Dictaphone Group: Why the Sea is Mine?

Why the Sea is Mine © Dictaphone Group
Why the Sea is Mine
© Dictaphone Group

Friday, 13 December 2013, Lecture, 19.00-20.00 @ Zico House

Why the Sea is Mine? is a lecture by Dictaphone Group in which we share some of the findings from our research as well as our artistic work process from three projects that took place in Lebanon: ‘Bit Téléférique’, ‘Bus Cemetery’ and ‘This Sea Is Mine’.

Dictaphone Group creates live art performances based on findings and stories produced through multi-disciplinary research on space and oral history. It is a collaborative project initiated by live artist Tania El Khoury and architect/urbanist Abir Saksouk. Together with performer and producer Petra Serhal, they have been creating site specific performances informed by research in a variety of places such as cable car, a fisherman’s boat, and a discontinued bus. The aim of these projects is to question, as citizens, our relationship to the city, with a focus on public space, and the goal of its redefinition.

Laban – Live Lactic Culture (Masar Theatre)

© Laban
© Laban

Thursday, 12 December 2013, Improvisational theatre, 19.00 @ Orient Institut Beirut (OIB)

Masar Theatre is a participatory, improvisation-based, socio-political theatre format invented by Laban. It was invented to meet the need of having a theatre-based tool for interventions in communities that are not known enough to intervening artists. In Masar Theatre, the audience share stories about a certain issue. The actors then come up with a short play that depicts the essence of the stories shared. Afterward the audiences build this story along with the actors or advise about directions the story can take or endings they may want to try out.

Laban is an improvisational theatre-based organization started in 2009. It works on spreading improvisational theatre in Lebanon and the region through trainings and performances. These performances include improvised acting, creating, directing, lighting, music, and other performance requirements and are of different formats, some of which are invented by Laban. It also works on utilizing the skills and techniques of improvisational theatre in civil society activism. Through rigorous ongoing training and experience, Laban has become the reference for improvisational theatre, Theatre of the Oppressed (Forum Theatre, Image Theatre), and Playback Theatre in Lebanon. Laban places a lot of weight on partnerships with other organizations in order to create the desired change. In approaching organizations, Laban brings the theatre component and different kinds of theatre-based interventions to projects, whether they are starting up, ongoing, or in planning phase.

Dictaphone Group: Bus Cemetery

Bus Cemetery © Dictaphone Group
Bus Cemetery
© Dictaphone Group

Thursday, 12 December 2013, Performance 10.30-17.30 @ Warehouse

The lack of public transport in Lebanon and its ‘death’ in our city is seen as an extension to the lack of public spaces such as beaches, parks and pavements. This is why our project Bus Cemetery came about.

Bus Cemetery is a sound-based intervention that was performed inside one of the derelict buses in the former train station in Mar Mkhael (Beirut), popularly known as the ‘bus cemetery’. The site is where the dysfunctional buses are dumped, and the workplace for the employees of the Lebanese public transportation authority.

This project will take the audience on an imagined tour inside an abandoned bus. The audience will be ushered into the bus by a female driver, to embark on a short trip in the city.

The Map is the transportation network in Beirut from the year 1923 merged with our imagined bus route that tours in the city passing through existing locations like gardens and cemeteries.

Performer: Petra Serhal

Writer: Tania El Khoury

Sound Design: RamziMadi

This project was originally funded by AFAC 2011


Nahid Siamdoust/ University of Oxford: Tehran’s Soundscape and the Public Sphere

Friday, 13 December 2013, Panel II: Between Public and Private, 15.00-18.30 @ Zico House

Tehran’s soundscape is a highly contested element of the public sphere that the Islamic Republic officially controls. I will show through a discussion of music how this space serves to mitigate any stark demarcations of the public or the private as people use various tactics to insert their presence into the official sphere via the city’s soundscapes. In this way, producers and consumers of music challenge officially imposed norms and values. The fragmentation of state authority through critiques of imposed gender roles, official corruption and religious hypocrisyhappens in the semi-public sphere that each individual within the larger public sphere possesses; these range from a business-owner’s shop to a taxi driver’s car to the personal space that each individual can affect, through such things as speech, clothing, behaviour or humming a tune. I examine discourses in several musical subcultures and how the text as well as the performativity that it enables produces what Asef Bayat has called ‘quiet encroachment’ in the public sphere. By declaring the ‘private’ in the public, these music enable a much larger sphere of dialogue and contestation of norms and values than state authority allows. I will also be discussing the role of the Internet and satellite television within the musical field in greatly expanding the ‘traditional’ public sphere.


Nahid Siamdoust teaches history and politics of the Middle East and Modern Iran at the University of Oxford, where she recently obtained her PhD in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at St Antony’s College. Her work focuses on the interstices between politics and media.

