Rosalind Nashashibi

For Rosalind Nashashibi a short film lasts a little over three minutes, a long one less than twelve. Shot with a windup 16 mm Bolex camera and subsequently transferred to DVD, her films share a measured rhythm that is due less to the shifting pace of the mundane human pursuits they typically record than to a steady succession of individual shots, usually taken from a static viewpoint, of more or less twenty seconds’ duration. This rhythm appears to be partly an artifact of her preferred camera’s technical limitations (she uses three-minute reels with a maximum shot length of twenty-eight seconds) and partly the result of intuitive editing. This formal spontaneity, allied with a restrained empathy, has allowed Nashashibi, winner of last year’s Beck’s Futures award for emerging British artists, to produce over the past three or four years a series of films shot in different locations that compellingly document a range of largely casual and purposeless daily activities within a broad spectrum of cultural milieus.

These films are about time—about the various ways human beings have of enjoying it or enduring it, stretching it out or frittering it away. They are also about space, both architectural and social; about how comfortably or otherwise individuals and communities inhabit the spaces they have been allotted by the accidents of history and geography. Of Palestinian and Irish extraction, born in England, based in Scotland, Nashashibi seems equally at home in a Mexican café in Omaha (Midwest, 2002), a barbershop in a patch of no-man’s-land between East Jerusalem and the West Bank (Dahiet al Bareed [District of the Post Office], 2002), and a bustling Salvation Army canteen in Edinburgh (Blood and Fire, 2003). She is also, of course, equally estranged from the shared intimacies of the communities into which she so briefly delves. She remains aloof but not invisible. In the interior scenes, especially, an occasional nervous glance acknowledges the camera’s potentially intrusive presence without overtly registering any objections. As viewers we are strangers at a further remove.

A group of Mexicans shoot the breeze in a local café while street folk aimlessly cross each other’s paths outside. Palestinian youths hang out in a barbershop while children play football in a nearby field and people are called to prayer. A crowd of Scottish pensioners disperse themselves in animated groups along rows of canteen tables as they eat their lunch; some others sit distractedly alone. These films are full of banter and chat. (The exception here is the fourth film in the show, Humaniora, 2003, in which human activity is somewhat sidelined in a downbeat study of the exteriors of a variety of British hospital buildings.) Yet the impulse to eavesdrop is confounded by the generally unrefined sound quality, the cacophony of competing voices in unfamiliar accents and tongues, and the drone of passing traffic. Where language congeals into intelligibility it is usually in the form of rudimentary signage: RAILWAY CROSSING, ACCIDENT AND EMERGENCY, DON GABY’S CAFE. Deprived of linguistic information, we find ourselves attending more closely than normal to nuances of body language in an attempt to make narrative and emotional sense of these strangers’ interaction with one another and their built environments.

Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith