found I wasn’t that flexible.
K. P.: So they didn’t fit your standard of not taking advantage of the subject?
O. F.: Absolutely not. Plus, this is very much a German story. As an outsider, you can and should have the possibility to reflect on a local history that is not yours. But I really did feel that I was too ‘outside’ of this history. And, of course, I didn’t want to touch anything that related to the Second World War. But somehow during this time I sort of reverted, folded back into the present, and eventually came up with the idea of doing this fictional piece, relieving myself of this burden, of the sort of documentary burden, and came up with this idea of a kind of melodrama. At some point, a German TV station came on board and cofinanced the project and will also broadcast the film. So, this was also a chance to think about and engage a wider audience and what TV, in a nostalgic, old-school way, promises.
K. P.: Documenta has a history of television broadcasting. Documenta 6 in 1977 took up a similar agenda, broadcasting video works from that Documenta on German television and with a worldwide satellite telecast. So there’s a history of artists’ videos on TV coming out of Documenta. What’s the storyline for the new piece?
O. F.: So we watch a middle-aged German couple as they drive to the local train station. The landscape around them is empty. Their lives seem to be empty, too. They’re not talking to each other that much. But a young man is waiting for them at the station and he’s dressed in a Bundeswehr German army uniform. He’s got a little ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] patch and seems to have just returned from Afghanistan. It’s a very emotional, but very sort of stifled and awkward, reunion. The parents are emotional. The son doesn’t really know how to handle this. They bring him home and take him to his room. They tell him that nothing has been touched. He seems to be distant and slightly alienated and doesn’t really know what to do and doesn’t return their embraces. They have dinner together and he’s not so responsive. He hallucinates. It seems like he might be traumatized or might have an issue with coming home. At the end of dinner, he excuses himself and the mother follows him downstairs and tries to console and caress him, perhaps a little bit too much. Anyway, night falls. Everyone goes to sleep. The following day, we watch the same couple driving to the train station. Another young man is waiting for them. And he’s dressed in the same uniform. There’s another very emotional reunion. And this young man is doing a much better job at being the son. So they bring him home and he interprets his role in a different way: He’s much more responsive, even returning the mother’s embraces in a way that would definitely raise alarms with the department of child services. So by the time you see the third son arrive to this family, you realize this couple has either lost a son and are trying to do their Trauerarbeit, which in German means mourning work, by hiring and bringing these young men to their home—or, perhaps more interestingly, there was no trauma, there is no lost son. There is only the trauma of emptiness, of absence. Perhaps a son was never there? Either way, the couple obviously has this complicated, expensive ritual that they enact on a regular basis: They bring these young men home until the scenes tip over the edge and we’re in a completely different genre, where mothers, sons, and fathers are involved in some sort of threesome, and Afghanistan and Germany sort of implode. And so, the work deals with conventions that are perhaps related to melodrama on TV, but it certainly doesn’t have the same kind of documentary origin as previous works. There is a ride in there, of course, via this notion of repetition. But there’s no meshing of two different modes (documentary and fiction) and asking the viewer to think about how they coexist—or if they are, in fact, one or separate.
K. P.: The repetition that you describe, the same thing repeating with a difference, speaks of the logic of trauma, and also reminds me of 5000 Feet Is the Best. I want to talk about your use of loops and how they structure your work. In 5000 Feet Is the Best there is a scene in the hotel room. It is a reenactment of what one assumes is an interview that you had with the blurred-out person that appears at other moments. There are maybe three or so moments where the viewer believes a loop is happening. The same question is asked, but it plays out with slight differences: it triggers a different set of emotional or affective responses in the interviewee, which leads to a new set of stories and reenactments. We’ve talked a lot about content, but I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you structure your work?
O. F.: The work is “art” because it’s shown in art venues and is part of the rituals of an art venue, which are very different from, let’s say, cinema. People come in at any point and they leave at any point. This is a very simple, but very critical, thing. The space where artists show involves a degree of mobility and freedom that does not exist, for example, in a cinema, at least not according to conventional decorum. This presents a challenge for an artist who works with narrative. Do you make a linear work that has a beginning and end? What happens when somebody comes in two minutes before the credits roll? For me, the prime imperative is to try to capture people and keep them there. Circular narratives, for example, help viewers jump into the story at any point. And so that is really the most important yet simplest sort of rationale for why I use the loop. Of course, the moment that you begin to create a crafted narrative that doesn’t have a beginning or an end, you’re in a completely different world of considerations regarding causality, regarding motivation, regarding assigning a motivation to characters, to types, to situations that you perceive. And by having this sense of repetition, you’re alluding to a notion of control, a loss of control, and then, of course, on a much more meta-level, this notion of criticality: that by seeing something again, slightly differently, we’re able to reflect on what’s shown or told. These are things that preoccupy me and I love them. But the real impetus is this notion that the viewers are moving and how do you trap them? How do you keep them? How do you hunt them down and keep them watching?
