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Please note that this website is still a draft, and potentially will be a draft forever, because togetherness is a continuous process that will never find a fixed manifestiation.
This website documents unchronologically our joint and distributed research about togetherness across nation borders and other intersecting demarcation lines, that create difference and similarity.
I wanted to write to you because I was really interested in hearing what you do in Iran with the group of people you are. As I assume the program is still running, I wonder if you were interested to have a call after?
Fist message from Amelie to Fatemeh in June 2020
hEY dear Huda,
it was a pleasure talking to you and I strongly whish we could develop a program together (and apply for funding) - I know this might sound too upfront, but I think that we might have a good process in thinking along. I am not bound to what I told you, but also would like to hear about your urgencies. I would love to come back to Egypt at some point and I want to find out, whether there is a possibility to do something useful in the artistic field to support both our local contexts. Generally, your sentence, that "one is most relevant to one's own context", reminded me so much of a basic struggle that I have and at the same time, I felt much more at home in Cairo, than I sometimes do here in Germany (could have many profane reasons) and the resulting questions still stick in my brain. I think Studio Khana is also interesting for me, because I am interested in all things relating to collectivity (from decision making processes to the aesthetic of the many) and last but not least I looked at your website and remebered your focus on language (in)/translatability, which is also a very dear subject to me. Maybe it's a bit stupid to base a possible collaboration on a very short encounter, but I just feel it might be possible. Of course, if you don't think it's mutual, it's also ok, please don't hesitate ro reject my request
Failure is part of the process, so we can also have a more casual talk to see if it could work. Of course only after your exhibition!
All my best,
First message from Amelie to Huda in February 2020
Hello dear Amelie,
Thank you so much for your lovely message, our short talk was also super interesting to me, and I thought a lot about our brief discussion on mothers and on privilege. Also thank you for checking my website although I am a bit embarrassed as it is still a work in progress and I barely have time to attend to it :)).
I would love it if we can have a casual talk after the exhibition, to further see what we both have on our minds, to let you know more about what we are planning for Studiokhana and think of the possibilities.
Video about initiating a from of togetherness in
Instagram post by Huda in May 2020
First answer from Huda to Amelie in February 2020
Instagram post by Huda in February 2021
Instagram post by Huda in March 2021
Instagram post by Huda in December 2019
Instagram post by Huda in April 2021
It's all about Coexistence - Fatemeh Towhidlou, 2020
Instagram post by Huda in September 2020
you know, we all , which are painters and performance artist and film maker and photographer and game designer..., every day ask ourselves WHAT IS THE MEANING OF WHAT WE ARE DOING IN THIS PERIOD OF TIME!!!
it is our every day challenge! because most of the time, "art" doesnt fit with the dark side of siuation we all live in this world.
On and around collaboration
This intro will be a reflection on Amelie's elaborate reflections, that I really enjoy reading but feel I can never adequately comment on, and reflection on the way we have been navigating this conversation so far. (Obviously I didn't manage to do this, but I kept two quotes that I think are being addressed in the following text.)
" Still, like you experience it too, my knowledge is fragile, not shared with anybody, not backed up. I find it really annoying that one has to work on all fronts to counteract this feeling of inferiority when still feeling compelled to share and make accessible when one is aware of one’s responsibility."
" I mean it is all about relationships: building them, acknowledging them, showing their impact on other people’s relationships, understanding them, describing them in their diversity."
How I see the process:
One of the main common points of interests between Amelie and I was the emphasis on collectivity and one's relevance to their own context. And though this truly is something that I think a lot about, and have to come to realize is a driving force behind my work in Studiokhana as well as a long term goal, sometimes I lose touch with the words I continuously use and I feel it's very important to re-evaluate what they mean to me;
collective\collaboration is one of them (I think this ties very closely to proposal writing and the trap of buzzwords and words that are so redundant and misused that they lose meaning.) I have recently discovered that words losing meaning is one of my worst fears.
When is it a collaboration? and what do I mean when I use this specific vocabulary in a proposal or in any other form? When have I ever collaborated? A lot of questions that are constantly going through my mind that I would like to answer, hopefully I will manage to do this several times and in more than one way, over the course of this process. Which is the purpose of this text. Because in order to actively contribute more to the process, I have decided to set short term goals, this text being the first, and the second will be trying to develop it more into a concise view on collectivity and collaboration (maybe I will use this for my next project.)
