“It has the shape of recollections”: Joe Proulx on Paul Chan and work with the Iraq Peace Team [Audio]

In 2002, artist Paul Chan was working as a member of the Iraq Peace Team, formed by the Chicago-based activist group Voices in the Wilderness (now Voices for Creative Nonviolence), which was on the ground in Bagdad to protest the imminent Iraqi war. Chan captured the calm before the storm in his “ambient video essay,” Baghdad in No Particular Order (2003) with a focus on the routine work and leisure of the Iraqi people. Among the details that are exotic to western eyes, he reveals a shared humanity, one that is under threat of destruction.

In October 2018, Block Cinema screened Chan’s video essay and hosted a conversation with Joe Proulx who also traveled with the Iraq Peace Team. Proulx generously shared his personal memories as a witness, activist, and artist in Baghdad alongside Chan, and spoke with the audiences about the complexities and reverberations of his experience in Baghdad.

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Stills from Baghdad in No Particular Order (2003)

From the Conversation

Happiness which is screening next door was a project that [Chan] had considered complete before going to Iraq. And then after Iraq he revised it and made it more extreme. And I asked him what he meant by extreme that if he meant more brutal, because it’s a fairly brutal piece. He said more brutal, yes, but also more sensitive, more empathetic. He pointed out, in a way that I can attest to that., that the experience of going to Iraq did that for all of us. It sort of made everything feel a little bit more extreme. Longing for pleasure, empathy, sensitivity, all of these things became something completely different after having been there.”

“It’s sort of comes in these fragments, like what you saw here today. It’s interesting how much this film strikes me that it is constructed according to a logic of memory. Even though it was made so soon after he came back, you know, it has the shape of recollections that kind of come from these various places of remembering. For me, I think makes it especially poignant see this movie now.”

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