Mazen Haidar/ ALBA and Akram Rayess / AMAR: Public Sounds, Private Spaces: Towards a Fairouz Museum in Zoukak el-Blat

Friday, 13 December 2013, Panel II: Between Public and Private, 15.00-18.30 @ Zico House

The idea of dedicating a museum to Fairouz, the singer and leading figure of musical theatre in Lebanon, in her childhood home in Beirut has been circulating in the local media in recent years. The persistent media campaign came to fruition with the declaration that the endangered nineteenth-century mansion in Zokak el-Blat was a building of public interest. Taking an anthropological approach, this paper will focus upon Fairouz’s House as a contested urban space. It will highlight multiple and diverse readings and interpretations of Beirut’s architectural heritage in this contentious context. After illustrating the dialectical conception of the ‘space of sound’ in relation to physical references of what was originally a private space, our presentation will focus on two issues: the legacy and memory and the connection between the museum’s function as a shrine dedicated to an artist who progressively became a public figure closely related to the history of modern Lebanon; and the transformation of a modest nineteenth-century private house on the periphery into a key cultural and public centre. As the museum will witness the transition of Fairouz’s childhood house into a public space, the paper will also follow the biographical trajectory of a personality switching from private to public, from a young timid girl to both an established artistic landmark and national icon.


Mazen Haidar is a conservation architect, currently involved in several project in Lebanon. He is the assistant director of the Architecture School at the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts (ALBA).


Akram Rayess is an ethnomusicologist, a management consultant and a trainer. He is a founding member of the Foundation for Arab Music Archiving and Research (AMAR) and Core Committee member of the Zaki Nassif Music Program at AUB.

Soraya Batmanghelichi/ Brooklyn Institute for Social Research: Red-lights in Parks: A social history of Park-e Razi

Saturday, 14 December 2013, Panel III: Open Air Spaces of Gathering, 10.30-12.00 @ Mansion

This paper investigates the spatial transformations of a red­light district in southern Tehran, which was once a societal landmark called the ‘citadel’ of Shahr­e No. During the Pahlavi years (1925­1979) it operated quite openly as a government regulated brothel district. In 1979, it was demolished and later developed into a large family park, Park­e Razi. Before its transformation, the vibrant activities inside Shahr­e No were verified. When the area was under threat of fire, a popular Shi’a cleric even came to its defence, insisting that prostitution played a necessary role in society – similar to that of a toilet in a house. This comment was prescient in that it intimated what would necessarily transpire following thesex district’s destruction and despite its cosmetic conversion. The movement from brothel district to Islamic family-themed park is treated not as a moment of rupture but one of transition. For prostitution is still an ongoing problem, where transactions for paid sex are arranged on the park’s premises. By tracing the social realities of this space over a period of forty years this discussion engages in a multivalent theoretical debate over the role of prostitution and the expectation of female sexuality in the Islamic Republic of Iran through the ideal rehabilitation of a public space.


Soraya Batmanghelichi is a women’s activist and feminist scholar, conducting research on gender, sexuality and body politics in the Middle East. She holds a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies from Columbia University.

Rana ElNemr / Artist& Image Researcher: Olympic Garden 2009-11

Saturday, 14 December 2013, Panel III: Open Air Spaces of Gathering, 12.15-12.45 @ Mansion

Located behind ‘The Egyptian Olympic Centre’, on the amorphous line separating the upper middle class neighbourhood of New Maadi and the Arab Al-Basateen informal area, the Olympic Centre Garden has come to replace ’Al-Ahram Coop Complex’, which burned down completely in May 2007.The circumstances surrounding the fire were described then in Al-Gumhureya newspaper as ‘mysterious’. Less mysterious accounts of the story still circulate amongst the residents of the surrounding area who are fathoming the nature of the new space in transience… a front-yard, a backyard, grass to grow, image to conserve…This Work consists of a 3-channel still-image loop with sound & text. The slow paced loops follow 3 different logics & aspects of the space, its physical appearance, its actual use, its location & historic context, the power dynamics that happen within such a fragile space, and the projections, aims & dreams of people who use the space.The 3 projections are placed & designed in a way so that the viewer could decide on their own ways of following the 3 channels. The different lengths of the loops allow the viewer to constantly see a different combination of image, sound & text.


Rana ElNemr is an artist whose work is photo-based but often includes text, sound and other media. Rana is involved in researching the visual culture and prospect of images, and is one of the co-founders of the independent artspace ‘Contemporary Image Collective’ (CIC) in Cairo.

Maïa Sinno / Sorbonne University and CEDEJ: The ‘Gulfization’ of the Cairo Downtown ‘Corniche’ behind Differentiating Social Practices?

