Beirut: Bodies in Public

A three-day workshop inviting artists and researchers to think through the interdisciplinary concerns surrounding performance in public space in Beirut

Thinking through our call for papers

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The call for papers forms the backbone of the discussions we hope to generate during the workshop – it is the thematic glue which pulls together our perspectives. Throughout all the contributions – performances, installations, films, research papers and others – offered by such a great diversity of participants, the call for papers will provide the common ground for our research enquiries, and the questions to which we will all be speaking.

These enquiries are grounded in the particularities of Beirut – but they invite interdisciplinary and international responses. Participants will share perspectives from 16 different countries around the world, and our disciplinary backgrounds range from theatre, dance and fine art, to architecture and urban planning. We will combine theory with practice, and shades in between.

The call for papers opens with a statement from PeepingTom journal’s 2013 edition on Beirut – ‘Art in public spaces doesn’t exist anymore’. In compiling their edition, PeepingTom approached a number of artists and cultural practitioners in Lebanon, and collected quotations, which were anonymised, taken out of context and published in thematic blocs in the journal. This was one of them. It offers a powerful provocation to kickstart discussion, but as we suggest, participants might choose to consider that statement as a ‘lament, a falsehood, an opportunity, or otherwise’.  PeepingTom were themselves rebuked for their methodology, and we hope to address the provocation from a reflexive standpoint, collectively formulating  our own approach to the position of performance in Beirut’s public zones.

The call for papers also points to a shift in critical thinking around urban public space, moving from the post-May ’68 tradition, to contemporary reactions to recent unrest in the Middle East and beyond. We draw on the work of Henri Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau, for whom the city transcended its material qualities, becoming a performance that existed in time and could be created and constructed ‘on the fly’. But we also look to Judith Butler, who responded to the uprisings in the Middle East, and movements like Occupy, with a call to attend once again to the ‘supports’ that enable public protest to take place at all. What conditions, material and bodily, do we first need in order to lay claim to the city as public? And, in the face of ‘disenfranchisement, effacement, and abandonment’, how can we rethink our strategies for the contemporary cityscape?

In this climate, does performance or spatial practice constitute the utopic response to the corporatisation and surveillance of public space that it did after May ’68? As a process achieved by bodies acting in time, performance is also ephemeral, and therefore precarious. Perhaps we need new paradigms in our struggle to reforge solidarity and to reclaim our public sites. As much as an enquiry into Beirut, then, the workshop represents an international enquiry into performance itself, its promises and potentials.

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