K. P.: That notion of the trap really resonates with me. Nostalgia really had an incredible impact on me when I saw it at the Whitney. In the first of its three parts the viewer hears the voiceover narration of an African refugee who had been a child soldier telling the story of his life and how he survived in the woods. What appears to be a different man builds a partridge trap, which the narrator describes, that is a literal loop: a bent stick stuck in the ground. In the next room, the viewer sees a video of a reenactment of that original interview. There’s a character playing you and a character playing the person you interviewed. Again, one hears bits of the story of making a trap out of a loop. The third room has science-fiction-like narrative video. The viewer enters into the middle, or what one assumes is the middle, of a video, and it’s a compelling and strange enough story to stay. I remember when I first walked in thinking, “Oh, I have walked in right in the middle. I don’t know what’s going on here.”
The sci-fi narrative is a story of refugees from England and Europe who come to Africa for a better life. In it the story of a partridge trap is told and retold again by various people, so the viewer is always kept comfortable by hearing the retelling of a story she already knows. By the time I reached the moment when I entered that last part of Nostalgia, I realized it was a perfectly looped narrative, with no clear beginning or ending. The video loop, too, is a trap. I was really blown away by the structure of that narrative, not just the compelling content and your narrative voice in it, but the way I had been snared by this story of a snare.
O. F.: Yes, there are plenty of traps in all three Nostalgia films that constitute the work. But they don’t really catch anything. There’s never anything being caught in the traps. So the underlying question is: what is a trap if it’s not catching anything? Or, what is being caught here? As you suggest, there’s this notion of motion, and the motion’s happening inside the exhibition space, between the narratives, rather than, dramatically speaking, inside the story. The third part of Nostalgia tests your assumptions about narrative and the origin of its particular story, the notion of the refugee, this “other,” as an originator of narrative. A stranger enters this community that is successful and prosperous and brings something exotic, something other, into it. I think the work is trying actually to address these sorts of mechanisms of the appropriation of story and of the recycling and reusing of stories.
Each character in the film repeats the refugee’s story. Actually, it’s not even a story, it’s a recipe on how to build a trap. And each character conjures the trap for different, very personal, very selfish reasons, in order to justify an activity that is, perhaps, morally questionable or repugnant. A schoolgirl who hasn’t done her homework begins to tell the story of the trap in order to avoid being shamed in front of her classmates. A refugee overhears her story and retells it to an interrogator after he’s picked up by a kind of immigration police. The same interrogator reuses the story later that night when she tries to impress her lover. And her lover uses the same story later to calm down a child who’s woken up from a nightmare. While he talks about how to trap monsters, his daughter sneaks into the room and overhears the story. It’s the same schoolgirl we see in the subsequent scene. She hasn’t done her homework and uses the story to get herself out of trouble. And the refugee overhears her.… So there is no point of origin, there is no original storyteller. We’re trapped in a world of copies. While making the piece, I actually felt trapped myself. Like I had no right to use the stories of my interviewees, who were all undocumented migrants seeking asylum. Eventually, I ended up using the most opaque part of one African refugee’s story, mainly this nostalgic recollection of how a father figure in a forest during his childhood taught him how to trap birds.
K. P.: I wanted to ask you about an earlier work that uses interviews, Spielberg’s List (2003), and about Spielberg as another director/artist figure who used a location, a set of people, and a culture as a basis for a work that stands between documentary and fiction. Spielberg’s List plays on the slippage between language and image, and the difference between what you see and what you hear, or in the case of the subtitling in that work, what you read. In this two-channel work, the same or related images are on both screens, and a translation of what the interviewee is saying runs along the bottom of each frame. On each screen there will be a word, or two, that’s different, that makes the viewer unsure whether the interviewee is speaking about the Holocaust and the internment camps or about Spielberg’s film. Some of the interviewees lived through World War II and the Holocaust and played extras in the film. There’s a very strange slippage between image and the text that puts into question how we find the truth of the story in this doubled place of the real camp and Spielberg’s copy of the camp. Could you talk about how you’ve taken up other people’s projects, like Spielberg’s in Spielberg’s List, to investigate these same kinds of issues?
