Suspended trauma, aftermath and the omnipresent reminders of loss in post-conflict Abkhazia – a post-soviet state situated between Russia and Georgia – are the central themes of This You Must Remember, a film co-produced with SKLAD Cultural Center in the Abkhaz capital Sukhum/i. Taking the dual forms of a single-channel film and a multi-channel audio-visual installation, the project merges original and historical footage with photographic archive montage and personal narratives. The soundscape, in collaboration with composer Rob Godman, deploys experimental techniques of spacialisation and granular stretching to evoke the heightened sense of perception experienced during traumatic events. Produced over a three-year period, the project works with verbatim narratives internal to Abkhazia, driven by ordinary people’s enduring need to articulate their personal experiences of loss after the Georgian-Abkhaz war of 1992/3.
Little known outside its immediate borders, Abkhazia was once a prosperous place, known for both its scientific research and as ‘the Black Sea Riviera’, coined for its idyllic beaches and dramatic landscapes, making it a major tourist destination for pleasure and relaxation. Today, Abkhazia in frozen conflict, its physical borders difficult to cross. Its image from the outside is dominated by documents of conflict and a scarred landscape littered with petrified ruins.
As a counter-narrative, This You Must Remember, draws from the recollections of those still living in Abkhazia who intimately knew those ruins as their homes, art centres and schools, who enjoyed the beach front pavilions and its cafes. Reworked into narrative scripts, retold by local people through voice and acting performance. The result is a work formed of four discrete chapters that span from 1950s Soviet heyday to how Abkhazia looks today. What emerges is an alternative form of documentary, centred on the moment of civil fracture and the subsequent losses endured in prolonged aftermath – a close-looking narrative that unfurls the traumatic process of ruination and the notion that any society’s stability is an enduring condition.
In 2023, Abkhazia will have been in geopolitical isolation for thirty years – the irresolute nature of the conflict leaving it recognised as independent by the Russian Federation, but very few other countries – an enduring reminder of recent history and portent of the future for similar border regions. In a time of conflict in Ukraine, just across the Black Sea, Abkhazia’s position is a reminder of the fragility of peace and the slow violence endured by individuals caught up in the frontier zones – the ‘grey-zone’ of an unresolved conflict. In This You Must Remeber we can look at the present through the lens of history.
The project is conceived as a three-screen installation where the film’s chapters are separated into discrete events – reflecting the non-linear nature of both the film and of memory. The soundscape, by composer Rob Godman, will deepen the experiential effect, designed for the gallery space by creating a custom mix in response to the architectural layout and acoustics. Each chapter will draw from the complex orchestrations between image, text voice and sound to create continuously renewing dialogues and experience. Immersive sound will create a believable sense of place coexistent with the exaggerated spaces of trauma. Combined, this multiplicity will reflect the fragmentary nature of memory and the contradictory perception of sound in moments of heightened awareness. Although episodic, This You Must Remember is also cyclical, continuously slipping between past and present, facilitating multiple options for siting, contingent on location, but not dependent on durational screenings.