Notes by an Inner Killer
“Is it safe you think?” she just asked, watching me look up at the gigantic crystal chandelier hanging over us from twenty meters high on a single chain.
“I suppose” I answered, turning to her. She smiled. “But I understand that one would ask the question, seeing such a big layered piece held by just one chain”.
“It must weigh about a ton, don’t you think?”
“It certainly looks like it from here, and Ries wanted to jump on it, from which floor again?”
“I don’t remember, the sixth I think, what does it matter which floor by the way”
“Well it might seeing the added weight would be bigger when you jump from higher up.”
“I suppose, but I don’t think it would make any difference here”
“Yes I suppose”
“I mean, sometimes a small thing has unprecedented effects”
“Yes I see what you mean. I would imagine each decision we make at some point in time has bigger and bigger effects down the road.”
“Indeed, but I also believe that with each choice, the other roads we could have chosen are still there, and create as many options of us, and as many possible lives”
What she had said made me pause, and at that time it became clear that she was special in an unequivocal way; she had this androgynous look that made it possible for anyone to fall in love with her, whether man or woman, young or old she swept on every level. I ventured: “well maybe I can help you some of those options of you”.
“So you would be my sliding doors”
“I would love that, if you let me.”
Silvia had eyes, and lips that made Angelina Jolie look too extreme, and a short straight nose that you would find on too pretty boys posing in Italian fashion ads. Silvia could have easily been that big sister, young mother, perfect wife or best friend you’d always have wanted to have, and there she was finally, at the Hotel Nazaries in Granada, accompanying Ries, and young Dutch film maker who had been invited for a small edition of the Campus Party event. He was with us just a few moments back at which time he joked about jumping on that hanging chandelier, a joke that Silvia brushed off as an infantile desire, as if Ries in her mind had seriously considered such an action. He was wearing a printed summer jacket on a yellow T-shirt whose motifs an artist friend had done.
“Did I tell you I loved your Jacket?”
“Well yes actually.”
“I bet it’s a Margiela”
“Would you believe I don’t really know?”
“It’s possible” Silvia did not wait, and already had her hand at his lapel “… No, it’s Dries…”
“Of course, I should have thought of him first” I cried “it’s just that I saw a Margiella jacket a while back that was just like it. In any case I love Dries even more”
“Oh do you?” replied Silvia ironically. I picked up on it, but pushed on fueling her attitude at the risk of being tagged a male fashion victim; the worst possible kind.
“Yes indeed.. and I’m sure you have designer things on you” I said turning to her.
“Of course I have! We love fashion don’t we Ries?” she said with clear irony… “this is McQueen” pointing to her printed pants. I was expecting it to be the black fully-buttoned blac cotton jacket, or even the felt had that contained her brown hair, giving her this boyish look that went so well with twiggy build. She had her hads tucked in her jacket side pockets, and it took but a few seconds to realize the mistake I had made by focusing on the top; the pants loosely hugged her legs, and gave out unmistakably the bottom half of her body, making-up for the inaccesible upper part. The reason for not looking lower had greatly to do with the terrible attractiveness of the eyes and lips, as well as with that voice and hybrid accent Silvia had.
“I love McQueen!” I said smiling.
“And what designer clothes are you wearing dear?”
“Well I have those Armani pants that I just threw on with other unlabeled stuff”
“Of course! That’s great! Armani is so fantastic!”
She held the expression but paused to see whether I was aware of what was taking place and whether I playing into it willfully. When she was satisfied she smiled at me complicitly, while turning to Ries, although not for long.
“Anyway I love your shoes” I carried on, pointing to the leather-covered black Dutch Sabots she wore so elegantly.
Wael joined us in the lobby. “Are we ready guys? The taxis are here”
Two taxis were waiting outside. Silvia and Ries took the first, Wael and I climbed into the second. “Follow that cab!” I cried, getting in the back seat. “I always wanted to say that!”
Wael tuned to me smiling. “I wanted to say that!”
Wael was a hip-hop rapper living in Paris that beared quite a strong physical resemblance with me, something that Silvia and Ries had picked up on earlier in the evening and joked about by finding a strange normality in that specific state of things since Wael and I were nationals.
I quickly came back to reality when I noticed the fast-paced techno music the young cab driver was playing went strangely well with the collectively consented imaginary car pursuit scenario we were indulged in, especially that the intermittent female notifications from base on the CB radio integrated perfectly with the electro music pushing us further into a Michael Mann shot at night action movie spoof.
“Don’t you find that terribly weird Wael”
“I do!” he said choosing not to dwell too much on the situational a-propos, and concentrate more on the ‘living it’ part.
The cabs left us at Plaza Nueva. Silvia had lived here once before. We followed her for a while. It didn’t take her long to find her old place.
The pub was just off the main pedestrian street. It was packed, half of us were more outside than inside. The specialty there was deep-fried eggplant. We were given a greater number of tiny forks, and in face of this wider than usual choice, there was an added hesitation while choosing the desired utensil.
“Don’t you feel like in a Mikado game?” asked Ries.
“Indeed!” the group response was unanimous.
The floor was littered with tissue paper handkerchiefs. Obviously used but looking exceedingly white.
“Why would they do that?” I ventured “is that one of those cultural specificities that make up the differences between people from different countries, and that each country ought to have to make the exotic part of tourism worthwhile? I mean, can’t they find something else?”
“Stop complaining man!” said Wael, while Ries was pouring a fine string of black honey that they had brought us along with the eggplant plate.
“Sorry for that” I said, while closely observing Ries pour the honey. “and what’s with the eggplant and honey combination? I mean it’s so obvious. I would imagine honey and mustard.
“Yes but we’re not making fine cuisine are we? We’re getting what the people like to eat” said Silvia.
“This thing is great” said Ries not paying attention to the cultural differences insight discussion.
“I wonder whether they change the handkerchiefs on the ground every day or they use the same for many days”
Ries was just finishing an eggplant slice and said off his head “well I asked myself that same question yesterday. We were here as well, and so I tasted one, I think they change them each day” and as he was reaching for the ground, Silvia and I shouted
As always the last piece remained on the plate for a while.
“Take it Wael” said Silvia “you barely ate any”
“No, I can’t. One cannot have the last piece on the plate, we’ve been taught that”
“Well I have a solution” said Ries as he divided the eggplant slice into four equal quarters. “Now you can have one”
Seeing that mine would be the last, Silvia turned to me teasingly “and now it’s your turn”, and watched me cut the final quarter into four thin slices. “I see, so it’s a game then” as I smiled.
“Let’s move, shall we?”
The windows of ‘Antigua Bodega Castañeda’ had grilled bars. The place looked very old place. The wood of the tables, chairs and walls was obviously from another time. I quickly noticed the mention ‘sidre natural’ on a barrel across the bar.
“I’ll take Cider this time”
“No beer?” Ries had it in his mind to have a drinking partner seeing that Silvia and Wael were bent on drinking white wine.
“You’ve been here before?” I dared ask Silvia.
“In the street we were in, I lived a long time ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday.”
“What about this street?”
“I was there yesterday”
“Ok… By yourself?”
“The street outside was packed, but I by myself inside. Just a man across the room. I was sitting next to a tall mirror. I could see myself reading. I read for a while. Lost in my thoughts”
Silvia noticed me looking through her. “What’s on your mind?”
“Something has changed the world, I just can’t …”
“Do you believe in magic Gabriel?”
“I don’t know what to…”
“You should just let go”
“But it’s not…”
“I don’t think you any choice in the matter, do you? Things have just changed. Just let go.”
“Just talk to me, please. I am lost”
“I know. Don’t worry, we’re here. You’ll see, things will make more sense. Just let go.”
“Where do we go from here?”
“We’ll go to places, and get back to where we are, and go somewhere else. This is how it should be. You felt that, didn’t you?”
“I thought I had come to the idea at tha time”
“Well the idea was there, was always there, you just need a push”
“I want to know everything I can about you Silvia” I confessed. Silvia said nothing. “You have a daughter I gather”
“Yes, she’s eight”
“And what’s her name?”
“Zoe means ‘life’ in Greek.”
“Where did you buy your sabots?”
“On the Dutch coast. You that in the Netherlands there are sand dunes? And you can find huge tall plants, sometimes taller than a human being. They contain venemous flowers.”
“Is that true?”
“Oh you should see that Gabriel. There is this Island in Holland where someone started painting bicycles white for anyone to use, and leave for others to use. Of course such a thing could not hold outside of a vacuum. Someone began painting the bicycles black again, and started selling them”
“Were you there?”
“A long time ago. I had some old acid from an ex-girlfriend. When you take old acid, at first you feel nothing, so you end up putting a lot.”
“How did you two meet?” I asked Silvia
“We were introduced some time ago at a friend’s party. Some time later, I saw him while waiting for a boat. We quickly hooked-up.”
“Did you work together?”
“There’s a movie ad I did for Diesel that you can find on YouTube. It’s called ‘Bizarre Diesel Timeframes’. Silvia’s in it, but you won’t really recognize her”
I hadn’t noticed Silvia’s absence until she appeared in the window behind the grilled bars.
“Did you notice the bull’s head behind you?” Ries asked me.
I hadn’t noticed it coming in, but there it was hanging as a head piece on top of the long wooden bar. It was impressive.
“She’s outside smoking” Ries said about Silvia crossing in front of the window in the background, “and then she tells me she can’t do sky diving”.
“I have a lung problem! You know that.”
“That’s what she says”
“I agree it would be fun to see you jumping from an airplane together” I ventured.
Alfredo Jaar’s cutout shadow on the projection of some of his site-specific projects behind him, made it an interesting photo opportunity, still, I refrained the urge. Nearly everyone who was anyone in the local, and quite possibly the regional art scene was in that room at the ‘Homeworkspace’, the newly changed name of the ‘Homeworks Academy’ in that fast becoming hip area of Jisr at the outskirts of Beirut.
Emily Jacir was there too. She was taller than I had imagined. I met her two days after Alfredo’s talk, along with him at the end of Gemmayze. It was a day before the official opening of the Homeworkspace. A party I didn’t attend in fact.
A few days before Alfredo’s talk, I was with Francois, a French art amateur neurologist, who had come to Beirut for a joint project on Alzheimer’s Disease with my university. I took him to see Andrée’s Gallery in Quarantina, a week before Marwan’s solo show opening. Elger Esser was still exhibiting his photography, along with the Herzog collection that Andrée had brought from Basel. Of all the Lebanese galleries, she was the only one to exhibit at the Basel Art Fair this year.
“This is wonderful work” said Francois, looking at one of Esser’s large prints.
We had just arrived, greeted by Claudia’s grin. Mounira was there. She was preparing for her book signing that was to take place a few weeks later, and in which I was to play an interesting role. She left shortly after we arrived. I went by Claudia again, while going to wash my hands. I took the time to notice her expression as she was turning her head away, right after that polite smile she tried to hold through the lapse of our eye contact. I guess she hadn’t appreciated some of the jokes we had made, Rainer and I that day before Halloween, at Torino’s in Gemmayze, but then again when she suggested that one does not say such things when one is a friend, I just answered that “we aren’t really friends, are we Claudia? I mean when I offered to meet over coffee, you said that I should drop by at the gallery, at opening hours.” After that Claudia left of course, offering to pay, but not paying, much to Rainer’s discontent.
When I came back to Francois, he was already in the Herzog collection exhibition.
“This is wonderful”, he said admiring a 19th century view of the Port of Beirut.
“It is. Sometimes I wish I lived back then. Of course one can only wish such things, knowing what he knows nows.”
“Thank you for bringing me here, after that day.”
“My pleasure… in fact, I think that you’re presence here can very well be symbolic, if one wrote the narrative of it all.”
“Oh, and why is that?”
“Well because the core concept of my project has to do with neuroscience if you can believe that.”
“When I was young, I read Rosalind Krauss’ famous essay on video’s media being psychological and not physical. It stayed with me. Later on I went into psychology, and from there to neuroscience at the College de France back in the 90s. I met Semir Zeki there. He was in Paris for a talk at our doctoral studies seminars. The interest in art by neuroscientists was just beginning.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“The idea made its way, as you would say. And then quite recently, the opportunity was handed to me, in a way.”
“The Venice Biennale?”
“I did not look for it as a matter of fact. I realized at one point that I was at the center of an interesting power play.”
“In the art world?”
“In the local art scene. You see you can easily separate the people between those who like paintings let’s say, and those who have more brains, and actually have a little bit more art theory in them. Of course there are different levels of maturity and knowledge, and I don’t fancy myself as a specialist. However what all those people lacked, apart from a very few I got know (but even they did not really want to exercise that) was the ability to ask questions.”
“Yes, real questions, not the kind that are more of a rhetorical rite of passage than anything else. You see, I found out that in art, in general, that legacy of the aesthetic, and of the artist/benefactor relationship made it nearly impossible for people within to ask questions.”
“Well then, why would someone like you would want to get into the art world to begin with?”
“Well because, simply put : there is no outside anymore; and quite frankly philosophy doesn’t cut it; it never has. Questions have to be asked performatively, and at one’s own expense. I suppose ancient civilizations could still afford maintain a happy blurring between art, thought, and beliefs, but the world we live in cannot, although these times look as though they could come back; after the new Dark Ages we’ll soon be entering, we’ll just keep going backwards till we hit syncretism.”
After that Sophie Calle came to Beirut for a talk about her dear friend (and mine) The artist, but apparently only talked about herself.
I did not attend Marwan’s opening either, there was no need for that. I did attend Rabih’s performance, and I remembered that paper about the dangers of the too pedagogical artist, and what it meant at the end of the day.
I met Walid there again. I hadn’t seen him since Sharjah. He didn’t have time to talk as usual, and I did not insist. We had an email exchange a few days later, and in which I explained the idea behind my intervention in Venice. Walid wasn’t sure about what to make out of the Venice experience yet. I just told him that I would be pushing forward, since I had really no choice in the matter.
Looking back, it all started with him, when in 2004 they were well on their way to do the first pavilion for this country in Venice, in history. Then Hariri died, and the government changed, and the new culture minister who took office allegedly summoned the would-be national curator and told her bluntly that there was to be a pavilion no longer, “not when Israel was participating”. She of course allegedly protested, saying that this wasn’t the right course in the art world, and to which he allegedly answered: “don’t concern yourself with politics. Just go sell art”. She wasn’t too happy about it, and neither was Walid, or the star architect/artist, who was in for the ride. Of course other narratives were substituted to that alleged incident, by each protagonist whose respective versions made the final decision to withdraw the narrator’s agency.
According to the star architect/artist, the withdrawal came because he didn’t get along with the main artist, and didn’t agree with what was to be done in Venice, he had told me that when we met early 2011 at the Albergo roof. He was there witFran architect friend whom I had asked to be the architect for that year’s pavilion after I showed him the newly reserved Arsenale space. The star architect/artist’s friend was very thrilled at first, but then asked the star architect/artist to come in as official architect with him. I liked the idea of these two working together, but I soon realized that the political pressure was so strong that star architect/artist, and therefore the star architect/artist’s friend would only take the job if their ‘friends’ gave them their blessing, and for that to happen no ‘illegitimate’ artists artists get any attention. The star architect/artist had found a solution though; he told me he did not want any artists exhibiting in the Pavilion; he said he would be in on the project on the sole condition that only architects were selected instead of artists; in order to state that artists in Lebanon did not really matter, and they were still ‘Prisoners of War‘. I told the star architect/artist that he would have a point, but that if we only had architects there to represent the country in an art Biennial, then what would follow is that the architects would become the artists, and his point would be missed, especially that he himself was an artist, and not just an architect. He did not get the point.
Walid too had his own version, that he had shared with me earlier, when he called from New York, when he got word that I going ahead with the project, even after we had received a letter signed by seven of the most prominent artists (all of them close friends to the star architect/artist of course) telling us not to go Venice. For nearly twenty minutes I talked with The artist, and tried to demonstrate to him that not going would be a mistake, while he cited his own example in 2005 where he himself had pulled the plug on the project to protest against the fact that his gallerist was to be the curator, and that there should be no conflict of interest on the selection committee for the Lebanese pavilion. I told him of course that there is no such thing as no conflict of interest, but failed to quote Sarah Charlesworth’s ‘Declaration of Dependence‘, not that it would have made any difference at that time. I wondered then, if something of the 2011 process would be used by The artist as he did in 2005 when he blew up the Hamburg gallerist’s letter to the former Culture Minister, appointing herself as curator, atheatre artist and the star architect/artist as the representing artists.
“Don’t do the same mistake as 2005″ The artist said on the phone, and later on by mail, “instead try to find a way to truly represent this country.” That last part quickly became a sort of leitmotiv in all of the artists’ discourse, those who had signed the open letter that had been organized by The artist, and a BAC curator (as I suspect they had a hand in another petition to reinstate Jack, and quite possibly to question the Abu Dhabi version of the Gugenheim). How to represent Lebanon, and mostly by whom, and on what basis, was again asked by one of the betterhalf of the artists/film makers couple, another signatory that I had met at Ginette’s early 2011 as well. The better half of the artists/film makers couple agreed on my selecting the poet/artist, and told me that she definitely work with her on a project for Venice. Of course when I told her that there would be other artists she didn’t know, she again adopted the party line again, as if the question of who would be choosing the artists was either an open question not to be answered ever, like in 2009 (although not in 2007, the only time Lebanon went to Venice, and where two signatories, represented Lebanon along with three more), or a question to be answered by people who had ‘legitimacy’, an expression that her husband had mentioned a while back when a French art theorist met him in New York in the hope to collaborate on a project in Beirut, an offer to which he then answered “what kind of legitimacy do you have for you to work on such matters?” Of course ‘the husband’ had asked that retorical question after having kind of made a fool of himself by name dropping philosophers, and concepts in parts of the discussion that did not warrant such use, probably in the hopes of impressing an attractive woman who knew better than to be impressed by savant words thrown in her general direction.
