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The thing about soil is, it gets under your nails.Tania El Khoury's 2013 interactive installation can accommodate 10 visitors at a time but its Beirut premiere was held for an audience of one.The object of "Gardens Speak" is to give voice to the casualties of the ongoing conflict in Syria, whose remains have been buried in gardens around that country.Visitors are invited to lessen the muffling by digging into the soil.Like the stories of all 10 deceased, Bayan's is spoken (in Arabic or English, depending when you visit the work) by amateur and professional voice actors. Best known in Lebanon for her work with Dictaphone Group – an urban research and site-specific performance collective that she co-founded with Petra Serhal and Abir Saksouk – Khoury's prize-winning solo performances and installations are politically inflected (nonpartisan) works that make her audience active collaborators.Dictaphone partner Abir Saksouk created the set design for "Gardens Speak," for instance, while the work's tombstones and calligraphy are the work of Dia Batal, another Dictaphone friend.On one hand the physical and emotional intimacy of the ritualized approach to the work – walking barefoot over freshly turned loam, kneeling or stretching out in the dark, listening to a young woman's story – is uninfected by the self-consciousness provoked by the other visitors.
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