I do want to do something.

To the reader
November 28, 2007, 6:26 pm
Filed under: London notes


Yesterday 27 of November, I went to a talk, part of the Sweatshop series organized by the Serpentine Gallery.The topic was , “On engagements: Confrontations, Conflations and Lateral Engagements”.

A topic that particularly interest me since I am in a moment of my life where I am unable to take a decision, to face my positions, to take responsibility. Even worse, hear my heart beat.

A lot of things came out in the discussions. The speakers where Alexander Garcia Duttmann, Professor of Philosophy and Visual Culture at Goldsmiths.Maria Fusco, writer and director of Art Writing , Goldsmiths, and Tom Morton, writer and curators. The moderators were Lisa Le Feuvre and Edgar Schmitz.
Lisa Le Feuvre introduced the lecture series as following the organizers selfish interest in matters concerning them. She repeated the word selfish a few times. The attention to one’s own private interest, the following of passions, up to the point of falling in a certain madness came up in the discussion as one form of engagement. You engage with what matters to you. And what matter to you could be dictated by many things, one of them is your desires, whatever those may be. See where they lead you/us.
-But is being overwhelmed by something, being engaged?- There is a certain powerlessness in this engagement that does not quite make it contractual, if one considers engagement being this paradoxical position of which is the distance where one can say, I engage or I don’t.
I will come back on this later.
The second, or other direction/attitude towards engagement was formulated by Alex Duttmann and consisted of an erasure of the self towards something. To erase one’s fingerprints to achieved position, a goal, reach an answer. He quoted Kierkegaard and his reflexions on marriage. I am paraphrasing here but he referred to a passage where Kierkegaard was questioning the “whys” in marriage saying that the beauty in marriage is to have as little why as possible. The less why, the more love. This conception of engagement follows the idea of fidelity. I lead op faith based either on the very absurdity the act one is committing, or something that becomes obvious, because, you know, that’s it!

The “yes”, as I have understood it from Duttmann is coming closer to “the given”. He made a distinction at the beginning of his talk between engagement and the given. Engagement is what excludes the given. The given is a certain happiness. Something similar to stupidity. Engagement, once it comes closer to the given, becomes this sort of stupidity. In a contorted path, then, engagement is about saying yes to something that is already there. The engagement is in the affirmation of letting go. To let go, is engagement. ?


This is where the two approaches that were sketched out can meet. In an excess. Saying yes is an excess, something one jumps/falls/ is thrown into. Following one’s passion (the first approach), being excessive is also something that goes beyong the “I”. In both cases, engagement is probably the ability to configure the I and to position it. Saying yes, or saying no. Being in the moment or deferring that moment. Withdrawing into indifference and in boredom, being activists. Taking a decision or refusing to take it. The moment I say I, I am already describing a position, a place, a voice, a desire, a history, a language, a grammatical construction. What to do with the I is something else. And this is what can be scary. If I think that I am always already involve, I can direct, construct and build on that involvement. Directing my actions and my desires.


Do I have this power? Or is my only power the one of realizing that I have none, falling back into boredom, a narcissistic retreat into-with myself ( I am thinking here about Sara Kane’s adaption of Phaedra, Phaedra’s Love, where Hyppolitus pushes the limits of boredom and disinterestedness to exhaustion and abjection). This conception of engagement/disengagement brings also to mind Baudelaire’ and his poem, To the Reader, (Au lecteur), published in the Flowers of Evil. Baudelaire’s poem is somehow different because it contains an address, a relation between him and the reader bounded by hyppocrysie and the sharing of the knowledge and the fear before the terrible monster of boredom. In his address to the reader,there is a relation with, but also against boredom. Baudelaire is addressing, but is also maybe calling for.

“Mais parmi les chacals, les panthères, les lices,
Les singes, les scorpions, les vautours, les serpents,
Les monstres glapissants, hurlants, grognants, rampants,
Dans la ménagerie infâme de nos vices,

Il en est un plus laid, plus méchant, plus immonde!
Quoiqu’il ne pousse ni grands gestes, ni grands cris,
Il ferait volontiers de la terre un débris
Et dans un bâillement avalerait le monde.

