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

Looking forward to look backwards

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Whilst preparing for the workshop, which starts in only two weeks (!), we’ve also been thinking through ways to look back on our experience after the event, and to reflect on the perspectives and discussions we’ll share. King’s College London have invited co-convenor Ella Parry-Davies, and artist-in-residence Dima Mabsout to hold a panel discussion as part of the King’s Arts and Humanities research festival on October 24th. Joined by Dr Craig Larkin, an expert on Lebanese politics and author of Memory and Conflict in Lebanon (2012), we’ll have a chance to look back at our experiences in Beirut, tying them into wider discussions about the themes at the heart of the project.

The event is free and open to the public. Full details can be found here.

Beirut: Bodies in Public | Film screening and public talk

Beirut is a city of divisions, contradictions, surprises. Of high heels, roaring motorways, air conditioned shopping malls, fierce conflicts and unexpected solidarities, rampant privatization and poignant tradition. Neighbourhoods change quickly from penthouses to tin roofs, and streets are slung with cables channelling stolen electricity. On its beaches, its underpasses, its building sites, how do Beirutis perform their city?

Last year, in its special edition on Beirut, the art journal PeepingTom published an anonymised quotation: “Art in public spaces doesn’t exist anymore”. In October 2014, an international group of artists, architects, researchers, performers and film-makers will respond to that provocation during a three-day workshop in and around the city. Whether considering the statement as a lament, a falsehood, an opportunity, or otherwise, the workshop will look to the position of art in Beirut’s precarious public spaces, and the implications of its suggested demise.

Hot on the heels of the event, this panel discussion will be illustrated by film and documentation from the workshop, tying our interventions into an exploration of Beirut’s public spaces, urban narratives and memoryscapes. How is the city transfigured by its inhabitants and their histories, cultures and identities? In what ways might art respond critically to Beirut’s conflicts and inequalities – and from what platform can it speak back to power?

Speakers:

Dima Mabsout is the artist-in-residence at Beirut: Bodies in Public, where she will be leading the Naked Wagon project. The Wagon will form a mobile hub for discussion and encounter throughout the workshop, and the project artists will create a performative response to the workshop during the three days. Dima has recently completed her BA in Fine Arts (2014) at Central Saint Martins London, during which she conceived the Naked Wagon. The first model was built in Glasgow, another in London, which she involved in community interventions, and intermittently did the same in Lebanon. Her practice ranges over a variety of media, with a focus on socially engaged initiatives which she is currently pursuing in Lebanon. Her ideas advocate the power in art for reshaping everyday realities, and her work strives to bridge gaps between local, refugee, and international communities by constructing public and private environments for creative discourse.

Craig Larkin is a lecturer in Comparative Politics of the Middle East at the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies, King’s College London. He is the deputy Director of the Centre for Study of Divided Societies and co-head of the Lebanon and Syria Research Group at King’s. His first monograph, Memory and Conflict in Lebanon: Remembering and Forgetting the Past was published by Routledge in January 2012. This research emerged from four years spent in the Middle East (2001-2004), studying Arabic at Damascus University while also assisting in community development projects in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. He is currently working on a co-edited book, The Alawis of Syria: War, Faith and Politics in the Levant, to be published by Hurst and Oxford University Press in April 2015.

Ella Parry-Davies is co-convenor of the three-day workshop Beirut: Bodies in Public, and a PhD candidate funded by a doctoral partnership between King’s College London and the National University of Singapore. She is also co-convenor of Research with Reach, a training programme to support emerging academics in thinking though the scope of their work beyond academia. Her interdisciplinary research brings together performance studies and cognitive philosophy to develop new ways of understanding the relationship between memory and place, and looks towards a theory of memory as performed within a contested public sphere. Ella is currently writing about memory and public space in Lebanon. 

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