Doa Aly

Doa Aly

The House of Rumor

“At the world’s center is a place between
the land and seas and the celestial regions
where the tripartite universe is joined;
from this point everything that’s anywhere
(no matter how far off) can be observed,
and every voice goes right into its ears.
Rumor lives here; she chose this house herself,
well situated on a mountaintop,
and added on some features of her own;
it has innumerable entrances
and a thousand apertures—but not one door:
It is constructed of resounding brass;
there is no quiet anywhere within,
and not a part of it free from noise;
no clamor here, just whispered murmurings,
as of the ocean heard from far away,
or like the rumbling of thunder when
great Jupiter has made the dark clouds speak.
Crowds fill the entryway, a fickle mob
that comes and goes; and rumors everywhere,
thousands of fabrications mixed with fact,
wander the premises, while false reports
flit all about. Some fill their idle ears
with others’ words, and some go bearing tales
elsewhere, while everywhere the fictions grow,
as everyone adds on to what he’s heard.
Here are Credulity and Heedless Error,
with Empty Joy and Fearful Consternation;
and here, with Unexpected Treachery,
are Whispers of Uncertain Origins;
nothing that happens, whether here on Earth
or in the heavens or the seas below,
is missed by Rumor as she sweeps the world.”

—Ovid, Charles Martin, Metamorphoses: A New Translation, 2004


House of Rumor

Four channel digital film installation, 4:3, 2016, 16 min 48 sec

“The House of Rumor” is one of three divine houses in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the others being The House of Sleep and The House of Envy. It describes the abode of Rumor, goddess of communication and miscommunication/information and distortion, wherein every utterance is heard, amplified, and recirculated, without regard for truth or error. House of Rumor enacts the synchronized ramblings of entranced bodies in motion, wandering characters, vehicles for the voicing of contesting narratives. Its ambition is to recreate the intensity of a specific moment in recent Egyptian history.

The years between the Egyptian revolution in 2011 and the military coup of 2013 were characterized by fierce polemics, a veritable ‘shitstorm’ of speech spanning all available media outlets that sought to address the urgency of the political moment with reference to truth, freedom, and justice. New “talk shows” featuring protestors, politicians, and academics engaged in the cursory dissection of forensic reports, court documents, and archival practices. It was as though the silences and compromises of decades of political quietude would be rectified by an indomitable prolixity, an occupation of space by words. If tyranny had depended on the silence of the masses, they would fill time and space with talk as a form of dissent. 

House of Rumor originated as an effort to think through the dissonance among dissenters around strategies of communication and meaning-creation. Nowhere was this more pronounced than in the political discourse around “the martyrs”—protesters killed in action by police. Objects of reverence and devotion, the dead became the stuff of discourse.  Pursuing justice for “the martyrs” meant subsuming each individual death into one category. This dilemma underwrote a series of transgressions: the unauthorised circulation of words and anonymous images in commemoration, celebration, or rhetorical calls-to-arms. The martyrs, as a detached concept in service of power, precipitated an existential, crisis-driven semantics of inescapable horror.

House of Rumor is a four-channel synchronized audio-video installation. Through the camera’s fixed stare, repetition, and visible neutrality, the video reappropriates the affective atmospheres of protest as an immersive non-event, questioning the limits of agency and the use of cryptic speech in the production of guilt and fear. In the abode of rumor, voices double and redouble, a hall of echoes hovering at their auditory limit, oscillating between sonoric performance and meaningful speech.

The choreography is based on Sculpture #2 (House of Rumor), which is itself based on Ovid’s description of the house’s open-ended yet circuitous design. The performers speak words about love, death, revolution, and madness—sampled from a dozen sources—while moving continuously along a schema traced on the floor with white chalk, symbolizing controlled expansion expression: seemingly free movement within a delimited trajectory. 

House of Rumor was produced by The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC)

Sculpture #2 (House of Rumor)

Pine wood, painting, 120 cm x 120 cm x 120 cm, 2015

Sculpture #2 (House of Rumor) is based on Ovid’s description of Rumor’s house. The poet emphasizes the house’s openness, its many doors and apertures, its deliberate isolation on a mountaintop, and the meticulous acoustic configuration of its rooms. The architecture of the premises allows sound waves to travel freely and metamorphose as they meander between its walls. The house’s interference, its gravitational pull as a remote (invisible) but central communication node, alters the perceptions of information (rumors) as it attracts, gathers, and distributes them. These features, allegorical to any governing authority, inspired the design of a sculptural structure at once square and triangular, open and controlled. 

Sculpture #2 (House of Rumor), Gypsum Galllery, Cairo, 2015
Installation view, The Abraaj Capital Art Prize, Dubai, 2017