By Helene Kazan
‘From Above and Below’ was an event I recently curated at the Mosaic Rooms in London, which brought together a series of investigations into the shifting parameters of contemporary warfare. The intention of the event was not only to convey the position or physical viewpoint - from above - which the state apparatus utilises as part of modern day conflict, exemplified by the use of armed drones and aerial bombing. But in particular the focus of the event was on the position - from below - mobilising the domestic arena as a platform, and as a material and human register of a perceivable external threat. The presented works each explored a condition that occurs through the multi-scalar effects of war, where a violent interpenetration of private and public spheres takes place. With the proposition to better understand the effect of being positioned ‘From Above and Below’ and to analyse the transformations this doubled condition might create, as it impacts directly upon the sensitive and difficult nature of the territorial subject, especially the human subject within the home.
My motivation in producing this event came as my own doctoral research focuses on the domestic space - the home or the house – as the site where a complex range of values converge. Under threat, the home becomes the site where small-scale actions of preparedness and anticipation take place. These actions mediate the effects of risk and its management into a range of affective and experiential registers realised in the form of taping glass windows or re-enforcing outer walls. My intention is to better understand the way in which the domestic arena forms a relationship between risk observed as an abstract calculus (experienced through the real-estate market), and risk felt as a tangible, bodily threat (experienced within the home). This double articulation of risk (abstract and affective) breeds a tension, which I argue is articulated and registered in the materiality of the architecture of the home itself.
I examine the ways in which multiple perceptions of risk produce contradictory images of the future in Lebanon, by projecting imminent or non-existent possibilities of future threat. By exposing the contradictions operating across these differing modes of perceiving risk within this specific context, I made present the ways in which risks’ unequal distribution contributes to constructing or deconstructing the home as a site of security.
‘From Above and Below’ was realised as a way to reflect upon the key issues that are central to my research practice but that I also believe are of contemporary urgency. In bringing together the six participants in the event, who each explored the subject from different disciplinary viewpoints, I wanted to engage a public debate that would inevitably extend my own understanding and experience into the subject. With the intention to also serve as a way of reminding the audience and those who participated throughout the day, that the violence of conflicts that are both distant to us and that are constituted through a regime of distance, always produce their most complex counter-narratives and effects on the ground.
From the initial conversation with the gallery about these ideas, through the six hours of presentations and discussion that comprised the day, to the final moments of packing away the inconceivable amount of audio and visual equipment it took to make the series of technically complex presentations happen in one space, in one day, I was surprised throughout at the ways in which people engaged in each stage of the project. There is no doubt that the opportunity to realise this event, has fed the imaginable ways I believe it is possible to develop my own PhD research and practice.