home / space lab / nothing happened here

performative audio tour, 2014

part of the Art & Politics seminar by Mona Kriegler

Masters in Curatorial Studies and Art Criticism

Université de Saint Joseph, Beirut

the idea behind this intervention in the master seminar was to bring attention to certain questions relating to the body and its subjective relationship with the city.

 

the aim of the walk is to superimpose the lived city with the imagined city, in other words realities and possibilities.

 

avoiding the tropes of the beirut historical or informative promenade, the walk treads a mundane itinerary in which are embedded the notions of scale, time, property, publicity and memory.

 

using sound as an indelible reverb in time, and staging/performing provocative situations, this hyper-sensory urban exploration questions the role of personal and collective memories, how they are perpetuated, materialized, manipulated or erased through the urban environment, and calls upon the body as a social, ethical and political entity and a producer of place. 

 

 

photos by matthew stender

trailer by matthew stender

text adaptation of the audio transcription >

 

an alleyway drawn in dotted lines

porous space, tentacular spills over

two porches, no doors no fences

open windows 

an old couple passes through 

the crowd and greets with smiles 

the strangers in their 

home

 

main street

signs and banners

visual noise

silent voices speak of inexistent pasts

identify your speakers

they may seem familiar

no stranger than you

 

you must look suspicious

try not to look suspicious

do not look left

do not look right,

do not look suspicious

 

2012 

georgette sarkissian 

the forgotten victim

the absent monument

echoes travel and are trapped 

between walls and buildings

look around, nothing happened here

traces erased

repaired

the virtual monument to the forgotten victim

cannot be situated or it would instantly cease

to function

 

inside, a cup a bottle a shoe

trespass

 

the first poem from the handbook for city dwellers

part from your friends at the station

enter the city in the morning with your coat buttoned up

look for a room and when your friends knock

do not, oh do not open the door

but, cover your tracks

do i know you from somewhere?

if you meet your parents in beirut or elsewhere, 

pass them like strangers

turn the corner, don't recognize them

pull the hat they gave you over your face

and do not, oh do not show your face

but, cover your tracks

 

find a monument and walk towards it

you are the monument you are the center

trace the gazes back to the eyes

high on poles in the sky

dark glass reflecting your image

 

see when you come to think of dying 

that no gravestone stands and betrays where you lie

with a clear inscription to denounce you

and the year of your death to give you away,

once again, cover your tracks

this is what they taught me

 

dying is pointless, one must know how to disappear

 

ahead

escape

the invisible sky

the hidden mountain

the occulted sea

under your feet

the rumbling waves erode the earth

turn your back

look elsewhere to find

a sky

a mountain

a sea

 

the missing object 

leaves a trace

absent weight

resonance 

stories lived

trapped and radiating

while gravel

and stones

travel

dust recovers

 

garden

benches with their backs turned to each other

a fence protects the green

guards you out, dangerous body

escapes are made airtight

you may look

but there are always two sides to a door

which side are you on

cross 

enter

trespass into someone's backyard

take a stroll in the garden alone, with a friend or a lover

there is no exit 

but there are many eyes

watching you try

 

the ground

viscous liquid poured over 

sharp edges still visible

what is buried underneath my feet

 

inside

rooms with too many openings

yet no windows

hands have written on the wall

wallpaper peeling

a presence through remains

the absent body appoints representatives

a plate with rotting food

a mattress with patterns of mould

the absent body rearranges space

the bells don't stop

the walls are witnesses

to the immobility of objects and their hidden lives

walk out

unscathed

nothing happened here

 

the gaze enters through the window

you could see 

into 

lullabies and bedtime stories

try not to look

shutters closed

shutters open

closed 

closed 

open

closed

how does light get in or out

the neighbor cries out 

you heard it yesterday and the day before

coming here

the caged bird sings louder

sings longer until

tomorrow

 

mohamad 

a boy

his coat still hangs 

in the corner above the pile of rocks

there is his chair and his foldable stool

where he sat and waited 

his chair, his foldable stool, his shade

where he sat for eight hours a day

tomorrow

an empty apartment building

 

whatever you say, don't say it twice

if you find your ideas in anyone else, disown them

the man who has not signed anything, who has left no picture

who was not there

who said nothing, how can they catch him?

cover your tracks

 

a loose tile

is a portal

do it, undo it, redo it, repeat after me

then look up

this is my sidewalk

nothing happened

 

the city is redundant

it repeats itself so that something will stick in the mind

memory is redundant

it repeats signs so that the city can begin to exist

 

a shrine, beliefs sculpted in stone, touch the wall

what is holy what is glorified made into statues

holy water, holy flower, holy hole in the wall

your icons are not dead, they hide under the dust

you must believe what you see

believe your eyes

turn the corner

 

the city is redundant

it repeats itself so that something will stick in the mind

memory is redundant

it repeats signs so that the city can begin to exist

 

look inside

stir up the dust, see what you find

what is left 

dust and sand

washed up on the shore

where is the sea

can you hear the

waves

 

death notes

in the streets

private invitations to funerals

please consider this private invitation

pray for her soul to rest

saturday from 11 am til 6 pm

help her disappear

 

champs elysees

a street walks into a home

draw a line and do not cross it

erase it and draw another

plates clinking

children playing

the tower looks down upon you

look up one last time

 

united

a gas station with a broken vending machine

instructions on how to forget

never rock or tilt

machine can fall over and cause serious injury or death

vending machine will not dispense free product

turn around

you are in two places at once

 

naked bodies are on display

made from a different kind of plastic

 

