It is here, in this specific spot, across from this sky, here, where it all began.
Monday, January 30, 2017 at 2:23 PM. Beirut, Lebanon.
I have not written about the sea in a while. It has become increasingly harder to think about it, to imagine it, to smell it. I went around telling people that I am taking a hiatus from it being my subject. It being the Mediterranean, the only sea I have ever been in close contact with. I was terrified of repetition, of sounding like a broken record, of writing something I don’t understand. What I don’t understand: how can a body of water encapsulate a whole philosophy of existence? How does it disappear?
I don’t even try to remember it anymore as a real life substance. Memory is a burden. What does it mean to remember? Is the remembered captured? I remember the sea because I’ve looked at it, because I’ve captured it, because I’ve enslaved it into a jpeg file. Have you ever wondered how to read an image as text? One way to achieve this is to open a jpeg image as a text file. In order to do this, change the extension of the image from .jpg to .txt, and then, open it. I am using a photograph I took of the sea on January 30, 2017 at 2:23 PM. My image reads as follows:
“ˇÿˇ·!~ExifMM*¿ êŒ‘ ⁄„Î(1 Û2ái(à%TxAppleiPhone 6-∆¿’-∆¿’Adobe Photoshop CS6 (Macintosh)2017:01:30 21:23:07Çö¢Çù™à”à’ ê0221ê≤ê∆ëí
This cryptic heap is the language of the contemporary image; it is now the adopted language of my sea. I have turned this sea into a possession; I have turned it into an image. A two-dimensional collection of pixels lit by a screen. Something luminous. Which instant did I freeze in the process? Did I tame its beastly waves? What has it lost in this process of conversion? What have I lost in my image? How did this uncontrollable force of nature become an image?
On becoming an image: embody the lawless space of the vacuum where nonsense coalesces and collides before it becomes whatever it’s supposed to be or ends up being. Etel Adnan writes: “images don’t come from the imagination. They grow like weeds from the fields of the invisible.”
Fields of the invisible: Most images we encounter are really just text, or, more accurately, data. They create a language of their own. A language that is neither decipherable nor viewable. In “L’information et la pensee,” Michael Serres writes: “knowledge is the ability to listen and to translate the scattered languages of things. They usually speak mathematics.” How does one translate the scattered language of this image? It embodies the lawless space of the vacuum where nonsense coalesces and collides. How do I translate a collection of pixels into a force that drives me? How do I translate a collection of pixels into a surface onto which I have projected so much of my vision?
Sometimes the void is more intense than the presence. It drips all night against my heart. It is the silence between two thoughts, a silence between two worlds, the semicolon in my existence.
I don’t project my vision onto this surface anymore, because of mental and physical distance. Time seemed to fold over itself and look at me. I took away one subject matter to allow the appearance of another. If I don’t see it, it ceases to exist in my own sphere. It exists in a universe of its own, heterogenous to me.
In her film “How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Education.MOV File” (2013), Steyerl presents five lessons in invisibility. The five lessons make up the titles that divide the video into distinct but interconnected sections. These lessons include how to: 1) Make something invisible for a camera, 2) Be invisible in plain sight, 3) Become invisible by becoming a picture, 4) Be invisible by disappearing, and 5) Become invisible by merging into a world made of pictures.
Some of these methods seem fictional or impossible. How, for example, can someone in plain sight go unseen? How can a liquid surface become a tangible two-dimensional image? Does it disappear in the process? Steyerl ponders this question quite often in her work. There is an infinite amount of systems put in place that ensure that we are always visible, that we keep traces of ourselves everywhere we go. Steyerl’s work is fueled by her critical examination of the production and circulation of images from the mid-twentieth century well into the Information Age. The countless images generated online and circulated by sources such as the worldwide web, social media and the surveillance technologies, immensely impact our lives: how can one disappear in the age of over-visibility? Steyerl continues to ask: “Are people hidden by too many images?” Or “Do they become images?” Steyerl writes: “images are coded as pulses of light or magnetic charges or long lines of seemingly random letters.”
On becoming an image: bathe in the endless perfection of its absence. It being the image. Disappear in the words endless, perfection, absence. Disappear in the wholesome nature of their meanings. Endless. Perfection. Absence. Disappear into long lines of a seemingly random sequence of letters and characters.
To become an image is to disappear. On disappearing: Write in a language that is foreign to you, a language that is not yours. Write in a language that your family doesn’t understand. Self impose a linguistic exile from your mother tongue. Do away with the word “I” on your way to being just a being. Do away with the word “her” on your way to becoming an image. In the opening page of his novel “Drown,” Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz quotes Cuban writer and scholar Gustavo Perez Firmat: “The fact that I am writing to you in English already falsifies what I wanted to tell you. My subject: how to explain to you that I don’t belong to English though I belong nowhere else.”
Sahar Khraibani is a multi-disciplinary artist, writer, and designer from Beirut (Lebanon), currently based in New York City. Her work has been shown in Berlin, Cairo, Abu Dhabi, and Beirut and deals with the intricacies of language and its translation, colonial histories and the tensions between everyday life and condensed geopolitics. Her work is especially focused on the ways in which political landscapes influence creative output, as well as how the land and sea function as emotional repositories for histories that have been written over by borders and international prioritization of resources over people. Her writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Hyperallergic, Degree Critical, Bidayat Mag, The Outlook, Queen Mobs Tea House, and Durian Days among others. She received her BFA in Graphic Design with honors from the American University of Beirut in May 2014 and her MFA in Art Writing and Criticism at the School of Visual Arts in New York in May 2019.