In the photo series Showing Presence, Wim Catrysse captures the acrobatic manoeuvring of big bats in their natural habitat in Ramallah, where he discovered them, almost ritually swarming around fruit-bearing fig trees. He flashed the light-shy creatures somewhat aggressively so that they contrast explicitly - almost graphically - with the nocturnal environment.
In Catrysse his photographic montages, the depicted bats seem to live up to the image many initially have, an image in which they stand out as a symbol of superstition, fear, night, or obscure cult. Palestine is no exception to the rule. Here, too, bats cannot escape being associated with a primordial sense of anxiety.
Both in literature and the popular imagination, we can find examples where the Israeli occupation forces are named in analogy with bats, possibly — it is sometimes mockingly suggested — because they too prefer to appear on the scene at night. But unlike bats, the occupation forces implemented an actual policy of fear, provoking and systematically harassing the local communities whose streets they roam at night with an exuberant display of power.
The title, Showing Presence, can be taken literally to some extent. In a first superficial reading, it seems innocent, almost idyllic, and it somehow suggests it is the artist who, in this case, reveals a stealthy presence. But on closer inspection, it makes a disturbing turn. From a military-strategic point of view, the operations just mentioned are also classified under the heading of ‘showing presence’ or, more cynically, ‘looking for trouble’ or ‘initiating action’. It is precisely at this point that Catrysse wants to re-enter reality and reverse the seemingly innocent nocturnal scenes.
The film was screened or exhibited at:
AAIR, Antwerp (BE), 2021
U-jazdowski castle centre for contemporary art, Warsaw (PL) 2021
Produced by Escautville
Co-produced by Music Theatre Transparant
With the support of The Flemish Authorities
Special thanks to Mo (Abu Samer), Anas and Ayoub Obeida, Mousa Anbar, Khaldun Bshara, Sally Abu Bakr, Randa Nasar, Alan Quireyns, Caroline Dumalin Ika Sienkiewicz-Nowacka, the Ramallah Municipality and the residents of Jalazone Refugee Camp for their heartening hospitality.
Special thanks to The Al-Qasim Foundation for granting the permission to use the poem 'Bats' by the late Palestinian poet, Samih al-Qasim.