Omer Fast Works

Omer Fast
Nostalgia (2009)

Omer Fast produced the three-part film installation Nostalgia, which in both its content and its spatial dimensions testifies to his refined sense of dramaturgy. All three films are based on the actual story of a West African refugee who requested asylum in London.
In Nostalgia Fast deals with the relationships between people from different cultures, at moments of dependence and tension between them.
The artist takes topics of vital interest today, such as immigration and political refugees, as his starting point, and makes what normally goes on behind the scenes visible. Fast shows us that the mechanisms of film making and storytelling often conflict with one another.
Because refugees frequently do not have evidence or witnesses, they are often forced to rely on their own capacity as storytellers in their efforts to remain in a safe country.

In the first part of Nostalgia a British game warden builds a simple animal trap from branches and thread on the basis of audio instructions from a Nigerian man. This is the act that the African refugee described in the original interview, from which the audio tape was preserved. At a certain point the images of the voice-over seem to surface; for a moment an interview set-up can be seen, which then disappears as quickly as it appeared.

Omer Fast
Nostalgia (2009)
In the second part of Nostalgia the artist investigates racial relations and storytelling, in a staged interview between an actor portraying the former Nigerian child soldier and a Canadian actor portraying the artist. It is a dramatized re-enactment with two actors, based on the original interview that Fast carried out with the asylum-seeker. The actors are seen
on two different screens, the interviewee in front of a ‘green screen’ and the interviewer in a studio setting. The Nigerian is being interviewed by a white filmmaker, who thinks that he can use him for a project about Africa. As a viewer you watch powerlessly as the young Nigerian fills his interviewer with misgivings, when he claims to have trapped and eaten apes, increasingly teasing his interviewer and derailing the interview. It becomes clear that the trap plays an essential role in the installation, literally and figuratively functioning as the turning point, just as the fact that the interview – in which the trap is a narrative element– runs like a thread through the work Nostalgia. Ultimately theatricality, doubling and spirits move like refugees through all three parts of the work. Although it would seem that
Fast is interested in involving the media through this apparently merciless critique, as the interviewer and a collaborator in the process he is more interested in the narrative aspect and in placing the story within new cinematic structures.

Omer Fast
Nostalgia (2009)

Part three tells the story of refugees who flee a dystopian England of the future and apply for asylum in an African country. The film takes the form of a science fiction story, supposing nightmarish scenes. With the emphasis that is placed on the typically brown colors and vintage decor, the future it suggests however seems to have taken place in the 1970s. The partly fantastic story is far removed from our contemporary reality, and, in a way similar to the film Blade Runner, rather than taking place in the here-and-now, takes place in something like an “alternative past”, as Omer Fast formulates it.

In this third part of Nostalgia the West African colony is increasingly hostile to the Britons who seek a better life there. For instance, an asylum-seeker is interrogated about a tunnel through which refugees are smuggled into the country. He is offered a deal, and must choose between protecting the chances of his fellow-refugees, and securing his own future. This science fiction story was also inspired by interviews Fast carried out with the West African refugee in London. Although a great deal of the story in the original interview doesn’t correspond with the film at all, there are moments when the two story lines coincide. These are the moments at which the description for how to build a particular trap are recited by various characters.

In one scene, for instance, it is a convin-cing piece of information that an English asylum seeker who has been caught gives to his interrogator as proof that he has come from a poor country. In a following scene, we see the same interrogator appropriating the refugee’s description of the trap, in order to authenticate certain claims she makes about her own past. Thus, the context and meaning of the story about the trap continually changes in its nature and significance.

For Omer Fast the process can be termed completely fictive from the start. The research that the artist does is not empirical; for him, it is much more about artistic subjectivity as a prism for the truth. Although there is a clear political and ethical dimen-sion attached to this work, that is subor-dinate to its subjective, playful, paranoid and caring dimensions. For Fast, these aspects all ultimately exist as narrative elements.

Omer Fast
De Grote Boodschap (2007)
Filmed on location in the Belgian city of Mechelen, De Grote Boodschap presents the story of Flemish characters who seem to be stuck in time. The camera moves horizontally through the walls of apart-ments which apparently adjoin one another – and through their apparently interwoven stories. In each apartment the camera pauses, like a fly on the wall,
to overhear a dialog between two charac-ters. As a viewer, you slowly fit the pieces of the story together, but since the whole story is never shown, there is room for speculation about the events. You there-fore also become increasingly suspicious about what is being presented. An old woman recalls eerie memories of her father, who swallowed diamonds.
Her caretaker has a relationship with her grandson, or is he a shrewd estate agent? And do they really live next door to each other, or somewhere else entirely? The estate agent has an uncomfortable conversation with a taciturn Arab in the next apartment. In another dwelling a boy plays a beatbox for his girlfriend, but suddenly changes into someone
else. Depending on where you walk in on the story line, you always believe something different, and tie certain bits of information together. The video summons up paranoia and uncertainty about both your own thinking, and that of others; safety is not easy to find in these uncertain times.

Omer Fast
The Casting (2007)

Omer Fast made the video installation The Casting based on an interview that he conducted in Texas in 2006 with a young sergeant from the American army, soon before he was to leave for a second tour of duty in Iraq. The sergeant recounts two stories. The first takes place in Bavaria, and involves a relationship with a German girl who likes speed and self-injury. The second story takes place just outside Baghdad, and revolves around a
roadside bomb and the shooting of an unarmed civilian.

Fast took these two stories and interwove them with each other in a scenario that jumps around in time, place and mood. He then had this script interpreted by a number of actors in a series of silent tableaux. The multi-layered account leaps back and forth between the two stories, with short interruptions by a third story line in which a director asks questions
of an actor at the casting for the role of the sergeant. On the one side of the exhibition space, on two screens you see the actors silently perform the script. Behind the screens, literally and figuratively, the sergeant is speaking to Fast in the original interview. Here the ‘real people’ behind the stories are visible. But there are also strange discontinuities in the apparent ‘reality’ of this recording. For instance, the interviewer and the interviewee
sometimes appear in identical clothes. In The Casting the young sergeant becomes an actor in his own recollections, since he tells his own story for the camera. The past about which he tells is his own story, but after the events, and in front of the camera, the sergeant experiences the facts anew, in an ambivalent manner, as a storyteller. With this Fast produces a re-enactment, where the sergeant’s memories are used for the re-experiencing of the events. Fast also plays with the infor-mation the sergeant gives in the interview, and thus also constructs – by the use of editing tricks, among other ways – a new story. In the silent tableaux the edited version of the sergeant’s story is presented again, complete with actors in costumes, different locations, props and even a smoke machine. The images that you get to see are largely based on images that Fast found via Google, and as such are part of a generic stock of images, our collective memory.

There is a shift that takes place in this work which fascinates the artist, a shift from a private happening to a public event, but also a blending with our ‘collective memory’, which is constructed by the media. As Omer Fast says, he is more interested in the manner in which expe-rience is conver-ted into memory, how memories become stories again, and the way in which memories are mediated as they are received and transmitted.