Juror Presentation | Mariam Ghani

Surpassing Disaster
  • To Live

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Screening Room - Michigan Theater Wed, Mar 23, 2022 3:00 PM



We The People Opportunity Farm


Presented in partnership with Stamps Gallery


If, as Jalal Toufic wrote about Lebanese art after the civil war, the only tradition left to master past a surpassing disaster is the tradition of surpassing the disaster, what do we do when it seems, as Julia repeats in H.D.’s novel Bid Me to Live, that “the war will never be over” and the credits never roll on the disaster movie omnibus of the 21st century? What if we never reach the aftermath? In this 20th year of the “global war on terror,” in the midst of an Afghan crisis both more acute than any I have experienced as an adult and horribly familiar from my childhood, I have been wondering what traditions can be invoked to surpass this fresh disaster. I’ve assembled here some of my earlier work that calls on filmstrips as material witnesses, queries the codes of disaster narratives, parses the experience of war at a distance, and evokes the spirits of radical communitarians.


Follow the Leader

2020 | 2 | 35mm transfer

Follow the Leader is made from hand-painted and handwritten registration marks made on film leader—the matter preceding and following the part of a film usually viewed by audiences—by Afghan negative cutters and printers, in order to indicate where sound and picture should be synced in editing, and when projectionists should switch reels when projecting. Here the leader has been separated from the film reels it originally preceded, and remains as both a ready-made abstraction and a material record of the individual workers who contributed to the making and preservation of these films. 


It’s a Disaster!

2019 | 4 | 3-in-1 channel UHD video

It’s a Disaster! literalizes the overlaps between pop-cultural imaginaries of contagion, alien invasion, and climate disasters. Part of a larger body of research, which includes a feature in progress, examining our long metaphorical “war on disease” and its real-world consequences. Originally produced for an overlapping three-screen projection system at the Tentacular Festival at Matadero Madrid.


When the Spirits Moved Them, They Moved

co-directed by Erin Ellen Kelly

2018 | 22 | UHD stereo version of a 3-channel 4K ambisonic installation

“A great many were wrought upon by an irresistible power, which caused the assembly to shake and reel and toss like the trees of the forest when shaken with the wind. The involuntary exercise became so violent that we discontinued ranks and all united in the dance … About the middle of the meeting, Emma McCormack was possessed by a spirit and lay helpless for some time, continually hollowing, then suddenly sprang to her feet and danced round the room very swiftly for a short spell. After this Emma broke out in the most melodious strains that the human mind could conceive of, singing songs new to us that appeared to be from the Spiritual world. Much praise was danced and sung that day, and towards the conclusion we received from Holy Mother Wisdom, each one a drop of her pure love … Some of those that were there say it was one of the liveliest meetings they were ever in.” –adapted from the spiritual journals of the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, 1847–1857, a period during which the Pleasant Hill meeting house hosted one of the longest Shaker meetings ever recorded, 19 hours in duration.


To Live

2013 | 40 | HD video

Adapted from the novel Bid Me To Live by the poet H.D. (written 1933–50, published 1960) and shot in houses occupied by military families on Governors Island, NYC, from the 1770s to the 1960s, To Live is about what happens on the fringes of a war, and the extremes and estrangements that war produces—how dancing on “the last-straw edge of everything” makes us strangers not only to each other but also to ourselves. It is propelled by a text that spirals through a perpetual state of siege, suspension and postponement, marking the inroads that the state makes on our ability to love and to live.





Mariam Ghani is an artist, writer, and filmmaker. Her shorts and multiple-channel work have been presented and collected by museums, biennials, and festivals including MoMA, the Guggenheim, the Smithsonian, Documenta 13, the Sharjah Biennial, CPH:DOX, and IFFR. Her feature-length documentary What We Left Unfinished premiered at the Berlinale in 2019, screened at AAFF in 2020, and is currently streaming on the Criterion Channel. She teaches at Bennington College.