It’s the Thought That Counts

A roundtable with:

  • • Vasif Kortun, founder of Platform Garanti in Istanbul, now director of research and programs at SALT Istanbul

    • Khalil Rabah, co-founder of Al Mamal in Jerusalem and of the Riwaq Biennale in Ramallah

    • Suha Shoman, founding director of Darat al Funun in Amman

    • Christine Tohme, founding director of Ashkal Alwan in Beirut

    • Akram Zaatari, artist and founding member of the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut

    • William Wells, founding director of the Townhouse Gallery in Cairo


- Moderated by Tirdad Zolghadr

The guests at this illustrious roundtable co-founded key institutions during the course of the nineties, and played a decisive, not to say canonical role in the recent history of contemporary art throughout the region. As they look back in retrospect, what are their most significant decisions, and what are the regrets that still have them waking up at night screaming? In tandem with the afternoon session with Kirsten Scheid, this panel is devoted to exploring mutual generational shifts, some ‘what if’ scenarios, and the opportunities seized and forgotten.

This panel is part of Traction 2: Workshopping the Riwaq Biennale, a seminar by Resident Professor Khalil Rabah, taking place from November 17 – 21, 2014 at Ashkal Alwan, Beirut. The seminar is presented as part of Rabah's workshop for HWP 2014-15: Setups / Situations / Institutions.

Traction 2 doubles as the 5th Riwaq Biennale’s (RB5) contribution to Home Workspace Program (HWP) 2014-15 at Ashkal Alwan, Beirut. As a whole, it will reflect all the key components of RB5. The seminar begins with an introduction to the biennale program and the Riwaq agenda, and features extensive tours of sites that were pivotal to the Palestinian experience in and around Beirut. In an exploration of HWP and the RB5 educational program NADI, Traction 2 also addresses the promises and pitfalls of informal art education over recent decades. Finally, the seminar ends with a transregional investigation of the institutional memory of contemporary art since the 1990s.

The seminar forms the second part of the RB5 public program, Traction, which is structured as a long series of responses to institutions and events throughout Palestine and its immediate neighborhood. It aims to push the biennale to be thinking “through” the structures of contemporary art, as opposed to thinking “about” or “against” them.

In this spirit of chronic infiltrations and slow tenacity, RB5 will span a full two years, which may allow this brief visit to Lebanon to become a lasting contribution to a longer, accumulative conversation.

Traction 2 is not only an infiltration of HWP in Beirut, where RB artistic director Khalil Rabah is one of the year’s resident professors, but an opportunity to enrich and indeed infiltrate the RB5 agenda in and of itself.

Traction is a programme proposed and organized by the 5th Riwaq Biennale in Palestine.

Traction 2 is an event produced and organized by the Homeworks Program Ashkal Alwan and the 5th Riwaq Biennale in Palestine

The seminar is open to the public. Some events have limited capacity and require registration.

Vasif Kortun is the Director of Research and Programs at SALT, Istanbul and Ankara. He is a curator, writer and teacher in the field of contemporary visual art, institutions and exhibition practices. Kortun is on the board of directors of CIMAM (2010–16); and the Foundation for Arts Initiatives. In 2014 SALT published the first volume of collected essays 10, and the Turkish translation of the 2004 book Ofsayt Ama Gol (with Erden Kosova).

Khalil Rabah is the Artistic Director of the Riwaq Biennale, and co-founder of al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art in Jerusalem as well as the Riwaq Biennale. He is also the founder of the Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind. He served as a member of the curriculum committee of Home Workspace Program between 2010-2014. Rabah has participated in several biennials including Istanbul (2005), Liverpool (2008), Venice (2009) and Sharjah (2010). His recent solo exhibitions include ‘Review’, Beirut Art Center (2012), and ‘Art Exhibition, Ready Made Representations’, Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg (2012), and ‘Pages 7, 8, 9’, at E Flux, New York 2013.

Suha Shoman is founder and chair of Darat al Funun - The Khalid Shoman Foundation in Amman. She has served on the boards of various cultural institutions in Jordan, including the Jordan National Gallery and the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation. She is also a member of the board of trustees of the Institute for Palestine Studies. As an artist she has participated in numerous international art exhibitions such as the 7th Sharjah Biennial (2005), the Singapore Biennial 2008, and was a guest of honor at the 25th Alexandria Biennial for Mediterranean Countries 2009.

Christine Tohme is an independent curator and founder/director of Ashkal Alwan – The Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts. Since its founding in 1994, the association has committed itself to production, research and circulation in contemporary artistic and intellectual practices. In 2011, the organization opened a 2,000m² multidisciplinary space aimed at providing an educational hub for the region. Ashkal Alwan’s platforms include: Home Works, a forum on cultural practices; Home Workspace Program (HWP), a free annual arts study program; Video Works, a support program for video production in Lebanon; artist residencies in Lebanon and abroad; a multimedia library and archive of local cultural practices; publishing critical, artistic and literary works; curated projects; production facilities and grants; and public programming and workshops.

Akram Zaatari’s practice is tied to the practice of researching and studying existing documents. He is interested in looking at the present through a wealth of past photographic records. Zaatari’s work reflects on the shifting nature of borders and the production and circulation of images in the context of the current political divisions in the Middle East. His videos and photographic installations look into technologies of image production and communication and the notions of surveillance, exploring the way different media apparatuses are employed in the service of power, resistance, and memory. Zaatari is a co-founder of the Arab Image Foundation.

William Wells is the founding director of Townhouse in Cairo. Townhouse was established in downtown Cairo in 1998 as an independent, non-profit art space with a goal of making contemporary art and culture accessible to all without compromising creative practice. Townhouse supports artistic work in a wide range of media through exhibitions, residencies for artists, curators and writers, educational initiatives, and outreach programs. Townhouse aims to support and expand the knowledge, appreciation and practice of contemporary art in Egypt and the region.

Tirdad Zolghadr is a curator and writer, currently affiliated with Al Quds Bard College and the International Academy of Art Palestine in Ramallah. His writing includes novels, essays and criticism. The working title of his third novel is “Headbanger”. Curatorial work includes a large number of discreet durational projects and several biennial settings. Zolghadr is currently the curator of the 5th Riwaq Biennale.