Still, even rhetorical questions had to be answered, and the way to do it was to make it so that very people asking a question such as how to represent Lebanon with one or two artists (and meaning that some artists represent Lebanon better than others, especially ones who can a have political weight and send letters) contributed unwillingly in a process that ended up representing Lebanon better than any one artist, and contributed allthewhile at creating unanimity in a scene originally laden with rivalry and in-fighting, through consensus around this one man.
My involvement started in 2009, when I published ‘Can One Man Save the (Art) World?’ The artist had read it a few months after that, and found it to his liking:
“When I started reading, I said to myself that the guy had done his homework, quoting Deleuze, Derrida, etc. But then there was reference to mirror neurons and artistic agency, I said this is interesting.”
He was in Beirut, and there was talk again of a second initiative to do Venice after the 2007 group show in Giudecca. We had coffee in Downtown Beirut, with M., a close friend at that time who, as it were ended up adding her grain of salt in an improvised, last minute mirror negative image of Sophie Calle’s work in Venice for which she won the Golden Lion for France; while her work was subsequent to her boyfriend leaving her, my attempt in Venice to represent my country through void inside the Arsenale no less, but beyond any official sanction, made M. cut all official association with me when she felt too ostracized by people from the local art scene, not to mention that she didn’t really believe in what I tried to do in Venice. In any case I found new meaning for the expression ‘death in Venice’, at my expense of course. All was not said though.
In Beirut, in May 2012, around 8:00 PM, in the Beirut suburbs, Chus, and Carolyn are sitting front row. I was sitting on the second row just behind them. This discussion follows with Carolyn at first :
— Are you documenting the agents’ work as well?
— What does that mean?
— It would be nice to keep a trace maybe
— Well there are hundreds of traces… Chus for example, we just started to talk more, and then we started to email more, and then she and I started to work on this notebook thing, and it seemed logical that she would come and live in Kassel, and so she did.
— It’s like an organic process
— So there weren’t any guiding lines to start with
— No, I have no concept (laughs) I really don’t believe before the project
— But maybe a problematic or a question
— Des ‘urgences’ of course there are some urgences …
— Because you must have chosen agents for a reason
— Yes I did…
— I’m very fascinated by the question of agency…
— … I know you would like to ask me for more precise answers,
— No, I’m just curious
— I was not random, it’s based on the principle of no contradiction, so there are no contradictions between all of the notebooks, but there are not necessarily any similarities between them all… so I’m trying to get out all the epistemological closures
— No contradiction from a logical point of view?
— But also from an ideological point of view, political … there are no contradictions, so it’s not a relativist project, it is based on that principle of non-contradiction, it’s also looking at systems of aggregations that also look at the potentialities of love as a political form of aggregation
— So this is like an ongoing project, it should never stop in a way, even when the documenta ends, there should be some kind of continuance of it
— I don’t want to create a sect, or the authority of creating a movement or an institution I don’t believe that the institutionalization of these aggregations is necessarily good
— But if it’s organic, you don’t institutions really
— But then there’s no need to program it now. I believe that other things should have consequences; there are many things in documenta that are not temporary exhibitions, there are many possibilities of worlding, things that didn’t exist and now exist, and that can change even the nucleus of social formation around the world, but they don’t need to be branded as documenta
— But what doesn’t go on, I mean things go on either as they are destroyed, or they go on as they are created
— I think the people deciding you don’t even know them
— But many things are not visible in life, why should everything be visible? That’s my question to you. For example facebook ideologizes the visibility of everything, and then we are almost in the fascism with this society, so why does everything have to be visible?
— It’s true we tend to be consensual. Indeed if we could be dissensual through facebook, through better thinking maybe
— That’s a utopian view inspired by the internet, I think the internet can be turned off. Facebook is a private corporation based in California in a very specific building, you can knock on the door, so therefore, if there were anything seriously dangerous they could turn it off, and it could end up being Apple, it could end up being Google or any of the other coporations in control of social media
— But we can’t communicate anymore I think without social media
— I’m here in Beirut now, actually… I’ve looked through the potentialities in technology are enormous, and one can subvert them the same way you subvert the society of spectacle, through situationnisme, and divert the use of technologies, but I think the problems in the world are so so big there we should look outside technologies… for example I’m very interested in communication through birds, messenger pigeons
— Interesting, but isn’t that utopian as well?
(Chus then turns to me and says)
Chus : No, the Pentagon is using it
Carolyn: I don’t think it’s utopian, it’s increasing also, it’s also for the less wealthy in the world
Me : You’re imagining a better relation with Nature?
Chus : I don’t know even the concept of Nature: it’s a cultural concept. I do think that humans are overrating the inventions that humans make
Me : Yes that’s true
Carolyn: the so-called living world is constantly making inventions; I mean for example epigenetics shows that the genes … have so much information; so the world is inventing all the time, more than humans are doing
Me : So you’re using the concept of life, instead of Nature
Carolyn : Life is not about nature versus culture. We’re all made of itty bitty subatomic particles same as you jacket.
Me : I understand, but when we use Quatum Physics to illustrate, we are aestheticizing the notions we’re using. What do we understand of Quantum Physics?
Ar this point Carolyn goes away, and I’m left with Chus for a while. I venture to ask :
“So you are one of the agents? Is it going well?”
” … and you live in Kassel now?”
“Yes I do… Where are you based?”
“Here, in Beirut.”
“You are an artist?”
“I don’t think so… I don’t know in fact.”
” like that.”
At this point Carolyn comes back.
Carolyn : Have you resolved the problems in the world, yet?
Me : Going back to Quantum physics, I’m always wary when we speak about it, but we only understand it on an intuitive level, whereas the central part of it is counter-intuitive
Carolyn : Actually it confirms the intuitive level. Anton Zellinger said that reality is closer to what Virginia Woolf thought, or James Joyce, so in a way it’s confirming …
Me : But do we need to refer to Quantum Physics? Because we could just refer to Virginia Woolf
Carolyn : I used it to stop the distinction between Nature and Culture. To me it doesn’t make sense
Chus : Quantum Physics makes sense, for the Quantum physicists themselves, it makes sense.
Me : Yes I know but we don’t
Chus : I understand it for 5 minutes, and it’s sufficient
Me : That’s what I’m saying
Chus : It’s not what do you I understand, but if what I understand is relevant, and can be used.
Me : You understand the principle.
Chus : I’m not a Quantum Physicist but I’m able to relate to them
Me : Aren’t you afraid of being wrong?
Chus : I am afraid of being wrong when I dress in the morning or read a book
Me : But you would know if you were wrong
Chus : I would also know if I’m being wrong about Quantum Physics, when I discuss with Quantum Physicists they would indicate it
Me : Yes of course you’ve invited some for the documenta, yes of course. But what if they just tell you that you got it right for the sake of discussion, because they would know that would not know any better, or because they like being at the documenta or whatever?
Chus : Yes, it’s fine enough. Like an artist they would need to live with a fiction, with the capacity of sustaining the fiction of me understanding them, and accepting that my understanding might be wrong.
Me : Wouldn’t that create a divide?
Chus : Not necessarily, I think the question of divide does not exist in life. The fact that you don’t understand does not create a divide, it’s just one way of sustaining a position …
Carolyn, and Chus go on stage. After a brief presentation by Christine, Carolyn starts :
” I’ll read to you the texts about the project …
So … I will do my thing which is read you a statement about the dOCUMENTA(13) 13 to give you a context of how is all this inscribed … And then read to you some texts.
The notebooks themselves are a publication project which is somehow choreographed or un-choreographed … to be more honest. I would like to tell you that documenta 13 is dedicated to artistic research and forms of imagination that explore commitment, matter, things, embodiment and active living in connection with yet not subordinated to theory. These are terrains where politics are inseparable from a sensual, energetic and worldly alliance between current research in various fields: artistic, scientific, and other ‘knowledges’ both ancient and contemporary.
dOCUMENTA(13) is driven by a holistic and non-logo centric vision that is skeptical of the persisting belief in economic growth; this vision is shared with and recognizes the shapes and practices of knowing of all animate and inanimate makers of the world including people
So today is dedicated to a subcategory of that which is people.
Now in December 2010 when Chus and I began to publicly speak about the notebook projects … this what we said
We said that ‘a note is a trace, a word, a drawing, that all of a sudden becomes part of thinking, and is transformed into an idea’
This publication project follows that path presenting the mind in a prologue state, in a pre-public arena, a space for intimacy, and not yet of criticism dOCUMENTA(13) is publishing the unpublishable; the voice, and the reader is our alibi, and our ally.
Note-taking and compasses witnessing, drawing, writing, and diagrammatic thinking. It is speculative, manifests a preliminary moment, a passage in acts of memory aid. With contributions by authors from a range of disciplines such as art, science, philosophy, and psychology anthropology, economics, and political theory, language and literature studies as well as poetry, which is not everything; there are many fields that have not been particularly touched upon
A 100 notes, a 100 thoughts constitutes a space of dOCUMENTA(13) to explore how thinking emerges and lies at the heart of reimagining the world
In its cumulative nature this publication project is a continuous articulation of the emphasis on the propositional, underlying the flexible mental moves to generate space from the impossible
Thoughts unlike statements are always variations, and this is the spirit in which these notebooks are proposed…
In April 2011, in Cairo, we said: A notebook is a rehearsal space; it allows the words, the lines, the drawings to be there, before being actually there before anybody else than oneself; thinking is not yet there, writing is not yet there, method is not yet there, and slowly, all of them fall into place
The notebook is a receiver since it is used to quickly capture our thoughts as well as the thoughts of others, and the images too
To reimagine public space requires the reclaiming of critical privacy first of all; a space where we can prepare ourselves for a comprehension of what a new foundation of the public realm may entail
The notebooks are an attempt to get closer to the point of confluence between an artistic and intellectual life inside and outside one’s own world; the inside is pure potential, the outside: the possibility of its own actualization. Both are needed more than ever, and are articulated in a state of hope
How to connect the minds in order to see how promises can be fulfilled?
How can challenges be transformed into methods?
And how can the transformations in thinking translate into a social field that is by necessity also normative?
And in New York, on May 10th 2011 we added:
‘A notebook is a venture, it is pure speculation. Can one effectively transform thinking, while thinking at the same time?‘
The notebooks show us the hand trying to trace other logics, trying to travel a bit further away from the already known in order to cover a distance between (…) in the near future. The whole series is an exercise in choreography that creates movement between sense and understanding.
To be visible a movement requires a dramatization and that is why these image texts do not explain, presenting instead with affect reality time matter text thought space and doubt we apprehend a situation; it is a new situation that involves the new status of text, and art, but also that of readership. Of thought but also that of the limits of critical thinking. Of life, but also of the precarious conditions of the personal and the political. Of image, but also of its potential for retreat, and of singularities who decide to share their life in the form of notes.
The New York presentation took its cue from all these questions; the status of the text, the interplay, between raw material and finished work, between spontaneous gesture and the production of culture, between the unregulated world and regulated normative systems. They address the existence of a Third space that appears between the polarity of the creative and the constrained; a space that defies the commonsensical logic of the double versus the idealistic, possibly even the natural laws of market versus the practice that can remain in a permanent state of surplus
And then, a week later in Argentina … we said: In the active writing, it is natural to begin with a subject close to one’s interests; through writing one also becomes aware of the fact that it is possible to compartmentalize oneself in many different ways.
The problem then is not such much of how to integrate the fragments, but of how to understand how the migration of thoughts into forms, images into words, and intuitions into notions. It is this continuous movement from the precision and the concreteness of one form of life, transmuted or imported into another that a notebook registers.
But, Chus went back to Greece, and in Thessaloniki, in September 2011, we added:
“A notebook was a revolutionary device for the care of the self in Ancient Greece the hypomnemata. A note is not a text, it is positioned outside discourse. A note lacks the ideological dimension that is characterized by intention, unlike the statement, or the manifesto, or even the essay of critical theory. Unmarked by the will to convey a message, notes are generating impulses having a compositional function.
A note begins with an affect, and the sense that something is of importance; let’s say the laden state and taste collapse. Text and image, thought and text, text and reality, reality and a note; these oppositions insist on differences, and that is not necessary, nor useful.
The note gleams with contradictory aspects, a note does not represent not even thought, however it is charged with representational effect, with realistic indications.
In times of pre-collapse, like in Greece, and elsewhere today, the right to dissent from rules may be called for, as well as the needs for the instruments for the construction of a relationship with oneself. As a governor manages the governed …, as a head of household manages the household (…) the hypomnemata, the notes, the notebooks are personal but not intimate; a collection of what one could hear, see or read the writing on the walls of a demonstration for example, and this to an end which is the care and constitution of the self, able to recover as part of the objective world participating in its invention, and then … to skip a few the Oslo, and the Paris
in London, … we added: A notebook is a picture in history; notes are the fictions of ideas. A note is an idea that occurs in the mind as a shape and does not exist yet in the world, when it does it changes everything, and nothing is ever the same again; true, only a small part of the world is affected first by a note, but since the note embodies the art of the possible the whole world could change due to a note due to fiction.
A collection of notes is written outside the realm of style and at the same time it constitutes and anthology or an atlas of primary sources, a necessary companion to understand the relationship between experiences images and thought. Notes are mild; they always start in the middle, a result of day dreaming and semi consciousness instead of starting at the beginning, like the conscious writing of history or the exercise of reasoning out of an argument. A note is instead a multitudinous middle
The notebook project is a reflection of the state of art history as well; it shows the forming of thinking in an unassuming way, the waking of a readiness in writing for propositions whose contour and arguments are still in a state of becoming; it is getting ready for a transformation of the text that involves matters, objects, life and art … And there was a few more, so … we wanted to add: The note is a way to eventuate writing; when a function such as writing is liberated from an old duty, it invents, and when language is transformed all is transformed. One does not read a note, one sees the note as one sees any other living creature, like grass or a tree … or birds or fish … but one may also see a note, as sees a stone, sediments, or a rock, or a desert, or a mountain, or little plants that grow through the tiny cracks of broken pieces or mortar or concrete in houses in some cities.
Notes can test the monotonous nature of written text of the constructed discourse, introducing syncopations into the text because they constitute a polyphony of rhythms inextricably jumbled together allowing tone cadences to proliferate.
How far can a note or a 100 thoughts in the form of notes push this drift of theory and practices away from the classical rules of analysis in text composition? The notes can test the jurisprudent effort made by written forms, the tendency of writing forms to repress the pleasure of an idea resonating, the audacious gestures of loops of multiple storytellers, the audacious thoughts of Mahgoub for example in reinventing and imagining something, a new society, … decolonizing, participating in that process.
The question all these notes have in common or common to the works present in dOCUMENTA 13 could be formulated thus:
‘What and how do we think when we know?’ rather than, ‘What do we know when we think?’
So I would like to end on that note, and that question, and allow us to think together a little bit with Chus on the general framework, the motivations, the thoughts behind this process…”
Chus takes the microphone and says the following, among other things :
” How can one create a writing from art history? How can history actually write?
The notes can be seen not only as manner to relate to the history of art but also with an event, which is the exhibition… called dOCUMENTA (13), but also with the political dimension that such an exercise in writing and such a project which on the one hand entails commissions of specific texts, to be written in the spirit of notes, notes that are already existing and that were printed as a facsimile with introductions of some authors and this collaboration between artists and writers poets theoreticians that … decided to actually enact this kind of spirit in the form of a note and a notebook. So that kind of make us think as well into what is this kind of writing doing? How is this writing reflected not only in the event, in the situation of the art world, in a context a specific as an exhibition as … dOCUMENTA but also in the history of relating the back and forth relationships in between the object and the writing.
Michel Serres in the end of an impressive book that is very strange, which is called ‘The Five Senses’, at the very end of the book where he’s like talking about very abstract things that are very difficult to define, talking about the role of the senses in knowledge, and he comes to the last two pages of the book where he’s saying that what we need really to understand is that we have been addicted to language and that we need to reconsider that addiction going back to different relationships between knowledge that we can perceive through the senses and our understanding of what theory is… so where is distance, where is the analytical position of the writer vs the writing and also where are all the knowledges or all the forms of creating ideas that can create thinking but perhaps not pointing towards a program.
So the notebook project is actually a non-programmatic project, it’s a project that in the very manner that … tries to describe the relationship between historian and history, between the writing and the event, between the event that has a potential of being part of a bigger writing that we call history, and the event perceived as pure presence, as pure immanence, a present that we are inside
we can also think that the notes create a substance that is able to think inside itself or let’s say that you initiate a force that actually contradicts the idea that we should actually start with theory, and um, kind of … proposes the possibility of starting with thinking or with a text that is actually not yet an argument that is not yet even a text but only an in-between space between a drawing, a note, and an idea, or perhaps not yet even an idea, an intuition, and therefore the idea of the very notion of theory in relation with the art practice is in suspension.
Why would you want to suspend the notion of theory? I would say, you would only like to suspend the notion of theory in order to actually like recreate or rehearse the possibility of theory appearing again or having a relationship with thinking that actually could be able to like um connect us differently with the notion of practice itself.
So imagine a writing project that has two very simple ambitions; one is the notion of finding a tone in the very same manner that when you are exhibiting an artwork you really desire that when the artwork and the viewer encounter they will find a tone, and this is how we define actually perception or reception of an artwork, by finding a tone in which the communication is possible (communication being a strange word to use in that framework). The second thing would be actually to situate ideas in the same manner that we situate works and to create in the notebook, in the process of incorporating words, a place for works, a place for ideas, a place then for text inside the exhibition in the same manner that when you are creating an exhibition you try to actually find the right place for the artworks to live, to find the right situation for the encounter in between the viewer and matter.
