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

Call for Papers

— The deadline for responses to the call for papers has now passed —

In its recent (2013) edition on Beirut, PeepingTom Digest printed the anonymised quotation: “Art in public spaces doesn’t exist anymore.”

We invite researchers, artists and other cultural practitioners to respond to this provocation, whether considering it as a lament, a falsehood, an opportunity, or otherwise. The workshop will take performance as its throughline of discussion, focussing on the position of embodied practice within public space and the implications of its suggested demise.

After theorists of urban space such as Henri Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau, and thinkers on the public/counterpublic such as Nancy Fraser and Michael Warner, urban space and the public sphere have both been widely theorised as contested, performative and perpetually constructed conditions rather than ‘given’ sites.

On the other hand, in light of the powerful uprisings and violent oppression witnessed across the globe in recent years, the material and bodily requirements that make possible the performance of publicity, or make visible the occupation of public space, have been lately emphasised by thinkers such as Judith Butler. In the Lebanese context or elsewhere, how might we address this invitation to responsibly rethink performance in public space, through attending to what Butler calls its material and bodily ‘supports’?

Whilst the workshop welcomes contributions dealing with practical and conceptual material generated across the globe, its location in and focus on Beirut takes account of the particular set of critical socio-material conditions informing an ongoing practice of performative acts in contemporary Lebanon.

Responses may be informed by the following questions:

  • What does the existence, demise or discrediting of the presence of art in public space represent for a public in Lebanon or elsewhere? As an embodied and time-based practice, sometimes enacted on the fly, performance is productively open-ended but also socially and economically precarious. What are the implications of using performative art to occupy or configure public space – and what are the implications of its absence?
  • How does performance engage with the built environment and its memory, promise or ambiguity? What material, social or affective considerations sustain or constrain performance, and must these be made explicit when dealing with public art or performative spatial practices? How might these practices, or their absence, in turn shape the dimensions of shared spaces?

Possible areas of interest could include:

– Precarity, counterpublics or performances of activism

– The audience as public; the absent public

– Urban landscapes and spatial practices

– Architecture, memory and (in)visibility

– Public art initiatives

– Identity and public space

– Performance and public institutions

The workshop combines research presentations with arts-based events on site or in other locations in Beirut. A competitive seed-fund of £150 GBP (approx. $250 USD) will be available to an artist or collective to create an original artistic response to the workshop on site, during the event, exhibiting the work (and/or its documentation) at its conclusion and for a period afterwards. Unsuccessful applications for the seed fund will automatically be considered for programming.

  • For individual research presentations lasting 20 minutes, please submit a 250 word abstract and a short biography of the presenter.
  • For collaborative presentations and curated panel discussions lasting 1 hour, please submit a 250 word abstract and short biographies of the participants.
  • For performances, artworks and other interventions, please submit a 250 word description, with indicative videos and images attached if possible, and a short biography of the participants.
  • For proposals to the seed-fund for an original work to be created during the conference on site, applications should include a 750-word proposal with reference to the thematics of the workshop, and a short biography of the applicant(s) with details/documentation of previous work.

Beirut: Bodies in Public takes place in association with Performance Philosophy, and is supported by the American University of Beirut, and King’s College London.

Related: Thinking through our call for papers

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