C’est l’Ennui!- L’oeil chargé d’un pleur involontaire,
Il rêve d’échafauds en fumant son houka.
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère! ”

Engagement. An masturbatory narcissism or a leap of faith in the search of a transfigurative exchange. masturbation or sublimation?

Or simply an address.



Heroic battles. (on the workshop Communities and Territories, Beirut)
November 25, 2007, 1:12 pm
Filed under: Beirut notes

These are some notes taken after the day 1 of the workshop communities and territories organized by amazelab in Beirut from 19 to the 21 of November. The workshop is divided in 3 groups. I am in a group led by Calin Dan and Alfred Tarazi. The title of our workshop is City Tag.  

>What can I do here? For whom and for what? This city is so much, it is so charged its so tired. It’s so used. What is it about Beirut, about its name, about the visceral love and hate relation it provokes?  

>My desire for discussing and having the need to talk more about things people said, thought, wanted, did not know, was cut short by the workshop’s structure. 3 days and the delivery of a product. The form, given the time frame, was agreed to be an individual contribution depending on each one’s background, skills and desires. The idea of subjective mapping, of how to make a city one’s own, to define one’s relationship to the city surfaced quickly. How can I make a city mine? What is my narrative?I felt a bit nauseated by this exacerbation of the I in relation to all this. Not because of the its presence, but because it seemed that this I was the cause and was not only the staring point of many works but the very medium and scope. It’s maybe this scope that disturbed me and the restless desire of appropriation of a narrative (- you can say that my very writing on this topic is my desire to appropriate the narrative of the workshop and to find my position in it- ).

Marwa thought this exacerbation as an attempt to define one’s individuality outside the family, the territory and the religion. The conquest of the “I” , the city and one’s subjectivity as an attempt to emancipate oneself from sectarian and exclusionary dynamics. Performing the I so as to create another realm of understanding. I can understand this, but I can’t see it much more than symptomatic. It  can be a starting point, but to do what? Or maybe it is necessary to do it this way given the burden of the context. Maybe it is a heroic attempt, the impossibility to stop swimming at the risk of drowning. An ongoing battle. Exhausting.

>I just have some doubts about the politics of this conquest because it involves a distance. If one says that a city is not mine, where is one standing and what is involved in this distance? Often, to bridge it, one starts seeing characters as Mohamed the guy who sells coffee at the Corniche as a fascinating characters, old ladies and mad men, fascinating. This is “my Beirut”. Ok, I mean, why not have these stories, but what are we going to do with them and how are you conveying them? I understand the I, and its necessity and the finding of place, but it seems that this search (in the ideas and works I have seen today) leaves no space for negotiation.Maybe there is no time and no space for negotiation. This is also maybe due to my expectation of having the possibility and the space of do something together not as a collection of contributions, but think a group so we can push ourselves a bit further, or not. Meet our limitations and work with them. Not as a group therapy session but let out dynamics lead us somewhere. Maybe that is what most disturbed me, not having the time to instate a dynamic. Maybe there is no time. Maybe there is just time for doing. Maybe its’just my anxiety of productivity.

Longing for a room
November 21, 2007, 11:37 am
Filed under: Beirut notes


In my desire for having a space where I could be alone, with my stuff, my computer and my body, I came across Chantal Akerman’s film “je tu il elle” 1975. A black and white filmic exploration on the subjectivities that form the pronouns, I, you, him and her. In what I consider to be the first part of the film, she spends her time (28 days) in her room, exploring its space, moving its furniture around, doing things such as writing letters to her lover that she lays on the floor and tries to pin down, eats ice sugar compulsively, walks naked and lies on the floor. Her voice and the actions she narrates are not synchronized with the image. This creates a time lag that plays with the way we read the image and fragments the perception of Ackerman’s persona and her space-time environment. My time-space environment.

