As we wrap up Heads Up Festival on Day 4, we find Michelle Dee between worlds, simultaneously in the past, the present and the future.

Ivo Theatre’s The Land’s Heart is Greater Than Its Map speaks on many levels. It is a film/installation located in a fictional city called Yaboos while represented on screen by a real place where real people exist. The place is largely known to us in the west through news stories about occupation and conflict. The narrator is a once mute boy who used to believe that words were useless, but in some ways he is also the father and the grandfather in the piece. 

Devised and developed by Olivia Furber, Ramzi Maqdisi, 9t Antiope and Hannah Mason it is described as an alternative guided tour of a city where truth is stranger than fiction.

You are walking through the colourful throng of the narrow market streets, sidestepping the man carrying a pile of freshly baked loaves, piled enticingly on a tray. You follow your guide up stone steps, the edges worn away by countless thousands stepping before you, to marvel at the gold domes of the temples glinting in the sunlight. You shrink back from the gleaming sight as he explains, how some of the builders were exposed to the highly toxic mercury mixed in with the gold, and paid a heavy price.

The Land’s Heart uses a travel documentary approach to tell a story that is both true and fictional, and this is where the work becomes yet more amorphous. I’m sat asking the question why did the artists choose to frame the work in such a way, what can they do within this work, that they couldn’t do with a straight documentary about life in the city? I think the clue is in the title, it is about bypassing the names on the map and the negotiated records of history, in order to uncover the emotional undercurrent, the heart of Yaboos. 

At times the imagery is contradictory showing perhaps a tempered normality, in one shot you see fences and soldiers, in another a fairground with swingboats and roundabouts. The old man slowly going up the steps where the boy is kicking the ball resonates with the symmetry of the father in one window, staring out at the city and the reflection of the now dead grandfather in the other.

There are contrasting worlds sat side by side with the ornate temples, their presence and status sustained by worship and prayer, set against ugly reinforced concrete blocks. Their presence tolerated only after undergoing a shift in the imagination, to now see them celebrated as objects of veneration, and not reminders of occupation. 

Memory plays a huge part in this work, real memories that encroach on our todays. There’s a moment in the film where the young boy is taken by his grandfather, to a place called the Bell Garden. The elderly man says something about not coming back ,and at that moment I thought he was going to do an Aslan, and cross over the other side. In a strange way he already had. Stood rooted to the spot there in the Bell Garden, he is seeing how it was years before and carrying the hurt. In many ways this work is all about the effect and burden of generational hurt. It is heartbreaking to see how one after the other each are nullified by the intractable nature of living divided, once again reminding the viewer about the importance of having a voice and using it.  

Analogies to western politics, current issues that have divided nations, are easily derived from the description of opposing forces, not listening, becoming blinded: government deliberately dismissing their responsibilities to the people, introducing methods to control the population, corrupting democracy through selling fear, it’s becoming all too familiar.

I like the poetry and imagery of the past enforcers all leaving their mark on the city, on the stone, going down through layers deep into the ground. These unstable foundations engaged in a constant struggle. By listening and feeding of whoever the most powerful voice of the day might be, they can rise up like ghosts and try to build their own version of Jerusalem.

You could read all that into it or it could just remind you of the luxury, many take for granted, of being able to have coffee with friends whenever you like.