How did you start writing when you were in Syria? What inspired you?
Before university I only had a few immature efforts to my name. I was just like any other teenager who wants to be a poet or a writer.
When I went to university I decided to study mathematics. My plan was to specialize in this scientific field while expanding my reading of literature. It was a difficult decision to make but, looking back, it was a good one, despite all the burdens I had to bear afterwards.
So later I started to write and had stories published in Syrian newspapers. I also took part in some events. I was 21 when my first collection of stories – ‘This Marble has Cracked’ – was published. It also included poetry. Here’s a translated extract:
Noise erupts in a soul well
Wrapped in sleeplessness longing for the one it’s missing
The seas crawled over and drew nearer
The steps of the absent people if the way was far
And the wind pockets in my soul moved
The wounds competed with what I have
Their spectrums were floated with fertilised storm
Their spectrums pardoned what I cannot bear
I take the leather away from creatures
And in my heart I instil it with exhalation
I emancipate my ribs in the cold
Until veins embrace them and they get plaited
It was the start of something new. I began a project, alongside my literary project, after I left Syria for the first time for Jordan during the revolution with all the internal and external changes that were happening. This project was to set up a platform for recording literary texts written originally in Arabic or translated from other languages. Everything was done to a high professional standard which even improved gradually through voice and sound production training and, especially, after I set up a private recording studio in my house.
This platform on Soundcloud became important when I noticed that many illiterate young people were starting to take an interest in the writers whose works I was recording. I tried to diversify the content and to make sure that I didn’t get dragged into popular but trivial writing. My plan was to provide something different.
This project was followed by other projects that worked in parallel. One was a sound ontology for two Arab cultural organisations, I also started a partnership with a German website to publish Arabic recordings and began recording a book of extracts from Syrian poets in exile which I have finished and is due to be printed soon.
In Jordan I published my first collection, titled ‘The Taste of Bab Sharqi’. After that I held off on publishing further works as I felt I needed to make some fundamental changes in my writing’s structure, shape and vision; this is what I have been working on for the past four years.
As a creative professional now based in Europe, a very competitive environment, how do you manage to survive as an artist? How has this new context impacted your art practice, socially and culturally?
I think it’s really difficult if writers want to depend financially on creative writing because the income from this work could be piecemeal and sometimes non-existent. In trying to get to a point where writing can be depended upon financially one might end up compromising creativity. However, I always try to find other work that may be related to creative writing but at the same time guarantees a stable income. This includes cultural projects, journalistic work, sometimes doing voiceovers and editing works in Arabic.
At this stage in my life, after moving to Germany, I’m trying to focus on learning the language as well as on developing my own sound project, creative writing and collaborating with German artists on new works, such as my involvement in a performance show called ‘Push’.
You and Charlotte Triebus collaborated on this piece ‘Push’ (2017) in which you deconstruct the concept of being human; can you tell us more about this collaboration?
‘Push’ is a performance with me and the German artist Charlotte Triebus. We tried to amalgamate language with performance through a poetic text that goes in parallel with Charlotte’s performance of deconstructing earth. We tried to have Arabic sounds in this show, drawing on the parallel between Arabic sounds and their meanings.
To explain further:
‘In the performance ‘Push’, Charlotte Triebus and Ahmed Katlish deconstruct the human being, the material and the feelings and the language that expresses it. The Arabic language is the music that reflects the human inside through voice. The shared performance between Charlotte and Ahmed forms the pushing towards the inside. Charlotte’s performance with earth reflects the ideas and feelings that created the human being while pushing fear to the maximum and deconstructing the material into the situation of the first creation. ‘Push’ is considered part of a series of situations that explore the structure of feeling using techniques that depend on multimedia photography in the performance structure. ‘Push’ raises the key question about the interaction between the human being or the language considering it a multidisciplinary performance.’
The first performance was on the hundredth birthday of Heinrich Boll and it was at his house.
Here is a translated extract from the text:
Knives were made from language
Since we started to use words to kill each other.
We had houses with low ceilings but every house had a storage attic where things are stored by mothers who do not throw away anything.
One time in our old house I went hiding in the attic in a hide and seek game. There I was forgotten. No one noticed my disappearance. After that I came to terms with my neglected self.
I concealed my scandals in an attic of a shop and forgot about them there and that came to form my savings of hidden memory.
I knew many attics where children were raped and where books of taxes and expired items- and rare items- were hidden.
Attics for sex and others for workers who liked to pray in hiding and to talk to their lovers and to be beaten.
Safe attics for hiding from family conflicts.
Attics in houses with low ceilings – for loneliness.
I live in a house with a high ceiling and do not know what to do with all this space. I do not know where to hide my unneeded fear.
Like my mother I cannot throw it away.
What projects do you have coming up?
Currently I’m publishing a book, ‘The Steps Sifter’, which is a reading of Syrian exile poetry, with extracts from 21 Syrian poets along with a voice recording for the texts. I’m also finishing a book of stories and poems called ‘Ghosts too feel lonely’ and working on developing a sound platform ‘Teklam’ for recording literary works.