So one can simply think that such a project constituted by 100 exercises in thinking and speculation are actually only an effort to find a place for language again inside the exhibition, and therefore the exhibition, and the 100 notebooks, in the very moment that they are together; in summer there are going to be completely together, then they exist in a complete situation of simultaneity; they are both in place, and then the tone is for you to discover in the manner that you are gonna go back and forth in between what you perceive or perhaps what (…) encounter through the media, and read through the different text … So I think I could stop here with this kind of discussion …”
What follows is bits and pieces of the discussion after the talk. Carolyn says :
“… what we were trying to describe as the method in these notebooks; there are some far-fetched leaps which are made, and they are often those juxtaposing materials that would not normally be juxtaposed in an academic publication… So, I would just like to ask Chus, and Salah perhaps, how you feel that this notebook… fits in the totality of the notebooks, and then perhaps after that we can open up the conversation to the people who have kindly come to listen to us for so long.”
Chus then says :
“No, I think that … Salah put it really well, in what he said about ‘passionate address’… that can be applied to all the notebooks, and this what actually makes them similar to what …
But then going back to the quote of Derrida, I think also that it kind of creates a specter, that notebook, of another notebook that is not existing, and probably would never exist of another person that we have been discussing, and that actually connects to this idea of writing about political thinking, and actually writing … simultaneously, in the case of Salah Hassan, about art practice, and art history, which is the case of …, so (…) was a German historian that actually started in 1906 a very very strange novel that in 1926 he declared not anymore a novel but a tractatus of history, and he at some point in that text he says, the only way he could imagine being political in the 20th Century is being an art historian, and then he that was an anarchist who actually committed suicide a few months later than Walter Benjamin was producing two types of texts: fictional political novel that could be read as both, avant-garde writing but also kind of political manifestos, and then monographies, possibly the most important monography of Picasso at that time, and then he was saying that he could, you know, and I think that … So I think the context, not the notebook in itself, is actually bringing the two texts together, because the context is actually an art context, and it’s an art way of thinking about these notions of political … So I think that this kind of strange Moebius paradigm that the notebooks are creating the relationship to the real and art history … is quite interesting.
Carolyn again :
” Well it would be a pleasure to hear what you would like to know, there are so many different, you would like to add, sort of curiosities. I mean it’s difficult because you haven’t read the notebooks…”
A Canadian writer then asks a question:
“Someone has to start, I have a sort of a critical interrogation regarding the repositioning of theory with respect to practice … on the basis of that wonderful quote of Cesaire that you finished with where he refused that binary between the particular, and the universal, … one of the underlying binaries that Marxist thought has … condemned is that of the division of labor, it’s the most alienating binaries there exists… and when you say … that you are in favor of a renewed promiscuity between theory and practice … or that practices that are in contact with theory but not subordinated to it … but I wonder in a certain respect, by stating it in that way you don’t reenact to a certain extent, albeit in a critical fashion and existent division of labor … where in fact it may be more useful to recognize that there’s a kind of a discursive life of practice which implies theory which itself practice, in that sense in refusing the division of labor you, even critically by saying it’s not subordinated to theory, you in fact reproduce the possibility of it… where I wonder with the type of practice we have today this division of labor is relevant…”
This is the discussion that follows :
Carolyn : Well I’ll let Chus answer that because she’s better at those kinds of answers but just… no … I don’t have this fear that I’m re-proposing a division. I actually feel that a lot of practice have been subsumed within the discursive to a degree that is … the same way he says that ‘we are not to choose between particular and universal’, one is not to choose between the discursive and reactionary expressionism or some sort of stupidity of the art object being quiet so … but I do think that this is constantly an accusation, I mean there’s a constant sort of subtle quiet undercurrent accusation … that if one were to question the discursive one ends up in some sort of reactionary mode, in other words, that the intuitive or the notion of the intuitive is inextricably going to carry us to a place we don’t want to go.
The writer : I agree but I don’t think that intuitively we are more linked to practice than theory, in that sense
Carolyn : The intuitive more intimately connected to practice … I don’t believe that this dichotomy should be in place
The writer : Exactly this division of labor
Carolyn : If you want to use that term …
The writer : Actually I think Cesaire should be very helpful in decolonizing the art world, and the hidden prescriptive and normative conceptual
Carolyn : Yeah, I agree with you completely, really completely, I think that you said something that I feel intuitively … but being an Adornian, I feel that when you say something like that it’s false the moment that you say it. So it’s better to just not say it. I don’t say that in a negative way I just mean that one can enact that without conceptually describing it as a modus operandi, if you know what I mean… What you were just saying like decolonize … I agree with it but I would not say it… because it would become a frame in which the practice of decolonizing would be… framed
Chus : But one could also think that, that, umm… Why don’t we get simpler, in the sense that you can also see the notebook project as just an attempt or an exercise in trying to relate writing and practice, no? Umm… you have an exhibition, a project and you mmm… need somehow … you are confronted with the idea of relating works to texts to the practice… which is something one also historically analyze, how it started and all that … so once that relationship is there it’s normal that you try to ummm… think about it. So you are thinking, you know, umm theory, you are thinking all the time… I listened to your questions you used the metaphor of space : you talk about distance, being closer, not being closer, being superimposed … umm being inside being outside, if you don’t think about… this is just metaphorical language, because theory is not above is not below is not on the right is not on the left you know, it’s just like, it’s a metaphorical, it’s an image, in art language produces images that situate that help us imagine how theory…, so imagine that the notebook series, is another imagination that use a different set of metaphors, that actually these ideas of distance, of critical distance, transparency awareness, and all this language which has a political history, and something quite new, and only we inherited from 68 on … but actually it has been in place in political discourse only for the last 10-15 years, and before people were not even using this language so the notebook series could just be like that: an exercise on metaphorically trying to reinvent the connectivity, the ways that images that produce a relationship between matter and words, is different, and also the way in which language enacts or does not enact this metaphorical language so again this is very very simple, it is the idea in between something which is very very important which is images and something which is very very relevant, but we don’t know how to understand it which is matter and then something that is very abstract and sometimes tries not to be which is language. So you have these three things in a context of an art show, and also in trying to produce a simultaneity with the thinking which is very specific and is creating a big difference in the epistemological, let’s say in the relationship between which knowledge has been understood after WW2 in between the human sciences and the ones producing this challenge are artists; Why are artists producing the challenge in knowledge? because art is the one that kind of transit with rigor but without normativity, between the disciplines so therefore it’s important to just try to be cacophonic try to reverberate with that, are we going to succeed? Nobody knows, I think the interesting thing about it is that they are at the end of the day a very simple proposition and what is intriguing about this proposition is kind of having a clue enigma relationship with the totality … Simply thought you can say that : you have an opening on the 9th of June, and you want to kind of keep the surprise… You need to understand that seriously, so in that sense whatever… cannot break the promise of presence and cannot break the enigma … you can also thing that the notebook are just clues that a produced towards that precious moment of presence vs object, why not? so…
Carolyn : I would like to acknowledge Stephen’s question a little more than I did so could you repeat it again? Or articulate it again … so I don’t want to just say so quickly what I said…
The writer : Listening to what you just said I would think it’s more productive to perform … to acknowledge that there is no theory that isn’t performed, and there is no theory that isn’t practiced.
Carolyn and Chus (together) : that is what we are trying to do
The writer : Then in that case …
(a part here is missing to be added later)
Carolyn : So to be continued.
Another question is asked, and Chus responds :
“By saying that there is no program we don’t think into the dialectical, no thesis, antithesis, synthesis… so it’s a kind of a wishful thinking in a way, so it’s a field that is able to think itself, there is no dialectical because there is no index, the notes are not planned according to an index, there is no indexical plan, a cursus for a future book, and that points to a habitus that we do have in thinking about things… we want to create a way of thinking that is different from the way of thinking in place since the last decades in relationship to art production.”
I ask again :
“Aren’t you afraid that you might be laboring under the might that you are starting something new?”
Chus : I don’t know, I hope so, there is the risk and danger, and there is the myth of wanting, and the desire of “doing as” because if not we could be like civil servants with an art event that carries on with an agenda that carries on and at the end you have two things; a manual or a manifesto, so yes…
Carolyn : Ah this brings me to skepticism you know Sextus Empiricus said that there are three schools of philosophy; one is the dogmatic like Aristotle, who say there is truth, the other is the academic, who says there is no truth, and therefore assumes … whatever, and one is the skeptic that continues to search… never gets there (laughs) but absolutely continues to search, so the skepticism is not a relativistic position and it’s not a cynical position, it’s certainly a position based on a kind of fundamental “naiveté” which is ‘yes sure we are searching for this famous truth, the fact that you don’t get there ’ doesn’t mean that… the fact that the position in which the committed utterance occurs … Skepticism is one of the most optimistic lines of thought throughout … it has an interesting history. So you can be in a position thinking about worlding as Anna Harraway thinks of it, to be with the animate and inanimate makers of the worlds. It is also about putting one’s body on the line as an intellectual, as a writer, an artist, a tapestry maker… The naïve mode of committed utterance that can open up spaces for worlding.
Carolyn answers another question :
“Well there are no neuroscientists, but there are philosophers, many neuroscientists believe that philosophy is obsolet … But I don’t have a concept, and I don’t have a general statement to make, so I can only tell you that are no neuroscientists, but there are philosophers, for example, there are poets, but there are no architects, there are artists who make film, but there are no film makers, … my modus operandi is not to make statements that are overarching and that would become false at the moment they are spoken …”
Chus takes over :
“How can it be randomic and not be rigorous… It’s a paradox, but the fact that it’s a paradox does not mean that it’s impossible to think …Think of Salvador Dali, .. I come from Spain, and I never in my life thought that I could go to the archive of Salvador Dali, or mention his work in relation to my life, but then she said “no we should definitely have Salvador Dali”, and I went back to Spain, and I talked to a film maker who told me that Dali went to MIT and started a series of conversations with Francis Crick because the most important thing for him was immortality … he was interested in religion…and then Dali after this discussion wrote a very interesting text about the paranoid method. The paranoid method is very simple, it means that actually things that are not programmatic are there in place in like a certain paranoia, like the notebooks are rigorous, they are relevant, they’re not programmatic, … they are paranoid. What is paranoia? Paranoia is just another way of connecting things, it really is not craziness yet, but it could be… so, we’ll see.”
Some people laugh the rest applauds.
A few days later at Saify Urban gardens, Beirut, I have the following conversation with a colleague from France :
– So Walid’s APT project could be a decoy? But one could say that referring to Jalal Toufic’s ‘Withdrawal Past a Surpassing Disaster’ could be a decoy as well.
– Jalal Toufic doesn’t exist.
– He exists only as a virtual character. My take it’s a dialectic between the dialectic economy and the shadow economy. Now, the shadow economy is not gun running, and prostitution; it’s made of those artistic energies which exist in the shadows generously cast by the spotlight’s attention, which is why Walid start with something that is really flashy, with a spectacle. That’s I say it’s a decoy, it’s like a deer at night that gets the headlight in its eyes. He’s in a sense mesmerized the art world with this partially fictional, but nevertheless critical take on what is most exacerbated form of Neo-liberal capitalism of light in the art world. Because what APT does is that it produces art as exchange value.
– So it’s all true. Maybe if you’re a Marxist and you hate art, you just want to see the first part. But if you think APT is a disaster, wait till you see the rest of the exhibition. Because the rest is about the immaterial destruction that was created by the civil wars. So it’s like people were killed, and buildings, and property were damaged, but immaterial entities disappeared from the ontological landscape. So we’re not talking about a Ponzi scam, that’s what APT is, but we’re talking about let’s say the color red disappearing in a retrospective way, with no way to know what it was like. It’s an image. It’s the real that lost it’s reality, that lost its representation, so there’s no way to know. It’s comparable to what Gerorges Perec does in ‘La disparition’, which is a detective novel where they’re looking for something that they don’t even know what it is because he’s removed the letter ‘e’, you know which is the most used letter in the Fench language. So because it’s not there they can’t even name what it is that they are trying to find. They can use no word that contain the letter e, because the letter e doesn’t exist anymore.
– It reminds me of Kant’s phenomenon that has no representation. And Lacan used that later on. So he’s really using Jalal.
– Yeah, ‘using’ is the right verb.
– But the man exist.
– Yes as does Don Quijote. There is a body. But Walid prefaces every intervention by saying ‘Jalal Toufic is dead’. He always says that.
– Do you see him as an artist? Is Jalal’s work subsumed.
– Yes that’s what great about it. It’s perfect in a sense. Jalal doesn’t exist nonetheless. But you have to be careful about these things. You have to be careful about what you do. Is it interesting for you to take on Jalal Toufic? And Walid has big interests to defend. You have to know is you want to play the game.
– I’m already in so deep that this has to be done. But my interest is not Walid. I want to ask the question ‘what can an individual do, when he has no label, or authority in the art world; as a viewer, can he save the artist from being used by the institution’.
– I don’t think you need to save Walid. He has thought a great deal about how the attention economy works. He doesn’t want to do it any favors by critiquing it. Like he doesn’t want to do the favor that Tristan Trémeau did by revealing its weak spots, and helping it restabilize. When you critique fast-food, the Argo food business open organic. You reveal a new market for them. So, you tell them ‘you’re just collecting objects, then they’ll say: oh, right, we begin collecting experiences’. Of course ‘they’ is not a group of people, it’s the systemic logic of critique, that’s why critique is dead.
– That’s why Hans Haacke was exhibiting in Sharjah?
– Yes, that’s also why I couldn’t understand why for the documenta there was this need to recreate a hierarchy of theory and practice. So Walid likes to take a shot at APT for different reasons. There’s also the fact that the APT is linked to Facebook, and Israeli defense.
– It all comes together through the vast amounts of money being put together in facial recognition technology. The Israelis are leading in that technology. The irony of it is that Israeli agents that took out that a hamas leader in Dubai two years ago were identified using Israeli-funded facial recognition technology.
– So Facebook then.
– The attention economy through face is a new form of market where attention is the currency. We used to call that in Sociology the reputational economy. Warhol, with his 15 min quotes was talking about the economy of attention.
– But the economy of attention always existed, like the souks etc. This has ramped up exponentially with social media, and the primary currency, is attention capitalization. And the best example is not Facebook, it’s Google. Because Google runs basically this algorithm called page rank; the more hits you get the higher your ranking is, and so forth.
– Hence the 1%.
– So, if you apply that to the art world that’s exactly how the art world operates : those artists are good, because we see the most, because they are, because we see the most, and so on. It’s the page rank system. Andree Sfeir has a page rank system.
– Yes, of course.
– Walid is telling how the war machine has been test driven in the art world. And it’s all based on this conceptual apparatus that has been built to deal with post-Duchampian art. So when Walid is talking about the disappearance of the color red or what I would call the shadow economy it’s really about this ontological question. You can that Atlas group has a double ontology: it both is what it is, and a proposition of what it is; a historigraphical research on the civil wars of Lebanon, but it’s obviously not that, it’s a proposition of that, without ceasing to be that, so it has a double ontology. Another way of putting it, is what young artists say: we don’t care if it is art. But of course you have to care, otherwise you lose art. In fact we moved to an arthistorical moment where it’s not a preoccupation anymore. The problem is that the old paradigm for art continues to function very neatly, and the APT is not going to give it up.
– Neither will someone like Andree.
– Yes the question is how to deal with this without pulling it out of the shadows, and that is the ethical question Walid Raad is trying to ask. And it is the question where art is at today.
– We definitely need to debunk Jalal Toufic.
– Yes, that’ll be great. That’s the thing that needs to be done. That’s the most important thing.
– I think a lot of artists who used his writings to give their work more depth will suffer from it.
– Not everyone would survive.
– But Walid would survive.
– Walid would.
– Because he’s the one who created it, so it would be one project coming to an end, and he leaves stuff behind all the time; he’s always jettisoning projects.
– You know, I think he needs someone to debunk Jalal.
– Probably he’s been waiting some time for that to happen, yes. He smiles when the idea is suggested.
– He told me one that you look a lot like Jalal.
– You know, I would never had the idea that Jalal doesn’t exist were it not for a professor at Paris 8 who said to his students “you know, I don’t think that Jalal Toufic exists”. And one of his students came to me, and asked: “Is it true that Jalal Toufic doesn’t exist?” I told him I’ve had beer with him tons of times. And he asked again: “Are you sure?”, so I said: “yes, maybe not.”
– I told the story to Walid, so he looks at me and smiles, and says: “People ask me that all the time.” So I said to myself : “Ok, that’s it.”
– That’s it, yes of course. I should be the one who kills him.
– Yes. It’ll be an atomic bomb if you do that. I think Ashkal Alwan will never be the same again. He’s kind of the official philosopher of the Lebanese art scene. He’s very present in the attention economy.
– It’ll take time.
– I think it really boils down to a Heideggerian thinker from Teheran. Jalal never once quotes Heidegger, but when he talks about Nietszche, it’s always Heidegger’s Nietszche. So I suspect there’s a kind of conspicuous absence ther, so I would think that… All this stuff about surpassing disaster… there’s undeniably a link to Heidegger’s absence of the being. And Jalal for me is a very dubious political character. So it would really be interesting to deconstruct Jalal’s system. Not to mention that it’s the opportune time to do it.
– Jalal will hate me for that.
– No doubt.
The sequence that follows is inspired by a discussion I’ve had with C. A and T were present, and along with me, we formed the four basic elements of the DNA sequence. I was sitting facing C, A was sitting next to me, typing on a milk Mac, and facing T, who was also typing among other things. This is what was said more or less :
C : My experience is that this very embryonic
G : OK
C : I find the most interesting question the one about the ontological difference. This is very important for me.
