Annuale text 2022
of liberated temporality and the city by Hussein Mitha @hussmitha
1917-1920: In the quietest recesses of my mind I am constantly returning to a now forgotten moment, a marker of reversibility, from over a century ago. A city (St Petersburg) under siege by reactionary, capitalist powers. But the workers are out in force; they are making ecstatic art together in festive re-enactment; they are heralding a new culture, a proletarian culture. Different to the half millenia of bourgeois culture which had foregrounded the individual cultural practitioner (the so-called artist), one which instead celebrates the communal, collective culture of the workers, a culture of solidarity and camaraderie. I imagine this moment, this disarticulation of the boundaries between the artist and audience, an end to the division of labour designated by the discrete existence of ‘art.’ I imagine the affective living-dreamworld this produced. “And all around me, I saw life changing: the theatre moved out onto the street, and the street moved into the theatre. The ‘Theatrical October’ burst forth.”
2018: The Liverpool Biennale is called ‘Beautiful World Where Are You?’ The question haunts me. It fills me with melancholy. It is the title of a Schubert song, and would later become the title of Sally Rooney’s third novel. I visit Mohamed Bourouissa’s ‘Resilience Garden,’ adjoined to a primary school in Toxteth, Liverpool: a transplantation of the garden of one of Frantz Fanon’s patients from the Bilda-Joinville Hospital in Algeria. Maybe gardening can heal our collective mind, I think. The garden is being ceremoniously opened to the public just as I arrive. This festive scene sheds and overlays a sense of place. It is almost utopia: children run around; steam emerges from an urn filled with mint tea and the astonishing colour of bright lemons radiates into a noonday Mersey sky. Later, I walk around the city. My individual aimless wanderings are swept into a carnivalesque procession in which my individuality melts away. A definition of music returns from a summer ago: music is liberated temporality. It is the substance of all cities, but Liverpool especially, I think. Beneath all plastic art, is music. Under the forest floor a network of myceliac angels. Under the iron mask of Apollo, the smiling face of Dionysus. Under the pavement, the sea.
You’ll never walk alone, yet I do again as I break away from the carnival (in a kind of rebirth of the individual) and I find myself lured into the modernist cathedral. An orchestra is rehearsing Beethoven’s 9th for an evening performance. I am the only one listening. It is one of the most beautiful moments of my life, but also deeply paradoxical. This strange peak of bourgeois culture “Remorselessly alienated and obscure.”
2020: Rage in the streets after ghostly lockdowns. The Black Lives Matter uprisings threaten to tear down these nineteenth century cities once and for all, to rock the ground whereon these sleepers be.. I imagine crumbling masonry; the fall of the equestrian monuments; the crashing down of Dundas in Edinburgh; the sneer of cold command falling into the harbour, the city’s phantasmagoria punctured. The city awakens, its history rises from the surface.
2020: A lift in the lockdown returns me to Liverpool. The garden is bordered up, abandoned. Do not reject me, whoever I am! I cry into a Mersey sky so open it must perceive a sense of bereavement.
I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And 'Thou shalt not' writ over the door. 
2021: I find immense comfort reading bourgeois novels filled with a searching emptiness now. In the pain and quietude of the second or third coronavirus lockdown, they speak to me. Rooney’s Beautiful World Where Are You touches me so deeply: the world’s beauty died with the end of the Soviet Union she writes, and I think the same. In the intervening period there has been no bulwark against capitalist accumulation and planetary destruction. The Red Nation write: “The common ruin of entire peoples, species, landscapes, grasslands, waterways, oceans and forests - which has been well underway for centuries - has intensified more in the last three decades than in all of human existence.” The register of the Rooney novel is bourgeois and filled with a self-knowing sense of lack, hence the pain is so acute because paradoxical. I read Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead in which sadness is the world’s quintessence, and “I grew up in a beautiful world,” her protagonist says, and the sentence becomes a chime that brings me back into my insatiable pain.
2021: Rage in the streets for Palestine: the beautiful energy of the decolonial transforming every city. But the silence emanating from arts institutions that wax lyrical about the decolonial is overwhelming. Some of the arts institutions in Scotland that still remain silent on Palestine: Talbot Rice Gallery, GoMA, CCA Glasgow, The Modern Institute, Tramway, Glasgow International Festival, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, Collective Edinburgh, Cooper Gallery, Dundee. I imagine a day when art workers at these institutions coordinate a strike, uproot the protocol, withdraw their labour in protest against those institutions’ stance towards Palestine. I imagine a moment where the current imperialistic deployment of art dissolves into a reborn collective culture. “Imagine a strike not out of despair, but as a moment of grace in which a potential history is all of a sudden perceptible.” “Imagine going on strike until our world is repaired.”
“The word ‘art’ as it emerged in the mid - to late eighteenth century was linked to the imperial conquest and mastery of time, as if time were not something shared in common, but a divisible thing to be allocated. The mastering of time is a key aspect of imperial violence that separates objects from people and places them in a progressive linear timeline.”
2022: we imagine one thing as twofold: both going on strike and breaking the timeline.
1. Asja Lācis
2. Edward Said
3. William Blake
4. Ariella Aïsha Azoulay