A Guest Without A Host is A Ghost Was Seen
Drawings by Doris Maninger
Words by Jens Maier-Rothe
The eleven inserts in this publication portray miscellaneous moments of a presence. They also present us with a form to document a collaborative encounter. In the noted absence of private and public collections of contemporary art in Egypt, Beirut imagined their possible presence with A Guest Without A Host Is A Ghost, a project that brought over thirty artworks from the Kadist collections in Paris and San Francisco on a nine-month residency to Cairo. As temporary guest to the city, the collection was present in various shows and events from May 2014 to January 2015.
Collecting is an attempt to distill a certain likeness among otherwise distinct things – often driven by a desire to imagine new, alternative and queer forms of affiliation that reside in a specific social context. The transient presence of a collecting impulse in Cairo lingered among local institutions, initiatives and individuals inviting them to explore what makes them alike and what makes them distinct. A Guest Without A Host Is A Ghost would not only allude to an absence of a collecting institution or museum, but also shed light on the fragile presence and co-dependency of existing institutions, evoking a relation of mutuality and shared being-in-common between them.
In Egypt and the wider region, only very few art institutions have the means to host and preserve contemporary artworks or collections. Original artworks from around the world are rarely exhibited due to bureaucratic constraints and a general lack of the essential infrastructure. The presence and evolution of contemporary art practices often nestle within event-based formats, drawing on ephemeral exchange and exhibition practices that dematerialize the artwork and rely more on the circulation of individuals as artists than on the work they make. We witness an increasing disparity between where artists live and work, and where their work is produced, presented and collected. Commissioning and collecting bodies generally lie within the art market centers, outside the local context. This ultimately contributes to the precariousness of shared challenges and doubts facing artistic discourse and production. In practice, if we as institutions presently do not have the necessary means to make a collection possible, how can we evoke the spirit of a collection to imagine its becoming in the future?
On a global level, collecting transcends the matter of art in the way art lives and works. Like any institutional gesture it augments the bureaucratic dimension of things. Once collected, an artwork enters into a different realm of time and space, where it can circulate, collect dust, or disappear. As art storages grow in number and size around the globe, free zones with relaxed tax and customs regulations become hosts to some of the largest collections of contemporary art in history. Many original artworks never leave these offshore museums or stay in quarantine for decades. Some travel directly from studio to storage without ever seeing (or being seen by) the rest of the world.
A Guest Without A Host is a Ghost evolved in two chapters. The first featured an exhibition co-hosted by Beirut, Townhouse and the Contemporary Image Collective to publicly introduce our guests and hosts to each other. The second chapter departed from the exhibition as form, encouraging the artworks to have a life of their own and feel at home in the city. In many ways all selected guests elicit notions of an absent presence, both real or imagined, of artworks, collections, memories, discourses, voices, histories and stories that are concealed from entering our world. What is barred has a way of pressing itself against our conscious life and finding a way to be present, through the potency of our imagination, thought, memory, hallucination.
The uncanny disappearances of shapes, lines and forms escaping the trauma of war, and inhabiting the spaces around works of art (Walid Raad) tell us that works are also sites around which histories accumulate. The historical facts and fictions, and stories that are told, transform the essence of photographs, as records and as images. The ghostly presence of an army of boots without bodies marching through the US mail system (Eleanor Antin), the fatherly figures of former shop owners overlooking their legacy (Taysir Batniji), the institutional palimpsests in the changing face of a city (Nicolas Consuegra), the hallucinatory appearance of visual forms after periods of confined darkness (Melvin Moti), all reflect back to the beginning: What appears in place of an absent presence? Would ghosts exist without their hosts? Would they haunt a world without us?