PETRA SERHAL: “Or, When I Slept for Eighteen Days and Nights”

October 5, 2023 - October 21, 2023

“or, when I slept for eighteen days and nights” is an olfactory installation performance by Petra Serhal that revolves around the impact of the political and economic collapse in Lebanon that coincided with the pandemic on the functions of the body. The artist takes the audience on a sensorial journey where the sense of smell is the basis for discovering places, situations, feelings and memories, and where her body is in continuous transformation.

The collapse in Lebanon,  went into a free fall in 2020—an endless descent where my body seemed to be in a perpetual fall, unsure of when or where it would finally crash. Amid this descent into the abyss, my body entered a state of free improvisation, an uncontrollable movement of its parts, each with its own quality to its own rhythm. My breathing was choreographed by those in power, orchestrated by a series of dreadful events. I found myself holding my breath once more, again, and again. Swallowing these withheld breaths until my body could no longer archive.

In this performance, my bodies will fall into a hole, descend into a wonderland and attempt to navigate a maze, where scent becomes a tangible place and breath a measure of time.

Breathe in…

Our noses play a very important role in how we perceive and experience the world around us. The information that the olfactory bulb receives is directly transmitted to different parts of the brain, including the regions related to memory and emotions, unlike the trajectories of sight and sound, which are first processed in a central cerebral point before being transmitted to other regions.

We take around 22,000 breaths a day. With every breath, molecules are transmitted and studied by our noses, which are able to capture around 10,000 smells. Our nasal sensors recognise a lot of information about the people we meet and the places we inhabit, transmitting codes to our brain as emotions, memory triggers, or even fight-or-flight responses. These codes are transmitted through every breath we take, hold or stop, continuously affecting our bodies. Very little information is translated into language.

Petra Serhal is a multidisciplinary artist working in live-art and choreography. Her work draws from her ongoing research on the experiential aspect of performance and on the role of the audience in the performative and choreographed experience. Her work often deals with language and sound in relation to movement and space while seeing the body as an archive, and addressing notions of fragmentation, absence, and embodiment.