I do want to do something.

May 22, 2010, 11:52 am
Filed under: Blogroll

Ears are cleared. A roaring sound takes hold of you through your fingertips and your left ear.
While his feet are dancing, he raises his hand, then his fists in a fascist gesture (can’t read). His hips remain rigid.
Arched above his head, his brings his arms down, flickering his hands like a flying bird.
The sounds, indistinguishable, are camouflaged by ones to come. He is moving faster than rhythm, or faster than any acoustically discernible composition. Now he walks again. He is conversing with the chair while people are laughing (?)
We are surrounded by sound and didn’t know it.
He is now staring at the wall, placing his head into the hole. Using the wall circumventing the cavity to produce more sound.
The wall resonates; his hands follow while his shadow doesn’t.
He appears taller than he is, black and white at the same time.
I sense that the performance will end…not quite yet.
He is now using the white flour square and dancing in it. It looks beautiful. The flour pillows the sounds of his feet. The moment is dusty, smoky and quite spectacular.
Who is he talking to now?
I don’t want the performance to end. He is now on the stage again, kicking and clapping with his hand and his mouth, his knees and heel. As he walks away from the flour, I think that the performance might end, now it is raining again.
He stops the steps are barely visible but they generate infinite sound, the guy next to me, the rastafari guy, is patting on the stairs. He tries to follow  the dancer.
He drags the chair on the floor, more noise, the same one. He is still majestic, no sound.
He starts singing flamenco folkloric songs and these are the moves that I like, the rhythm in the hips, Shakira.
There is a little bit of hip-hop as well, with ballet and tap dancing and Michael Jackson is definitely in the room.
He takes off his shoes, and his socks, pulls away his trousers, now the other sock. His back is wet and his shirt clings on his back. He throws his shoes into a wooden circular shape, walks bare foot here and there. The sound is overwhelming and penetrates through all my skin pores making the flesh tremble.
He curves his back deeply and raises his hands highly. He does the same moves but silently. He is very silent now, like bull in an arena ready to charge.
A women with a mini skirt wants to leave. He continues to clap his hands. Sounds from the streets, motors and engines. Now his hands are before his head, and he is whistling while walking
(out of paper)


CATCHING UP…(and practice)
May 22, 2010, 11:30 am
Filed under: Blogroll

I have been waiting to post the following posts. Since Homeworks V, ideas have been building up and thoughts lingering. I could choose to let go, because, these thoughts or these writings might not be very crucial now, or because to articulate them demands work and time and well, the moment has passed and there are no deadlines, and probably no readers .                                                                                                                        “If you do let go (on things you wanted to do, or write, or think about) then they were not that important and if they were and you chose to ignore them, they might come back into other more haunting forms”. Yes, possibly. But I also think that the urgency is felt if the configuration allows for it. Practice becomes everything within that configuration since it renders visible what was there, somewhere and that you ended up finally locating. I am still debating, however:  Do things happen because you work for them to happen or do they just happen? What is the role of the practice for a writer, and what is the relation between practice and urgency?

I will therefore post some of the writings that have been awaiting on my desktop folder (“writings”). One of them is a first experience on writing during a live performance, another is linked to a workshop I took part in  on the archive with the group pad.ma.

Another Editorial Experience…
May 6, 2010, 6:51 am
Filed under: Art stuff, Beirut notes, Blogroll

This one is with Cura magazine, a free magazine issued in Rome, the city where I use to live. I will spare you the details of the many editorial misunderstandings as these are becoming more frequent, hence more banal and common I suppose.

What happened is that I was basically expecting to read  a review of the BAC’s I had written and reworked for Cura,  and  ended up reading, once it was already published, the earlier version of that same piece.

Here is the earlier version, the published one: http://www.curamagazine.com/it/?p=1065#more-1065

And here is what I would have wanted to be published, and that I am therefore publishing



The Beirut Art Center recently opened its 5th exhibition to date, America.This story reports semi fictional encounters and conversations amongst different characters visiting the show and raising a set of issues in relation to the exhibition and its broader context.


An art student from the American University of Beirut: His name is difficult to pronounce. Very young and very critical.

The director: Pretty and diplomatic, clear and straight to the point.

A history professor: Laughs a lot, wears a black shirt with Indian folkloric motifs.
A student in Middle Eastern Studies: Comes straight from an anti G8 protest. Loves Edward Said and Michel Foucault.