A : (typing)
G : You like it?
C : It’s very interesting
G : You’d like me to elaborate?
A : (typing)
C : I just have one recommendation: that for me this has to be perfect. This is set, you’re doing the talk, but you have to do it right, and if you need more time then we can do it in June, because my fear is that this is still… You’re asking important questions, but I really have to depart from this point you really have to … blow Walid Raad, because he has done such a research that is just mind blowing. So you really have to stand up to him in a way. This is very interesting for me. Now I think that he wouldn’t be very happy. But this for me takes much longer.
G : That’s true
C : So let’s start with something more modest, and small, and that would really be something great, and mostly you’d be telling who you are, really, and what do you think, not was this one or the other said. What’s your position. What’s your synthesis of what they all said. I want something new.
T : (nods)
G : Instead of taking a position, it would be interesting to explore on my part the possibility of someone who doesn’t have a real authority
C : You could also record interviews. So I think this would be interesting
G : What I would like to explore, if one should explore the ontological difference, one could not do it from an authoritative standpoint, otherwise we would fall into the same caveat
A : (pausing)
C : All I want is for you not to do it in reaction to the things that have been said by others, just like women gossiping. What is your take from the artistic, and the philosophical. You should have a real thesis, a propos
A : (typing)
G : There are two things that caught my attention of late: the first one, last year when we were at the Bread Republic, you told me “Walid Raad has become an institution”
C : Yes
T : (thinking)
G : What you said caught my interest, from then on I was looking for something, because that would a way to really do institutional critique without falling into the same trap
C : Yes but also …
G : The other thing was very recent; it’s when Chus and Carolyn were talking here, and what Stephen picked-up on, the aesthetisation of so many concepts…
C : But I think that Chus was very important, and I think that it’s not really important to take the dOCUMENTA position but take the poetic gesture of Chus, because they are an authority, and they were touring all cities…
T : (nods)
G : Exactly
C : and that’s where…
T : (typing)
G : That would be the point…
A : (typing)
C : Yes but you should not give her too much attention, as if we were like seduced by the dOCUMENTA
G : I understand
A : (typing)
C : Chus is very important to me.
G : OK
C : She’s a philosopher
T : (typing)
A : (typing)
G : Yes, so? I’m not attacking her for the sake of attacking
C : No, I don’t care if you attack her or not, on the contrary; I’m saying we shouldn’t stop at them, because then they would be the only historical event that happened at the HWS.
A : (typing)
G : It’s not that it’s the dOCUMENTA itself that is regarded by the entire art world as the most important art event
C : But why do you want to talk about dOCUMENTA? It’s so simple to talk about dOCUMENTA. It’s the shark of art. Take something else that is really, I mean…
A : (typing)
G : Because it’s so à propos, and it’s happen at the end of the month
C : It’s happen, yes but I mean…
T : (typing)
G :And it’s every five years.
C : I know what you mean, but it’s already too busy to talk about dOCUMENTA, why don’t you take something more subtle that no one has talked about, you do excavation, and put it out there for the world to see. I mean I don’t want you to talk about something so flashy, as I don’t want you to talk about Walid Raad, everyone wants to take a shot at him, he’s like the village bicycle… You see? He’s so sexy, and I told it to his face, I mean I like him a lot besides that, but I tell him : “man, you’re really killing us”
A : (smiling)
G : I know, but I’m not doing it for that… but the fact that you’re saying to him: “you’re killing us” is interesting in itself, you know? It’s the question of how to relate. Because when you have big names, or big labels, this is where the ontological difference happens, this is where the artist becomes as label
C : Yes, but Georges, our world is becoming so dependent on labels.
G : Exactly.
T : (typing)
C : I mean Richter’s is great guy, but the people fucked him up, because painting is like being extinct, and he’s like the godfather of painting, and so he became a commodity
G : That’s exactly my point
C : I mean here at the Beirut Art Center, he looked very modest, but you should have seen him at forty in London he was a scary cat.
G : Yes
C : What I’m trying to tell you is that you shouldn’t take the easy road, the sexy, and the flashy.
T : (typing)
G : No. But you have to put attention on that to be able to relate to it.
C : Ok, but you have to know how to say it well
G : Yes I agree
C : You should do it very subtly. Anyway I would be more interested in talking about the unknowns to reach an enlightened place. You see, I’m trying to tell you something important; don’t get stuck with names; Chanel, Gucci, and Ezzeddine Alaiya, and these are the Yohji’s of the art world
G : But I myself don’t have a name, you see?
C : No but you are part of this world, come on Georges
G : I don’t know if I’m part of it. (turning to A) Am I a part of it?
T : (typing)
C : Come on you’re not a martyr, we are all… we all play cello for each other .
G : Ah, yeah, but I mean maybe I would be the least one to be played cello for…
A : (smiles)
C : No, don’t say that, don’t say that really, you are someone… but if you take this position I cannot say anything else to you
G : No, it’s not that.
T : (thinking)
C : I mean you’re here for all the talks and events which I think is great, so you are part of something, so don’t marginalize yourself like that. Secondly I don’t like you playing that game…
G : It’s not that, I’m trying to explore how one can work from the viewer’s side, the viewer paradigm, because we’re always putting the artist if front of the public that is amorphous; you don’t know who the public it you know? Because you have one artist and a lot of people on the other side .
A : (thinking)
G : Whereas what if someone like me who is coming out of the public… ok he has fairly a little bit of culture, (but I mean I didn’t do an MFA or whatever) is so, relating. That is what I want to explore as a continuous documented project that asks the question: how can I relate? with no means, either institutional or funding; so what can one do? coming out of the public. That is what I want to explore.
T : (typing)
C : Can you repeat the question?
G : How can someone from the public … relate, stand up to the artist
C : Spectatorship….
A : (typing)
G : Yes, with just the possibility to download books from the internet, and some free time on his hands, not a lot, but some… and that takes us back to what Carolyn was saying “the viewer is our alibi, the viewer is our ally”, see?
C : Who’s Karin?
G : Carolyn… The use of the word alibi is very interesting, and ally also is interesting, but the two create a distance in which you have to play in
C : Yeah, but my worry is that why do you have to talk about this very event? There are so many other things happening locally, why don’t you take something local? What do you think Amal of what I’m saying?
A : (nods)
G : You know at the end of the talk, Chus had the last word, everybody was applauding very heartily, and a woman who’s in a way, kind of patron of the arts, came to Chus, Rabih was talking to her already, and she told her “you were wow”. Chus of course did not understand the expression, and Rabih had to translate. Of course Chus said thank you. And this was interesting for me, because here you have on one side people who can speak eloquently, and on the other, people who cannot, and when you have that there is parent/child relation that happen. The child, the infans, cannot speak. The public cannot speak, it just applauds. People ask questions of course but this is not speaking. My being here doing a talk would be that performative exploration of what it takes to begin speech.
C : Yes it would be very good to work on the fiction of it, and the imaginary. You could read poetry, you could stand, go up to someone and slap him… I’m not the little child looking for recognition, you know. I am in a poetic space, and I’m inviting you to be in that poetic space with me.
A : (typing)
T : (typing)
A few days before I had managed to grab some of what Wael Shawki’s friend said during his presentation somewhere in the Beirut suburbs :
“The world was given to me as a collection of people who entertain power relations between each other. This created a shock for me. The ease with each I could understand Wael Shawki came from the fact that the group was self-referential. The contradiction that I was speaking of in the text “normalization or the logic of the hunter” could help us find a place or a standpoint from which the artist, or what we call the artist, can speak from. Actually I wrote the text from this standpoint. The text had a great part of naïveté in trying to find that place from which to speak actually.
A standpoint or logic that takes into account the narrative, which is natural, as well as it takes into account the particularity of the artistic practice. The contradiction comes from two opposites; one has to do with the savagery of the violent hunt, and the archive instinct that institutions undertake, and that make daily life a collection of thing that we can consume, document, and discuss, and of course use politically. So the successful institutions create, and diffuse, normalizing discourses.
Ten years later I wrote another text about how value is created in the artistic field. The institution is the practice in its worst and deepest manifestation; the executive choices of the institution define the nature of the professional relations and the social protocols that fall within its framework. Which means that all who deal with that institution is subjected to the protocols that define his identity within the institution. There is then a contradiction between the individual, in that case, the artist, and the institution. Once we have marketing of individualities, the content of the work is marginalized. My obsession is where is that place from which the artist can speak? Ten years after, I kind of feel this struggle is actually a kind of naïve sentimentality, or anger, a violent reaction to the disappearance of the artwork by focusing on the artist’s persona.
Hysteria was always a word that came back, because there was another contradiction, between the conscious control the artist has to have toward his work, and the desire what is behind the word… behind the meanings and the patterns, there is this incommensurable surplus that is unknowable at that apparently belongs to another world, shines in the practice of daily life, where it becomes embodied…”
A few day before that, The writer had asked him at the end of his talk at an American university :
The writer : if one wanted to name the mechanics of the first proposition you showed us, could one not describe it as evidence of self-evidence.
Wael Shawki’s friend : Ahh… “Evidence of self-evidence”… can you expound a bit ?
The writer : It’s also interesting that you ‘ve asked me to expand on it … it seemed to me in the first two pieces that you showed us there seems to be a kind of a struggle or a tension between art as something of an ontology, being something that is ontologically different with the mere real thing and the desire to escape that ontologisation, a sort of deontological drive which becomes actually evident in the wall text which suggests that art has this discursive life, there is discursive life of objects but without that discursive life there is no way to resolve that tension between the fine art proposition, and the evidence of fine art, and the self-evidence because it is art because of the frame.
Wael Shwaki’s friend : Ok, I mean thank you, ummm, I use different words, but I think somehow that what you’re point out is something that actually I’m interested in. I’m afraid of the work being art, in a way, in the sense that it just fulfills what art is supposed to be; I’m interest in, what… maybe it has an ontology also but not the ontology of the generic context, or the generic infrastructure, or what is expected of the artwork to be or to look like, maybe that’s my fear, that thing that is supposed to be art, and to try to discover something else, maybe art itself, then maybe in my case, I try to rely upon what I’m engaged with, I think that becomes the motivation, that engagement becomes a test in some way, a motive and also a test that something is not merely an exercice, it’s not merely a riff on a pattern; that it’s not merely that there is something else driving it and motivating it etc. That’s maybe where I can touch base with your comment, but I see, I mean, it is an issue, this is an issue, and I think it’s an important issue, in our practice in general… where is that line you see ? Is it merely publication, or is it something else? It’s of course undefinable, that of course what it is, but this is something that one struggles with, and that lots of people struggle with in different ways…
The writer : it strikes me as being an urgent contemporary problem in art, but actually I think you ramped tension quite considerably because on the one hand hence the evidence that you’re relying on the institutional frame to confer that artistic ontology but at the same time you’re trying to tear it asunder in some respect in a sense wanting to escape from the ontology of art as such, of course with the risk of losing the concept; that in the absence of the frame of course it could revert back to its original ontologic aesthetics as just the mere real thing, but actually I don’t see that so much as a danger actually as I see a kind of a promise in a certain respect.
Wael Shwaki’s friend : Ahh, I mean … I don’t think it’s possible to lose the concept, I don’t think it’s actually possible, so, in a way, Ummm, and it’s also not about that it becomes a real thing or not, it’s just, from my perspective, it’s just about trying to … that it just does not become a gesture or a replication, I mean somehow just to try to simplify, that it is invested with something, and I’m also aware that the moment you define that something is the moment that it becomes a gesture, I know it sounds paradoxical but I think it is a tense situation, but it is a situation that artists deals with, it is one of the basic conditions of working in that field…
Two discussions between a ‘queer’ Armenian art historian (according to a feminist Oriental curator) and a post-Marxist Polish curator, and a Lebanese empowered viewer. The first one takes place somewhere in an apartment in Sioufi (Beirut) :
LEV : Even we do have modern artists, wathever, we don’t really have art history, we shouldn’t, why should we? We started …what…?
AAH : I don’t know if it’s about having an art history, it’s maybe about articulating the type of paradigm, or interpretive traits in relation to the context
LEV : But this is already a position, that we should have a specificity somewhere, and why should we have it? Because there are countries and different markets for them?
AAH: Not because of the geographic borders, but because of histories evolved in different ways… even Western art is very specific, specifically Western, but we talk about it as universal, and when we say local we obviously are talking about the third world or something like that. West itself is very local, it’s a very local thing
LEV : It is but at the very same time, it is central to art, the art world is…
PMC : It’s not true…
AAH : It is actually; the dominant value is not constructed in Dubai, Singapore or wherever …
PMC : Wait…
AAH : I mean Rosalind Krauss is right, you can’t escape the cannon
PMC : But this is shifting, no? It’s shifting…
AAH : It’s shifting, and it’s not shifting, I mean economically it’s shifting, but culturally no… I mean it’s not the same as showing at Art Dubai, and showing in the MoMA …
… the discourse flows from the center
LEV : Exactly
PMC : I have doubts about that … In the last 20 years there have been multiple axes… There is a new phenomenon of artists who have never been to New York
AAH : I am not arguing that art cannot come out from another place than the West
PMC : Yes, but you know, I see this generational change who are creating different values
AAH : The cannon of modern and contemporary art from I don’t know Picasso to Felix Gonzalez-Torres… I’m talking about the centrality of the discourse. And you know there is a global trend in art history that is still orchestrated from the center.
LEV : What we’re doing is what children do to attract the attention of grown-ups. Why should we really believe that we’re doing something serious?
PMC : I think it’s more complex…I don’t think it’s about simple mimcry, simple mimicry was like a post-colonial error, I think it’s about multiple processes quid pro quo, I would think it’s about multiple soft practices
AAH : There might be much more interesting things happening outside of New York but the discursive canon still this comes out of the center …
PMC : A lot of artists I know don’t care about exhibiting in New York, I know this artist who was invited to San Francisco, and she basically said “Fuck you, I’m going to do a road movie”
AAH : Come on, the New Museum Triennial… artists are hopping all over to be part of it. And San Francisco or Los Angeles are not the center.
PMC : But maybe they would be equally eager to participate in a show in Stockholm…
AAH : You talk about some artists, but there are a lot of other artists that don’t want to show anywhere else
PMC : I’m talking about artists who can conceive of a kind of a discourse … It’s not about being considered, it’s about being .. for them it’s better to have an exhibition in Bakou, if it let’s them ask the right questions, even if it’s in the middle of nowhere, than to have an exhibition in New York
AAH : It’s not about that; it’s where the cannon comes from, and the cannon comes from the center. Even if you win the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennial, it doesn’t mean shit
PMC : But I think this cannon is not as stable as it has been… It’s losing it’s power
AAH : There are a multiplicity of centers, a multiplicity of discourses, a multiplicity of cannons … but if you follow the trajectory of which context, which institutions, which discourses are highlighted over time, it follows very clearly the trajectory of geopolitical interests, and that’s what gets centralized … why is it like suddenly that China was discovered, and then like now the Middle-East was discovered … so it comes from the center … you can pretend all you want in Dubai that you are like discovering new scenes but the way the discourse is shaped, and the way the value is shaped is through Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
PMC : So you mean that…
AAH : I’m saying that there are meanings, there are values, there are multiple centers, but then they always talk to the …
PMC : Of course, what do you want me to say? That I agree that money and capital is making things happen? But at least in a cultural scene… Ok China was discovered, yes serious art critics dismiss China as a place for production of art…
LEV : Really?
PMC : It’s all about serious art critics, and serious art critics. All those people we know in Europe, they never enter discourse
AAH : (stands up, and goes to a coffee table nearby and picks up “Art since 1900”) This is the only discourse taught in art history classes. In the industry of academic publishing, you can work with the most amazing publisher in Denmark, Slovenia, or China, or even Beirut, it doesn’t mean anything you need to publish with MIT or Routeledge in order to be taken seriously, to become the main text, and that’s the fucking reality. I mean I don’t agree with it but this how it is. I published this bloody book, I spent like two years editing, nobody even reads it, because …
PMC : A lot of people know about it
AAH : I mean ok, like 20 or a 100 people who are interested in Eastern Europe… I’m not saying they cannot find it on amazon, I’m saying that it cannot enter into the main text.
PMC : But if we overestimate the main text then how can we do something about it?
AAH : I’m saying this is the reality, I’m saying that if we publish
PMC : It’s not naïve, I think if we all work with certain agendas, then the value of the main text would like decrease …
AAH : It can’t because it is not about people reading, it’s about structural hierarchies …
PMC : It’s not utopian (pointing to the “Art since 1900” book) I’m sorry I don’t know this book… I mean I have limited time, and my time is also work, and there are more important things that I have to read. Why should I read something because it was published in New York?
AAH : Not because it’s published in New York, because it’s published fucking damn well, it’s published with quality.
PMC : Maybe quality for me is different …
AAH : You can’t ignore it. I can’t ignore Buchloh, I mean who the fuck I am to ignore Buchloh?… It’s not a duty, but I have to.
PMC : I mean it’s our conscious decision to ignore or acknowledge someone
AAH : Even if you go beyond it, you have to take it into consideration. Because… it is a proposition, it is a methodological proposition that’s important… Even if I propose a different methodology of art historical writing I still have to propose it in relation to what exists and what has been canonized.
PMC : Yes but it doesn’t mean that you have to constantly refer to them, because sometimes there are things… that don’t allow you to think about reference to art history
AAH : Ok, it works on a kind of subliminal level. Let’s say like Szeemann’s exhibitions … I mean the way we organize exhibitions nowadays predominantly is still like … I mean imagine it’s like a kind of fossilized layer that you’re walking past by it, but it’s still like driving you.