Saturday, 14 December 2013, Panel III: Open Air Spaces of Gathering, 14.00-16.15 @ Mansion

This study focuses on the case of Cairo’s downtown corniche, which was originally designed as an urban showcase of Cairo, influenced by the perception of the Gulf countries way of life. Over the last decades the Cairo downtown cornice gradually became one of the favourite gathering places of the popular social layers. Taking an evening walk on the cornice constitutes a way to take ownership of a space which was originally designed for upper social classes, contributing in having the latter live in selected private spaces in order to avoid social mixing. The accelerated building programmes of luxury hotels that started under Sadat’s presidency attest to public policies willing to make a prestigious urban focal pointout of the corniche through the urban transcription of the master plan of Gulf cities. While well-off people commonly gather in new-built towers, the avenue is invaded every evening by families, young people and itinerant vendors from lower social classes. During the social claiming in early 2013, the corniche was blocked, leading frustrated groups of teenagers to overrun the Semiramis hotel. However, these events stopped neither the upper nor the lower classes to return once the situation calmed down. How much does the ‘gulfization’ of the corniche influence its attraction? Does the Gulf way of life today symbolize social achievement for Egyptians of all social classes?


Maïa Sinno is a PhD Student in economic and political geography at Sorbonne University (Paris) in partnership with the CEDEJ in Cairo where she spent the last two years. Her research focuses on the influence of Gulf countries’ investments in Egypt.

Abir Saksouk-Sasso / Architect and Urbanist: Contesting National Authority in the Construction of Public Space: the making of communal spaces in Beirut

Saturday, 14 December 2013, Panel III: Open Air Spaces of Gathering, 14.00-16.15 @ Mansion

Since the end of the Lebanese civil war, Beirut has been undergoing new forms of ‘controlling’ public space. It has witnessed the gradual disappearance of coastal lands accessed by the public, as well as the closure of its largest public park. The control of public space in Beirut has gradually taken over the remaining social places in the city, in which an abstractpublic is consistently being served.Nevertheless, Beirut dwellers lay claim today to a number of open areas in the city, the uses of which are akin to ‘public’ spaces – in the sense that they are accessed freely and allow for an unconfined range of social activities. Access to these spaces is secured through social and communal agreements through which their uses are organized, rather than laws and institutions of a central state. This paper advocates learning from the public by observing several left-over spaces in the city, in order to understand them as public, multicultural, just, and socially open. These spaces, such as Dalieh (Rawche) and ArdJalloul (Sabra), are shaped by the users’ various spatial practices. By spatializing everyday social practices, the paper attempts to abandon the modern accepted notion of public space that is tied to the state through the attribution of designated spaces in the city as ‘park’, ‘garden’, or other named ascriptions. It opens new possibilities for understanding public space in Beirut.


Abir is an architect and urbanist, and co-founder of Dictaphone Group. Her interests include multi-disciplinary research on space, exploring tools of social and political change, as well as blogging.

Konstantin Kastrissianakis/ University of Cambridge: Rethinking Public Space in Beirut since the Ta’if Agreement: From the reconstruction-reconciliation discourse to ‘sphere-building’

Saturday, 14 December 2013, Panel III: Open Air Spaces of Gathering, 14.00-16.15 @ Mansion

Following the signing of the Ta’if Agreement in 1989, the lack of official memorialisation, the absence of criminal tribunals and the 1991 general war amnesty gave prominence to Beirut’s reconstruction as a key tool for reconciliation. Public space was at the heart of debates animated by the controversial rehabilitation of the city-centre and the Demarcation Line that divided the city. Prominent Lebanese architects, urbanists, historians and geographers saw the site of division as offering an opportunity to create shared spaces that would restore the fractured society’s ties of trust and association. However, apart from the challenges that the reconstruction process encountered, this paper will argue that the notion of public space that informed the reconstruction-reconciliation debate holds misplaced expectations. Drawing upon a historical and theoretical analysis of public space in Beirut, this paper will assess the reconstruction-reconciliation approach to public space and consider a relational approach to public space that acknowledges Beirut’s fragmented urban structure, shifting spatial practices and territorial delineations. Taking the notion of territory not as antithetical but constitutive of public space, this paper will propose to re-think public space in light of Isaac Joseph’s work on public space as the ‘world-at-hand’, Ibn Khaldun’s notion of asabiyya and Peter Sloterdijk’s concept of ‘immunological spheres’, highlighting how the study of public spaces in Beirut could benefit from a new definition of public space.

Konstantin Kastrissianakis holds a PhD in architecture from the University of Cambridge, where he is currently affiliated to the Centre for Urban Conflict Research. In January he will join the YouCitizen project at the Department of Geography, Durham University.