Struggle in Jerash is a project by Eileen Simpson and Ben White convened around a lost 1957 Jordanian feature film of the same name, which fell out of copyright the year of the artists’ residency at Makan House in Amman, Jordan. The film is used as a catalyst to explore value and meaning in archival material.
As the first Jordanian audio-visual works begin to fall into the public domain, a constellation of interests are translating, drafting and revising copyrights laws and trade agreements to control the flow of culture and build new markets.
Against the backdrop of emerging intellectual property markets in Jordan, Simpson and White embarked on their research – speaking to lawyers, copyright activists, software developers, artists, musicians, journalists, curators, filmmakers and critics – in an attempt to seek out the common cultural resources of Jordan’s public domain. Whilst on residency the artists gained access to the last surviving copy of Struggle in Jerash, a VHS transfer of the original 35mm film. Part 1950s gangster flick and part tourist documentary, the 1957 film is set in historical Jordan and Jerusalem and was produced by a self-organised group of aspiring filmmakers.
The artists re-animate Struggle in Jerash by appropriating the tactic of the commercial DVD director’s commentary, subverting its standard authorial voice and placing the audience at the centre of a copyright-expired film. They watched the film with Amman-based artists, curators, filmmakers and critics, inviting them to both translate and provide live commentary. Each session was recorded and edited to assemble a new multi-voiced soundtrack, creating a new film. A multiplicity of parallel commentaries emerge, anchored to the real-time of this remarkable footage of 1950s Jordan. Guided through the film by the commentaries, exclamations and reactions echo from one voice to another while laughter erupts and resonates across the composite group. Remarks on shifting borders, liberty, politics, everyday life, national identity, religion and cinema collide, forming an intricate discussion that reveals the discursive potential of the material.
Although notorious as the country’s first feature, the original film has not until now been in general circulation. In deciding to redistribute the film, the artists make a reciprocal gesture, ensuring that they return the original film – and offer their new work – to the public sphere.