Saturday, September 10, 2011

Beirut Skyline (Lebanon)

Room with a view. I'm literally speechless as Sabine shows me into my new home. Her flat sits atop a ten-story apartment block. Like all of the homes I've seen here, it takes up the entire floor, with wall-to-wall windows on all sides giving the feeling that you're floating on air.

The lot of disused Army vehicles at the base of the apartment is a nice touch, although I wouldn't really call it a coincidence--they're just part of the standard landscape.

Dissecting the project with Sabine has made me consider and reconsider so much of the terminology that I've thrown around in the lead-up to this. Coming here I knew that the "home" part of the "homecoming" would be a huge point of focus. A journey is defined as much by its destination as its point of departure, and one of the questions I had coming here was "what is home to an ex-fighter in Lebanon?" This home is already too many things to put in a blog, and I've only been here a couple of days. Sabine has been working with another Lebanese artist, Chantal, to collect personal stories from towns and villages throughout the country, and has compiled them into a gorgeous storytelling piece. She performed it for me in Arabic and then translated it afterward, and I realized how much there is here, how specific and textured this place is, and how far I am from understanding what it would mean to come home to it.

There's also the issue of the journey. A Western soldier coming home leaves a physical space behind to return to a different geographical location. Not so here. It's interesting to note the way that a place's history so drastically affects and shapes language. "Veteran"--as a person in civilian society who has the special status of having lived through war--is almost a nonexistent concept here; there are soldiers and then there are civilians. All of them have survived the war.

But those words I had already mulled over; I expected I'd have to examine them. Here's one that caught me off-guard though: "creativity." I was probing about the likelihood of organizing an informal showing to share the work created, and after about five minutes of faffing Sabine came out with, "Ok listen, we can organize anything, we can do poetry or theatre or whatever. And people will come, definitely, because they're my friends. But everyone here is bored with talking about the war. We've done a lot of it already." Perfect! A creative challenge: what can we present that won't be boring, here, in this context, for this audience? That's what creativity is, right? Something untested, something new. I had never before considered the audience and context as such huge determinants in defining "creativity," but of course they are. Of course they are. And what's really thrilling about all of this is the fact that the audiences here are going to guide us in creating something that will be totally specific, totally born of this time and place. If I can manage to share even a piece of that with audiences in the UK, they're going to know much much more than if I just came back with interviews and news clippings to compile into something "creative" back home in London.