PMC : Contemporary art is the outcome of a Western genealogy, whether it’s the Middle East or China… This is the point of departure. That would be easy yes. But local contexts developed different answers, different methodologies…
LEV : But the way to relate is still the same. Maybe we should be going out of art, as this woman you mentioned who did a road movie, she shouldn’t even be searching for a label, maybe that would be the way out
AAH : Actually there’s a very good conversation between Hassan Khan, and Bassam et Baroni, and Bassam’s notion of radical multiculturalism
PMC : Yes I know it. For me it’s a crucial text for this issue of local art scenes, I think it doesn’t cover all the issues in Easter Europe that are more complex than in the Middle-East, but still it’s a very interesting text. Anyway the basic idea is that there’s this global idiom of contemporary art that is expanding its territories, and including very particular local productions, on the condition that they will adapt to the soft power of this global powerful …
AAH : I’m thinking of Badiou’s 15 theses on contemporary art. It’s what he calls Romantic Formalism: on the one hand there is this constant renewal of form as a premise of contemporary art… you know, what will produce the next radical edge in form; and on the other hand Romantic traits that manifest in particular reclamation of identity through specificity, whereas contemporary art, has to be the operation of universalization through its truth content … basically there has to be a truth proposition almost like when Badiou claims that everyone, every single person is a politically thinking subject, thought is not granted; politics as pure thought in a sense; it’s like the ability to think.
A few days later… In a cofee shop on Sassine square
AAH : Thank you so much. I like inception…
LEV : (Turning to PMC) How are you?
PMC : I’m fine, just came from the beach
LEV : stop going to the beach you’ll become red!
PMC : It’s the last day, that’s why
LEV : oh yes of course. I forgot. I’m sorry, it slipped my mind. Well I hope your stay was good.
PMC. : yes great.
LEV : (turning to AAH) and how are you?
AAH : I’ve been working a lot.
LEV : you do work a lot, all the time too.
PMC : well I’m afraid of her…
LEV : for her you mean
AAH : of me too (laughs)
PMC : I see her working all the time, it’s dangerous
LEV : she could become a serial killer some maybe
PMC : yes, she needs more beach no?
LEV : yes, she does
AAH : everybody needs that. The more you work…
LEV : the more there is work. I know
AAH : and how are you?
LEV : I’m good, I’m writing the text for my talk. How about you? Are you writing something?
AAH : ideally I should be writing something. I should be writing my paper for AMCA.
LEV : what is it about?
AAH : I mean the whole framework is about… The title is the Longetivity of Rupture 1967 in Art History. It’s about the ‘Naqsa’ and it’s cultural impact.
LEV : do you have enough material?
AAH : yes I’ve been reading a lot actually
LEV : C. told me to do something poetic. I’m thinking of putting on screen some of the dialogs we’ve had. I’d like to do that with your discussions as well, I think they really have some bearing on the questions at hand. Are you ok with that?
AAH : yes no problem. C. is also on this panel I’m doing at AUB, it’s a panel on Art Education.
LEV : I’ll have to come then. But yes, I want to document the events leading up to my talk… I’m also thinking of showing the photos I took of the Homeworks Space from your apartment the other night.
AAH : I’ve been reading this article about the Frieze art fair, by Davis. The whole fair has been endowed with this subliminal, sublime value, where it’s not about the work itself, but about …
LEV : yes I know.
AAH : I was also reading this text that Sarah Rifky wrote in Bidoun.
LEV : what is it about?
AAH : it’s soft por… soft power, it’s called soft power, she arguing like … It’s basically this story about an Egyptian curator, she’s in Barcelona, she doing belly dancing to seduce this European curator.
LEV : No!
AAH : and the whole point is about… It’s soft pornography basically. And the European is called the One… And the One doesn’t get a hard on. GR : Wonderful
PMC : No, I mean I don’t see the point in all that. I mean it’s our ethical role to be modest, not to add to this fetishization, and sexualization or the role of the curatorial profession.
AAH : It’s not a fetishization.
PMC : but there be other people other than Sarah Rifky, interested in…
AAH : Yes, so many people are, like everyone is reading that text.
PMC : Yes but because they know Sarah.
AAH : But even if you don’t know Sarah.
PMC : There is this over promotion and exploitation of these international relationships… Why should we overestimate this?
AAH : But there is a power that is being performed. Why shouldn’t we talk about it?
PMC : It’s just about vanity, nothing more.
AAH : there is vanity of course, I don’t disagree with that, but there is something more… (turning to Georges) We’re disagreeing everyday.
LEV : That’s why you’re friends I suppose… But I think your approach to art is different.
PMC : I’m more on the production side, and she is more on the theoretical side. For my part, working directly with artist, I find one cannot put them into theoretical models.
LEV : So the aim is tho have a successful exhibition.
PMC : No, I don’t know what a successful exhibition is actually.
LEV : An exhibition that people go and see.
AAH : that is well produced, that does justice to the artist.
LEV : where everybody is happy.
PMC : No, I mean it’s not about happiness.
LEV : do you ask questions in your exhibitions?
PMC : Yes of course I ask questions, but I mean when you’re working directly with the artist you can’t frame it into theoretical agendas, you have to focus on the very singularity of this work.
AAH : but I don’t that as a matter of fact, I try to find art historical context, but as in my talk with Hassan Khan I don’t want to impose theoretical considerations on the artists’ work. I don’t think that if I’m not involved in the production itself I would have a different understanding of the work. For example I worked closely on one of the books for last year’s Sharjah biennial…
PMC : You spend most of your time on theory, while I spend most of my time on research, and production, theory for me is one of the many possible layers.
LEV : so you’re separating theory from practice
PMC : No I’m saying it’s one of the levels.
LEV : But where is that level placed? Can there be levels? The artist can be oblivious of his theoretical standpoints, but they are nonetheless here.
AAH : the text is not something imposing on the narrative.
PMC : the text does not deal with space, it does not deal with the senses the same way the visual and the architectural do.
AAH : the text itself is spatial.
PMC : Yes Angela but there is a difference between an book, and a sculpture, no?
AAH : The difference is only phenomenological, and you can’t say that you and I have different modes of access to the work, I don’t believe in this division. Text for me is a spatial thing; the way with which you juxtapose words and form a narrative within the space of the page.
PMC : Yes, but it’s an imaginary space, it’s not like walking into an exhibition.
AAH : It’s not an imaginary space, you are given parameters.
LEV : Yes there are parameters to how to relate to the architecture of the exhibition space: an entrance, etc, and there is text relating to the works. Which reminds of the 100 notes project of dOCUMENTA whose importance to the overall exhibition was paramount… We’ll soon know how this worked out for them, and if there’s room for improvement. In the meantime I think you should stop being friends, it’s not working out between you too (laughs). And I’m definitely publishing all this soon.
AAH : Oh my god, full exposure.
LEV : Full exposure. And then we could maybe curate your friendship through a parallel narrative, and the space-time continua that go with it.
I was not able to attend the panel on art education that took place a few days after that; I had problems with my car transmission. I did however get to see the talk when it was uploaded online in lo-res. Watching it I realized that something had happened; someone had died right before my eyes. Most importantly I realized that it was indeed possible to kill artists, that artists themselves were waiting for such an end, and that I were probably the one who would be left with the task of seeing it through.
What would transpire was anybody’s guess.
Beirut, June 2012
The following text has been written for this space, with this space in mind, and partly on site, or with the site in view.
There are many ways I could start of course, and even more ways this could end. Undoubtedly I would not want it to end, even, and more to the point when I’m no longer to be part of it.
I am not here as any kind of authority on any specific field or subject matter, neither do I seek any kind of label that would stick to my name. In fact quite the opposite, and this from the very start. What drive me, are questions that I rewrite in order to state them as truly as possible. Or said more truly, they are rewriting me in fact.
Truth, or authenticity are words that can no longer aspire to a privileged state, and definitive meaning, in the Internet era, as Boris Groys wrote in his dedicated notebook for dOCUMENTA(13). For him, Google came as answer to deconstruction. For Groys it was with Derrida that the meaning of words began an infinite displacement. In art, we could see that in Futurism, Avant-Garde, and Surrealism of course. We have all become ‘curators of words’, the yes and no have lost distinction. What curators do is include or exclude (In fact it’s a very womanly way of dealing with things by the way, whereas traditionally men would rather kill or be killed).
Some time ago I found an interesting paper by Badiou called The Three Negations. I forwaeded it to Walid Sadek who found it to his liking. In the text Badiou states that depending on whether we respect the non-contradiction principle, or the excluded middle, we can therefore have three different kinds of negations.
The purpose of his paper was about politics of course, he states :
“In my philosophical vision, in a given world, we have something new only if the rational or conventional laws of this world are interrupted, or put out of their normal effects, by something which happens, and that I name an Event. Clearly, the consequences of this event sustain a negative relationship to the laws of the world. For many sophisticated reasons, I name a Truth, or an evental-truth, the multiplicity composed of these consequences. So we can say that a truth, in a first sense, is a part of the world, because it is a set of consequences of the event in the world, and not outside. But in a second sense, we can say that a truth is like a negation of the world, because the event itself is subtracted from the rational or conventional laws of the world. We can summarize all that in one sentence: A truth is a transgression of the law. “Transgression” first signifies that a truth depends on the law, and second is nevertheless a negation of the law.”
He goes on to refer to the Book Gamma of Aristotle’s Metaphysics in which Aristotle explains that thinking in general is ruled by three fundamental principles. The first one is the principle of identity. Formally, a sentence is strictly equivalent to itself. It has the same truth-value. The second one is the principle of non-contradiction. It is impossible to assert simultaneously, in the same context, the proposition P and the proposition non-P. And the third one is the principle of the excluded middle. If you have a proposition P, either P is true, or P is false; that is, either P is true or non-P is true. We cannot have a third possibility.
Depending on whether we respect the principe of non-contradiction, and or the principle of excluded middle Badiou states that we can then have four “possibilities”:
The negation obeys the two principles. It’s the classical logic.
The negation obeys the principle of contradiction, but not the excluded middle. Intuistonistic logic
The negation obeys the excluded middle, but not the principle of contradiction. Paraconsistent logic.
The negation obeys neither the excluded middle, nor the principle of contradiction. The fourth possibility is in fact the complete dissolution, under the name of negation, of all potency of negativity.
In classical logic, the negation of P excludes not only P itself, but any other possibility concerning the contents of the proposition P. In intuitionistic logic, the negation of P excludes P itself, but not some other possibilities which are in fact somewhere between P and non-P. In paraconsistent logic, the negation of P excludes that sort of space between P and non-P, but not P itself. So P is not suppressed by its negation. Like in Hegel’s dialectics, P lies inside the negation of P.
For Badiou, “an event is a sudden change of the rules of appearing; a change of the degrees of existence of a lot of multiplicities which appear in the world.”
Badiou then goes to ask the question of existent after the event: “what is the destiny, after the event, of an inexistent of the world? What becomes of the poor worker after the revolution? Are abstract figures, which before the artistic event were not acceptable in a work of art, now essential means of creation? We have here three possibilities.
First, the strength of the change is maximal.
Second possibility: the strength of the change is intermediate, neither maximal, nor minimal. “I name this change a weak singularity. That is: something happens, but without radical effects, and in the general respect of the hierarchy of degrees of appearing in the world.”
In the third case the strength of the change is not perceptible at the level of the inexistent. After the change the degree of existence of all inexistents of the world is always minimal. The poor worker is nothing more in the political field than a poor worker, abstraction is always nothing in regard to representation and so on. “Here the logical framework is paraconsistent. Why? Because we can have a sort of indecidability between event and non-event. Yes, something happens, but, from the point of view of the world, everything is identical. So we have event and non-event simultaneously. And there are no new values between affirmation and negation, because the world is exactly the same. The principle of excluded middle is true, the principle of contradiction is false; so we have a paraconsistent logic. We say then that we have a false event, or a simulacrum.”
The lesson is that, “when the world is intuitionistic, a true change must be classical, and a false change paraconsistent. So the relationship between law and event is intelligible only if we clearly distinguish the three different meanings of negation. A truth, as a set of consequences of a change, is certainly transgressive in a classical context. But if the context is intuitionistic, the world continues with the same general laws, with some differences in their application. And if the context is paraconsistent, the change is only a fiction.”
Such distinctions may very well help us see why artistic production doesn’t bring about change some times.
I do not understand Quantum Physics, and I am weary of what people can end saying about it or using it. If there is quantum computing faster than we have ever seen then fine. I still would not know how it works.
What I am weary about is the aesthetic use of scientific or philosophical concepts to further one’s point in artistic production.
Just before the 100 Notes, 100 Thoughts presentation, right here, in this very place, I had the following discussion about Quantum Physics with an agent :
I : But do we need to refer to Quantum Physics?
The agent: Quantum Physics makes sense, for the Quantum physicists themselves, it makes sense.
I : Yes I know but it don’t for us
The agent : I understand it for 5 minutes, and it’s sufficient
I : That’s what I’m saying…
The agent : It’s not what do you I understand, but if what I understand is relevant, and can be used.
I : You understand the principle.
The agent : I’m not a Quantum Physicist but I’m able to relate to them
I : Aren’t you afraid of being wrong?
The agent : I am afraid of being wrong when I dress in the morning or read a book
I : But you would know if you were wrong
The agent : I would also know if I’m being wrong about Quantum Physics, when I discuss with Quantum Physicists they would indicate it
I : Yes of course you’ve invited some for the dOCUMENTA, yes of course. But what if they just tell you that you got it right for the sake of discussion, because they would know that would not know any better, or because they like being at the documenta or whatever?
The agent : Yes, it’s fine enough. Like an artist they would need to live with a fiction, with the capacity of sustaining the fiction of me understanding them, and accepting that my understanding might be wrong.
I : Wouldn’t that create a divide?
The agent : Not necessarily, I think the question of divide does not exist in life. The fact that you don’t understand does not create a divide, it’s just one way of sustaining a position …
Her answer made me think of autism, but also of that movie by the Coen brothers they had waited so long to do, and were finally able to do after getting that Academy Award.
SCRIPT: A SERIOUS MAN
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
June 4th, 2007
We are behind a man who writes equations on a chalkboard, shoulder
at work and hand
quickly waggling. Periodically he glances back, giving us a fleeting
look at his face: LARRY Gopnik.
You following this?… Okay?.. So… Heh-heh… This
part is exciting…
Students follow along, bored.
LARRY continues to write.
. So, okay. So. So if that’s that, then we can do this,
right? Is that right? Isn’t that right? And that’s
Schrodinger’s paradox, right? Is the cat dead or is the cat
not dead? Okay?
LARRY is entering the physics department office. The department’s
secretary wheels her
castored chair away from her typing.
Messages, Professor Gopnik.
He takes the three phone messages.
Thank you, Natalie. Oh-CLIVE. Come in.
A Korean graduate student who was been waiting on a straightbacked
He is flipping through the messages. Absently:
So, uh, what can I do for you?
WHILE YOU WERE OUT Dick Dutto OF Columbia Record Club CALLED REGARDING: “Please call.”
WHILE YOU WERE OUT Sy Ableman CALLED. REGARDING “Let’s talk.”
WHILE YOU WERE OUT CLIVE Park CALLED. REGARDING: “Unjust test results.”
He crumples the last one.
Uh, Dr. Gopnik, I believe the results of Physics Mid-Term
Uh-huh, how so?
I received an unsatisfactory grade. In fact: F, the failing
Uh, yes. You failed the mid-term. That’s accurate.
Yes, but this is not just. I was unaware to be examined on
Well-you can’t do physics without mathematics, really,
If I receive failing grade I lose my scholarship, and feel
shame. I understand the physics. I understand the dead cat.
You understand the dead cat?
CLIVE nods gravely.
But… you… you can’t really understand the physics
without understanding the math. The math tells how it
really works. That’s the real thing; the stories I give you in
class are just illustrative; they’re like, fables. I mean-even I
don’t understand the dead cat. The math is how it really
CLIVE shakes his head, dubious.
Very difficult… very difficult…
At the end of the end of the 100 Notes, 100 Thoughts presentations, Chus Martinez referred to Dali’s contact with Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of the DNA structure. Here the reference was real. There was another discrepancy, to mention only one, during the talk that is of interest, I’ll relate to it .
“The paranoid method is very simple, it means that actually things that are not programmatic are there in place in like a certain paranoia, like the notebooks are rigorous, they are relevant, they’re not programmatic, … they are paranoid. What is paranoia, paranoia is just another way of connecting things, it really is not craziness yet, but it could be…”
How to travel back and forth between the the symbolic and the real? This a question I believe is art must answer in order to makes things a lot more interesting, if not worthwhile.
In the issue of Behavioral Brain Sciences in 2008, Bernard Crespi and Christopher Badcock proposed a novel hypothesis that the development of these autism and psychosis is mediated in part by alterations of genomic imprinting. They proposed the following abstract :
“Autistic-spectrum conditions and psychotic-spectrum conditions (mainly schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression) represent two major suites of disorders of human cognition, affect, and behavior that involve altered development and function of the social brain. A large set of phenotypic traits exhibit diametrically opposite phenotypes in autistic-spectrum versus psychotic-spectrum conditions, with a focus on schizophrenia. This suite of traits is inter-correlated, in that autism involves a general pattern of constrained overgrowth, whereas schizophrenia involves undergrowth. These disorders also exhibit diametric patterns for traits related to social brain development, including aspects of gaze, agency, social cognition, local versus global processing, language, and behavior. Social cognition is thus underdeveloped in autistic-spectrum conditions and hyper-developed on the psychotic spectrum.”
I’ve always wondered how quantity, and quality relate to each other, especially after having read Spinoza. The spatial turn in art history, although having created a qualitative jump, can still help map, at least metaphorically artists on a continuum.