O. F.: The kind of sister piece to Spielberg’s List is called Godville (2006). It was filmed in Colonial Williamsburg, which is a living history museum. I came into Colonial Williamsburg with a very strong, healthy dose of skepticism about what they did over there, and I left a lot less sure of myself. For that particular piece, I met with ten historical reenactors who work in Colonial Williamsburg and appear everyday in front of millions of tourists as historical characters in costume, in first person. The idea was to pull them out of character and then lead them back into character: to conduct a braided, two-pronged interview that moves rather seamlessly between the eighteenth century and the twenty-first century. The shared subject of both Spielberg’s List and Godville is almost like a science-fiction mutation that occurs when people are unable to, or perhaps unwilling to, separate the real, the experienced, from the representation and the historical record. And by record we are already talking about something involving a representation. We’re also talking about the role that Spielberg’s film played for the local community in terms of revitalizing Krakow and the Jewish area of Krakow when he was filming. And he left tangible things behind, like the camp set that you referred to, which became part of a tourist route that people would come to Krakow to see. They don’t just want to see the historical places; they also want to see the places that Spielberg had changed or built. With the passage of time, this camp set is standing abandoned in the middle of the landscape, and it’s not being protected, it’s not being preserved. It’s succumbing to the elements. And so it’s gaining a sort of authentic, historic patina. Every day and every year it is becoming more real, as it were.
So there’s this notion of the real, the real that escapes, and the real that sort of slips and becomes this sort of paradox of being, on the one hand, an event and, on the other hand, a representation. I suppose this was the main thing that interested me in talking to the extras who appeared in the Spielberg film and the Williamsburg historical reenactors. I wanted to find people who embodied this paradox. Both pieces are also about spectacles of course, so there’s also another dimension that’s about pleasure. They have the promise of sort of slipping in and out of time in a way that I find highly pleasurable.
K. P.: One final question: I want to ask you about your own appearances in your work—in The Casting you play yourself—and in many of your other videos there are actors who play you. There’s often an “Omer Fast” role, or an “artist/director” role in your recent work. I’m not asking you to talk about biography necessarily, but why and how you place yourself as a representation in these works, and what that does and means for you.
O. F.: I think I’m going to stop doing it, or I have stopped doing it in this last work. But it started in this notion of not having moral certitude about what I was doing, understanding that I’m dealing with real people telling me their stories, and as a foil for that, as a buffer, needing to indicate that there’s an agency involved in translating and transmitting these stories. But of course, having been through art school for a number of years, I was interested in having a certain amount of criticality in the work. I thought that my job as an artist was not just to find a compelling, emotional story that I would present to a viewer, but also to indicate that there is this agency behind the story and that the story is, in essence, the artist’s doing, the artist’s imagining, the artist confabulating and lying and making things that are hopefully attractive enough to keep you watching. So stemming from this very strong sense of shortcoming and failure, there is this desire to double me into the work.… To let me produce the work, but also reproduce myself in some way into the work.… Sometimes it’s successful and sometimes it’s more annoying.
In my more recent work it’s taken much more of a backseat. Even in a piece like Talk Show, which is a performance I directed in 2009, there is a very heightened notion of agency without needing to embed a double of the artist into the work. I mean it’s a performance in which an audience sits in front of a set that looks like a TV talk show, and there’s a guest who tells a story about her life, and a host who listens to the story. And the host is an actress, who has no idea who the guest is. The story needs to take about ten minutes to tell, and when the story is finished the actress must repeat that story for the audience in the presence of another guest, who is also an actor, who also has no idea what the story is. And this process repeats, like a game of Telephone or Chinese Whispers for several generations, until what we know about the story becomes inherently, intricately tied into the different agencies, the different bodies that tell and retell the story. What they forget and what they suppress, what they remember and the kind of content they pour into it, changes the story. So, I think there’s a very strong desire to transmit information about our world but, at the same time, doing so in a way that highlights the complexity of the act of transmission, of storytelling.
K. P.: The way you’ve just described it reminded me of something you said at the very beginning of this conversation, which was that the document at the root of any fiction is a sort of encounter, and we have to keep that in mind, even when we are watching a fictional film. We have to think about the process of making and the stories that were told, and it seems that the “Omer Fast” figure in these works sort of reminds us of that root.
O. F.: Yes, but that figure is also the fool. And the fool has that job as well. I mean, I suppose it’s the fool, in the Shakespearean sense, who comes on stage in order to indicate that there is this sort of agency, that there is this kind of dramatic structure, to pull you out of total engagement. That idea has its highest expression, I suppose, classically in theater, with Brecht and Verfremdungseffekt [theatrical distancing or theatrical alienation] and whatnot. These things have been very important for me. But the challenge right now is to find ways of doing that without being so explicit about it, without making work that feels like it’s illustrating some kind of postmodern critique of the medium or of the real.
* Documenta 13, this year’s iteration of Documenta (an arts festival held every five years in Kassel, Germany) opened on June 9 and runs through September 16, 2012. It is taking place at various sites in Kassel, Germany, where Omer Fast’s piece is exhibited, and simultaneously at sites in Kabul, Afghanistan; Alexandria/Cairo, Egypt; and Banff, Canada.