Sound, perhaps more than image, is the archive of our intimate memories, the source of our rootedness. The Song, 2022, a short film by the Pakistan-born, Berlin-based artist Bani Abidi, attests to this. Premiering in Salzburg, the film provides glimpses into the solitary everyday life of an elderly man, seemingly of Middle Eastern origin, who finds himself between the four walls of social housing in Germany. The hum of the city—or rather the absence of it—differs from the one that he appears to know best. Speechlessly searching for that (sound) which is familiar, the protagonist tinkers with the acoustics of the airflow in his apartment, activating sundry items—a fan, a plastic bag, an electric toothbrush, duct tape—to create analog sound compositions. The film in spirit recalls, among others, Fischli & Weiss’s The Way Things Go, 1987, and Jacques Tati’s 1967 classic, Playtime. And yet the old man’s actions suggest endurance, more readily than simple self-entertainment.
The Song is accompanied by a separate, intimate eight-channel sound installation, Memorial to Lost Words, 2016, which pays tribute to the more than a million Indian soldiers who fought for the British during World War I, only to have their stories slip through the cracks of colonial empire. Abidi’s installation comprises twenty-four English translations of personal letters, accompanied by strands of a Punjabi-inspired folk song. “It is a fine thing to die away from home,” reads one missive. “A saint said this, and since he was a good man, it must be true.”
In both the film and the installation, Bani Abidi gently gives voice to the silenced, commemorating all those who have been and will remain foreign and forgotten. Altogether, the exhibition is a moving, at times playful and witty, well-composed score about longing and belonging in a time of displacement.