SEPARATION | in conversation with Charles Esche

Extract from the book Permanent Temporariness

Alessandro Petti This book is the first time we have really acknowledged the part of our practice that materializes itself as an installation or in an exhibition. Even though our projects can start or end as “art,” we have never fully documented or outwardly reflected upon this process. This book accounts for this important aspect of our work, one which has allowed some of our projects to exist.

Charles Esche What do you mean by the art world allowing your projects to exist?

ap Exhibitions play the role of a catalyst. Having to think about a project’s spatial manifestation gives us a certain autonomy from it, as it initially exists only in a specific site and for a specific community. Especially in the context of Palestine, it is very easy to be trapped in the NGO logic that quantifies success and measures impact statistically. The art world was ambiguous and remote enough for us to use it as a critical platform. Instead of being a self-referential space, for us, the exhibition was always a space for experimentation that could not take place elsewhere.

Sandi Hilal Hannah Arendt, in one of her interviews, said: “when I write, I clarify my ideas through the writing.” For us, more than writing, art exhibitions are occasions for being in conversations, to explore and clarify ideas that are far away from our every- day reality. The conversation is a way to share doubts and explore suspicions.

ce But also the artworks or the installations themselves, no? They also seem to be a way of concretizing some suspicions or ideas you have. The photographs and light- boxes of Refugee Heritage, for instance, give you a certain way to talk about and share your experience of being so closely attached to Dheisheh for so many years.

ap One aspect that might clarify our relation with the exhibition space is that it always creates a space of tension. Since most of our projects are very site-specific, the exhibi- tion is a space of necessary alterity that allows us to clarify our understanding of the projects. This means that we never have the intention to either represent the projects themselves, or simply bring the social practice inside the museum. We are not interested in translating our work into exhibitions. For example, Fawwar Square took eight years of community participation to make. We don’t find it interesting to rep- resent or mimic this process in the museum. What is at stake for us in exhibitions is the ability to continue our explorations in different ways. We are not interested in institutional critique, as it tends to merely perpetuate the cultural hegemony of the modernist white cube. If we look at the museum from an architectural perspective, however, we could ask ourselves how to reuse the white cube of the museum for aims different from those it was design for. This speculative approach opens a much more constructive way to engage with it that is not only critical, but also engages in an ongoing process of its transformation.

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