Opening of the exhibition: Thursday Nov 28, 6-9pm Byblos Bank Art Gallery, AUB
Public Discussion: Friday Nov 29, 6-9pm Byblos Bank Art Gallery, AUB

AUB Art Galleries invite you to the opening of “Art / World / Disaster”, a project by Pedro Lasch with the participation of artists, students, and activists in Beirut.

Curatorial Statement
Pedro Lasch

At the end of 2009, I was working with a small group of artists, curators, scholars, and activists in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti on the first edition of the Ghetto Biennale (2009). The event was truly memorable and successful in many ways, but in spite of our numerous efforts to bring the relevance of the Biennale and Haiti to international attention, there was little to no art or political media engagement with the event. In early January 2010, only a few days after I had left Port-Au-Prince and the Ghetto Biennale had ended, Haiti was shaken by one of the most tragic earthquakes in human history. Many thousands died or disappeared, including many collaborators with whom I had worked at the Biennale. The same international media that had consistently neglected this land had now suddenly descended upon it, turning it into a global media event for many months to come. All of a sudden, policy experts began to describe the humanitarian effort in Haiti as a “third U.S. military front” – the first two being Afghanistan and Iraq, of course. Art critics from the New York Times suddenly “discovered” contemporary Haitian art. The very artists who had given birth to the Ghetto Biennale in 2009, mostly to be ignored at the time, were now celebrated with the creation of a Haitian Pavilion at no less than the Venice Biennale. A particular conversation from 2009 pre-earthquake Haiti resonates in my mind as I work on the Art / World / Disaster project in Beirut. A man asks, “Do you know what our politicians are hoping for?” You shake your head, not knowing the answer. “Another disaster,” he replies.

The project Art / World / Disaster takes its point of departure from this personal experience, which is not exclusive to Haiti. Over the last few decades art biennials seem to have grown at the same rate as global disasters—a parallel that may instantly bring to mind Naomi Klein’s book Disaster Capitalism, in which the author exposes the relation between predatory capitalism and global catastrophes.

My artistic contribution for this project is a series of banners in which I provocatively pair well-known art events with global political, economic or ecological disasters. These banners belong to a new series of works entitled Art Biennials and Other Global Disasters. Each banner offers a different challenge to viewers and participants, by the sheer specificity of its double naming. For instance the banner “Venice / Chernobyl” triggers very different associations and significations than “Sharjah / Kanungu” or “Kassel / Banqiao”. Additional layers of meaning appear through the physical and cultural context in which these seemingly celebratory corporate banners are placed.

I see my curatorial and activist contribution to this project as one of setting up a dialogue with local participants by means of a series of workshops and public discussions. Within the framework of this project I hope we can collectively reflect upon such questions as: What today constitutes a memorable event that includes but also goes far beyond art? What categories do we use to reconstitute the geographic links between cities in rapidly changing structures of culture, trade, and finance? Can sites of disaster or armed conflict also be economic and cultural hubs, or are these two terms mutually exclusive? Would it be absurd to seek connections between the mechanisms through which we respond to global tragedies and those that are central to the creation of international art biennials? What analogies between today’s preeminent global art events and international relief efforts might be relevant —beyond the expensive logistical operations that involve the temporary incursion of hundreds or thousands of people in both biennials and disasters? To these general questions one could add others that draw upon the immediate context. How, for example, did the war and post-war reconstruction in Lebanon contribute to the rise of contemporary art institutions, of new artistic practices and initiatives?

Through its exhibition, workshops, and discussions in Beirut, the Art/ World /Disaster project seeks to generate artistic and intellectual encounters where questions such as these may be addressed and sustained in a public fashion. As the project grows and moves to different contexts, an international network of interlocutors may also expand on these first encounters.

After a brief introduction by Pedro Lasch of the key ideas and processes of the Art/World/Disaster project, a group of local artists, scholars, and activists discuss their ideas on the relationship between art and disaster from their own perspective. Topics covered include disaster capitalism in a global sense, local and regional debates on art infrastructures and economies, and other ideas that emerge from the first stage of the Art / World / Disaster project in Beirut: the open call and its resulting submissions. The audience is also invited to contribute with questions and comments.