INTERVIEW | Med Art Spaces. Beirut Art Center (BAC) | HERMAN BASHIRON MENDOLICCHIO
The main purpose of this project is to explore the Mediterranean through its centers of art, through some creative spaces – which are not only physical but also virtual – through the activities and ideas of thinking groups, artists, creators, etc. A path through the sea, floating and flexible, which doesn’t seek dogmas but differences, and considers art and creativity as items of dialogue and criticism, understanding and analysis, that increasingly become more important and transverse.
A series of reflections on the representation and the concept of the Mediterranean space; on the value and experience of mobility and exchange; on the relationship among art, creativity, society and territory; and an in depth study of the activities and objectives of spaces and people in contact, will guide and give shape to this project.
From Tangier to Beirut and back, passing through the two shores. A trajectory of travel and knowledge, contact and exchange, looks and ideas.
The first stage of the project passes through the BAC of Beirut, capital of Lebanon and one of the largest centres of emergence of creativity and contemporary reflection in the Mediterranean.
The Beirut Art Center (BAC), run by Lamia Joreige and Sandra Dagher, is located in an industrial area of the city, where it stands out as the peripheral white cube that contains the creative concerns of contemporary Lebanon and, at the same time, it strengthens its international vocation. The space presents a large exhibition area, an auditorium and an area of documentation where there are also two places of consultation of the Mediatheque project – a series of multimedia resources on artists from the region.
With BAC, thanks to the availability of Lamia Joreige and Sandra Dagher, we start navigating.
The journey, uncertain and variable, will proceed in short stages and structured questions. The final port, which will reflect all the thoughts and information, is still far away.
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: Which are your main aims and activities?
Lamia Joreige/Sandra Dagher: Beirut Art Center (BAC) is a non-profit association that aims to produce, present and promote local and international contemporary art and cultural practice in a structure that is open and active throughout the year. The purpose of BAC is to serve as a catalyst for the realization of contemporary art projects and for the interaction of local and international players. In particular, the center supports local and regional contemporary artists, who face great difficulties due to the lack of financial and institutional support in this field.
Beirut Art Center organizes a regular schedule of exhibitions of contemporary art in a diverse range of media, with an emphasis on photography, video, and installation. The center produces up to five solo and/or collective exhibitions a year, including an annual exhibition dedicated to emerging Lebanese artists and non-Lebanese artists residing in Lebanon. In parallel to its exhibition program, BAC organizes weekly events such as lectures, concerts, performances, video projections and workshops. The center also houses a mediatheque, a digital multimedia library of images, videos, sound pieces, and texts by artists, writers, and theorists from the Arab World, Turkey, Armenia, and Iran, which is open and accessible to all.
HBM: Which role do art and creativity play in the contemporary society and in your geographical area?
BAC: With the emphasis in contemporary art being on concept and self-expression, art has become a vehicle through which contemporary society can deal with the issues that afflict it.
In a continuously shifting region – culturally, socially, politically, and economically, art provides a platform with which to engage the general public in a critical reflection on their surrounding realities. Through the works presented at BAC in its exhibition and events program, the center draws in large local audiences eager to participate in debates on topics of relevance to them.
HBM: What does the Mediterranean space mean to you?
BAC: It is difficult to answer this question because we don’t believe that a space or an artist by that matter can be classified or labelled by its or his/her geographic origins. If we were to define a Mediterranean space, we would say it is one that deals with shared Mediterranean realities. However, it should be mentioned that the Mediterranean is an expansive region that includes within it somewhat distinct areas which differ drastically from one another – the Levant, North Africa, Southern Europe, etc. Each of these areas deal with distinct sets of issues and realities.
HBM: Do you interact with other centres/realities of art and creativity in the Mediterranean? If not, will you do it?
BAC: Of course Beirut Art Center shares some of the general realities for art and creativity that is faces with other spaces from the Mediterranean. Chief realities that the center interacts with include the lack of governmental funding for arts and culture initiatives and the dependence on alternative sources of finance, the absence of a fixed infrastructure in the field and the development of a more organic, continuously evolving framework that often revolves around short term projects, and the booming interest in art from the region and the effect of this interest on the art that is produced.
BAC also interacts with other centers and associations in the Mediterranean through its exhibition and events program. The center periodically hosts exhibitions and offers its venue to other cultural associations and practioners, creating partnerships that serve to strengthen and develop the existing network for local and regional cultural initiatives. In its initial stages, the emphasis of this networking initiative has been on the local with regional and international collaborations underway. For example, the center has already hosted part of the exhibition of Home Works 5, organized by Ashkal Alwan, and will host part of Meeting Points 6, organized by the Young Arab Theatre Fund, in the spring of 2011.
HBM: Are you involved in any Mobility Program? How can you improve and promote art and artists mobility in the Med?
BAC: At the moment, we are not involved in any specific Mobility Program in the Mediterranean and do not have a fixed residency program. However mobility is an integral part of many of our activities. Since its opening, the center has, for instance, invited a number of artists and curators from the region and beyond to exhibit and discuss their work or conduct workshops in Lebanon. Most recently, internationally acclaimed artist Mona Hatoum completed a one-month residency at Beirut Art Center in which she produced new works for her first-ever solo exhibition in Lebanon. A project that BAC is currently developing that would involve mobility is the touring of its Mediatheque. The Mediatheque is a unique resource on contemporary artistic and cultural production from the region, which is, at present, available for all visitors to the center to consult through computer stations located within the space. BAC plans to temporarily exhibit its Mediatheque in venues outside of Lebanon. We are currently working on exhibiting the Mediatheque at the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar. The incentive behind the mobilization of this database is to increase knowledge of production by cultural practitioners in the region both within the area and abroad.
If you want to participate in the project or if you want to know more about it, write an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org