On rooftops and under the ground
Public Art Commissions
July 1 - 15 2023
Ain El Mraiseh, Beirut
On rooftops and under the ground is TAP’s attempt to engage artists with the cityscape of Beirut in times of crises and to provoke conversations between them and scholars vis-a-vis the violent conditions of the city’s built urban environment, which Beirut has undergone in recent years. The inflation, the shortage of basic needs and the deteriorating infrastructure in Lebanon inform all of the projects, which were re-imagined to reflect the fluxes of the ongoing crises over a year.
Monica Basbous, Mustapha Jundi, Mohamad Kanaan, Nesrine Khodr and Lara Tabet first came together on screen, brought together by Amanda Abi Khalil, Hiba Bou Akar, Mohamad Hafeda, Jad Karam, and Nour Osseiran with desires to create new works, to be shown in public spaces in Beirut. Site-specific? Context-specific? Crisis-specific?! We enjoyed the loose format, tried to embrace the uncertainties regarding the locations and timeline of the project, and we allowed ourselves the experiment of bringing discourse into ways of making.
The compounding Lebanese crisis became a staple of conversation: we discussed power cuts and alternative energy, potable water and potential swim zones, travel and financials, money transfers and the will to continue reflecting on this project throughout. The works emanate from the discussions, navigating between speculation and reality, addressing the city’s transformation through its thresholds, and bringing to the foreground what is deeply hidden in the city’s urban and social fabric.
Mohamad Kanaan whose only work is site-specific to the Letco Star Hotel, a low-income rental housing with converted hotel rooms that accommodate multiple renters, informed the locations of the other provocations. We curated a parcours where others works infiltrate and/or hack another hotel’s swimming pool, a car wash under ground, a parking lot waiting for a sky-scraper, building elevators and neighborhood bakeries, pharmacies and cafés as well as partly dysfunctional led-billboard spreading out to the rest of the city (Ring Bridge) to name a few. This exhibition in public space is a result of many experiments, ones that are still in-progress as we write this. It is the outcome of conversations with academics and artists, with hotel managers, and building owners, with older city dwellers and future witnesses of a perhaps sunken city. It is an exhibition format that is porous to the unexpected, to failures of trust, to relation-building on which the production of (all) our projects rely on, to electricity cuts, technical glitches, generators falling apart, sudden road-blocks or sewage flooding, wheat running short or the banks shutting down. On Rooftops and Under the Ground allowed us to provide artists with a production opportunity to engage with socially meaningful topics in a collaborative format, provide the city and the people we engaged with at all levels with an unusual, minor, nonetheless genuine encounter with contemporary art practice and aesthetics – (our favorite art mediation tool) and finally gave us, as a curatorial platform, a testing ground for our tools and processes of public art commissioning and production.
The project was initiated by Hiba Bou Akar, director of Columbia University’s Post-Conflict Cities Lab, in collaboration with artist and scholar Mohamad Hafeda (Leeds Beckett University) and TAP (Temporary Art Platform). Over the past year, this initiative has fostered a network of creative individuals, including artists, curators, scholars, and writers, who have come together, both virtually and in person, to support one another in the development of these five interventions. The project has received funding through a Ford Foundation grant awarded to Hiba Bou Akar for her work on “Urban Research and Practice in Post-Conflict Settings in the Middle East.”
The project’s visual identity was designed by Robin Khalil.