Suspended trauma, aftermath and the omnipresent reminders of loss in post-conflict Abkhazia are the central themes of This You Must Remember, a film co-produced with SKLAD Cultural Center in the capital Sukhum/i. Located between Russia and Georgia, Abkhazia is a post-soviet state, site of the Georgian/Abkhaz war of 1992/93, with a long history going back to antiquity.
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 four-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.
This You Must Remember forms part of a larger a series of collaborations that includes poetic works by Abkhaz based poet Anton Ochirov that respond to contemporary life in Abkhazia alongside other global sites of conflict, such as Kabul and Mariupol. In 2022 the project research between Jury and Butba was awarded an Arts Humanities Research Council award to fund new, forward-thinking ways to collaborate in sites of frozen conflict. The context for the first phase is again Abkhazia, with the aim is to test ways in which the visual arts and theatre can collaborate to create new narratives and alternative forms, particularly hybrid performances. The goal is to expand this work into other sites with different but parallel histories.
Documented below are two collaborative exhibitions (Turkey and the Balkans) curated by Asida Butba, the main components being the film installation This You Must Remember and Ochirov’s Visions for Trees, which was made in conjunction with the slow-form observational work A Camera in Abkhazia. And additional single screen video by Jury, titled The Black Sea, screened on loop.
Little known outside its immediate borders, Abkhazia was once a diverse and 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.
The Georgian/Abkhaz War lasted 409 days. During which time over 9000 people died and in excess of 250,000 were displaced. Many are stilled consisted missing. In 2023, Abkhazia will have been in a state of frozen conflict for thirty years – an enduring reminder of recent history and portent for similar border regions. In a time of conflict in Ukraine, just across the Black Sea, Abkhazia’s position and the plight of those displaced is a reminder of the fragility of peace and the slow violence endured by individuals caught up in frontier territories – the ‘grey-zone’ of an unresolved conflict.
Responding to the non-linear nature of memory, this is an installation constructed of discrete chapters, split over three screens and six audio channels. Each chapter draws from the complex orchestrations between image, text voice and sound to create continuously renewing dialogues and experience. Godman’s soundscape deepens the experiential effect through a custom mix that responds to the architectural acoustics. 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.
Ochirov’s poetic objects and wall-based texts take the form of direct poetry, drawing verbatim from ordinary conversations undertaken or overheard in modern day Abkhazia and other sites of conflict, drawing from well as online platforms and forms of social media. As a result, his writings explore the complexities of social-political thinking through everyday speech.