Untitled No. 16, from “Painless May, June Cut to the heart” (2011) found image on printed paper, series of 80 c-type prints, 3 .5 x 3.5 ” in 11 x 14” custom frames, © Oraib Toukan 2011

Untitled No. 54, from Painless May, June Cut to the heart 2011. Found image on printed paper, series of 80 c-type prints, 3 .5 x 3.5 ” in 11 x 14” custom frames, © Oraib Toukan 2011

Untitled No. 12, from Painless May, June Cut to the heart 2011. Found image on printed paper, series of 80 c-type prints, 3 .5 x 3.5 ” in 11 x 14” custom frames, © Oraib Toukan 2011

Untitled No. 1, from “Painless May, June Cut to the heart” (2011) found image on printed paper, series of 80 c-type prints, 3 .5 x 3.5 ” in 11 x 14” custom frames, © Oraib Toukan 2011

Untitled No. 31, from “Painless May, June Cut to the heart” (2011) found image on printed paper, series of 80 c-type prints, 3 .5 x 3.5 ” in 11 x 14” custom frames, © Oraib Toukan 2011

Untitled No. 15, from “Painless May, June Cut to the heart” (2011) found image on printed paper, series of 80 c-type prints, 3 .5 x 3.5 ” in 11 x 14” custom frames, © Oraib Toukan 2011

Excerpt from an interview with Regina Mamou, NY/Chicago, September 2011

* Conducted for a show with the Humble Arts Foundation, reproduced with permission of Regina Mamou.


RM: Your ongoing project, a collection of found photographs that depict a couple traveling through various locations in Europe from 1967–70 for tourism, place the viewer in an apolitical setting within a highly politicized period in European history. This politicization manifests itself in the observation of dates printed on the images' borders and location of the "characters," particularly in photogenic and recognizable areas like Italy, for example. What is also interesting to note is that you have chosen to treat several of these images as photomontages, a process that was popularized by artists, such as the Dadaists and Martha Rosler, during war years, as you noted during an earlier conversation. Do these images function for you as political objects? And, if so, can you comment directly on how we might relate to them in our current context(s)? 


OT: I think the year 2011 has finally proven that the project of studying the ‘the political’ as separate from the aesthetic object was a banal one. Politics never was this separate exotic other; it is reality, and its representation, and its interpretation.  I think your question is more interested in how the dates sway the images into a whole other historic period that is the antithesis of the images themselves.  I was interested in that as well. The only text in the images are seminal dates that can act as ‘signifiers’ for that whole loaded ’67 to ‘70 period of insurrections in Rome, Paris, Prague, Amman etc. and the affirmation of the new Left that came with it.  But instead I saw amateur Kodak snap shots of (mostly) European vacations around ruins and public square in some of those cities… I am looking closely at the images themselves, how they are short, their colours, tones, continuity, and consistency.  That influenced how I edited them in to the sequences that they are in now. Eighty eight images, collected and re-edited.  Yes some of the objects in these images where collaged into other works like TV Dinner Marxism (2011) and others, along with magazine cut outs and 3D digital renders of image objects.  I have recently been thinking of assemblage of appropriated imagery in terms of classic montage theories.  Be it grouping them consecutively, stacking them, or collaging aspects of them with other found text and imagery, in the end I am trying to understand images.


RM: It strikes me that much of our conversation is circling around ideas of both selective memory and selective amnesia. As you point out, the May ’68 series participates in a kind of mundanity and silence in the image’s surroundings, I wonder if this ‘erasure’ in the image itself, is a choice? I would also like to draw from you last statement that you are trying to understand image-making. I am interested in how selecting the images, deciding which images to include/exclude as well as which images to repeat, aid in this process?


OT: I think the erasure here has to do with class. And ideology.  Travel, mobility, and passage at a time when the bourgeoisie often think it’s merely a passing moment. Actually more like that wonderful rant of the sausage factory general manager in Tout Va Bien (‘everything is fine’). ”May ’68 happened it did nothing to us sort of thing…all is good”.  Until 2007 I definitely tended to see things in the lens of selective amnesia and collective memory, but recently I have developed such an aversion in thinking of images coming out of our area in this light…maybe as a reaction to the automatic mode of a few artists too many in our region to that specific discourse.  I feel the current moment is much more empowering than that.  We also have a whole history of artists and filmmakers who worked with so called appropriation with absolutely no relation to the word or its common questions of authorship, production, or mass media. They simply borrowed images from family, or better yet, TV institutions they worked in during the day to produce the most incredible experimental films by night.  In this series I selected the 14 images from the 50 something images of the sequence titled ‘Painless May, June cut to the heart’ based on tone, colour, and architectural forms in the images themselves. I sequenced them based on lines of referentially and loose associations in the tones and objects within and between the photographs. These images were in turn dug from a wider unusual set of found photographs mostly set in Amman, Jerusalem, Cairo, and Ankara etc.  When looking at the collection I was mostly drawn to the everyday moments of say, someone taking a picture of him or herself and failing repeatedly, e.g. many attempts of under lit family portraits, repeated serial handshakes at a cocktail party etc. In some I have been recombining them with other images by stacking them and thinking of what montage is. In others I would isolate and scan figures or objects in them and reconfigure them with scanned objects from Arab weekly magazines I collected during the same period.  They all made me want to look, and the smaller they were the more I looked in. In ‘Painless May, June cut to the heart’ there were no hand written scribbles on the back to aid me, which was all the better in trying to take them out of their own narrative into one where I can treat the photograph as object not as a memory aide.  The only thing that was stamped across the back was ‘kodak paper’.  I like this because colour makes you forget the underlying material of a photograph, somehow a world painted with fabulous color time (specific to that time? or the aura of a colour travels to this time? Not sure…) and what you are left with is an image lying there fixed on a paper trying to express something to me now in the form of an object.


Oraib Toukan is an artist based in NY.

Regina Mamou is a visual artist and independent curator and writer based in Chicago.

Untitled No. 71, from Painless May, June Cut to the heart 2011. Found image on printed paper, series of 80 c-type prints, 3 .5 x 3.5 ” in linearly edited 11 x 14” custom frames, © Oraib Toukan 2011

Installation view of Painless May in ‘Splice: Oraib Toukan’ at Kunstraum Munchen