As Badiou states in his 15 Theses on Art : “On one side is the absolute desire for new forms, always new forms, something like an infinite desire. Modernity is the infinite desire of new forms. But, on the other side, is obsession with the body, with finitude, sex, cruelty, death.”
Of course being metaphorical, one could see in such a parallel something else that a continuum relating artists laboring under the modernist/formalist concerns on one side, and others more interested in relational/post-Duchampian/meta-artistic interests. Of course meta-artistic privileges are more the priviliege of curators, collectors,mand other art professionals than artists really, and this would be a second level that we could add on top of the first –although some artists have gone all the way to meta-artistic, enough to subsume the curators of their work themselves (and could possibly the way out of the art world doldrums).
But if a continuum, instead of a categorial subdivision is to have any interest, it is of course to see in what way some artists would move from one point to the other. I would imagine that artists would travel from the formalist to the meta-artistic, and that has happened for some time now, with mitigated results. What we might be observing nowadays is the reverse tendency especially in the region, possibly because people forget easily, or want to relive history probably.
But we could add another level, another filter, and imagine the artists who have successfully made it to the right side (because however the materiality of the work is questioned, and the stress put on the process and not the end object, we are still left with most artists ending up subsumed into ever growing exhibitions where their names are the real objects being ‘curated’.)
I recently felt the deep need to comment on an online post by the Art Dubai people of a map of Kassel locating all the artists whom the Sfeir-Semler gallery represented. The post gave some details about when and where each of the artists “performed”. Reading that verb repeated over and over for every artist made it acquire another meaning that the technical term reserved for artistic practice; a more demeaning meaning that related more to a circus thematic than to art, in a way.
As I read the names, I remembered the last time I talked to each one. Etel, I had seen in Paris, rue Madame, after having bought A.P.C. pants right next door. I felt some satisfaction in the fact that the super-8 films she had made during her youth had found their way to Kassel thanks to some agency of mine; although the edited movie they ended-up in was apparently a disaster for which I did not claim agency at all. I did hower take satisfaction from the fact that Etel’s profile photo on the dOCUMENTA website came from a still taken from an unfinished movie I had helped her make in Paris. Still I also remembered what a friend told me about her, and her recent hype in the art world: “I guess they’re looking for a Louise Bourgeois for the region, and she’s the best candidate out there, which goes to prove in what state we’re in.”
To which I replied : “well I guess that it goes to prove, as I read it, in one Carolyn’s notebook, that the dOCUMENTA is in fact ‘a state of mind’”.
The others on the map were Wael Shawky, Rabih Mroueh, Akram Zaatari, and Walid Raad of course. I don’t much care for either Rabih, Akram, or Wael. They’re all nice to be sure; each one working his own specific thematic, whether the impossibility of representation, how to be a gay artist in a MENA region without your family being any wiser, or how to reconcile an engaged Muslim faith with contemporary art production. Walid however was another matter entirely; not that his project project was more interesting or better done, just that his real project was not the work on display.
In one of her dOCUMENTA auto-commissioned notebooks (the red one) Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev relates to one of Walid Raad’s projects, as well as to Jalal Toufic’s concept of ‘Withdrawal Past a Surpassing Disaster’. She did so to illustrate her thoughts about trauma. She of course included object trauma, but that still wasn’t in line with Jalal Toufic’s writing. Even if it were she should not have related to Jalal to begin with, and certainly not have commissioned him for one of the notebooks. According to George Dickie’s institutional theory it’s only a matter of time that the agency of Walid Raad surfaces not only through Jalal Toufic’s persona, but also through all the artists, and curator’s that that took him for granted, and his existence at face value; artists like the couple Joreige/Hadjthomas, and others; curators as Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. I guess I won’t be going to the dOCUMENTA after all.
Art as sudden death, or –depending on where you are on the continuum– an infinite, unpleasant orgasm from which one does not recover, a little like Jeanne Dielman’s ordeal.
I subscribe to Ranciere’s paradigm of the emancipated spectator and the ignorant school master whose only advantage is not knowing what there is still to know thereby maintaining a distance between himself and his pupils, but who only masters thinking in a way.
Thinking has been equated with art by Adorno. Heidegger before him has separated thinking from having an opinion, or creating a concept or a new ontology, or a chain of reasoning. Heidegger saw a kind of poetry in thinking. That would mean performativity, one the one hand, and the over determination of the symbol as Ricoeur would put it.
If there’s anything I can do better than any person I’ve ever met, it’s thinking; not philosophical concepts, or argumentative thought even; just the possibility to ask the question that most everyone makes it a point not to ask because there are so many things at stake until one gets to such questions.
In his review of the book, Matthew Jesse Jack concludes thus “While outwardly resembling other scholarly texts, it does not claim to be a work of criticism, or history, or philosophy, but rather a “differently different” piece of art writing. By probing unacknowledged, repressed, or otherwise unexamined relationships that hover in the background of art-world conversation, Art Power recombines categories, reconfigures assumptions, and, in the end, reimagines what art writing can be.”
In Art Power Boris Groys sees the artist as the radical embodiment of contemporary iconoclasm, who functions as a counterproducer who critically analyzes and challenges “the claims of the media-driven zeitgeist.” The artist is no longer a maker of images, but an expert in their unmaking.
It goes without saying that such a definition would miss the point because it does not attend to the means of the unmaking.
I read an interview with Rabih in the BAK reader where he states the following relating as it were to what Ranciere was proposing through the Ignorant Schoolmaster’s paradigm :
“Not-knowing” is also my starting point. When I present a work, I come with no knowledge to give, or to impose upon, the audience. In my work I am very clear about that position. I continuously reveal my shortcomings and lack of knowledge that makes one want to question the world we live in. Thus I do not think my work is about a requirement to “understand” things in the conventional meaning of the word. In this sense, there is no difference between the audience in Beirut, Utrecht, or anywhere in the world… When it comes to the audience, I try to think of it not en masse but rather as a number of individuals sharing some concerns, urgencies, and curiosity. Actually I prefer not to think of the audience at all, and if I have to, then ideally I would be in that audience myself… There is a trap inherent in the issue of the audience. One wants one’s work to be appreciated, but how can an artist both please and challenge the beliefs of the same group of people?“
The last two sentences however betray the flawed process.
In his review of the Quick and the Dead, at the Walker Art Center in 2009, Matthew Jesse Jackson offers that : “Conceptual art gravitates toward either deductive or productive gestures. Deductive Conceptualism, as I’m calling it, concentrates on the conditions and procedures that allow artworks to be recognized as such—or, in the terms of painting talk, “the internal structure of the picture is deduced from the shape of the support,” to quote Yve-Alain Bois recapitulating Michael Fried on Frank Stella. By better understanding itself, deductive Conceptualism proposes to better understand the world. Artists such as Art & Language, Michael Asher, Andrea Fraser, Liam Gillick, Hans Haacke, Mary Kelly, and Walid Raad have made this trajectory familiar… Such art delves into constellations of value and desire that lie submerged beneath the placid obviousness of cultural experience. Because they materialize the forces that enable art to accrue meaning, deductive Conceptualism’s self-consciously prosaic objects, texts, and performances are usually classified as “critical” projects, as examples of “institutional critique” or meditations on art’s “social role.” Yet such descriptions go only so far. From its beginnings, this side of Conceptualism has had little time for the work endowed with “supposedly magical significance,” as Art & Language’s Charles Harrison once wrote, since the cultivation of just such romantic mystery was “a function of the magic-authenticating system.”
What he proposes to call productive Conceptualism, on the other hand, engages materiality and textuality differently. Aspiring to hot-wire emotive, mnemonic energies, to fire them up and take the viewer’s mind for an illicit spin, this mode of Conceptualism cares less about the investigation of its own possibility. Instead, its most promising terrain can be found at the intersection of the specific and the general, where big questions of individual human perception and the laws of the cosmos come into play, as in Joseph Beuys’s drawings or Robert Barry’s texts (“something that is taking shape in my mind and will sometime come to consciousness”). Such works seek to produce new orders of experience and knowledge; they do not purport to deduce the lineaments of already existing, if still undescribed, orders.”
There is a quote by Derrida, I find relates to what Matthew Jesse Jackson is saying, and to what Boris Groys is trying to do:
“(…) We cannot, and we must not, exclude the fact that when someone teaches, publishes, preaches, orders, promises, prophesies, informs or communicates, some force in him or her is also striving not to be understood, approved, accepted in consensus – not immediately, not fully, and therefore not in the immediacy and plenitude of tomorrow, etc. . . . It is enough that the paradoxical structure of the condition of possibility be taken into account . . . for me to hope to be understood beyond all dialectics of misunderstanding, etc., the possibility of failure must, in addition, not be simply an accidental edge of the condition, but its haunting.” (Jacques Derrida, Politics of Friendship)
Jeanne Dielman is a mother, and a house wife who also receives men at home for prostitution purposes. Until one day something unexpected happens, something different.
She cannot cope with it unfortunately, and uses some household scissors nearby to eliminate the very source of it from her life. She rest for a while, and one can imagine the movie starting all over again, as if nothing happened.
One can also see that the scissors are not there to grab, the man is not there to push away when art penetrates us. We would like to kill the artist in a way, and maybe we do either by smothering him, or excluding him, or even and more efficiently labeling him as Artist, an ontological category under which he is subsumed completely. Or maybe one really has to do nothing but let the system subsume him, since we are all part of the system, or the art world at the end of the day, especially in a time where, as Groys stated in his dedicated dOCUMENTA notebook, Google has made us no more than word curators. Including or excluding words is our discourse depending on the words’ rank.
According to Groys then the grammatical structure was dissolved in the word cloud. Instead of the affirmative or negative (Groys also used critical) we have inclusion, or exclusion; exactly what curators do (not to mention oriental women, which is why according to Sarah Rifky’s recent soft porn piece in Bidoun male curator cannot hold a real erection and secretly want to be women. The art mag becomes women/curators without men or daddys’ with money maybe).
Let us look at the scene and play if possible the game that Dr. Fakhoury would have played with this colleagues at the race tracks. Let us choose a reference point in Jeanne Dielman autistic orgasm and bet on when that happens in the frame sequence. Should we take the time it begins, or when it reaches climax, or when it’s subsiding? I leave it up to everyone’s preference in the matter.
In the story, Jeanne Dielman when she pull herself together decides to exclude such a feeling from her life. A feeling that maybe happened because she was stuck underneath unable to move. With the weight of things pinning her on the bed.
In ‘On Touching, Jean-Luc Nancy‘, Derrida equates meaning with weight. The weight of thought. Not to mention Merleau-Ponty’s writing, Husserl in a later manuscript talks about the weight of the body in the phenomenological constitution.
Words in a cloud have lost their meaning, which is why maybe Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and Schrodinger’s cat experiment are easy to understand.
In an unpublished manuscript that I might be posting online, I wrote that in Los Angeles I had met a Lebanese artist who had fled from Beirut because he was targeted, and was therefore dead here, but alive there.
Another artist died in a way before my time, but was nonetheless included in a collateral exhibition in Venice, outside the exhibition space no less.
I recently witnessed, although not immediately, artist die before my eyes and in public view, even though it was before my eyes could reach him in plain sight.
But the artist did not die because he admitted that art has failed. In a post Internet world where yes and no means nothing anymore, just in or out, what would be the weight of a statement such as : ” art has failed “? In any case such a conclusion was reached some time ago, and not at this very moment. No, the death is not even his doing, it is that brought about about by the equivalence of the affirmative, and the negative. The artist here is just a casualty. If this so, then he has died some time ago, but was not aware of it. In fact he still is not, as others are not either. One can say that because the artist, just after admitting of art’s failure from the standpoint of a an artist, and a writer, he imagined that there could be a new beginning, a new hope in the form of ‘a starting from scratch’. The audience present listened, questions were asked but engaged with the possibility of starting anew. After all the artist himself said, whatever happens I am still teaching in the morning, coming to work, getting my paycheck, as if nothing happened, as if we had time to start from scratch, all the time in the world.
Another point which point not only to the artist’s undeniable death, but more so, to it’s absolute necessity is his interest in the figure of Imad Issa, as the paradigm of the artist who has expended himself entirely, enough for Christine to declare him dead, and propose that another Imad Issa should be invented. Agency here comes in play. The new Imad Issa could be anyone, in fact we should maybe say that we are all Imad Issa, as should Walid Sadek, seeing that he’s dead, and there has performatively bridged the gap between his condition and that of his figure of contemplation.
Except that as in the paradox of the spectator to which Ranciere refers, such a gap stays gaping. Walid cannot be Imad Issa unless there is no more hope for him to cling on. Whatever he does, unless he come to terms with such a paradox, the figure of Imad Issa will stay alive in him, whilst he is dead. Walid is familiar with the idea of multiple deaths; innumerable in fact, if one has to journey along the continuum from one side to the other. We already saw him relate to his death three times, and relive it. If we need to keep in terms with his own thought we have to do it, over and over, and we have to do it quick, he has to travel quick along this run for him to jump into thinking.
The the face recognition in my Mac’s iPhoto app offered to decide whether the close-ups of Walid’s face I had made from the YouTube footage of his admitting art has failed were in fact of him or not. I hesitated in choosing, for sentimental reasons, and then chose; you kill the ones you love, the rest does not exist.
What follows is taken from the web :
“The first use and meaning of he expression of the Quick and the Dead is an English phrase originating in the Christian Bible and popularized by the Apostles’ Creed, one of the earliest statements of faith in the Christian religion and still one of the most widely used in worship.
The phrase is found in three passages in the King James version of the Bible: in the Acts of the Apostles, (Acts 10:42),Paul’s letters to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:1) and also in the First Epistle of Peter, which reads
For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you: Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead. 1 Peter 4:3–5
This passage advises the reader of the perils of following outsiders in not obeying God’s will. Specifically it warns that those who sin, both the quick and the dead, will be judged by Jesus Christ. In other words, it implies that God is able to act on the sins of a person whether that person is alive (quick) or has passed into the afterlife (dead).
In the Apostles’ Creed the phrase appears in the following passage (taken from the Book of Common Prayer).
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
The use of the word quick in this context is an archaic usage because of the publication of the King James Bible in 1611. In this context the word specifically means living or alive (a meaning still retained in the “quick” of the fingernails). Its English meaning in later centuries shifted to “fast”, “rapid”, “moving, or able to move, with speed”.
The phrase has been commonly used throughout English-speaking history. In particular it has been as a title for novels, films and other popular culture entities, in some cases to describe the act of gunfighting. The usage of the phrase in many such secular contexts uses the modern English meaning of the word quick meaning fast or smart rather than alive, either as the result of a misunderstanding or for the purposes of creating a double entendre (e.g. quick vs. deadbin the context of gun battles can play on the fact that the being fast is generally a prerequisite for winning, and by implication, staying alive).”
Let us leave the artist then, and focus on the task at hand, and the people present, for it is most definitely not the space of Ashkal Alwan as an established institution that draws my interest, but the person of Christine herself. She recently related to me the relentless asking by Andree Sfeir to have Marwan Rechmawi’s C60 structure, to which Christine always responded a categorical ‘No’.
Negation as it happens here, can be entwined with inclusion within a physical space. By refusing to give the work to Andrée whose intent was to sell to a collector, Christine successfully prevented it from being in a state of constantly traveling in the art market a constantly displaced signifier/exchange value, and therefore ‘grounded’ the artwork in a space. Since Groys proposed that we are all word curators, whereas for Heidegger language was the dwelling of Being, and man was more of a shepherd of words in fact, I would suggest a paradigm other than the curator’s, one which I find was started by Christine here, in this place –after recurring homeless Homeworks exhibitions– that of the ‘dweller’, the dweller of spaces, The one who gives meaning again to the difference between the affirmative, and the critical by relating to inclusion and rejection, both indefinitely, and definitively.
When I first began preparing for this talk, I thought of a running title for it : “I like Christine, and Christine likes me.” Such a title, besides the Beuysian reference, and all it would entail, and presuppose, relates of course to the sequence of events (a series of unfortunate events perhaps?) that led me here, to this place. If my presence here before is to have any kind of legacy, I, as well as you, have to keep the narrative in mind. I this, because I know for a fact that this only time I’ll be speaking at Ashkal Alwan, and it’s most probably the last time I’m ever setting foot in it. All this sounds a little dramatic, I know, but sometimes things have to take dramatic turns of events for something to happen, or for something that has happened to become real, for you see, I suppose that we are all here (doing or relating to art, one way of the other) because something happened to us, at one point or another. In my case things are happening all the time for me these days.
The last thing that happened was some weeks ago, and it changed in a way the course of my talk. I will of course carry on augmenting the text that is already online. I know I cannot convey too many problematics in one sitting, and the rhetorical is not the best way to ask real questions. So I will do two things, I will keep it short, as Christine suggested, and make the whole thing as poetic as possible, also as per Christine desire. Which is why the running title of the talk has different meaning obviously.
So, if we were to apply selectively the principle of non-contradiction to the proposition at hand, we would have four different meaning to the previous proposition :
I Like C, C likes me
I like C, C doesn’t like me
I don’t like C, C likes me
I don’t like C, C doesn’t like me
As we’ve seen with DNA ut with four basic elements it is possible to create wonderful things, meaningful things. In order to succeed in saving words from the Groys’ Google world cloud we have to quickly combine the different possible meaning into an ongoing narrative that has the structure of ever growing question we might be asking the world, or more precisely, a question that life might be asking itself through us: our daily actions, in terms of affirming or negating things, or artists (labels) as such would be a performative, and participative living answer, and the rest would be dead.
“So why this obsession with female sexuality?” asked Mounira with a complicit smile.
