Permanent Transit

The difficult position of the first generation born in the new country after migration is to embody the crossroads where different cultures meet to negotiate their claims – not on geopolitical territories but on the minute events, actions, and reactions of our everyday lives. We are compromised bodies; hearing one language with one ear and another with the other, we are equipped to understand only half of what’s said everywhere we go. Permanent Transit takes viewers on a journey through 11 countries between East and West (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Turkey, Armenia, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, the UK and the USA), glimpsed only through the frames of various windows. These constantly shifting landscapes are woven together with multiple layers of everyday sounds and the scraps of a dozen stories from the lives of expatriates, exiles, refugees, itinerants, children of divorce and children of immigrants.

Mariam Ghani, Permanent Transit film still
still from Permanent Transit (1-channel video with 5.1 channel spatialized sound, RT 24:00), 2002

All of these documentary elements ultimately feed into and complement the absurd, appropriated, overarching narrative of a traveler who becomes trapped in the nomansland between two borders and must find a way to make his home there — retold through many gaps of memory by my mother from a television bit made famous by comedian Doreid Laham during the Lebanese civil war. Permanent Transit is an experimental documentary, a video database, a fractured narrative, a reconstituted journey, a memory experiment, and an extended conversation between friends and strangers: all designed to dislocate viewers from their ordinary lives and re-place them in the border zones inhabited daily by the hybrid generation, the contested territories we carry within us no matter where we are.

Mariam Ghani, Permanent Transit installation view
Permanent Transit installation view, Lost + Found exhibition (2002)

In the installation version of Permanent Transit, the video is projected onto a 60” x 80” dual-surface (front & rear) projection screen suspended so that its bottom edge is at waist height. The screen bisects the room and the five surround sound speakers are distributed around the screen in such a way that the mix creates the aural illusion of walking from the inside to the outside of a window when the viewer walks from one side of the screen to the other. When it is screened, the “inside” and “outside” of the window, which are most often sounds recorded in two different places but associated with the same image, are mixed together – creating a subliminal (rather than spatially delineated) sense of dislocation for the viewer/listener.

Permanent Transit was remade for the web in 2004 as Permanent Transit: net.remix. The web project, a deconstructed database documentary version of the original, was commissioned by PS122 for their (now defunct) net art platform and produced in collaboration with programmer Ed Potter, poet Zohra Saed, and composer Qasim Naqvi. While the original website is still online, it may not be fully functional in newer browsers. It is, however, being preserved and transmigrated as part of the Rhizome ArtBase net art collection.

Mariam Ghani, Permanent Transit: net.remix screenshot
A screenshot from the web project Permanent Transit: net.remix

I continue to collect images of windows from various transitory spaces, and in 2006 made some of that collection into the print series Transit Vistas, collages of windows printed onto silk georgette sheers and sewn into curtains.

Mariam Ghani, Transit Vistas at Smack Mellon, 2006
Transit Vistas 1 (inkjet print on 60 x 90 inch georgette sheer) installed in the window at Smack Mellon for the show Site 92; more installation shots below (click to open as lightbox)

Read the texts about Permanent Transit and Permanent Transit: net.remix.
Visit the web project Permanent Transit: net.remix.