White Wall Travelling 1997

White Wall Travelling 1997 by Melik Ohanian

Melik Ohanian, born in 1969, lives and works in Paris. With Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno he is one of the young generation of French artists in whose work various layers of reality overlap. He is an artist who tells stories. His pictures come from "other" places. You might think that these are reports but his work goes beyond the documentary, it is based on the barter between the real and the imaginary. He uses established narrative models but also does not hesitate to try out alternative scenarios.

In its original form "White Wall Travelling" is a film which consists of three individual sequences. It takes us to the docks of Liverpool where in 1995 a strike took place which pointed the way for the workers' movement in Europe. 500 dockers and their wives, the "Women of the Waterfront", protested for more than two years against their enforced redundancy and so-called "flexible work", which had made its entrance to British ports under the Thatcher government. There were international demonstrations of solidarity and protest events in 82 ports. The dockers took up the anthem of Liverpool FC "They'll never walk alone" and footballers wore the dockers' strike T-shirt under their Liverpool shirts. In 1998 the docks were closed, the dockers had lost their struggle. This has gone down in history as a symbol of collective solidarity within the workers' movement.

Melik Ohanian's film shows the way through the streets of houses of Liverpool's Docklands, which go on for over 12 km. It is a slow, quiet, road movie, completely different to the heavier, militant film "Dockers" made by Ken Loach a few months previously in the same place. Ohanian does not show demonstration scenes, his story-board is based on the topography. For the billboard project for the Vienna Chamber of Labour he brought a significant cadre into poster format. The docks lie there desolate and abandoned. Like a film set. "That is the end of an era in which products were mainly brought to market by ship. This is about the history of an economic system that worked for over 100 years. And when you go on one of the old ships you have the feeling that you're playing a part in a film. And everything, even the architecture, is only decoration. When you come here, you feel that you have arrived too late, that everything is at an end," says Ohanian.

"White Wall Travelling" brings a new dimension to the poster project "Arbeitswelten" ("Worlds of Work"): For the first time sound will accompany the pictures – the voices of three dockers come from a loudspeaker. Their conversation sounds strangely composed, their strike slogans without feeling. A recital between rage and resignation. Picture and sound as an after-echo of what has disappeared, pictures and sounds which shape collective and individual memory.

The artist says that the real is a zone between overlapping realities. It is everything together – the present, but also what came before and what came after. Here Ohanian refers to Gilles Deleuze's studies of the cinema. In "Cinema: Movement Image" Deleuze stated that there is only an indirect picture of time: It comes about through the sequence, through what was before and after. The borders between the future and the past are diffuse, they mix and cross over, like in Ohanian's fluid images where falling out of time and its reference system becomes an essential part of our experience.