A writer: Distant and curious, she wants to know but doesn’t always get the point.

Voice Over: Feminine


The group meeting is at 5. Beforehand, the writer makes a rapid phone call to the director of the BAC and co-curator of exhibition to enquire about the show and about the possibility of a guided tour.

The Writer: Hi, how are you?

The Director: Fine thanks.

The Writer: Do you have time for a couple of questions on the America exhibition, I might write something about it…

The Director: Yes, sure.

The Writer: To start with, why did you choose to work on this theme, and how did you select the works presented?

The Director: Well, we wanted to do something on America, as a myth, America as we imagine it in the Middle East, but America also in general, images from a certain collective unconscious, from childhood fascinations, stories of cowboys and pioneers, but also America and the everyday …We wanted to address different aspects and facets of this country as superpower and as a country capable of provoking feelings of love and hate… We did a tremendous amount of research and didn’t want to privilege one aspect over the other. We didn’t want the show to adopt a single position but rather offer multiple perspectives on the theme. We chose 16 artists, American and non.

The Writer: I see… the majority of artists presented in the show are exhibiting for the first time in Beirut… how did they react to your invitation?

The Director: Most were very enthusiastic. Some even specifically developed works for Beirut, such as Jenny Holzer with her piece Hand Print, 2009, part of broader project collecting a series of official US governmental documents related to the Iraqi war, which the artist transforms into light projections, paintings or electronic signs. For this piece, she collected handprints of American soldiers accused of war crimes in Iraq or post mortem identification of detainees, directly projected onto the wall.

The Writer: I was thinking to visit the exhibition with a group.  Is the BAC developing any programs, labs or guided tours around its exhibitions?

The Director: You know, since we opened, we have had to deal with a lot of crucial issues such as fundraising for the center in order to secure our exhibition program and sustainability. We were able to develop a future perspective for the center only very recently. We could not think an outreach program; we had other priorities I would say.

The Writer: …My question was actually addressing the fact that there are interesting shows presented at the BAC but no framework to develop upon them and reflect on the works exhibited, the show proposed etc…What is the center’s policy in terms of reaching out to the public? I personally think that it is as important as having the show itself…what do you think?

The Director:  Yes, right. Resources allowing, the BAC is putting a lot of efforts in involving universities in its programs. Although we have not formalized an outreach program yet, we are working towards it and regularly propose guided tours. I can tour the group this afternoon if you wish…

The Voice Over: The impression is that Beirut might be stuck in the post war trauma of not having had an institutional space for contemporary art and an exhibition space for many years. But should this reduce all ambitions to blindly reproduce the archetype of an exhibition space/ art center without critically rethinking these models?

The Writer: Would be great…

The Director:  Also, don’t forget that we are being very active with the program developed Around America… Andy Warhol, Lizzie Borden, a performance by Tania Brugera, films by William Eggleston, and other interventions and talks, which all add layers of understanding to the exhibition.

The Writer: yes, maybe…is there anything on tonight?

The Director: Stuart Comer’s video program entitled Andy, as you know I am writing a movie…with Sharon Hayes’ video, Symbiomese Liberation Army, Screed # 16 and An American Family, episode 2.

The Writer: Nice, see you later then thanks for the conversation. I’ll let you know about the piece…

The Voice Over: The conversation has been constructive to a certain extent. The educational problem has not been solved yet and is open to discussion.


5:15 pm, Beirut Art Center. The tour starts.

The Director:  I will guide you through the show. Follow me. Here you can see the Joseph Beuys piece, I like America and America Likes me, dating back to 1974-78.

The Student: The shiny Samsung screen on this big white plinth is impressive…Beuys’ video looks kind of cool next to Ziad Antar’s piece. They both deal with American symbols and icons in a way…

The Voice Over: New connections and associations are created. Who would have imagined, back in 1974, to see Ziad Antar next to Joseph Beuys? Who will articulate these new art histories and how? The students, the curator, the historian? And where other than in this very moment?

The Director: Antar takes black and white photographs of New York with expired films dating back to 1976, today. The result, as you see, are these rather aestheticized and anachronistic images, similar to decaying post cards.

The Writer: Funny, I was having this conversation with an American gallerist living in Beirut about New York, its outdated modernity and fading image…

The Director: Here you have photos of Wall Street deserted in black and white taken by Catherine Opie in 2001. Her panoramic pictures challenge the verticality and monumentality associated with this site of economic power.