“Well I was trying to make a point; that the disappearance of the grammatical structure of the word has made us all word curators as Groys said, instead of shepherds of the words as Heidegger would say; meaning the truth value of words disappeared and we are only left with the possibility to either include or exclude. This is what usually girls, and later on women, do, whereas male thematically would be more about fighting, killing or being killed.”
“But I don’t subscribe to this at all” replied Roy, “I am not autistic, and why this polarity, why not three axes? Because there is Guattari’s schizophrenia as well”
“It’s a metaphor, Roy” I replied, “the metaphor’s purpose is to have use traveling from one side to the other; it’s not about categorizing people. We have to see ourselves speeding along an upward slope, in a way”.
“I think it reductive”, Roy replied.
“Well of course it’s reductive Roy; the aim is to kill artists. Killing someone reduces him from a state of richness in possibilities, and means into one state: that of being dead, and meaningless… as an artist I mean. This has to happen within, hence the notion of the ‘Inner Killer‘, you see?”
The very next day I received this request by a visual artist who had attended the talk:
A few days later I received another mail by an artist I liked a lot, saying she enjoyed being there on Friday, and wanted to know whether her, and her friends asking questions were not ‘too much’.
The mail was sent late at night. I did not notice it until early morning the next day. I replied the following :
“You were perfect; I posted some of our exchanges online. I think what happened was logical: when we are confronted with an alternative that we do not want to be in, in the first place, and has to do mainly with death, I think we go through stages, maybe like the stages of Kübler-Ross.
It also reminded me of Jeanne Dielman, or course. I suppose any kind of logical argument, once you accept the premises of it gets us in a bind. And Nina’s awareness and death in the Black Swan is contained writhing Jeanne Dielman’s death but at a higher level of awareness.
To answer your question again, you were just right. I was just disappointed that my ex, who attended the talk –thinking that her being there might give me support, although it did not seem that way at all, but owed more to the pleasure of seeing people, and giving some feedback on how interesting she had become, having attended the opening of dOCUMENTA– ended up leaving quickly when your questions were critical. She became fearful of the confrontation, and did not want to be associated with me when I was under fire. She did not realize that being there, and being the first to leave was the most removed as signal from the apparent intention of wanting to be supportive. When I saw her leave, I thought that her coming and leaving early was kind of symbolic of how ordinary people live, and die: without ever being the wiser, as if life was meant to be lived just enough, but not too much.
Never fall in love with people who can never have a sense of play, or be amazed by life every minute of every day. Those people are not able to think. It isn’t their fault really, but their story is not theirs to begin with. I think it has to do with the logic within. That is why the middle of the continuum is in fact meaningless; it is there to hold all the meaningless narratives, only the extremes hold meaning, the rest does not exist.
That is why Walid Sadek died: no matter what he tried to do, he was still comforted by the fact that he had his job, salary, wife and kids, and that he could have that as a permanent reference point in his life, and way of thinking. That is how I will be able to kill all the artists I encounter: the ordinary of their life sets the tone, and is really separated from the ‘craziness’ of their making art. That is how they end up being alienated by the market as well, by the way.
This gap is lethal, when you find it, you can slip inside. This is what I meant by the Inner Killer.”
Before my talk I imagined the following scenario:
INT. HOME WORKSPACE MAIN CONFERENCE ROOM – NIGHT
A NON-IDENTIFIABLE NARRATOR
The following talk can be seen as
a projected flashback on a murder
that is bound to happen in all
logic. It has happened virtually.
It will really happen in time.
This is here, and now.
Thank you all for coming, and
thank you Christine for inviting
A picture of the HWS Library appears on the screen…
INT. BEIRUT ART CENTER GROUND FLOOR – NIGHT
(The artificial, museum
quality lighting of the
exhibition space helps
reflect some of Richter’s
paintings on a glass
panel held by stainless
steel supports at a
distance from the white
wall that is closest to
the stairs that take up
to the first floor, going
past the donors wall.)
INT. BEIRUT ART CENTER EXHIBITION SPACE – DAY
(A single viewer is
looking at the same glass
panel shot earlier.
Another man draws up to
him. They’re both looking
at the panel. Without
turning his head the
first man speaks.)
Do you think it’s Richter’s?
Well someone told me that is
Richter… I mean it’s a metaphor
Oh, I see. You mean that, as
artists do they reflect the world
around them, or the times he’s
Well I suppose it has different
layers of meaning; there’s that of
course, but on a higher level, or
deeper level maybe… I don’t know
if they should be going up or
down, come to think of it.
Maybe they should go up in
complexity, and go down in depth
or hidden meaning maybe.
Yes… anyway, they could also
mean Richter’s singular case of an
over curated artist through the
times and tides of the art world,
and the German art scene coping
with it, needing to find a
Hockney, a Johns, an iconic French
artist, etc., all in one.
Oh, I see. He’s making fun at all
those curatorial gal driers he had
to put up with to get to this
point; telling them that: “maybe
I’m the product, but you’re
nowhere to be seen. I’m the one
Reflecting light you mean.
Reflecting us as well… So we’ve
become part of the work.
As every self-respecting viewer
should. There no possible distance
anymore. “No outside to the text”
as Derrida would say.
Not him again! Ok, but what about
the space left between the glass
panel and the wall? Does it stand
Well maybe this the artist’s space
A void actually where everything
Except for us.
Well part of us might fit.
… and a leg?
A foot maybe
Or works by another artist.
Like Hans Haacke in Sharjah?
In Haacke’s case where would that
Maybe the space of an informal
talk with a Canadian writer.
The metaphorical space of a
discussion where the critical is
still possible, when the rest is
irrevocably aestheticized over,
and over again, where space is
allotted, planned, and surveyed.
Then the true artwork would be a
virtual trace that would become
actual when a Canadian writer
bears witness to the things said
within said space.
Did you know there was another
space not far from here? They too
do art projects.
Yes I’ve heard of it. Can’t bring
myself to go there. I don’t know
where the entrance is, in point of
It belongs to the same people who
own this lot.
Interesting. Wow, these people
must really like art.
Cutting edge art.
Like if someone were to smash this
That would be art… if we
ourselves were artists of course.
But we’re not, are we?
I don’t know, maybe we are after
all, or maybe we’re what’s
standing between the artist as a
product, and the artist as…
Maybe we could get a cut of the
proceeds. I’m guessing Richter is
quite an investment these days…
I wonder of this work is maybe a
cry for help because the artist is
trapped in a one dimensional
Maybe him being multi-talented got
Or overspecialized. I wonder if
artists think of themselves as
human beings, or if being an
artist is a subsuming state.
Well it’s a nice label anyway.
(One year earlier )
INT. ROOF APPARTMENT IN RAS BEIRUT – AFTERNOON
How have you been?
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
I’ve been well, thank you. Tired
You should really have some rest.
All this is not worth it.
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
In a way it is. How is Simone?
She’s fine, she’s coming back
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
Looks at some paintings hanging on the wall to his
These weren’t in you show.
They are new
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
They haven’t dried quite yet I
No, not yet. Oil does take too
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
Have you thought of using
siccatives in you medium? They
will dry really fast, a little
You seem to know a lot about
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
The basic stuff I suppose. Are you
planning on showing those next
year in Kassel.
I don’t know yet.
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
Haven’t you thought of doing
video? I remember you were
interested in having those small
HD cameras to film the lights of
passing cars. I remember you said
something about that at Paul’s
Gouraud. It was quite poetic.
Yes, but I think I’m a hopeless
case. Although I made some super-8
movies in my youth.
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
Really? Where are they?
They’re back in Sausalito in some
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
Etel come on! I’m sure they’re
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
No, you have to bring them back.
Do you think? They’re super-8
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
So? You either show them as is or
you transfer them to digital,
maybe edit them. It could be
You’re right. I’ll ask someone to
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
Yes, do that. God, it’s a good
thing you mentioned them.
Otherwise they would have stayed
in those boxes like for ever.
Takes out his phone, and begins typing a text.
You’re right. I remember once, we
chased, Simone and I Greta Garbo
around the block in New York.
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
(Still typing, but paying
… Really? Now this I got to
CLOSE-UP ON THE PHONE SCREEN WHERE WE READ HIS TEXT AS
HE’S TYPING IT IN FRENCH: “HELLO ANDREE, THERE IS A
BUNCH OF SUPER-8 FILMS ROTTING AWAY IN BOX IN FUCKING
CALIFORNIA. FOLLOW-UP ON IT PLEASE. MAYBE YOU’LL HAVE
TIME TO DO SOMETHING FOR KASSEL. COULD BE GREAT.”
Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a
decent shot of her when we first
saw her. Simone was so excited she
blocked the shot. So we tried
following her, but she eventually
noticed us, and turned around. She
imitating Greta Garbo)
“Are you following me? I wish you
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
It must have been something.
Simone felt so guilty for having
ruined the shot.
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
You must have had such wonderful
times in New York
We did, we were at a friend’s
penthouse in Manhattan.
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
Yes, of course.
I used to film the sun setting
over the Hudson.
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
I hope to see it what you do with
I hope so too. How are you with
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
I’m ok, I guess. I like what she
wears. I like her. I like teasing
I would see you do a talk at
Ashkal Alwan. Their new location.
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
Well it looks promising.
What would you talk about?
AN EMPOWERED VIEWER
I would talk about agency in art.
Yes, of course.
INT. WHITE CUBE GALLERY IN QUARANTINA – NIGHT
(It’s Bassam’s book
signing event. Still one
hour to go. Georges just
entered the gallery. No
one was expecting him.
They are still setting up
the table inside the
Hi Georges! You’ve come early
Well I overestimated the time it
would take me to get here. Sorry,
is it inconvenient for you?
No, no. Ahla w Salha !
George wanders around near the Gallerist’s office. He
Hello, I think I saw you around a
Indeed. I’m George.
Ye I know.
I mean I’ll be Bassam tonight.
You mean you’re dressing up in a
bit? That’s fantastic. I’ve never
met him yet. Seen his work of
course. Big fan.
I think he’ll like you. I think…
Well now that I think of it, I
think you’ll be his best friend
from now on.
Thank you, I would love to. Can I
do anything today?
No, I don’t think so, we’re
setting the table there.
I’ll claim the first inscription.
Yes, of course. Actually I would
need help. I would need people to
film the event and take pictures.
I can do it, of course. It’ll be
fun to see you cut the jacket.
What will you do it with?
You know, the yellow book jacket.
Like in Bassam’s painting.
You know I really wasn’t planning
on doing that.
Well you have to do it. The people
would be expecting it. Do you have
anything that cuts here?
Well I have a hunting knife.
That would have been perfect. But
I left it at home. I was a little
out of it. I was taking care of my
Yes of course, but there must me
something you can do.
I think they have scissors here.
Yes, of course they do. Scissors
might be more to the point here.
The sun was slowly setting behind the CMA-CGM head office. We were the only people on the deck of Lux. I noticed her hair catch the light. I remembered when I first saw her a few days back in the afternoon sun with her friend John. Scandinavians blondes clash in the streets of Beirut, in the heat of a June summer. Earlier in the day, I had taken Cecile to Marinella’s for some risotto. Scandinavian blondes clash in Lebanese restaurants any time of the year. Two women sitting near the entrance had turned just as we came in. Real blondes, I thought, made all the other blondes, local or otherwise, find themselves in an unkept lie. Later, just after lunch, when we came out on the terrace, an old acquaintance who barely said hello, was so welcoming and insisted on us sitting with them, and eventually getting Cecile’s contact details. All this was fun to watch. We left later on for the port area, and logically settled at Lux. I ordered a sake Martini, while I asked wether Johnny was around, they said he would be coming later on.
“This is a nice place” said Cecile.
“It is. I don’t come here as often as I should.”
“Beirut is a nice place, I shall have to come back.”
“It has something.”
“It’s so different from Copenhagen.”
“That is true.”
“You don’t seem to like it here.” Cecile asked inquisitively
“I just don’t think with what is coming, it would be worth it. The city is real enough, the country is not; more of a state of mind really.”
“You think all this will spread here?”
“It’s not really about the past wars, or those to come; it’s about the people.”
“I don’t really know how other people are, but the people here don’t think, no matter how open-minded they are.”
“What do you mean?”
“They don’t question their beliefs. I don’t think others elsewhere do that either, but I have the deep feeling that here it’s much worse. Here, I mean the region, although I don’t know a lot of people from elsewhere, but I’ve recently met Egyptian artists, one tall skinny video artist, and she was so full of herself, critical of the Lebanese art scene, all the while taking pride in the fact that the Egyptian art scene, and the Egyptian people had such originality, and strength to find renewal, and overthrow ‘en passant’ a dictator. I couldn’t help but remind them that if this country did not overthrow dictators, it’s because there was any to do that, a fact that I happened to find good, although some local artists would have wished there were one to overthrow and get busy with the incumbent celebrations that so many Arab countries had the occasion to have, or plan to have sooner or later.”
“It’s ok, I just remembered a lame ‘performance’ by an artist/architect at the last Meeting Points in Beirut”
“Ok. But you feel that your country is different from the rest?”
“We are the only ones in the region, with the exception of Iraq, but they just have three, and they are on their way to partition, to have so many communities that haven’t succeeded in destroying each other, and therefore are in a way, condemened in trying to get along, whether they like it or not.”
“All the other countries, not just our neighbors, but nearly all countries all over the world, have built their history on injustice made by a ruling group over others, whether and minority or not, like in our neighboring country.”
“But you still find the people incapable of change?”
“They’re not better in any case. They just are what they are, and they are determined by the context, like any people.”
“I suppose the context is everything.”
“Well some people manage to get free of the context, and I suppose these things happen in places where a historical culture is a bit more present. I suppose it’s a bit too much to expect from a country that became as such around the second world war.”
“I suppose you need more time. But the art scene is so vibrant here.”
“It is isn’t it? But the artists, and the fact that they are recognized is due to outside agency. We’re a market, as any other region with artists, even though we have more artists at the dOCUMENTA actually than any other country, proportionally to the country’s size.”
“This is good, no?”
“This is good, but as a friend was telling me; a situation such as this one hides something else.”
“What the art world is all about.”
“Anyway this brings me to what I was talking about earlier; I mean how can we change? What makes people change? The more I think about it the less I am certain that art is what makes us change, unless maybe when art makes us think, although most of the time it does not, not one bit.”
“I suppose this is what you want to make happen.”
“I want to see what makes people think.”
“Quite pretentious, isn’t it?”
“It is, but what choice to I have? I mean either I’m right, either I’m wrong, but I wouldn’t want to let that chance go by, without knowing, because I figure, if I’m right then that would really amount to something.”
“I guess there is only one way to find out.”
“I have to write it all.”
“Will you be writing this as well? us talking to each other?”
“You know I will; this, where we were, and where we will go later on, to have some single malt. Do you like single malt?”
“I love single malt.”
“I am amazed of how certain I can be of certain stuff, about complete strangers.”
“Just the other day, I was at the movies with a girl I had met a few days earlier, and we were getting some popcorn, and I had this terrible craving for something I never had before.”
“After I got them, India, the girl I was with.”
“Her name is India?”
“Yes her dad loved the Mahatma. She’s an American though. Anyway she admitted that used to loved that when she was a child.”
“I guess all Americans would love those stuff growing up.”
“I guess, but this is just one thing. The other day, I guessed that a woman I had just been introduced to that she had two daughters and one boy. I happened another time prior too, and I can’t tell you how many women I got to guessing their exact age, for instance you’re 28.”
“That is impressive.”
“It’s not that I have superpowers it’s just that I just listen more to things now, I guess.”
“What does that tell you?”
“I think I see things. I see people. That reminds me something I said to India a few days after went went out for a movie.”
“We were on a terrace at night, somewhere at the Eastern end of the city. I don’t how things got to talking about relationships, and eventually love. India was in a fast back and forth with a friend, who owned the pub we were in. I listened politely, up to a point when I felt I had to leave, at which point India asks me: ‘what is your definition of love, then?’ I did not really feel like answering, but in such situations I guess I always feel compelled to say what I believe. The answer was given in nearly one breath, off the mark, the words were just coming out, I was as much passive as the others listening to me. They did not really get it. I left afterwards.”
“What did you say?”
“I will have to remember, but it was specific to what India was saying, and really intended for her, for what I had come to know of her.”
“I think I would like to know what you said.”
It was still day when Johnny came and sat with us for a while. We left shortly after for the Phoenicia hotel, where we had Japanese and Dutch single malts, and where I discovered Cecile had fear of heights, a situation she only discovered of late herself. I eventually made peace with the idea that she was too young to be a good person in the long run, but I did not regret sharing with her that all I said and did had a fourth degree of meaning to it. She did not understand at first, and said :
To which I said:
“I don’t know if you understand but I really wished you were someone else, but I now accept the fact that this will never come to pass, and that the person I wished I were saying this to will only read what I told, and that maybe this is probably for the best. But this is what I believe : when we are young, and words are meant to mean something real, we say ‘I love you’ and we really believe that words can really convey the feeling, and when the person opposite to us believes that too, then things are quite alright.”
“But then some of us realize that words like that are just not good enough to say things really, so we struggle with the idea, and get to a new truth that we have to say the words even though we know for a fact that they fall short, because the person opposite demands them; this is the second degree to meaning.”
“But what if the person opposite you got to the same conclusion”
“Then we would have reached the third degree of meaning; we both know the words cannot convey, but we say it nontheless because we still want to live through the moment.”
“I suppose this is life”
“Yes, I suppose, except that when we both are aware of the fact, when each see it in the other person’s eyes, and we both agree to make belief, then we would have reached the fourth degree of meaning. Art lies here. The other appears here.”
Cécile turned her head towards the sun, thought for a moment, turned back to me, and smiled. I felt better.