 

laundry, chair, garden, 

the air smells like a mother was just here

in the garden

by the street

her garden

his street

in the smallest void between the buildings

a crack where noise disappears

the ground moves under your feet

a loose tile 

what it conceals and reveals

take it out and put it back in

do it, undo it, redo it

repeat after me

 

stairs leading down to the highway

on the way, a tree uproots a house

a mattress, shoes, bottles, burnt wood

who was here 

first

a locked rusted metal door

rust, mould, time was here

sleep was here

sweat and urine and tears

the windows are blown shattered 

the house is a tunnel you can see through

were dreams recorded we could have met 

as if it were a ghost

 

we buy apartments

beirut international platform of dance

fouf i'm sorry

i love you

you love my mom

i fucked your mom

the way to hell

whose traces

whose names

abou saoud

chadi

fouf

souad elias kerbaj

mikhael antar

 

how wide the sidewalk

our colliding shoulders

and our indifference

the narrow city grows larger

 

shop with mezzanine for rent 4x4m saint louis street near geitawi hospital

water delivery service, 24/7 telephone 

semaan challita plumbing home services

dear neighbors, to stand against the injustice you are facing, join the demonstration monday 14.04.2014

for sale : commercial spaces

the shop is surveilled by cameras

 

papers plasterers on the wall

a second skin

impossible to remove

history 

layers 

palimpsest 

whose traces survive

 

the sidewalk enters 

the building leaks

the threshold 

the entrance 

you must remain unfocused 

displaced

uncertain yet immobile

 

do not make eye contact

the door is open, please stay outside

roasted eggplants

sundays

laundry 

saturdays

showers

evenings

jasmine

blood

and old age

 

tiles undone

whose ground deconstructed

under this ground 

a camp of white

protrusions remain

escape from the earth

what only strange tongues

can reveal

behind what i see 

there is something buried

nothing disappears, 

things withdraw

between occultation and epiphany

the future erupts into the present as much as the past

how do you read the missing image

what is beneath the earth i see

erase your traces

time is an archeology of the present

deserted landscapes

what is buried underneath my feet

 

you're constipated in your fucking soul

the gate is locked, please come in

we are here with the ghosts of past and future

 

eat the meat that's there

don't stint yourself

go into any house when it rains

and sit on any chair that is in it

but don't sit long and don't forget your hat

i tell you, cover your tracks

 

on wednesday mornings, a man stands in one of the abandoned run-down houses lining these stairs. silent and gray with his back towards me, he is taken with the same meticulous activity each time. he does not move, he does not speak. he does not see me or notice my presence. he labors at the window, looking out onto the city, producing the muffled sound of something small being cracked open and over the years, covering the floor of the room with cracked pine nut shells

 

i could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways and the degree of the arcades' curves and what kind of clay scales over the roofs but i already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. the city does not consist of this but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past. the height of a lamppost and the distance from the ground of a hanged usurper's swaying feet. the line strung from the lamppost to the railing opposite and the festoons that decorate the course of the queen's nuptial procession the height of that railing and the leap of the adulterer who climbed over it at dawn, the tilt of a guttering and the cat's progress along it as he slips into the same window the firing range of a gunboat which has suddenly appeared beyond the cape and the bomb that destroys the guttering, the rips in the fishnets and the three old men seated on the dock, mending nets and telling each other for the hundredth time the story of the gunboat of the usurper who some say was the queen's illegitimate son, abandoned in his swaddling clothes there on the dock.

as this wave from memories flows in, the city soaks it up like a sponge and expands. a description of beirut as it is today should contain all beirut's past. the city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of the hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.

 

a boy weary 

of his body

of his eyes

has no favorite place 

there are no favorite places 

here

turn your head to the side

look at your feet

touch the walls

there is nothing 

but place

 

watch your step

watch the sky

balance your eyes

 

the train has passed at 13:17

you have missed the train

the earth still shakes

the ground still rumbles

the trembling of the bridge

the pedestrian tunnel dug out at its base

shakes 

mattress, pillow, signs on floors and walls

flicker

families take to the underside of bridges

with traces less violent

or traces erased

except names 

and stories

and echoes in the tunnel

 

where are the elections

no to the parliament

on your walls i have written a poem

new blood

we buy apartments

 

have a seat

have an oyster

wait for the traffic light

on the street corner

on a plastic box

 

where is the river

it flowed to the sea

can you tell where the sea is

if the fountain is dry

and the river still flows

despite empty faucets

hidden behind the wall

is a river that once turned red- 

blood

vengeance 

from the icons 

that have tried

to erase it

 

this is not true of beirut, in every point of this city, you can in turn sleep, make tools, cook, accumulate gold, disrobe, reign, sell, question oracles. any one of its pyramid roofs could cover the leprosarium or the odalisque's baths. the traveler roams all around and has nothing but doubts : he is unable to distinguish the features of the city, the features he keeps distinct in his mind also mingle. he infers this : if existence in all its moments is all of itself, beirut is the place of indivisible existence. but why, then, does the city exist? what line separates the inside from the outside, the rumble of wheels from the howl of wolves?

 

also in beirut, city of sadness, there runs an invisible thread that binds one living being to another for a moment, then unravels, then is stretched again between moving points as it draws new and rapid patterns so that at every second the unhappy city contains a happy city unaware of its own existence

 

from my words you will have reached the conclusion that the real beirut is a temporal succession of different cities alternately just and unjust but what i wanted to warn you about is something else. all the future beiruts are already present in this instant, wrapped one within the other, confined, crammed, inextricable.

 

-- with reappropriated excerpts from italo calvino's invisible cities, bertolt brecht's handbook for city dwellers, texts by jean baudrillard and jalal toufic

© 2020 by monica basbous

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