I do feel that I am experiencing a very weird time where everything is on pause, and there is the privilege to take a step back and reflect and (hopefully even theorize?) which is something I never had the chance to do before. I am also trying acknowledge the fact that this personal notion of collaboration or collectivity I am trying to articulate might never reach a final form, but will rather be a continuous path of trials and errors and an endless cycle of writing and re-writing, maybe for the best.
I also have a very real, concrete reasons to pursue these questions: First, I told you last time that we are in the process of regenerating something else from Studiokhana, a new project that I hope will develop into a new collective, and I am in the process of writing about it and planning it. Secondly: in the Tasawar program, I am (naturally) being asked to write a lot, a biography, a curatorial statement, and pieces about artworks. I am hyper aware of how I want to present my ideas (and myself) at all times, and I am constantly questioning my choice of words.
Notes on constant and parallel collaborations:
[This was written on the 28th of September, when I met a group of my friends and went to Aisha Fahmi's Palace for an exhibition of European modern paintings]
Today is the first time ever since Corona hit for me to go to an art related event (the last opening I attended was in 14 February, it was ours). I don't know why it felt so weird, a recurring joke all throughout the day was how we just "HAD" to do this in the middle of a pandemic, that this was one of the first things we have gotten together to do even with the masks on. I think this touched upon something I have been thinking about a lot, ever since the pandemic hit, that how in the easiest of ways, everything we do has been pushed so far down the priorities, and how the true fragility of our situation was exposed in a rather cruel way. I don't know if this is one of those times where you just have a thought in your head and then everything relates to it. The comparatively hard and challenging task of trying to collaborate with this notion of fragility constantly hovering over you was very present to me. In the back of our heads, we have this awareness of the almost shameful insignificance of whatever it is we are doing, and the shame of being able to "afford" doing it, with everything else that is going on.
Because It's one thing to work within a rigid and confining system, and to position yourself in opposition to that system and as an alternative to it, but it's a completely different thing to work in a chaotic state of no-system, no institutions, nothing to oppose, not much to 'critique' but the depressing nothingness of the whole thing. Where you are supposedly "opposing" the general state of things, but are you really?
To combat this nothingness, everyone is in desperate need of constant reminders and reasons why whatever they are doing has a point. (Which could be argued is a job for theory, even informal reflection? Another thing that is severely lacking.) The jokes about how this is unimportant, or about how no one cares are always a little hesitant and shaky, and I think about them a lot.
This brings me to another recurring thought:
Collaboration and "Emotional Labor"
"There is a radiant darkness upon us, but I don't want you to worry."
I generally feel like any "working model" that doesn't take into account how the people functioning under it are emotionally responding to its dynamic won't work, so while I can generally say I agree with separating work and personal relationships, I often find them (in my experience) inescapably intertwined. Working on the yearly program with Studiokhana, I have found this type of "labor" to be so integral to the program's progress from stage to stage (which makes me constantly consider whether its making up for something else that is lacking in the program's structure or content), I have found out that whether I like it or not, these constant reminders, hints, long talks that sometimes include personal revelations and tearful confessions to be a key part of why some people wouldn't drop out of the program.
While I believe in how important it is to have a space for these vulnerabilities, and to address them and other insecurities as a key part of making sense of our practice and its' place in the context around us, it takes a huge toll on the person having to constantly perform and provide it, and makes me constantly question and re-evaluate my assumption of these students' needs which I built the whole program on in the first place.
This brings me back to the question in the beginning, can I call the work produced through the program a collaboration? And in what sense? If we assume it is, then there will have to a delicate differentiation between different levels and types of collaboration (Maybe based on how much the parties are on equal foot and the input they both contribute.)
The problem happens when you are in a situation where you are expecting equal levels of investment and contribution, but they aren't there for some reason.
Collaboration as an exchange currency
The reason I put 'Emotional Labor' in quotes is because it is uncomfortable for me to use, I don't enjoy thinking of specific things in such transactional terms, even though I acknowledge that they are an effort and have contributed a lot to my burnout.
It's just that this language brings to my head a certain approach I see a lot around me, wherein people are extremely overprotective of their labor and their effort. I do feel it stems from a deeply embedded capitalist ideology. Where if you don't do this, you are always at risk of being used in the worst way.