My stuff is still in London, and my father is here. Aurora is in Rome, and my body. I lost it. Or I can’t really read it anymore. My clothes don’t fit but in a strange way, the legs or ok, by my stomach really swollen. My books and my references, I try to carry, just as my laptop that has become a protesis, the shell of a snail or the carapace of a turtle . Two slow animals that carry their house on them. The space that I carry on my back is missing an o (I broke the keyboard while writing my dissertation).

My friend Karine said that she thought Akerman’s movie was disturbing and anguishing. I didn’t thought so. I envied her . She was completely inside her body, while simultaneously outside it. She was her body, while exploring it. She conveyed me an uncanny temporality, outside the world, having the world inside.

Trying to make my body my room.

98 weeks (“and so much to learn”)
November 21, 2007, 10:22 am
Filed under: 98 weeks research project

My cousin/ partner and I are starting an association, 98 weeks Research Project, based in Beirut. Check out the first article by Kaelen Wilson-Goldie published in the Daily Star Lebanon of the 21st  of November 2007.   

http://epaper.dailystar.com.lb/ (cultural page)

The last photograph
November 16, 2007, 2:08 pm
Filed under: Beirut notes


Maybe it’s not a war on representation; it’s a war on having the conditions that would allow for representation. Being able to look through a lance, make a frame, framing your gaze, constructing a narrative, making an abstraction, pointing at something for reasons whatever or simply looking and producing “reality”. A territorial war more than a war representing territories. I was wondering about the photographer’s pictures (what was he photographing?) when Hezbollah, in their black Mercedes, stopped us in Bourj el Brajeh, in the southern suburbs of Beirut, on a very trafficked road, and asked us quite vehemently to move to the side, taking our IDs and the camera. They stopped because we had a camera, but also, and most probably because we were intruders and suspicious to it, didn’t quite fit, “western” looking Lebanese with a foreigner,  a picture that didn’t click with the suburbs and their aesthetics.

What does it mean to stop the possibility of representation?  To monopolize it if we think that representation is power in Lebanon and that the main parties are constantly propagandizing their leaders, their martyrs and their slogans by carpeting walls and billboards. Is the battle on representation a battle against time? Against the fact that an image vanishes, that the poster becomes yellow and that the paper cracks and falls? A battle against the fact that an image can’t stand still against time? Is the restless production of imagery, of a live archeology produced in relation to this? And what is the cost of this production? If the flower’s on Rafik Hariri’s and his bodyguard’s tombs must always be white and must be changed each two days, how costly is it to keep representation from fading, and how does this effort affect the people and the public? The bigger the efforts and the  battle, the bigger the gaps and the cracks. Is having the complete monopoly the closest thing to collapsing? Is the strive for monopoly and its overwhelming production of imagery a maddening phenomenon or a strategic calculation of visual production? Or both. What probably the warriors controlling representation do not know (the cancelled all the pictures we had taken) is that the production of images is digitalized, and photos retrievable.

Chasing Ghosts
November 11, 2007, 10:51 am
Filed under: love stories


In “Rumor Has it” another american romantic comedy with Jennifer Anniston, playing, as always, the bourgeois not quite bourgeois nice American girl, a bit funny, not quite a sex symbol but nettle sexy, there is one scene. Jennifer Aniston wants to know “who” she is since she can’t identify with her family’s life style. She researches her defunct mother’s history and discovers that before getting married, her mother had a fling with X (Kevin Costner) one week before her marriage. Aniston suspects X to be her father. She finds him and discovers that he is not her father but a charming man with whom, this time; she ends up having a fling (which puts her own fiancialle in danger). I am coming to the scene. After having decided to break away from X, X comes back to look for her. They start discussing what ties them; Anniston’s mother. X remembers how she walked away from him to marry Anniston’s dad and Anniston realizes that her search of who she is has been a search for her mother. Both end up concluding that they had been “chasing ghosts”, which leads them back to their respective regular relationships, which are, of course, not ghostly because based on their marriage commitments and their engagement towards their partners. The ghost against marriage. ( 0/ 1 and probably a cheer leader team celebrating…).

