Arleb by Nabad interviews Amanda Abi Khalil, independent art curator and founder/director of Temporary Art Platform (TAP).
Arleb by Nabad – TAP was founded in 2014 in Beirut. Could you describe the cultural landscape at the time and the decision to position TAP as a “temporary art platform”?
Amanda: Firstly, to introduce TAP, we are a non-profit art organization operating from Lebanon, rooted in a context-responsive approach to realizing enduring social impact through contemporary art and research. We are committed to accessibility, public space, and communities through participatory projects and mediation between artists and social issues, fostering solidarity and ideal conditions for collaborations.
The idea of TAP was born long before 2014 (when it was officially registered), after I left my position as the director of the Hangar (Beirut, Lebanon) where I experienced first- hand the real gaps in the mediation of contemporary art. The Hangar is the cultural platform of UMAM Documentation and Research, the only independent cultural space located in the southern suburb of Beirut; founded by the late Lokman Slim [who was assassinated in February 2021].
In the absence of cultural policies to support artistic production as well as cultural mediation with the public, I turned to the potential of art in public space to open up unique opportunities between artists, private bodies, and governmental institutions to use the commons in order to produce exciting artworks that stem from participation and social concerns.
At the time, contemporary art institutions in Beirut were all focused on acquiring spaces, institutionalizing their practices, and forging regular programming and exhibitions. TAP sought to fill the gap with a platform that focuses more on methodology, social practice, community impact, audience outreach, and public art practice.
I firmly position TAP as a curatorial project, a way of actively responding to the glaring needs of our environment in formats that best inform our practice. We identify a topic / a need / a site / a community that we want to put at the core of our investigation, and then we define the format of the project and its methodology.
Due to the precarious environment of art institutions in Lebanon since our founding, we did not want to institutionalize our organization too early, and instead focused our efforts – and funding – on mobilizing artists and communities around pressing thematics. The name “temporary art platform” – and thus the acronym TAP – was also an affirmation at the time that we are a platform that ebbs and flows with the needs of our direct community: there needs to be a desire to pursue a project, the funding to accompany it, and the community to support it. Otherwise, the platform could sleep, and not succumb to the institutionalization, or rather, regular programmation in order to establish itself.
Arleb by Nabad – You mentioned a collaborative process when undertaking projects. Could you explain in more detail the different formats you’ve experimented with over the years and the role of the public sphere that is at the core of your raison d’etre?
Amanda: The public sphere is an ever-widening concept for us and our aim is to foster exchanges and interventions that take these shifts into consideration, whether it’s a contested public shore (the Dalieh of Raouche), a medical center (Contemporary Art at ACC – currently on hold), daily newspapers (Works on Paper), the National Museum of Beirut (Mathaf Mathaf / Chou Hayda) and more are some of the spaces TAP has decided to infiltrate; forging partnerships with public and private institutions outside of the art world, re-asserting our mission to widen the participation in contemporary art production and practice, involving different communities and starting dialogues with people and institutions around the social engagement that contemporary art can hold.
Since we were founded, we have focused on expanding the field of contemporary art practice by experimenting with modes of participation, formats, locations, and contexts, contributing to the development of a cultural policy in Lebanon through knowledge production on social practice and public art, and advocating for public art practices in Lebanon, the Arab region, and the Global South.
We’ve done so using three distinct formats:
- Artist Residencies: since 2014, we have organized four artist residencies; three in Lebanon (Meziara in 2014, Ras Masqa in 2016, and Jezzine in 2017) and one in Brazil in 2020, an emergency relief program for artists affected by the port explosion. Artist residencies are one way for us to decentralize art practice and engage larger audiences in the creation of social artworks. Over the course of the residencies, artists are invited to anchor themselves in the community that is hosting them and truly engage with them over the course of a month. Moreover, we organize public programs in collaboration with the village municipality and stakeholders (schools, NGOs, youth-led programs, etc.) such as open-air film screenings, Q&As with the directors, skills workshops, panel discussions, participatory theatre, and more.
- Public Art Commissions: we provide production opportunities for artists and ask them to take the space in which they are responding as a site of exploration. Participatory social practice is our chief concern and we want to create a space for exchange and discourse between artists and various communities that could lead to tangible social friction and change. TAP works as a mediator between them and provides the logistical frameworks for concrete collaboration as well as crucial curatorial, logistical, and production support for emerging artists to expand their personal practice and experiment with forms and formats that widen their artistic scope.
- Research projects: we address the legal, logistical, social, and political frameworks of producing art projects in the public sphere in Lebanon through various research methodologies. The tool-guide (A few things you need to know when creating an art project in a public space in Lebanon, 2016) was published as a bilingual downloadable online blueprint of case studies and lessons learned from artists, institutions, cultural practitioners, and urban researchers on the various ways to navigate and hack the public sphere in Lebanon. At the moment, we are in the final stages of organizing a comprehensive archive of public art projects that have taken place in Lebanon from 1980 through the present day for our Database of Public Art Practices. Projects range from public sculpture to participatory art with over 400 entries classified and tagged according to type and temporality. The Database is a repository of information that serves at once as a virtual time-traveling museum and an important source of information for further research projects and knowledge production.
Arleb by Nabad – In March 2020, the whole world was struck by the Covid-19 pandemic, whose repercussions inevitably changed the way we live and work together. Lebanon was already plunged into a social, political, and financial crisis which worsened with the pandemic and shattered after the explosion. The situation has forced many artists and cultural practitioners to leave the country. How has TAP been affected by these crises? Do you have any plans to respond to the current situation in Lebanon since TAP advocates context-responsiveness as a pillar of its work?
Amanda: Following the deadly and orchestrated explosion of August 4, TAP managed to deploy its flexibility and responsiveness by organizing an emergency residency in Brazil (within the Mata Atlantica forest, in collaboration with the Goethe Institut and Kaaysà Art Residency). We welcomed seven artists in need of a safe place to recover physically and mentally from the tragedy. Make Yourself at Home: Radical care and hospitality-focused on care practices and on establishing new forms of living together following trauma.
The flexibility of our institution has proven to us that in times of crisis, our model was not only more viable, but it is able to adapt to drastic circumstances by formulating radical proposals which timely address the context in which it unfolds.
After long months of deadlock in 2020, we are now slowly climbing a difficult slope. Our resources are almost non-existent and our financial deficit for the last two years cannot be ignored; however, we are more adamant than ever to deploy our efforts and expertise to propose initiatives for cross-disciplinary cooperation.
We are looking at ways to live together through various projects and collaborations, emphasizing practicing care and hospitality and rallying our positions on solidarity and togetherness.
In June 2021, we will launch, in collaboration with theOtherDada, our Art, Ecology and the Commons project – an interdisciplinary program that will unfold over the course of the next three years and draws inspiration from forest trees and seeks to harness their sense of togetherness and communication, collaboration and interdependency to bring a community together in a time of extreme crisis. It is what we are calling a collective study, a rehearsal, through which we are inviting contributors from Lebanon and the Arab region, as well as voices from other localities in the Global South, to come together and reflect on our current environment through the following site-specific thematic axes: the river, trees, and fungi. Taking inspiration from the forest that will host us; we will branch out and bookmark this program through various events and endeavors such as public outreach program, a film commission, a series of film screenings, a lecture series, hands-on workshops, site visits to neighboring forests and institutions, a podcast series, and a serial publication.