Frankfurt-Beirut: A Sub-Chapter of This is Not Lebanon Hussein Nassereddine

Frankfurt-Beirut: A Sub-Chapter of This is Not Lebanon

The where were you, what did you see or hear, and who did you lose of August 4, 2020  remain a blur for most of those who had witnessed the unfolding of that annihilative event, despite testimonies having since multiplied. Certainly, to recount the aftermath of one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions ever recorded presumes a responsibility towards its countless victims; a task made all the more punishing by our inability to grasp the suffering it left in its wake, or even to craft a collective narrative of mourning in the absence of legal accountability.

If navigating our dire conjuncture has yielded one lucid observation, it’s that, in the aftermath of an event wherein the tangibility of death was so intimately felt, structures of meaning also appear to disintegrate. These are, after all, symptoms one could associate with a crisis of representation. How then, do we begin to reconcile with art practice, at a time when Lebanon’s populations are experiencing crushing loss and a ‘third mass exodus’ as a result of the country’s ongoing financial and economic cataclysms? Can aesthetic and performative interventions allow us to riposte against our histories of violence, and aid us in accessing a collective consciousness? And what of cultural practitioners, institutions, and critics, and their role in carving urgent spaces of exchange and contestation in crisis-ridden contexts?

Frankfurt-Beirut, organized by Goethe-Institut Libanon and Ashkal Alwan and unfolding across different venues in Beirut from October to December 2021, is a subchapter of This Is Not Lebanon. Festival for Visual Arts, Performance, Music and Talks, which was held this past summer in Frankfurt am Main. The latter is a cooperation project of the Frankfurt LAB with Künstlerhaus Mousonturm and Ensemble Modern, in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut Lebanon.

Curated by Matthias Lilienthal, Rabih Mroué, and Anna Wagner, with curatorial advisorship from Christine Tohme, This Is Not Lebanon aimed to hold space for artists, journalists, musicians, scholars, and writers from Lebanon, its diaspora, and the broader Arabic-speaking region to think with and push against our unbearable material conditions. While some reflected on the 2019 October uprisings and its worldmaking possibilities, during which we attempted to delink our fate from the sectarian-clientelist regime permeating our lives, others spoke of deferral, vulnerability, and quiet resistance vis-a-vis generational memory and distant pasts. The festival also had in view to create room for artists and cultural workers resisting increased isolation in Lebanon to partake in generative forms of dialogue with different geographies, and to plant the seeds of, and a blueprint for, transnational solidarity.

Frankfurt-Beirut, in turn, will focus on four newly-commissioned performances that premiered as part of This Is Not Lebanon. The impetus behind hosting the festival in Frankfurt is to stage an encounter between artists and cultural workers from Lebanon and the wider region with the general public in Germany, as well as provide material and curatorial support for new productions. The driving force informing the decision to organize a sub-chapter in Beirut, then, is to allow participating artists to restage their performances in the very context their source material was informed by and stemmed from, as well as to invite our public to sit with, engage, or perhaps even challenge these works. The impasses weighing down on our present moment, and the foreclosing of emancipatory horizons they project, should in no way prevent us from involving ourselves in cultural production, especially as the sector faces severe precarity and the continued displacement of its communities.

Featured works by Ali Eyal, Ghida Hachicho, Sanja Grozdanić and Bassem Saad, and Noor Abed and Mark Lotfy, although distinct in form and intent, share the same ambition: to examine acts of bearing witness to unresolved injustices, and to pose urgent questions around the violence that punctures our everyday. Furthermore, their interventions are all, in more ways than one, testaments to the ways in which art practice can be mobilized to make legible history’s otherwise hidden stratas, and to question existing structures that generate despair and dispossession. We may never be able to ‘represent’ nor reenact the horrors looming over our heads and stripping us of political agency, it is imperative for us to  rehearse, imagine, and gesture towards alternative futures. This balancing act between recognizing the impossibility of addressing a given reality and wanting to intervene in, if not occupy, its cracks and fissures may prove insurmountable, but it is one Eyal, Hachicho, Grozdanić and Saad, Abed and Lotfy, as well as the organizers of Frankfurt-Beirut, have all chosen to partake in.

Frankfurt-Beirut is a sub-chapter of This Is Not Lebanon. Festival for Visual Arts, Performance, Music and Talks, held between August and September 2021 in Frankfurt am Main, organized in cooperation with Ashkal Alwan, The Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts.

This Is Not Lebanon. Festival for Visual Arts, Performance, Music and Talks is a cooperation project of the Frankfurt LAB with Künstlerhaus Mousonturm and Ensemble Modern, in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut Lebanon, supported by the German Federal Cultural Foundation and Ensemble Modern Patronatsgesellschaft e.V. The discourse programme is supported by the Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung/bpb). The residencies organized within the framework of the project are part of Frankfurt Moves!, a cooperation of the KfW Stiftung and the Frankfurt LAB to promote international emerging artists in the fields of dance and performing arts.