Conversation with Oreet Ashery
How did you develop the idea for the work?
Revisiting Genesis started with my growing awareness of artists around me falling ill or experiencing deep stress and exhaustion, discussing the issue only in private, so as to not expose temporal or chronic professional vulnerabilities. How often have artists ‘threatened’ to stop being artists because it is too precarious, too hard? The fantasy of withdrawal in the face of demands for continuous exposure is evermore appealing. Witnessing online and offline the passing away of a number of artists I knew in the past two years such as Monica Ross, Ian White and Paul Eachus, as well as the death of my brother, I searched my own archives to encapsulate my own trajectory. Living artists are under continuous pressure to represent and promote themselves on established and emerging social networks, it seems that for the dying and the dead the same expectations apply.
This project is an opportunity to allow the idea of life limiting chronic conditions, illness and death to be part of the conversation – especially in professional contexts – and to begin to think about our mortality also in digital and technological terms.
Why did you choose to make a web-series?
My work always tries to reach beyond the structures of art institutions, and this work is created specifically for the internet so that it can be freely accessible to a potentially very wide audience. I was inspired by the independent filmmaking of web series’ such as F to 7th, and wanted to develop my own approach to the genre as a visual artist. Revisiting Genesis aims to conceptually expand the more entertaining and mainstream narrative driven elements of the format. One of the central questions explored in the work is around what happens to your online digital content (also called digital legacy or digital assets, such as websites, social media profiles, digital archives etc.) after you die, and as such the internet provides an obvious platform for the work.
Who was Dora Gordine and what does she have to do with Revisiting Genesis?
Dora Gordine (1895-1991) was a modernist sculptor with a slippery history and a penchant for self-mythologizing, which was one of the strategies she employed to negotiate the male-dominated systems of art and patronage. In one episode, the nurse discovers a bronze head by Gordine in Genesis’ possession. The nurse theorises that Genesis is a reincarnation of Gordine, as well as Amy Winehouse, and that her disappearance is due to an incomplete reincarnation cycle. This unravels Genesis’ feelings about being a semi-visible woman in the art world, and her disappearance into dead women artists she admires.
The first time I went to Dorich House I felt Dora’s presence there quite strongly. I never planned for Dora to be part of the script but she found her way in. Both Dora and Amy Winehouse are female Jewish artists with whom I feel a strange affinity or fandom for different reasons. When I spoke to Dr Jonathan Black at Kingston University he mentioned that many people have experienced the ghost in her house. Black has been an invaluable source of knowledge about Dora Gordine, much of which is undocumented – like the story about how the BBC destroyed her archives, including many letters, to clear space when they filmed a drama in her house, compared with the squatters who had been living there in the period since her death and had been careful to protect her materials and kept her archives in a separate room.
How did you choose the cast for Revisiting Genesis?
It was important to me that the cast represents the diversity of present-day London, where the film is based, as well as a future where we would like to see more diverse actors and performers feature in mainstream as well as in art productions. It was enriching to bring together professional actors, performance artists, non-professionals and people who have personal investment in the project. It makes for a non-homogenous acting style that I was interested in. We ended up having two real nurses in the work as well, initially they were research consultants but they were so articulate and appealing that I asked them to join the cast. There is an interesting scene where we see them exchanging anecdotes and views about death with the two fictional nurses.
Revisiting Genesis also includes interviews with people who are actively preparing for death, or live with life limiting conditions, how did you approach this?
This project offered an important opportunity to tell stories that are often hidden or ignored. We held an open call and received generous and diverse responses. I am interested in how the fictional and the real can affect each other, and as with Genesis’ story I wanted to blur this line, especially in relation to digital representation, care and therapy. In Revisiting Genesis the interviews are with a real GP but framed within the context of a fictional consultation to discuss the creation of their slideshow.
Roger Ely, one of the four people we filmed, sadly died about a month after the interview we conducted with him. Revisiting Genesis will publish a separate special edition of the interview about Ely’s incredible and little known contribution to underground cultures in the UK.
Can you say something about the emerging ‘death industries’ you are referring to in the work?
During my research I became aware of the increase in death websites advertising various digital and technological options for the dying or the bereaved. For example, there are companies that offer digital wills, where one’s digital content is dealt with in the same manner as a material will might, and also digital storage managers, where a parson who is dying can assign a trusted digital legacy contact to then have access to all the deceased’s digital content, even in order to erase it. Also there are the possibilities of an AR (Augmented Reality) grave environment where relatives and friends can activate digital content on the gravesite. Ashes are now made into jewelry, tattoos and vinyl records and more and more AI (Artificial Intelligence) experimentations are dedicated to avatars made so that ‘no one not really ever has to die’, as robot Bina 48 claims. All this brings about questions around commodification of death, afterlife and legacy. The scenes between the nurse and Bambi are the spaces in the work where those questions open-up the most.
Revisiting Genesis by Oreet Ashery is available to watch;
Banner image credit:'Revisiting Genesis' by Oreet Ashery
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