The reason why I have not started chasing ghosts is because I know that once I will start, the ghost won’t leave me. Rather, even if I think I have not started, the ghost is there, more present then ever. It is a matter of recognizing it and walking along with it. The film’s final scene is not very ghostly, or probably it is. The marriage scene where Anniston celebrates her “return” to her former partner. That’s what kept haunting me.

And that’s where I see the choices not depending on the dichotomy between marriage or not, the ghost or not (to be or nor to be). The ghost is always already there.Sometimes it hurts, sometimes less. I don’t think it ever scores.(0/0)

Dangerous Flirtations. On “Hashem El Madani Itinirary. An Ongoing Project by Akram Zaatari”
November 6, 2007, 11:48 pm
Filed under: Beirut notes


Coming from Beirut and wondering in Saida’s old souks felt good. This feeling developed in an economy of loss and gain; the loss of Beirut’s imagined old feel, its souks and the fact that people are actually occupying the streets and inhabiting it, transposed on Saida. I have never known Beirut “before”, but Saida became a site of projection, always in relation to Beirut, to what it “could have been like” (before the war). A present time, that would become the restoration of a past, in another space. The closer I examine my imaginary temporal dislocations and misconceptions, the more the gap stretches between my desire and not only its impossible realization but also the politics it responds to. My search for a certain lost “authenticity” that could only confirm my touristic gaze.

In fact, we were almost all tourists looking at the photographs taken in the early 50’s by Hashem El Madani’s and placed by the Arab Image Foundation in the places where they were originally taken around Saida’s old souk. The sites where the photographs are placed are indicated in a map which has a complex legend (“1. Photograph placed in the location where it was initially taken. 2. Photograph taken in this location but placed elsewhere. 3.Photograph taken in a different location but placed here”). This layered lineage could be seen as an inverted archeology where the object is placed on the site its creation, historicizing as well as reactivating those sites.  It is this return that interests me, a return to what and from where?

A return created by the Arab Image Foundation and Akram Zaatari’s “ongoing project”. At the opening, Hashem El Madani (the photographer) was present. Although I had some doubts about the awareness of his role in this whole project, it seems that Akram Zaatari really wants him to have a participative role in it (he is being interviewed in the catalogue). I am tempted to speculate on Zaatari’s relation with El Madani. El Madani is a living archive. I have been told that he has an impressive and precise memory, but, most of all, he has looked in a lot of eyes, mostly gone by now. Has as looked at Saida through its inhabitants faces and not only recorded them but participated in the historical recording/construction of the city’s inhabitants, their activities, their families and their love stories. He has mapped the city’s social life through individuals portraits, and when asked by Akram Zaatari “ Is there a particular person you regret not being able to  photograph” he answers “ I would have liked to photograph all the residents of Saida, because this is were I live” (Hashem El Madani Studio Practices.An ongoing projecy by Akram Zaatari, The Arab Image Foundation/ Mind the Gap. P. 15). This inexhaustible desire is where the boundaries of representation are touched upon, and if I can speculate, it is with these very limits that Akram Zaatari is flirting with. Within the shifting boundary that delimits the role of documentation and the drive behind it; between one all encompassing desire and the regulation, classification and understanding of a historical narrative. And, it is, according to me,the flirtatious nature of the archive that renders it interesting.

When transposed in the space of the souk (it is the first project of the Arab Image Foundation were the photographs are placed in their original location), this flirtatious relation can have some unexpected effects, a fantasy confronted with the actuality of a situation.  The before/ after dialectic of the  superimposition of the photgraphes in their original location produces something that dissolvesthe narrative. I was entering space, lived spaces, actives one.  I entered a small barber shop were three men were getting shaved and a caffe where there was only masculine presence. I penetrated spaces where I was not meant to be. This activation was quite violent. The nostalgia for what it “might have been like” or the attempt of creating a before/after link was completely overshadowed by my experience of the spaces I was in.

As for the shop workers, they swiftly transformed and appropriated this intrusion, actualizing it through the creation of another narrative where they become a part of it.