The Writer: These photographs, as you rightly suggested, are counter monumental, to such an extent that they produce a ghostly aura…

The Student: Way more haunting than Antar’s dated photographs I think…But among all of these attempted representations, I really like Beuys’ piece. He didn’t see America and neither tried to represent it. He refused to walk on the American soil. From the airport, he was directly brought to the gallery space…There he dealt with an animal, a symbol, undoing and doing its symbolism through a living relation, by setting, as time went by, basic rules of cohabitation with another species.

I don’t know, if I had to think about an American symbol, it would probably be A Family Guy, Starbucks or George Bush. Imagine spending one week with George Bush in a room!

The Voice Over: “Even without the actual aggressive intentions of super powers, there is a danger of an atomic destruction of the world. The military technology and the type of stockpiling of weapons which has been preposterously increased no longer admits any control over the total apparatus already impossible to survey. In spite of the stockpiled potential for the destruction of the earth a hundred times over, behind the backdrops of the so called disarmament negotiations the arms race intensifies every year.” (Joseph Beuys, An Appeal for An Alternative, 1981-excerpt).

The Student in Middle Eastern Studies: I came here to see how America was represented in the Middle East. Ok for the myth, the symbol, the healing, but I don’t think America is a myth. I think that in order to understand American power, you need to be informed about their weaponry, you need to have facts of what they are doing and how. American imperialism exists within very material relations of power. Guantanamo is not post-modern. I hate post modernism. Also, I would have expected to see a show for an Arab audience, I mean America is really a controversial topic here! Look at Hezbollah, in their new manifesto, they refer to America as their enemy number one ! In this exhibition, you don’t see how America is perceived in the Middle East on a popular level and what affects are associated with this country. Perhaps in Naji Al Ali’s cartoons…

The Writer: And what are your presumptions on what an Arab audience should be?  Don’t you think that cultural imperialism is as concrete as economical and war imperialism?

The Director: Rather than considering what type of audience for what works, which I think is a very conditioned categorization of the viewer, other questions are posed through the works, such as “how is it that everything continues as before?” Have a look at Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s multi-channel video installation, Case Sensitive America on Guantanamo bay.

The Group enters the black box with 4 screens projecting each a series of image, archival and non. The voice over punctuates the sequence of projected image representing ceiled territories, borders, planes… The voice over questions the philosophical foundations of democracy and, the role of the state.

The Director: If you don’t mind, I will continue the tour. In this room, you have a piece by Kara Walker, Testimony: Narrative of a Negress Burdened by Good Intentions. In this film animation inspired by puppet shows, the slave and the master play out an ambiguous sexual and power game where both roles are deeply intertwined and challenged. Feelings of horror, attraction, abjection and desire are confused.

The Historian: I think that Kara Walker’s take on history is problematic… I teach a course on the American Civil War and I still feel very much in that Civil War. I feel like a participant, not an observer… I primarily define myself as an activist, not as a historian. To me, Walker is a distant observer; she manipulates the strings of her characters from above.

The Voice Over: Civil War, the Lebanese one happened 20 years ago…and artists have been addressing it since then. Not in terms of historical accuracy but by attempting to unmask the effects of an unwritten history in the present. They are not activists, quite the contrary because taking a political position, claiming a historical truth would erase the shadows of grey and muffle the sound of the unspoken …

The Writer: You said that you considered yourself to be an activist rather than a historian …

The Historian: My approach to history is that of an activist.

The Writer: What’s your opinion on Mounir Fatmi’s, Out of History, a video interviewing David Hilliard on history, Africa, America and other urgent topics, 40 years after the creation of the Black Panther party in the USA? It is installed in this other box, covered with faxes and documents related to the party’s history….

