Multimodal researcher Zehra Eekhout's audio essay Sharing Passed Time asks what it means to “reflect” during a music festival, while sharing the spaces and people that she passed during Rewire 2023. The piece assembles recorded audio fragments in unchronological order, while discussing concerts and performances with friends and artists.
On Sunday, during the yearly miracles of our beloved Jesus Christ, I wake up on a fringed Ikea carpet at a friend’s apartment in The Hague. Except for the purple turtleneck, I am layered with heaps of dark clothing, as if they are able to shield me from the tired air that has surrounded my body by now. I peel a soggy banana and walk outside the house towards the bookstore Page not Found, which hosts a talk this afternoon. I sit down in the pale white room which has no decoration except for chairs, pillows, and people. This place is a welcome break for my stereocilia from four days of listening to excessive decibel levels. I remember the last time I was here; I sat in a circle facing other people. It was exactly three days ago, during the opening of the festival with the group that takes part in the Rewire Reflections for 2023. We discussed our intended reflections for the festival.
The word “reflection” may, for many people, bring about fidgety connotations. For me it screechingly spoons out my vexation with dry, textual accounts of research processes in anthropology classes. Even for the current reflection, I initially felt an inhibition to reflect. To deal with this dispirited empathy towards reflections, I started to wonder what bothers me about the way we are taught to reflect. Because for however lengthy a reflection can be, why does it often feel like a limiting practice, given the expectation of a textual and chronological output? And for however relatable a reflection can be, why is it scarcely practised as a shared endeavour?
When we reflect, something is reflected upon us. It is like a substance that hits a surface, in which a portion is absorbed by the surface, while the rest is sent away. We pick up on certain things that are reflected upon us and make a story, revealing things that happened. Reflecting happens in nature, in bed before sleep, at our desk, in the streets, or at the toilet of Paard. One might say there is no end to our reflecting. Yet when we start writing, reflection starts to include a demarcated beginning and end, a purpose: something you did not know, you know now; something you were not, you now become. To what end we reflect becomes even more noticeable when we share our reflection with others. We are expected to have found a way to formulate what was reflected upon us. A good reflection is supposedly written and is done alone. A good reflection has progression, with a clear beginning and end goal.
A “good reflection” has much to do with writing about past time as is common in the Global North. In the narration of Christianity the conception of time is linear, having a clear start – Genesis – and a clear end – Judgement Day. But the most profound influence of the notion of an identifiable past, present, and future moving in a fixed progression took shape during the Enlightenment. In the Middle Ages people mostly orated or wrote down past events as part of an amalgamation of stories, rather than a strict chronological storyline. Only in Europe’s nationalistic and colonial pursuits did the general method for writing about the past become marked by a factual and linear depiction of events. Lately we are discovering that this so-called “factual” and linear depiction of events was deprived of many facts and experienced realities. Take author Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s influential text, Silencing the Past (1995), which tells the untold history of the Haitian Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. It reveals how European historical writing silenced the revolutionary acts of enslaved people. Not only have our written reflections of the past allowed for the covering up of colonial regimes and trivialising of resistance movements, they have also been forgetful in recognizing the multiple ways that communities and individuals relate to time.
For a while I have been looking into other ways of narrating past time. It perhaps comes as no surprise that I found it in literary studies. Russian philosopher and literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin introduced the “chronotope” – or “time-space” – in the 1937 essay “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel.” To seize the chronotope in words, one must not look into assumptions on space and time in physics. It shares more with a narrative epistemology, or an imaginative way of knowing. If one reads that author Ursula le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest (1972) is set in the planet of Athshe (i.e., space) a million years before the writing of the story (i.e., time), it makes the reader learn more about what kind of novel they are about to read, as if it were indicating the genre (i.e., sci-fi). If one watches Taming the Garden (2021) by documentary filmmaker Salomé Jashi, one sees a shot of a colossal tree on a ship in the ocean, followed by a shot of the same tree in the garden of the former Georgian prime minister; here time can be understood spatially in the displacement of the tree. Chronotopes rest not so much on the desire to identify or categorise things soundly. Rather, they necessarily attach a spatial element to time. It could be the revisiting of a building while at the same time revisiting one’s memory of it. It could be the anguish of a place that for others evokes nostalgia.
Before you are all spacing out, which I was about to do while writing this, allow me to experiment with chronotopes in my reflection. I tried to remember the place I was standing in a venue and think about whether it mattered for how I perceived the sound. Or I asked myself what the aural affordances of Grote Kerk were as compared to Nieuwe Kerk, without the need to answer it in words. I tried to move away from the confines of linear progression in reflecting about the past by sharing the spaces I went during Rewire through a 12-minute audio recording. It includes audio samples that were recorded in places at and around the festival, assembled in unchronological order. This uncovered an entire timeline that weaved through my experience of Rewire that did not take place at Rewire, whispering, in friends’ apartments, on fringed IKEA carpets. I also welcomed the space I shared with others in my reflecting. In my bedroom, I talked to composer Ellen Fullman on Zoom about her performance with the Long String Instrument. At his house, Sebas and I reflected on the festival, producing an ambient undertone to the assembled audio samples. In Paard, Suzanne and I reflected together on a concert of Moin. A break with good reflections became a break from linear and solitary writing about past time. And so I share with you the spaces and people that passed me during Rewire 2023, sharing passed time.
Zehra Eekhout tries to understand her appreciation for a variety of living and non-living worlds through anthropological glasses. Having a multi-flavoured taste, different forms of knowledge exchange guide her research praxes. In her latest documentary, she explores fluidities between East-West, space-time, and public-private together with Dutch and Lebanese creatives. Her visceral ways of audiovisual storytelling push her style towards the fictitious and performative.