Sandi Hilal, Founding Member of DAAR, Beit Sahour, Palestine (4/4)

Sandi Hilal foto okIn this last part of the conversation she talks about the way to self-organize ourselves without the State. She talks about the moment of transforming a place from being public, owned by the State, in being a place owned by the people. And as an artist and architect, she says that the representation for her is not an issue. For her the process is the most important aspect of the artistic and architectural practice.




A Skype conversation with Sandi Hilal on the difficulty of looking at our public spaces as owned by us

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Are public spaces ours?
With the projects we are doing – most of them are architectural projects done in the camp together with the refugees – we try to understand if the refugee camp can be seen as a the new “common” of the world, a place where people are self-organizing themselves without the State. They are feeling the community without necessarily having a sover-state that controls them. What is normally happening is that the State turns us into numbers. If you are a number in the city, you do not feel that public spaces are yours. The public space is controlled fully by the municipality and you are an individual. And to be a collectivity within today’s cities is very difficult. Looking at our public spaces as owned by us is indeed very difficult.

The inspiring example of Cairo
Arabs are all the time accused of being people that do not take care of their public spaces. Their homes are so clean but they seem not to care of public spaces. Cairo, for example, is so dirty. And if you would reflect upon it, the problem is  that the public spaces were, in the mind of the people, representing  the regime, the Egyptian regime. This was something that they, inside, hated. They were feeling not belonging to it. Why  should they take care of a place that does not belong to them?
But when people begun to own the public space, they turned it immediately into a “common” place and they started to clean it. And for us, the moment of the cleaning, was a very crucial moment: the moment of transforming this place from being public, owned by the State, in being a place owned by the people. Cleaning the place means taking care of the place.

Representing the “common” place
This was for us so inspiring for the fact that we also consider the refugee camps in Palestine entirely as “common” places, we look at them as owned by the people, and we like to understand and discover the practices that are going on there. How we can manage to turn these practices into artistic and architectural representation?  This is for us a very big question. What we see is that there are many things going on in the camp. And this will help to find new ways to represent the camp differently.

What happens if someone invites you to have an exhibition, anywhere else in the world? How would you represent it in a classical and traditional exhibition space?
Representation for me is not an issue. For me the process is the most important aspect of our practice. Then the representation will become by default. But I will talk about the project we did in Nottingham in January 2012 thanks to the invitation by Nottingham Contemporary one of the largest contemporary art centers in the UK.  The Palestinian Parliament was built right on the border of Jerusalem. The problem is that this building was half in Jerusalem and half outside Jerusalem and the border does not belong to anybody. Because of this situation and of the crisis in Palestine, this building was never functioning. It somehow represents the collapsing of the all idea of the State. If you see this building,  you immediately see the manifestation of the collapsing of any idea of a State being built in Palestine. And here our main question is: “Would Palestine be the last State that will be build or would Palestine become a laboratory in order to create new ways of living in this world?” Palestine is full of borders, full of lines. So we looked at the line that cut this Parliament in two, cleaned it as it was full of dust. The all idea of this Parliament building representing only the West Bank people that are living in the Cisgiordania was very crucial for us to understand how, again, the culture of exile would enter into this Parliament. Without the culture of exile this Parliament would not function. We cleaned this line that for us represents the culture of exile. This line is without a law. What is really interesting is that whenever they designed all the maps in Palestine they give laws to everything except for the line itself. It is a lawless line. There is no law of the State for this line, and it is the only place that is free.

Engaged with the reality of a place
So we took this line to represent the all idea of the culture of exile, and we took it “one to one” to Nottingham. We re-built it in the city of Nottingham and the all assemblies that we did in Nottingham, to discuss what I already mentioned, took place on this line. People were all able to see and recognize it. We are very much site specific people, we do not have pieces of art going and traveling everywhere, this is not our way of working. We do not have that, maybe because we are architects in our formation. We normally love to be engaged with the spaces where we are doing our exhibitions and the spaces where we are working. Without being totally engaged with the place, we do not find any motivation to work. For us the challenge is how to be engaged with the place.