24 May, 2011


Ιntensive workshop about the city of Beirut.

By Asterios Agkathidis

Greek edition

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It was very early on in this project-before we arrived even-that we were detailed about the most salient and pervading issues plaguing every Beiruti in the city: merciless (de)construction and its accompanying cacophonies, the chaotic unruliness of informal economies, lack of real public space, and of course, the thick, steaming traffic plugging every artery. For the duration of our stay and workshop period for rePLACE Beirut, such complaints continued to resound in both conversation and experience, and it seemed at some point as if these issues smother any other possible observance of life in Beirut. What comes after traffic dies down, or what do we do while we are waiting endlessly in it?

We began our workshop between the lines of a map, or on the precipices of boredom. In a city where street names may be more likened to fleeting moods rather than identifiable markers, there was an immediate failure of a traditional cartography. "Sometimes the street is called one name from one direction, but if you are driving from another direction it has a different name." What began as a route, we started to abstract as a 'sphere of influence' and layered arenas of activity. This was the beginning of another kind of archive altogether-alcoves of chance and intention that, like complaints, are never objective.

So how, in the context of a short but intense working together, can we grasp our own subjectivities in order to turn our maps of Beirut into processes, forms of movement and flow where before we only saw traffic jam? Several discussions ended up in the flailing despair of one or more participants feeling that there was nothing else they could do here; all inspiration was gone-the infrastructure as averse to human life. In a place of tumultuous history and overwhelming change, we become unable to find the routines to stabilize daily life. Like the sidewalks that can never be traversed without having to go around numerous obstructions, routes never follow a straight line, and routine becomes a series of divergences rather than any orderly schedule. This presentation is a work-in-progress to document activities organized over the course of a two week workshop held at 98weeks research/project space in April of 2011. Via overlapping series of discussions, documentation and hours of walks through the city, participants developed individual and group projects to reflect and react upon or make imaginary propositions for the city of Beirut. We began with a failed map in order to find a course for divergence and reconsider the city as an active process of image-making-one where seeing is a daily reflective activity inseparable from our rootedness in place and history. Given the mandate of the Arab Image Foundation to document and preserve a complex body of image practices, it became equally relevant to critically examine these collective practices as vital, ongoing processes tied to the lives for whom they maintain relevance. Tracing routes submitted by other residents of the city (see soon turned out to be an impossible task: the map is lost after a coffee break, the workweek/weekend population divide on bus number two changes the landscape completely, or our memories bleed all over Hamra in a way that diffuses place into an overflow of gestures and signifiers. The resulting set of detours are informed with a very Beiruti sensibility; they are landmarks not as monumentalized structures, but as tools for navigation and agency within the archive. Here, the archive is the flow of Beirut itself.

Organizing team: Daniel Berndt, Elaine W. Ho, Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga
participants:Sivine Ariss, Lara Atallah, Jad Baaklini, Maral Der Boghossian, Paul Gorra, George Haddad, Elaine W. Ho, Christophe Katrib, Céline, Khairallah, Lynn Kodeih, Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga, Lina Sahab, Tayfun Serttas, Mikolaj Starowieyski.


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