Opening Beirut, Portland, Damascus pavilions

Real-time collaborative writing party

24 Oct 2009
24 Oct 2009

Last Saturday three brand new pavilions opened their doors at the Amsterdam Biennale: Beirut, Portland and Damascus. Curated by Rani al Rajji, Matthew Stadler and Abir Boukhari. As a special opening event there was a co-writing party, organised by the Portland pavilion and cool fun oriental music by Sina Khani. Read a report of the evening with short interviews here.


Damascus paviljoen - Opening Beirut, Portland & Damascus pavilions at the Amsterdam Biennale at Mediamatic. Raphael Rehbach

Portland pavilion with Matthew Stadler

Matthew Stadler from Portland is standing in his pavilion, surrounded by books. "All these books are printed by the Publication Studio and have been made by artists. They are single pieces but can be printed on demand." Tonight Matthew is happy to organise a co-writing party that will result in the immediate making of a book. Thanks to the web-based tool Etherpad everyone at the opening can join in with Matthew's colleagues and friends in Portland to write an art essay for the Biennale together. "Everyone is working in the file at the same time in real time. This means all traces of individual authorship are erased." The result is a text file containing an Art ABC, philosophic contemplations and more. As the party proceeds the co-authored text is typeset, printed and bound by the Publication Studio in Portland. It will soon be on display at the Portland pavilion.

Beirut pavilion with Rani al Rajji and Maya Tehini

Later in the evening DJ Sina Khani conducts an interview on Skype with the curator of the Beirut pavilion, Rani al Rajji. Rani explains he would like to "transgress the boundary of the image of war and violence that people have of Beirut." Sina Khani asks him: "If you could change anything in the world, what would it be?" Rani answers: "I would remove all borders."

Maya Tehini, present at Mediamatic on behalf of Rani, shows the pavilion to me. It is an inaccessible cube with small holes in the walls. When you peek through the holes you can see scenes from everyday life in Beirut. Maya says: "We designed the pavilion like this because it is how foreigners see Lebanon: as an inaccessible and dangerous place. Only when you look inside, you will get in touch with life in Lebanon. But people really have to visit the country to know what it's like. And even where you're there, you have to make an effort." When you make contact with Maya or Rani on the Travel website they can help you discover Beirut. What is there to see? "If you come to Beirut, you will get to know the small streets, the traditional Lebanese people and you will taste things you've never tasted before."

Damascus pavilion with Abir Boukhari and Nisrine Boukhari

The Damascus pavilion, also opening this evening, is curated by sisters Abir Boukhari and Nisrine Boukhari from All Art Now. Nisrine is in Amsterdam to talk about the pavilion. "This pavilion is a conceptual installation about the stereotypes that people in the West have about Arabs. Every time I travel I am confronted with these stereotypes. People always interrogate me about Islam when they hear I'm Syrian." The outside of the pavilion shows works by Jwan Khalaf and Muhammad Ali. The inside is created by Nisrine and is called Fashion Diary. Newspapers with headlines about terrorism are on the floor and fashion outfits line the walls. They are a combination of glamorous accessories and items that are typically associated with terrorism, such as a pink sparkling belt that refers to the terrorist belt with bombs. "A lot of people are surprised that I'm not wearing a scarf and djellaba. They think that I wear them when I'm in Damascus, but I don't. Damascus is a city of great diversity. Twenty eight religions live together here. It's big and small at the same time and you can find different kinds of art galleries."

Equinox Festival

Femke Dekker, curator of one of the Amsterdam pavilions, organises a weekly music festival at the Amsterdam Biennale. Every Saturday a band is playing in her pavilion. This Saturday it was DJ Stabilo Boss.