X-Apartments Beirut: Moving Through the Colonial Architecture of Culture Tourism

New article by Elena Glasberg and Jasbir Puar over at Warscapes, “X-Apartments Beirut: Moving Through the Colonial Architecture of Culture Tourism.”

Art that disturbs and that you want to escape is the most raw, unfiltered. It is uncapturable. It is the city itself. Here is an explanation of the way X-Apartments Beirut engaged this uneven architecture of precarity and beauty. In Khandaq al-Gamiq, the neighborhood is caught amid development, the former tunnel now wedged amid a new overpass, a walled ancient ruin site that cannot by law be “developed,” and encroaching developing neighborhoods less historically mired in poverty (and less Islamic). In one apartment, artist Sara Hamde has designed a hunt of sorts, a mystery to solve. The clues are photos placed on the walls of various rooms. We are to move from locations following sounds from speakers placed around the apartment. The docent/ apartment dweller instructs us when we arrive in the cozy, centrally embedded bedroom, to find the hidden photos. We start poking around the carefully arrange items, embarrassed, opening closets and even sitting on the bed — the room is almost completely taken up by the neatly made up platform bed — turning over a pillow, he instructs you are getting warmer, further flustering and embarrassing us. We are failing to see — the basic duty of a gallery-goer — and the docent is disappointed in us and growing impatient. And we don’t want to dig up or disturb this private place. But finally, in fear and under the gun so to speak, we lift up the mattress. Yes, people who don’t trust the state keep their treasures under the mattress!

There it is, a collage of Polaroids in faded 1970s color. A man’s life. He’s holding a rifle, his hair is dark and wild, his eyes shining with strength and pride. Was this his apartment once? Him, celebrating, posing with family and children, at the beach, in restaurants. All the photos are faded and yet as alive as Beirutis’ memories of their civil war. None of them match the decor of the room with its zebra-motif bedspread and department store knick-knacks and throw pillow. We lower the lid and the patient-impatient man leads us around the wall to the abutting balcony.

The view is magnificently, tightly layered out under the prevailing blue skies and sun of Lebanon. We can orient ourselves now, finally, after having been so focused on a trail, a hunt for the secret of Khandaq al-Gamiq. A mosque abuts a church, crescents and crosses, laundry lines criss-cross the density. Over the dwellings we see the expanse of the ancient ruin, and lining that the highway, on the other side of the highway the new downtown and the grand, imposing new Harriri mosque, the high rises and hotels. Khandaq al-Gamiq and this one long-held apartment and the people who lived and looked out here are a view-finder, the lens: this private view and the histories, inhabitations, and positions that attend and create it, which we are now offered a glimpse of and through, is fleeting, uncapturable. Not because it is not enduring, no. It’s there right now — the view is witnessing the development of Beirut under global capital and without proper care for its own histories still in place. It’s still there.

 

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