[…] The photographic iconicity of the ruined airport dominates uncontested, thanks to Mohaiemen’s accurate choice of the frames, which always stresses the elegant and futuristic design of Saarinen’s architecture.
[…] There is a peculiar movement of abstraction in «Tripoli Cancelled», where concrete topics like the no man’s land of refugees and the bureaucratic filing of human beings transcend into a suspension of time and place that is expressed through the metaphysical power of photography.
A man lost in the architecture of an abandoned airport, or a man who is master of a lost landscape of architecture? Eero Saarinen’s Ellinikon Airport in Athens is a symbolically charged place, not just because of the crisis of Greece but also for its contemporary contrasts, as this structure has hosted and famously rejected many refugees, and has now been sold to Greek, Chinese and Abu-Dhabi luxury real estate companies as part of the negotiations between the Greek government and Europe. That's just the architecture. As for the man (a wonderful Vassilis Koukalani), the sole character of Tripoli Cancelled, we discover that at the end of Naeem Mohaiemen’s film he embodies a figure that could parallel the filmmaker’s father, who found himself trapped in the airport for ten days while traveling from Dhaka to Tripoli.
The interesting aspect of this film is that, even if all this political and personal side information can titillate the curiosity of the conceptually loaded art curator – notice that the film was initially projected in an exhibition context, last year (2017) for the Documenta 14 in Kassel – it can equally stand as a mature filmic work that is independent of any caption. The photographic iconicity of the ruined airport dominates uncontested, thanks to Mohaiemen’s accurate choice of the frames, which always stresses the elegant and futuristic design of Saarinen’s architecture. The man’s performances, which get closer to the status of choreographic evolutions, bring an animation to the deserted location, an animation that is not lacking some humour, even if the tragedy of being lost prevails. In fact, his theatrical actions always finish by surrendering to the physical and aesthetical weight of the airport; in this way they are not contrasting the airport but become its expression. The man appears as a rhetorical figure, whose interventions are crushed under the solid prominence of the concrete, the concrete of destiny, the concrete of History.
An unbalanced asymmetry similar to the one between man and architecture emerges in the relationship between the textual layer and the image layer of Tripoli Cancelled. In the credits we will learn how the Bangladeshi artist has drawn inspiration from texts from John Akomfrah’s The Airport, Rana Dasgupta’s Tokyo Cancelled, Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem and Adolf Gawalewicz’ Memoirs of a Muselmann. The connection between the Holocaust and the current crisis of migration so becomes explicit (in the broader and critical framework of the decolonial interest); but in the experience we have in watching the film the textual layer still remains somehow obscure and difficult to take in, eclipsed as it is by the force of the images. These last ones, however, are able to express exactly the same violence that is implicit in the texts, insofar as the cinematography is largely dominated by the colour white and by sharp contrasts of lights and shadows.
Now, this asymmetry is not harmful to the film, as the textual layer, together with the figure of the man, appears to surrender to the mute force of the ruins. The two bearers of meanings, the word and the man, surrender to destiny. Therefore, there is a peculiar movement of abstraction in Tripoli Cancelled, where concrete topics like the no man’s land of refugees and the bureaucratic filing of human beings transcend into a suspension of time and place that is expressed through the metaphysical power of photography. This reconnects to one of the main theme that pops up in the suggestions of the voice over: the theme of surrendering, as connected to faith and – what is even more intriguing – as a paradoxical liberation from the evil burden of the fate.
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
First published: May 30, 2018