Silent Fortune Telling: Art or transaction?

Annabel Daou conducts a silent fortune telling session in an art installation called Fortune at Art Dubai 2014. Image by Pawan Shinh / The National
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We met Annabel Daou at Art Dubai where she was charging a nominal fee of Dh10 for a silent fortune telling reading. Tucked away in a corner of the fair, without pomp and circumstance, Daou welcomed a steady stream of visitors for a couple of hours each day to partake in the ritual. Here we catch up with her and find out what Fortune is all about:

Q: What is silent fortune telling?

A: I read a line on someone’s hand and then write a line in exchange. The reading is silent because I feel like it is like any art exchange, you are paying me and I am giving you something in return. The payment is also about power, it shifts when you owe me. IT is not a gift.

Q: Is it performance art?

A: There is an element of performance but at the same time it is a transaction so it is not performance, it is in the realm of fortune telling.

Q: Why did you choose fortune telling?

A: I am interested in it for two reasons. Firstly the slight sleaziness of it and the manipulative element but also the other side to it that even the most cynical and suspicious of people actually expect a stranger to tell them very big things about their future. It is that intimacy I am really interested in and the trust between strangers and what that trust is.

Q: Can you tell us about the art aspect to it?

A: All of my work is language based so this is quite close to what I do anyway. I am really interested in the misunderstandings of language and how the small shifts matter. In terms of the act itself, I am interested in the democratic nature of it because anyone can access it.

Q: Can you really see people’s future in their hands?

A: I don’t like to talk about that element too much so I can’t say what I know, all I can say is that if means something then it means something and the process means something anyway. Opening your palms to someone and receiving something in exchange is exposing.

You also had a solo show in Tanja Wagner’s booth – is it linked?

Yes very much so. I do this all over the place, the first time was in PS1 in New York and I wanted it to be silent because it is kind of the antithesis of fortune telling which often relies on visual and verbal hints

Q: Do you believe in seeing conventional fortune tellers?

A: I can’t tell you if I do or not but I think we all walk a line between cynicism and belief and somehow we all have a desire to buy into our own future.

Find out more about Annabel's project here :