“You didn’t tell us your opinion on love” noted India as I was getting up to leave.
I stopped, and sat down again. She was saying that for others purposes than to really know my thoughts on the subject, but I did not care, I played along nonetheless and said:
“Love is not about attraction; it’s about the question the question of life, and I don’t think you get that far at 25″ I noted meaning her, “you get to that later in life. It’s about the story, the narrative, and for that narrative to be able to expand, the be authentic, you have to go over the values you’ve been given, handed down from generation to generation. Those values you have to excavate the origins, the many sources: the country you’re living in, the community you belong to, your family’s specific narrative. And even though you’re rejecting parts of those values depending on your own narrative, these values made you, they’re part of bigger narrative than you’re own, that of your family, the community you belong to, the country you’re living in. All these narratives make you who you are now, and most of them you don’t question because they’ve made you as you are now. You can’t change until you question them, until you die, until you kill them, or rather until someone else kills them for you. This is what helps create a real love relationship, otherwise, since our narrative are not authentic, meaning that they haven’t questioned themselves, love will just be a ‘myth’ as you said, a shared myth, something that is just convenient for the both of you. And so we have feelings for each other, until we don’t anymore, but we don’t know why this happened, and we don’t even care to know how to prevent that in the future, and what it even means at the end of the day. You know, the last time I fell, right from the start, I wanted to know for sure if I would ever stop loving the woman I was with. Eventually she ended up leaving me, but for my part, my love never stopped growing. So even though she left me, I knew, I proved that I could love, and never stop loving. Such questions we all have to ask, and someone like cannot just state, that ‘oh well everyone has the right define love as he pleases’ because these words when you say them, when you say ‘I love you’ you’re not saying ‘well I love until I don’t anymore’, no you’re stating that you’ll love forever.”
I stood up again, and left for good. I got bits a pieces of India’s life in Beirut, and came accross her a couple of times, I said hello, was civil, and went on my way. I am sure she never understood or appreciated the fact that I didn’t really want to be her friend, but I didn’t really have any patience explaining that had no time left to have people around me taking their time in learning what life was about, while they blundered in their own assurance that they had a good handle on things. I was now looking for people who could really think, and those would prove to be the hardest to find in a place like this.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” said Patty.
“No of course I believe you” I quickly answered.
Patty had shared earlier the fact that in a past life she was Jesus Christ.
“It’s just that” I added, “if you really were, then the guy has failed in a way, seeing that you’re here again. Unless of course it’s the end of the world.”
“Well maybe it is.”
We both laughed, while I glance over, again, to that dark haired woman from across the bar.
She was sitting with a new Jamil whom I had met earlier in the evening. I couldn’t help but glance over again, and try to imagine who she really were for I felt I might not get to meet, not tonight, and maybe not ever.
The first one notices about a woman are her eyes, no matter what people believe or think they do, even if one is sometimes compelled to look elsewhere, the eyes stay with you. She had big dark eyes, and of course black curly hair, black as the night, and she was hugged in tight black dress.
“Well I’m off” I said turning to Patty, “you know something?”
“What?” she asked
“You’re my own personal Jesus Christ”
Patty laughed, while I inquired : “can one kiss Jesus’ left shoulder?” not waiting for a real answer I lay one on her shoulder and got up to leave. At that moment, I noticed Jamil signal me to come over.
“Georges, I’d like you to meet Pia” Jamil made the introductions
“How do you do Pia? What a lovely name”
Pia smiled and said thank you.
“Pia has graduated in Clinical Psychology from the UK, and will be coming to Beirut soon”
“That’s great” I said, “Well if I can be of any help, it”ll be a pleasure”
“Thank you, that’s very nice of you, I appreciate it, and I’ll take you up on the offer.”
“Did you speak with colleagues already?”
“Yes just one, a colleague of yours.”
“But if you want my advice don’t go over to the Jesuits. Since you have a UK degree go to the Americans, they pay much better.”
“I was thinking of that in fact, I might just do that.” She paused, and then inquired, “are you a therapist yourself?”
“I’m afraid not. I don’t believe in therapy really.”
“Really? How so?”
“Well I think there are new avenues to explore. Even though therapy in general, and psychoanalysis in particular has it’s uses definitely, but I subscribe to Lacan’s view that healing is not the final aim.”
“And what is the final aim of psychoanalysis.”
“As in any human activity, and the symbolic, and cultural levels it brings with it, the aim is to give meaning.”
“But doesn’t that heal? Once the patient has found meaning, can’t we equate it with healing?”
“I don’t we should. You see, healing means there’s something wrong that we are trying to fix, a disease that is not in accordance with normality. And, yes of course, when you deal with Psychosis, or autism through Psychiatry or Neuroscience you can posit a normality, and find ways to go back to it, although in all fairness, no amount of drugs, or therapy can help an autist become sane again.”
“So what do you advise psychologists do?”
“I advise them to keep doing what they’re doing, and labour under the illusion that they’re doing something meaningful, but that is something I cannot do.”
“What can you do?”
“I believe I can make a difference. I believe there is a way to do something meaningful. You see I am constantly in that state of mind that life is short, and we need to go for the essential, and I believe everything begins with thinking, truly thinking. Without thinking we are nothing. And I recently discovered that one cannot think outside of writing, one has to write. Unfortunately not many people can write, or even have the time for it, and that makes them, In my mind, unable to think, they are stuck with a basic set of values, and end up rehashing the same ideas over and over. Writing is everything, History, and civilization started with writing, we keep forgetting that.”
“I see your point. So people talking about their life, and issues doesn’t really get them very far, if I understand what you’re saying.”
“This is what I believe.”
“But as you said, most people cannot write, or don’t have time to. So what do you advise then?”
“I think those of us who can write, have a responsibility to write for those who cannot.”
“Don’t writers already do that?”
“No, they don’t. Writers mostly write about themselves, even if they believe they are writing about others. They use people’s lives for inspiration, but what they are really writing about is about themselves.”
“Madame Bovary, c’est moi” Pia said quoting Flaubert, to make my point.
“So, is there a way out of this egotistical maelstrom?”
“I think there is, yes. It’s quite simple; you write about one person at a time, and you show what you’re writing to said person, on a regular basis, so that she can let fiction go through her life, and get a sense of empowerment. That way, fiction meets reality, art meet life, and we break free of the solipsistic nexus.”
“It’s a kind of therapy then”
“If you want, although it wouldn’t deserve the word, because it’s not about healing.”
“Isn’t there some healing happening though empowerment?”
“Well I don’t really believe it’s about healing at this point, since we’re not dealing with a past stuck in our narrative; we are changing the narrative, rewriting it. The past we lived is still there of course, but there is another one, that coexists with it where some of the events that we have issues with did not take place, and things went differently. This parallel narrative is not just in our mind, but in the minds of all who read the story and imagine it. Thing become reality if we share them.”
“So the narratives we’d be writing, would have to be published.”
“Obviously. Of course the readers won’t know exactly who the main character is in real life, and this is the whole point; they just need to know that there is a person out there that is ‘carrying’ this narrative. But she of course would know her story is out there, and that it made way to people’s hearts and mind, and she would be empowered from that.”
“It’s quite interesting I have to say.”
“I myself don’t write though, even though I would like to some day.”
“Well you’re still young. How old are you? I’d say you’re 27.”
“Close enough, I’m 26.”
“I’m always good at guessing people’s ages. I frighten myself sometimes. Although I’d wish you were older, like 31 maybe.”
“Come on! She’s just the right age.” Jamil interjected, “we are the ones who are too old.”
“You’re right there. Unfortunately.”
Pia got the hint, and the compliment, and smiled. I smiled back. I said to myself that I had to find a way to get out the attraction I felt for the moment I saw her come in. I had to find out what attracted me, and rationalize it. Maybe it was the fact that she was taller than average, or the way she stood straight, and the kind of self-control her attitude betrayed. Maybe is was that thick dark hair, the eyes, or the plump lips. They might all be part of the reason one would feel instantly attracted to her. But being that close to her I realized what I unconsciously noticed as she came in and sat down across from me on the other side of the bar. Pia was not full figured but her appearance made me think of something. It made me think of those Mother deities that archeologists found all over Europe, that even neuroscientists like Ramachandran studied to discover the mysteries of how art and civilization started. She had wider hips than average, and the effect was more pronounced with her sitting on a bar stool. And there was something else, that think I noticed unwillingly as she appeared at the entrance, for even though that dress hugged he figure tightly –and maybe even, precisely because of that– the cleavage was too deep not to make think of the breasts on those Venuses, and deities that History has found, and historians admitted of being at the origins of Art History.
“Do you like art?” I asked hastily, becoming aware that my silence did not go unoticed.
“I don’t much understand it, especially the contemporary part of it.”
“Well I said” breathing an inner sigh of relief “contemporary is somewhat a speciality for me, I would like to see you again, and talk about contemporary art” I proposed hoping that with time my attraction for her would transform in shared cultural activities.
“I would like that.”
“Perfect.” I smiled.
Came accross M while I was going to dinner party. She tried to be forthcoming and extra-nice, as if she was feeling guilty for leaving. People (meaning Lebanese women who married at some point in their because they had to, just to be able to stop living at their parents’ home) really have bad memory; no recollection of the time they were begging to leave husband and children to get away from it all, but without the courage to really do that. I guess I would not have noticed how old a woman gets when pushing fifty, had I still been in love, but I suppose she decided to invest in her children again frearing just that (and now that they seemed a little more interesting than when they were always bickering for moronic excuses). Soon I will leave this fair country and all it’s aging women who try to find an excuse, in raising their progeny (and possibly enjoying a walk-in closet in a 400 sqm apartment somewhere in Rmeil), for not having amounted to much in life.
And yet I cannot say that I haven’t tried, as much as I could to be there for her, but I think what could have solved it all was just money. In a ‘country’ such as this one –I mean this patch of land that tried calling itself a ‘country’ in the 1940′s– new ideas have no hold, and people do not change; the people who came from Southern Arabia, or the West of Hejaz, whatever religion they took, kept on having a grudge match, that started around 600 AD, well into the Nineteenth Century, and then found another reason to fight. Such people never change; their moms don’t let them. And so it was that I tried to be there for one those moms, who actually asked for my help, because her sons, and her husband were draining the life out of her. I thought it was the right thing to do, and I made a promise, which I kept in fact.
There was something missing though; M was dead before I met her. I felt it, and tried to tell her that. She did not take it well. Until one day she had enough, and felt she had what she needed to keep on living, meaning getting along with the rest of the moms here who did not care for anything but an everlasting comfort zone. I knew it was over, but could not let go. I could not accept the world as it is, until I realized that, being dead, she did not exist, and that she never really saw in me anything but a symbol of a ‘different life’, and not someone who was there. So I wrote her this :
M lived with death. She had lived with death all her life; not the kind of death that one thinks of when you see other people dying around you either in times of war, or extreme poverty in godforsaken countries, but real death; death that M had inside her from before she was even born. M knew that when people think of death, or when they even see death, they see the death of others, not their own death, even when they have a near death experience it’s not real death. M knew that when people think they’ve averted death they are in fact living a lie.
From before she was of age to understand, M knew deep down that she had embraced her own death. What prevented from life was not this very thing, but simply the simple fact that M did not embrace death fully. M was not aware of that fact. M just as many others who didn’t even want to think of death, or talk about it, would think that to embrace that thing which is the most dreaded of all is simply to die. Life is not simple however, not in any way. It so happens that M lived her life laboring under this illusion for the better part of her life, and just as so many other women living around the world, she got to a point where she needed to have kids, and held out as much as she could, but eventually settled for the best possible party.
R was generous and loving, and wanted to have a family, just as she did. He desired M to a point to do what it took to have her as a wife. They had to boys. Who would grow up to be fairly good people, and to have relationships of their own, and surely kids too. This is life, or so people think life is. M wanted to believe that, and tried to make believe for nearly fourteen of a married life, where she saw her life develop according to what people would expect from a loving mother, a good wife, and an academic, for M taught French literature, and had read all Proust over and over, and knew that to be able to do something of any worth one maybe has to go back to that dangerous place that people usually leave behind as they go forward in life.
When M lost her third pregnancy, something changed; that hole inside that M tried to fill twice with life, harbored something else. M met G as she was waking to the fact that she had to go back to a place she wanted to leave behind. They met when she was going out of the elevator on the tird floor of the Faculty building on Rue de Damas. G was going out of his office to go see a colleauge down the hallway. It was as if they discovered the existence of one another. They had spent so many years at the same place, and did not meet once before. This time was the first time they met, and it was love at first sight. G was wary though of such feelings that would prove to be fleeting. He wanted to be sure that love as he felt it for M would be everlasting. M was realistic, and just went with the feeling. She did not know what she really liked about him; G seemed dangerous, and crazy, and even though some of the things he would say would betray a kind of maturity, M saw so many flaws, and childishness in his behavior. Still something drew her to him. Maybe it was that part of chaos she longed for in a life that became so laden with rules, dos and don’ts that she was beginning to suffocate, and G represented this breath of fresh air. Any future as things stood was impossible though. Strangely enough G believed he could change things, and M believed him.
It took G seven years to reinvent himself for a happy life with M. Before that G was just happy to be alone, even though this made him suffer, but G believed that happiness was not the absence of suffering, and so lived by his convictions. When he M everything changed. He felt he could not be selfish anymore, and had to take care of M whatever the cost. He was hounded by demons, and this could have made life with M impossible to bear, except that life with M was already impossibe. M had children, still too young, and most importantly G had no money at all. Still they managed to see each other on the week-end, she managed to separate herself from her husband, and G vowed to make money. The whole felt for G as the second part of Hesse’s Siddharta’s life; when after a life of detachment he meets Kamala, and to become a businessman in order to have her.
M and G knew that such a life would only be happy, if they found a way, not only to have means, but also to redeem their respective pasts. G and M were both forty, and they knew that the past forty years had to be salvaged in way; not that they regretted their own lives, but that they had to go back and relive them, knowing then what they know now, something that all people think about, but none succeeds, but that they would know how to go about it. They also knew that reliving the past was not enough; they had to change both their pasts; reinvent in, remake it as they saw fit; live in a world that gave them a fair chance to be happy without them having to pay so much to get to where they wre now; a world that gave them time to breath, and to love. Another time, parallel with this one, in which they had lived twice, and many times over and over again.
M read it, and wept. But nothing happened inside her. Things went back to their usual course. I had hoped for the contrary, but unfortunately my relationship with her was to be an allegory of some kind. So I wrote her this, and was on my way:
I could have really worked between us had we not been in this country. We both were strangers on this land where people made sure that nothing ever good would take place, since before we were born. I needed to fight all that, and I will never accept the order of things. This is what makes alive. I tried succeeded in finding real meaning to life even when religion has nothing else to say. I wished so much you could have seen it instead of judging my action as that of all stupid men. I need to keep doing what I have to do. I wished you could have put aside this pride of yours that made you stop loving me and take me for insane, because I am not.
I always believe extraordinary things happen in life. Sadly I stopped caring anymore what you others here would think, when they clearly have nothing else to say than just clichés. This country makes people cynical. I cannot be that way. I always believed you could see that without the influence of the context. Remember that all those artists and writers you teach were much worse humanly speaking than I ever was at my darkest times.
Life is not be lived by finding one’s place in the world. One cannot be alive and not be a warrior. It cannot be anything else, I have tried.
If we do not fight the context dictates what we think, feel or do.
I will stop now because on our last encounters and mostly last night I felt so much untruthfulness coming from you. Maybe you have your reasons, but I do not want to take them into account.
What happens to me next will no longer be of your concern, but know this: if an Ivy League school finds that what I managed to say and do here really amounted to something, while the people here found it plain annoying, then that would really be ironic. Ironic, and sad that you were of those people. Ironic, but not really surprising. I understood some time ago how provincial the mentalities were here, and how the local context made people unable to think.
Yesterday you were trying to be forthcoming as if you thought what you ended up doing made your life better.
I know now that whatever people do they cannot help themselves because all their actions are handed down to them before they were born.
Some people are better than that though; not because they are more intelligent, but because they have the courage to ask real questions, and to believe that actions and words can mean something. I believe this is the only choice one can make: to believe or fail.
It is sad you made that choice long before you met me, and you tried to forget ever having made it when we met. I know that in order to believe you must no reason to; only then would believe mean something.
I sadly had to learned that in this place, in this region, no matter how cultivated a person can be, if they don’t really believe, they are as good as dead.
Seeing someone like you come to the conclusion that she has to make the most of what she can now and because what is to come is just awful and that she might as well enjoy it while it lasts; this was really sad for me. If someone like you ends up thinking that, then the rest of the people here are dead inside.
All the people I’ve met who were not from here had something else; something I was lucky to have to, and I tried to share. But I don’t think I can transmit it to anyone here. I know however that there are countries where people think, I had the chance to keep in touch with a few.
Maybe you will try to live through your kids as most people do, and take some pride from that. I don’t see how anyone can when they end up saying that ‘everyone is basically alone’. You might even write the provincial end of career work. It will not bring you joy for that very reason. I think you and and your kind needed to have their fun while relatively young, because they know that what is to come will consume them (especially women who learned to live through men, their husbands or their sons, and it is ironic that trying to believe you could be happy differently, made you resent me, especially that you ended up with the same conclusion later on).
Maybe people just need others around them to share the lies they are telling themselves.
This place will burn again, and people like you will share the responsibility.
I need to do more than that, I need to prove that death does not accompany us from cradle to grave, that when people are really alive, the world is better for it. Unfortunately it will not be your world, or that of your kind, for there is a difference between you and I at the end of the day, something that someone, some time ago, described as follows:
‘The Quick and the dead’