I see this complicating potential collaborations all the time. (underdeveloped)
Collaboration, loneliness, and alienation
In the meeting before the last one, we brought up the topic of loneliness, which is something I keep thinking about, mostly because I feel more alone than ever now, not necessarily because I am, but because I am aware of how deep it runs, especially when it comes to art and working in art.
I sometimes think (daydream in more accurate) of writing this 'unapologetically emotional manifesto' To counteract the notion of individual salvation where one's only way of survival is out and alone. To be somewhere else and to do it on their own. To rather find empowerment and support in being surrounded with other artists, but then I am faced with an overwhelming disappointment that no one seems to think the same way, or that I can't find the people that think the same way.
(A world or situation that reconciles the contradictory aspects of where I belong)
Institutionally funded 'self-organization'
[This text is written on the 20th of September, after coming to terms with a rather painful failed attempt at 'self-organizing', to be able to apply for a fund that supports exclusively self-organized initiatives]
To cultivate this much needed sense of togetherness can't be a work of institutions, but rather a systematic shift of perspective in the individuals, to realize that their existence depends primarily on one another. I don't know, again I am declaring things, throwing statements in, driven by my disappointment in others, is this wish-fulfillment again?
Is collaboration possible in this context? (Against the corporate notion of revival)
[This text is written on the 18th of October, a comment on Art de Egypt's most recent exhibition.]
It's a turning point in the Egyptian art scene, with a lot of changes taking place, entities that work in 'contemporary art' are slowly but surely dying out, downtown Cairo is gentrified and is no longer hospitable for people like us, and the art 'scene' is dominated by one entity that embodies the ultimate marriage of political power and money, blessed by the state that wants to turn downtown Cairo into a glamorized replica of itself, exhibiting clean-cut polite art in public spaces where -ironically- an artist is likely be arrested if caught with a camera. All the while collecting donations and 'reviving' both tourism and the art scene.
The exhibition feels odd and out of context; the artists feel like props, like they don't belong among the A class. Now I don't mind the model even though I would like to believe that I stand against it, except that it is literally the only thing currently going on. The saddest part is that, maybe by their existence there will be something to position ourselves in opposition to, even though it sometimes feels like we are so far into the margin we are invisible from where they are.
Which bring us to another hard pill for us to swallow, that everything you do, because of this lack, ends up somehow working in the favor of the same people at the end, they can afford to hire, they can offer opportunities, while we can't grow our community because we can barely afford to keep the place let alone hire someone.
Now, keeping this is mind, and being aware of this context, how can one develop this approach to art and art education that is rooted in activism? and how to sustain it? Do you need to have it figured out from the beginning? I know I shouldn't but at the same time I feel the pressure of having to. To have an agenda sounds like a big and scary thing to say, but in that case.
How to deal with what I called 'the paradox of visibility'? where in too little visibility provides you relative safety and the opportunity to work and develop in peace, but you will eventually need to visible in order to achieve any form of 'impact', which in turn poses endless risks.
What types of initiatives are 'allowed' in the public space now? I have no idea. What are we going to do with such knowledge? And how are going to navigate the little space we have left? And what spaces are possible for us to invent and then claim?
– This loosely ties to something you asked about in your first reflection email, you wrote in your notes that I said "Harvesting the failure of the revolution without having it being my defeat" and this is what I mean by it, I feel very defeated sometimes, but I am also painfully aware of having never fought. The only way I know how to deal with such feelings is to keep working, and working in this case will be to help develop this new collective we are working on, which requires answering at least some of these questions.
I always dread going back to my notes for fear I will not find anything of value and that it will be impossible to remember what I was thinking and if I did it would be irrelevant; I am rather insecure about this text being a collection of notes posing as a reflection.
As I reread it for the last time, I realize it is very underdeveloped and full of narration and comments, and as I judge it I lose the point of it, I feel this overwhelming pressure to come up with a clear stand point, and my heart tells me it is rooted in the notion of the collective. I sense the urgency, to come up with this developed 'manifesto' I mentioned earlier. Contradicting myself by neglecting the poised 'it's a destination' narrative I claimed.
I can only remind myself, over and over, of the purpose of writing this text, which is essentially to rewrite it, and I can only hope that it manages to communicate clearly to you, and that it will serve to keep our conversation going.
Instagram post by Huda in March 2021
There was a time by Fatemeh Towhidlou, January 2021
Screenshot of Huda and Amelie in late autumn 2021