Posts tagged ‘tourism’

May 26, 2012

About The Artist-Tourist, And How Many More Times We Have to Objectify Ourselves to Hir

by M. A.

One must admit that upon showing up at a performance-lecture or presentation by visiting artists themed around a two-week collaboration as a ‘place of departure,’ one doesn’t really expect much.  It is usually an event to check a box and give the organiser a public event, and the artists most likely wouldn’t do it if given the choice (artists did opt out, judging by the number of artists on stage.  We were given only 9 of the 12.) Cynical as I may be, I went none the less.

I couldn’t possibly express the absurdity of the set of foundations from which this entire collaborative venture is launched any better than Ahmad Nagy’s gesture.  Ahmed played the regional hit remix of bjork’s Crystalline by Syria’s sensational folkloric-synth king Omar Sulayman and his wedding ensemble, pretty much untouched.  The record is a sublime example of the emptiness of collaboration projects between “west and east”.  It is the brainchild of the artists’ producers and labels, without any actual mutual understandings of either of the two stars who didn’t even meet. the resulting Frankenstein of this unholy alliance is an exotic outrage of electric processed noise, fit for dive clubs in Beirut and Stockholm alike.

Nagy’s writings on the wall couldn’t be in more capital letters. In this case however the artists DID in fact meet and talk, well if not at least between visits to the pyramids and the agricultural museum and search for greenery in Cairo, they met and talked. Maybe they spoke about their works, maybe not. Maybe they spoke of what it means to be a visiting artist, and what it means to be a hosting artist. What a visit is, whether it is tourism, research or, wait for it, collaboration, and then again maybe they didn’t.

What is it that makes us accept, and potentially collaborate with, someone who tells us regretfully, with a snobbish resolvedness, that he doesn’t in fact understand Cairo? As if it matters? Even more, what is it that makes someone presume he could understand a place, one that is so different from where he comes from, in a single visit? Where does this assertion come from? And what is it that makes understanding, knowing, so important for a foreign presence?

Is it possible that the Orient is to this day, and to artists like Pawell Kruc, still a place to be “known”? Don’t we recognise this tone? Is it still that kind of knowledge the great colonial Balfour spoke of in his address to the Parliament in 1910, the kind that asserts the West’s superiority, that justifies its domination over races?  “We know (the civilization of the Egyptians) more intimately, we know it further back, we know more about it” he bragged to the House of Commons.

The artist, like Balfour before him and a long line of Orientalists in between, will probably not understand/ know Cairo in any form different than his current one if he spent his entire life in it.  It is very likely that he will remain white, and he will probably always consider the hydrogen bomb as a ‘solution’, all the while showing us his little green paradise in Amsterdam, which he dreams Cairo could have more of.

Artist Eric Giraudet de Boudimange sheds further light on to this troublesome idiom.  In his boringly lazy attempt at unlocking the “multiple histories’ of the Champollion palace, a stone’s throw from Townhouse Gallery and the beloved cafe where Egypt unravels her secrets to all weary travellers, he subtly complains about the fact that he had to go through a lot of trouble, and even BRIBE the attendant, to enter the palace and film in it, as if it is by divine right that Eric could go in, erase the teachers’ lessons written with chalk on blackboards (permanently rendering it unfit to be one of the multiple histories), replace them with the names of characters from The Last of the Mohicans, only to film it and offer it so benevolently to his Egyptian artist friend Mai Hamdi, who wasn’t allowed in.  His knowledge of the space, his gift to the native.  Did anyone spare him the time a day to explain that he is not the first to film inside the palace? That the attendant practically makes his living out of artist-tourists like himself? More importantly, did any one spare him the time that he, like Champollion who never did live in the palace by the way, is a sad example of the Orientalist quest for “knowledge” that comes hand in hand with control of the Orient and imperialism?

OK, enough ranting. To be fair some other artists did use words like “tourism” and “exotic” in their talks and description of the experience.  Perhaps partially aware of the precariousness of their positions, and the thin ice they were thrown on top of, and ordered to tap dance.  And just like a soggy, mouldy,  decades-old sandwich, the evening closed with a fine formative and physical gesture.  Where guest and host actually engage in a somewhat ritualistic act of creating images and associations out of placing what seemed to be an endless bag of random items, on top of an over head projector.  In this intensely formalistic gesture the two artists didn’t make dumb claims, or embark on paths that’ve been cut, frequented, paved, then bombed and cement-covered decades ago.  Instead, they did a little four-hand concerto of shades and shapes that didn’t try to do, look, or sound more clever or original than what it was.

What is most troublesome for me is the positioning of the so called hosts, i.e. the local artists.  They all seemed uninvested at best, and confused and abused at worst.  They seemed somewhat forced to be there, there on stage and there in the group.  This may be a bit presumptive on my part, but why were they forced to communicate their thoughts in English when it was evidently not their most comfortable zone?

It was artist Ahmed Kamel who, with an absurd scuba diver exploring the stage around him, begins his talk by making a point about types of tourism, after Sarah Rifki brought the word into the evening’s lexicon.  Rightfully he speaks of tourists with no interest in the local social reality, and others who’s quest for knowledge borders on research.  I wondered if Kamel was in fact referring to the early western travelers whose histoirs and encyclopedic depositories fueled, and continues to fuel Orientalist practices.

%d bloggers like this: