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At the height of the First World War, large swarms of locusts raided Egypt, Syria, and Palestine and threatened the region's agriculture. The subsequent food shortage and inflation exacerbated the existing wartime shortage leading to famine. An enduring visual commonly identified with the plague is a pair of pictures of a fig tree recorded 15 minutes before and after the swarm of locusts from the photographic album by American Colony photographer Lewis Larsson. Photographers of the American colony were invited to create the album for the imperial authorities—both Ottoman (1915) and British (1930). As foreigners, their perception of the native Arab farmers is informed through an orientalist gaze. The locals are always seen from behind or above, working for the imperial officers.
"Colony" is a multidisciplinary installation by Guez, based on a five-year study Guez conducted in the Archives of the American Colony in Jerusalem and the Archives of the Library of Congress in Washington DC. The bulk of the colony's archive includes hand-painted photographic albums. The Library of Congress purchased the original glass plate images in the 1970s after being damaged by flooding where they were stored in Jerusalem. The water damaged the emulsion of some of the photographs, and these resemble spectacular Rorschach stains appearing on the same glass plate alongside the locust record. The glass plates were exposed to light using two lenses (stereoscopic cameras), which allow two close but different viewing points on the same territory. The optical duplication in "Colony" becomes a visual example of the duplication of the individual and the transition from grasshopper to locust.
The behavioural and physiological change the grasshopper undergoes from an independent being to part of a colony occurs within a few hours— in response to extreme climatic conditions of heat and drought. This accelerated physical and behavioural transformation stems from a sense of shared destiny and existential threat. In this way, the swarm of locusts wanders between different areas to maximize the natural resources it consumes. In recent decades, due to global warming, the prevalence of locust epidemics is rising across Africa and the Mediterranean, especially Italy and Ethiopia. Topically, the installation "Colony" deals with the plague that befell the Mediterranean in the early twentieth century, the disastrous results of global warming, and the links between the invention of photography and the renewal of the Orientalist view of the Holy Land. However, a deeper reading reveals that "Colony" also refers to the conduct of man's impact on society and the erasure of the individuals' identity upon his enlistment in the majority groups.
The video work includes two parallel sound channels. The first, which sounds like the playing of unidentified musical instruments, is based on recordings of communication between grasshoppers under laboratory conditions. These recordings document sound waves that a human ear cannot hear. The second sound channel comes from a single speaker, which is placed in front of the video screens. In contrast to the colonialist photographic perspective, the video is narrated by an Arab male voice, an official anchor typical of a National Geographic or Discovery Channel. The content of the text is twofold: on the one hand, it sounds like a text about the metamorphoses of swarms, while on the other, it deals with the formation of colonies throughout history. There is no direct reference to locusts or humans. This ambiguity, which is kept throughout the work, charges the narrative and allows parallel readings of ecological, political, and social meanings. The video installation also deals with the the conditions under which the colony emerges and its economic and territorial aspirations, which ultimately lead to its collapse from within.
The three-channel video concludes with a series of manipulated stereoscopic photographs, derived from the National Library of Congress in DC. Parting with the double stereoscopic visions of the early photographers, Guez explores alternative types of duplication and creates mirrored images of a single plate at a time. The process directs the viewer’s gaze to the damaged areas, which appear as abstract stains alluding to a variety of imagery and echoing the presence of fire and the swarms apparent in the original prints.
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