The Historian: aah…don’t let me talk about that piece and about David Hilliard in particular!  Back in the days, I was actively engaged with the Black Panther party; it was a time of revolution where claims made sense, collective and social ones…Today…

In the background, intermittently, a voice is heard: … Well, yes the people in the Congo, people in other parts of Africa, are… The Sudan, where there is much genocide…those are issues the world should be concerned about because the death of any man diminishes the species of humanity, so we should be involved wherever there is a catastrophe, wherever there is an assault on human kind. It our duty whether we are in Africa, in America, in Latin America, to support the human right causes. I think that we all come from Africa, without a doubt. I think that it is important that the only thing that separates us is distance… You know…its important for young people in Africa and wherever they are, to understand that every situation is different, they have to understand their environment. What worked in the 60s in my community may not, and probably will not work in their community today. But there are certain universals and one of those universals are that if you relate to the people, the masses of people and you are working for the people’s interest then you will certainly be victorious…” (Excerpt from the interview with David Hilliard in Mounir Fatmi’s video, Out of History, 2005-2009).

The Writer: But this is precisely what fascinates me about this video. Mounir Fatmi creates a space “out of history” grounded in a person that is still alive and part of that history. The documents (faxes, letters) that Fatmi inserts in the video- also covering the video box’s surface –  are superposed on Hilliard’s figure. Through this visual juxtaposition Fatmi questions the workings of documentation through a maneuver where he himself produces another piece of that history, the video.

While listening to the video, one starts dissociating Hilliard from his historical figure. There is something captivating in his tone of voice, his punctuation of words and in the way he gesticulates his big hands with large diamond rings on his fingers. Fatmi’s video produces a live document,not knowing precisely what is being documented, besides the act of documentation itself…

The Director: Well, this is a bit far fetched…

The Student: There is also a piece by Greta Part on history, Using History.

The Director: Yes, a series of colored photographs representing the reenactment of historical moments or symbols pertaining to American history. The artist questioned the ways in which American choose to commemorate their past, and how they literally embody it…

The Student: Nice, you even have a couple posing as the Black Panther party and representing David Hilliard!

The Writer: I am interested in understanding processes of identifications, historical and social. Mounir Fatmi comes himself from a marginalized community in France…He might see in Hilliard a figure through which voice or enunciate a personal condition or battle. Same thing works for more main streams history such as the one depicted by Greta Partt where American choose to represent and to identify with a certain image of that history…

The Voice Over: A question remains; can the relations that are being mapped through this exhibition- Hilliard, Fatmi, Beuys, Antar, Kara Walker- be played out in the symbolic place of a white cube? Can these different points of view articulate new visions on America, on Lebanon?  Can they produce new art stories? New scenarios and relations?



Name: Fares Chalabi

Department: Fine Arts, American University of Beirut.

The curator said that they didn’t want to give one determinate point of view in order to let the spectator free. As if Freedom, and the statue of liberty welcoming US at the gates of the new world didn’t already have that American flavor we enjoy in our cigarettes. America – the melting pot, the land of the free, the no One’s land, where every point of view is one more American point of view – requests a no “One point of view show” in order to reflect American representations.

America is one and multiple, as any objet, “Michael Jackson is black and white”. But maybe America is one and multiple in a different way, the American way. What if America was really what it claims to be, “The land where anything could become true”. It is as if America didn’t have a face, or content per se, as if its identity were to be without One. Its identity proclaims openness to all, including the brutal forces as well as the more human, creative, and sensitive ones.

American soldiers in the Antarctic, in the jungle, on the ocean, in the desert. Always equipped with the right weaponry and the right colors; green, red, beige, and blue soldiers; and the two magnified letters U.S; us (An-My Lee). Next room, a video game, “The night of Bush capturing”, which is Al Qaida’s version of the U.S video game “The night of Saddam capturing” (Wafaa Billal).  Knowing that al Qaida’s main figure, Bin Laden, was a former U.S trainee, also one of us. As if, the U.S most deadly enemy, was also one of U.S, playing their game, with their programs. The voice off in the Guantanamo piece asks, “How is it possible that the U.S produced this, how democracy could…”, once again questioning America’s inner contradictions (Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri).

These contradictions however can only be possible if we refer to One America, but we are not. The Americans did conquer the Indians but maybe, in return, they have inherited – from the Indians – the repulsion to the One, to the unifying principle. Instead of the One, a plural – the Americas, the United States – reflected on or auto portrayed in a ‘no single point of view’ exhibition, is today’s America’s single point of view.

To conclude, as Michael Jackson puts it: What about U.S?

The Voice Over: The student’s review was never published although he tried to push it in a couple of newspapers and art magazines.

This conversation is inspired by discussions with AUB students, Sandra Dagher, Prof. Noel Ignatiev, Gabrielle Magro and Fares Chalabi.