Nora Adwan was born in 1983 in London, UK. After first having studied sculpture she later started working with photography and digital technology. Since 2012 she has been established in Bergen and graduated with a masters degree in visual arts from KHiB in 2014.
The forms and subject issues of her practice have been shaped by her personal experience of living within two cultures. She describes how living as part of the Palestinian diaspora has deeply impacted the content of her work as an artist, and is similarly embedded in her writing, art production and thoughts on identity beyond pointing out dichotomies. Her work is thus influenced by geographical contexts, patterns of migration, displacement, and statelessness. At the same time she underlines that she takes an intuitive and emotional stance on these concepts.
In several of her projects and artworks Nora Adwan is similarly interested in communication over distances and through landscapes. She distinguishes between where we are and where we belong, and intends to bridge these distances through referencing high voltage poles, broadcasting or humane chains in a constant analysis of the exchange itself. In terms of form, Nora Adwan works with sculpture, new media and technology, and in the tension between digital and analog images and objects. Noticeable in all her works is how she stages the visual elements so as to unify form and content. More than purely relaying a pre-recorded content, her chosen technology for each work, such as the screens, panels, cables and speakers, along with her artistically crafted objects, therefore also obtain performative qualities.
She is in her work also inspired by defragmentation as an artistic method, and believes that this helps to put several key topics close to heart in perspective.
The purpose of the following description of one of her most recent works, is to illustrate precisely how the organization of the narrative components in a compact order seeks to enhance the content.
In the video and text work Shifting Inheritance from 2020, we encounter a unit consisting of two TV screens placed side by side over a somewhat smaller screen between, and just below them. The complete artwork that is conveyed on these separate, but nonetheless combined, or defragmented screens has a total duration of 19 minutes and consists according to the artist’s own description of video sequences from both Norway and Jordan, an accompanying soundscape, and equally important quotes of text in both Arabic, Norwegian and English that alternates between the various screens. Initially the video shows two landscapes both at sunset, where the left image, for the eyes of a native Norwegian, can remind us of a familiar place locally, while the image on the right shows a terrain we experience as undulating and poetic, but also belonging to a different geography. In the screenshot below we see a map of Palestine, with the Gaza Strip, Israel and Jordan. As the film unfolds, we are slowly drawn inward into the map and its many journeys.
In the following cuts and image sequences, we find ourselves on the left side initially as passengers in a car driving into, and through a seemingly endless quarry. On the right hand side, we first see a shorter clip where masses of soil are shifted in an area near a larger retaining wall, and later we are cut directly into images showing a forklift loading large, industrial sacks. Earth is plowed, stones crushed and land transported.
We remain even longer at the endless quarry with its piles of gravel on the left, whilst on the right we are now observing the gentle process of olive oil production with it’s sorting, pressing, stirring, filtering and pouring. A slaughtered animal appears to our left. We observe lingering close-up images of a skinned carcass hanging from the ceiling of a room that could possibly be a garage or a private storage room. To our right, we now switch over to see a pigeon loft filmed from below, as being in a dark shaft looking upwards towards the sky through an opening covered by mesh. Meanwhile, we know that pigeons can escape, roam and return. On the left hand screen we now see the ribs of the slaughtered animal, hung out to dry in front of a large pile of wood.
There is an unassuming, but yet charged symbolism in these images taken from significant rites in our lives such as feeling the ground beneath our feet, breaking up, preparing food or even killing, traveling, being in the dark, though hoping to get out and return home with messages of peace, as pigeons do.
Accompanying these compact, and defragmented images, the screen below has taken us on a journey through the mapped terrain of a personal story spelled out in short, reflective statements in three different languages; English, Arabic and Norwegian. We read about the outbreak of war in the area in 1967, and how the narrator, who was 15 at the time, had to flee. Longing to return, the refugee encounters endless obstacles, even while dreaming where the return ticket seems in danger of losing its validity. Fifty years have passed since.
During the next sequences of these first few minutes of Nora Adwans artwork, all three screens fade into the same image of a slightly overcast, pale pink evening sky towards sunset. We do not sleep so well at night, we read.
Two dogs appear on the two top screens. The first one lying on a living room carpet, seemingly asleep and dreaming, but also whining or howling slightly. We believe it to be in Norway. The other is lying on a terrasse, attentive. Possibly in Jordan. Is it listening?
This is, as previously mentioned, only the introduction to the work. The accompanying soundtrack made by Eva Pfitzenmaier consists first and foremost of direct camera sound recordings from the different locations, and they seem at times intrusively close. We are awakened by an owl. Later we hear engine noises, some people talking, water running, metal slamming and the pigeons fluttering their wings. Accompanying all this narrative soundscape is a consistent but also nervous rhythm throughout the sequence. Eventually, a long, unsettling tone interferes with the recorded ambiance, leaving no peace. Then night falls. The dog cries.
The artist herself says in her text about this work that she is concerned with the inherited traumas parents transmit to their children and that she tries to find connections between the adults’ experiences and the children’s nightmares.
Through her residency as a guest artist at S12, and under the supervision of our workshop manager Timothy Belliveau, Nora has worked on a project where she studies different types of lenses for projection of correspondingly different motifs and objects. She is also in this work concerned with movement and distance, what is being transformed along the way, and what gets lost.