Kaelen, thanks for your report on Home Works. Perhaps the sensationalism of the context demands a certain production of controversy, but I was nonetheless a bit taken aback by your tone. I do agree that the international presence was at times overwhelming, but I don't really think the answer is to expect participants to somehow gag themselves, or for internationals to just go away to let the Lebanese hold forth at an event to which they've been invited. In fact, as I'm sure you're aware, the organizers themselves made the decision to internationalize the event, and this wasn't the first time it happened (at the last Home Works there were similar concerns).
As for myself, when I'm invited to a conferenceand I was invited to Home Works to organize two panels, one a conversation with Hito Steyerl, another with Amar Kanwar, both following screenings of their workI feel that participation in the event is expected and that it is an open forum. In general, my questions at the various panels were neither meant to be an exercise in simply “thinking out loud” nor an attempt to hold a closed conversationI'm sorry it seemed that way to you. Rather, I attempted to offer thoughtful responses to the diverse presentations, and to be sensitive to the contributions of othersI think the same could be said for Rene and Stephen.
If there was a problem with the organization of discussion, this is a question, I agree, for the organizers to considerbut it's hardly right to blame participants. And if there was a lack of local participationwho is local, by the way? yourself?this is also a matter for those who complain about it to think about, i.e. why they didn't speak up, as there were plenty of opportunities to do so (and I know that those handling the microphones were always on the look-out for questions from Lebanese members of the audience).
I agree that the recent Home Works needs to be assessed critically, but I don't think that doing so in such an offhanded and insensitive language is very helpful.
Beruit is a city which has enjoyed its relationship with international art. I don't think those sorts of relationships ever leave the intellectual mindset of an art community.
It seems the disjuncture is really about the old international and the new international. The Guggenheim spans both. International politics are really sensitive obviously. In terms of certain strains of sexual and gender politics, the Guggenheim has exhibited a sense of sensitivity which might mitigate some of those “international” concerns. Having a world-class art institution, even in a commercialized arts district, can enrich the ability of a bohemian artist to address ideas, see examples of great painting, etcevery artist makes decisions and choices which are their own. To separate out gallery politics and museums politics might be worth noting.
Maybe looking at these larger themes might mitigate some of the obviously necessary want to defend ones position, want of a good name, and honest reflection of who one is. In a large urban center, this can be difficult for everyone. This makes me think about what Jameson must be contending with in terms of his new address of Sartrethe psychological and monetary exigencies (is it all or nothing?). It's very Althusserian. The crux of that “international” contention as it relates to sexual politics. Dealing with late capitalism, trying to create new hope, space, amid great world concerns.
TJ wrote: “And if there was a lack of local participation—who is local, by the way? yourself?—this is also a matter for those who complain about it to think about, i.e. why they didn't speak up, as there were plenty of opportunities to do so (and I know that those handling the microphones were always on the look-out for questions from Lebanese members of the audience).”
Clearly, Kaelen doesn't mean herself or other journalists and critics covering the events when she says “local audience.” Given the high-profile participants and international talent scouts that HomeWorks attracted this year, it was flagrantly obvious that very few Beirutis, outside the usual circle, attended the events and discussions. “Local” i.e. not the international art crowd, and not the Lebanese who are all associated in one way or another with Askhal Alwan.
That is a shame, and yes, it's not the fault of the participants who— as evidenced by your response (“who is local?”)— don't really know anything about the place, outside of the incestuous circle they move in. It could have been anywhere else with a balmy climate. 1950s Havana, maybe. With a dollop of hummus.
Questions of cultural practices and the fate of public space, of memory and remembrance, of militarization and war, should attract a greater number of residents— students, activists, but also crucially people involved in politics and the intersection between art and politics —- then HomeWorks did this year. These are crucial issues that affect everyone's daily lives, not dinner party filler or an excuse to hang out with your friends in an exotic, bullet-pockmarked city. Surely Christine Tohme is aware of the events' shortcomings in that regard and is savvy enough to change course.
HomeWorks did feel like a traveling circus came into town and performed for itself over one too many cocktails. At a time when this city is battling with its identity in “peacetime”, and watching helplessly as Gulf and expatriate money destroys the cityscape; while the international media whores out Beirut's nightlife and the gay scene, and promotes the city as a sex tourist and plastic surgery destination; while working families are getting poorer by the day and there's a real urgency for inclusive dialogue, public policy and resistance to unsustainable vulture capitalism; yes, it's unfortunate that HomeWorks was staged in a bubble. This has as much to do with rendering the program accessible to a broad audience by promoting individual events, as it does with suppressing the urge to use alienating insider contemporary-art jargon. How is anyone to know whats worth attending?
This doesn't only reflect the insular elitism of art circles, which exist everywhere, but sort of grotesquely— and unironically— epitomizes the international voyeurism plaguing Beirut.
Oh, the fun we had, despite the volcano!