Emotional Architecture

Research residency

Nida Ghouse and Malak Helmy

During 16 May – 9 June 2013, Nida Ghouse and Malak Helmy were on research visit at Beirut to continue working on their collaborative framework Emotional Architecture. Conceived as an exercise in addressing the social and intellectual legacies of entering and leaving collaborations, the project started in Cairo in the summer of 2012 and is ongoing. It began as a series of conversations and is envisioned as a research-based publication project.

Their research has been inspired by various writings on the topic, yet what they felt was missing is a closer look at the emotional register of collaboration, of what forms, sustains, supports, and props up collaboration, its infrastructure or architecture in relation to power and how it operates within collaboration. This is not so much a question of interpersonal relationships but rather the actuality of a complex web. Collaboration is said to have the potential to collapse hierarchies since everyone's work is dependent on somebody else's, and yet we know that power does not ever all of go away. What happens to ideas that were borne in collaboration when collaborations break up (which most often they do)? What is the emotional and intellectual legacy of entering and leaving collaborations? Thinking less of how one claims something after collaboration, insofar as an ownership of ideas, but rather of how one survives them, the question ensues how one flourishes not just through collaborations but also beyond them.

Sub-chapters in this exploration focus on apathy and withdrawal as generative forces. On one hand, via an inquiry into relationships between intuitive withdrawals of emotion and ‘death of desire’ –often leading to the development of invisible social and collective forces (of resistance). On the other hand, via an inquiry into ‘dark archives’ that are not open to the public (for example the Egyptian National Archive), as such providing different possibilities and forms of collective knowledge, perhaps speculative emotional intelligence, and projecting into a utopian future where gestures of withdrawal and rendering information opaque are key to re-introduce necessary forms of speculation addressing the social and political status quo.

The essential research phase takes place between April and July 2013, starting at Beirut in Cairo and continuing at the Fondazione Spinola Banna per l’Arte in Italy. Cairo is the place this project has been thought from at the very beginning; it now departs again from and returns to the city. During their time in Egypt, Ghouse and Helmy conducted interviews and conversations with various individuals who have worked in collaborative projects in both cities in the recent past. These individuals vary from art practitioners who have established institutions and work collaboratively in that form (such as art institutions and exhibition spaces); others who work in the field of education and think of means of sharing knowledge collectively as opposed to hierarchically; and other individuals who have been involved in the archiving of looser forms of ‘collaborations’ or ‘collectives’ that sparked, existed and dissolved without documentation or permanent place in a collective memory. These conversations serve to not only explore an autobiographical history of collective or collaborative endeavors in these places but also the dynamics in which they were born and passed (dynamics of funding, gender performance, sociopolitical and economic contexts, and collective ‘states of mind’ born out of, within them).

As part of their visit to Beirut, Ghouse and Helmy have been invited to attend the closed meeting "What Is An Institution?" during 27 – 28 April to provide a form for its documentation and mediation into writing. This will be included in a publication released by Beirut accompanying the research project. The publication launch is planned to coincide with a series of texts, drawings and works displayed in an exhibition format, accompanied by a program of talks and presentations, during the fall season of Beirut's programming.