This was day two, I think, of a three day trip to Berlin–hastily booked with the convenience of budget airlines and the advantage of a British passport enabling free movement. A second visit to the city, another trip to see a friend living there. In Hamburger Bahnhof, an exhibition of the Preis der Nationalgalerie was on show. Four artists in four rooms, and almost too much art to see in a small space.
I have a vague memory of watching the credits of Jumana Manna’s film, A Magical Substance Flows Through Me, which would mean I saw about 45 minutes upon my original visit, but missed the first part. What does it mean to miss this context? If I’d seen it the first time, I would have heard the ‘crackly voice recording of Dr. Robert Lachmann, an enigmatic Jewish-German ethnomusicologist who emigrated to 1930s Palestine’ and his attempt to ‘establish an archive and department of Oriental Music at the Hebrew University’. I might have understood how Manna reworks this act of archiving by filming performers recording the same songs 80 years later, giving voice to their experience, and how this work is different when it’s done by someone who grew up in Jerusalem.
The first part that looked familiar as I re-watch the film is about 20 minutes in–a scene in a small kitchen. A woman is cooking and as she cooks, she sings. Sat behind her, a man plays a stringed instrument that I don’t have the knowledge to identify. She talks about her grandmother, a Jewish woman of Moroccan heritage who never leaves her house in Jerusalem, retaining her homeland within four walls. I think of my own grandmother, who at that point had limited mobility, and struggled to leave the third floor of our family home in Casablanca. Her four walls geographically located in Morocco but somehow outside of it.
I tell Kirstin I’m writing about seeing the exhibition and she says, ‘I remember you enjoyed it so much’. Whilst in Berlin we had been talking about certain types of sculpture, on a visit to a gallery the day before where we had overheard an artist’s talk. It was an informal occasion–he was a lecturer at an expensive private art school talking to his students and, not knowing the context, we stood, listened, interjected. I don’t really remember what he was talking about but I know afterwards Kirstin and I spoke about sculpture, as we tried to better understand the work we had seen. We had seen sculptures installed on the floor of another gallery that day and, not noticing the lines on the floor demarcating the space where you should and shouldn’t walk, had been alerted by the invigilator that we were too close to the work.
What Kirstin remembers most about my experience of the show at Hamburger Bahnhof is how much I’d enjoyed the sculptural works installed with the film. Maybe it was partly my relief, the next day, of not feeling in trouble for being too close, but instead invited in, welcomed amongst the vessel-like sculptures from Manna’s the Muscle Vase Series as I sat on a wooden platform taking in the film with a room of strangers.
There, I watch an interview where Manna talks about how important going to people’s houses to shoot footage was to the making of the film. Filming the musicians together was impossible, because Palestinians living in the West Bank can’t enter Israel. I think about the relative ease I’ve experienced and will probably continue to experience slipping between borders. Sometimes the reminders of your own privilege in this world are so obvious it can feel embarrassing.
 From the description of A Magical Substance Flows Into Me on Jumana Manna’s website: www.jumanamanna.com/A-Magical-Substance-Flows-Into-Me
Myriam Mouflih is a freelance curator, programmer and writer born in Casablanca, Morocco and based in Glasgow, UK www.myriammouflih.co.uk
Cample Line are hosting a communal viewing and group discussion of Jumana Manna’s ‘A Magical Substance Flows Into Me’ on 5 July 2020, with the film streaming from 5-12 July on their website. The film is also available to watch on Kanopy for free with any public library card or university login.
Jumana Manna is a visual artist working primarily with film and sculpture, raised in Jerusalem and is currently based in Berlin www.jumanamanna.com.