Artists and Researchers in Residence
Marrakech, Paris, Naples; Spring-Autumn 2002
Residencies, artistic production and common research initiatives
After each session of the Euro-Mediterranean Cultural Workshops, and thanks to the organisation associated with the programme “Translating between cultures in the Mediterranean,” participants are given the necessary means to bring to fruition their common research projects: plays, videos, photography exhibitions, collaborative translations, collaborative research projects in the humanities, and so on.
The point of the residencies is both to bring complete the projects put together in the course of the Workshops, and to pursue and emphasise the networking initiatives of the young researchers and artists from around the Mediterranean. The residences in 2002 were part of the work initiated during the Second Euro- Mediterranean Workshops, held in Marrakech from 25 October to 9 November, during which the twenty-five young researchers and artists formed workgroups, on the basis of selforganisation and freedom of action.
The two works selected for the second Euro-Mediterranean Cultural Workshops in 2000 were four tales taken from The Thousand and One Nights and from Sophocle’s Antigone. The common underlying theme was “women’s speech in the face of the figure of the tyrant.” As the groups set down to work, proposals very quickly emerged linking Antigone and Shahrazad; these were them more broadly fleshed out in the workshops themselves.
The participants’ work was also influenced by the city of Marrakech, and above all by the goings-on at Jemaa El Fna Square – a focal point of storytellers and orality. The Thousand and One Nights foregrounds a woman, who assumes the role of storyteller. Yet, around the square, women are few and far between. Thus several of the men and women participants set out to find women, and, in a video performance, decided to recompose the space of Jemaa El Fna, its “gallery of voices,” by introducing the tales of five women, set on the threshold of the haranguing spiel of the (male) voice of the merchant situated in the middle.
The residences were thus born of the meetings between participants, reflections on the “translating of cultures,” analyses of the two works, and of the journey between imaginary geography and real places.
The theatre residency: A Tale of Two Shores
Effat Yehia (Egypt), actress, and Amel el Fargi (Tunisia), actress and instructor at the Institute for Childcare Management, laid the foundations for a dramaturgical crossover between Antigone and Shahrazad by having the two heroines initiate a dialogue in the intimacy of a bedroom setting. The backbone of this Tale of Two Shores, playing with literary figures, remains the need to grasp the very nature of their speaking out.
The project required further elaboration over a longer time span. During the residence held from 7 to 14 October 2002 in Transeuropéennes’ Paris offices, its finalisation was set as a priority. The elements of method underpinning the residency work reflect the need to encourage participants to make their project fully their own, and to provide them with the means to do so. Effat Yehia and Amel El Fargi were therefore free to organise their time as they saw fit, and to define their own work methods.
The first step of their work consisted of rereading and analysing the text initially put together in Marrakech, the objective being to define the mains issues in greater detail, in terms of style, thematics and characters. The work subsequently turned more particularly to research at the National Library and the Arab World Institute, in conjunction with writing sessions in Transeuropéennes’ offices.
Their “four-handed” work method consisted of sharing readings and subsequently exchanging their content. As for the actual writing, it entailed both their voices, but only as regarded the same scenes, both women writing independently from each other before bringing their two texts together to assemble a final version.
The themes of the work dealt with Antigone’s and Shahrazad’s relationships with their respective fathers; with the two characters’ relationships to love, to dreams and to literature, quite apart from the texts of reference; with the relationships between Antigone and Creon, as well as between Shahrazad and Shahryar, and then in a more general way, with the relationships of the two characters to death, and to God.
The insertion of a third, more contemporary, character, was also the object of discussion. As was the question as to how Antigone and Shahrazad could best bear witness to contemporary society. The question of the Arabic language in all its plurality is also spotlighted in the play, through a conjugation of literal Arabic, Egyptian dialect and the standardised – some might even say sanitised – language of the newspapers.
This residency enabled a new text to be written, far more elaborate and better structured than had been possible in Marrakech. Nevertheless, it is only in the months to come that the participants will bring their project to term, while at the same time looking for partners on their own who may be able to accompany the production and distribution of their play, both in Tunisia and in Egypt.
The critical-theory residency
The theoretical workshop had created in Marrakech a space of interaction between the critical reading of proposed works and a far broader, more philosophical, reflection with regard to speech, power and gender, as well as translation as a means of thinking through otherness. A collective project was born, in spite of the difficulties of articulation between the collective work and the individual work that the young researchers in the humanities had carried out.
This was the project that Sélila Mejri, senior lecturer at the Superior Institute of Languages in Tunis, Sameh Fekry, translator and researcher in comparative literature in Cairo and Manchester, and Ferdinando Menga, doctoral candidate in philosophy at Tübingen University, undertook in the framework of a residency held in Naples from 2 – 7 November 2002, during the Third Euro-Mediterranean Cultural Workshops.
The three researchers organised their work schedule into three parts. They began with individual reflection, drawing upon the groundwork done in Marrakech as well as upon what had been their own intellectual and human trajectories since the Second Euro-Mediterranean Cultural Workshops. The three participants’ work was then linked together when they met in Naples, involving a confrontation of ideas and concepts, and reflection on the potential bridges between their respective disciplinary backgrounds.
The days they spent working in Naples, during which they came into contact with the participants of the Third Euro-Mediterranean Cultural Workshops, ultimately led to a public presentation at the Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici, on Tuesday 5 November 2002 at 5:00 p.m., entitled “Translating between cultures: a concept at work.” This exercise was above intended to provide a public presentation of their work and to expose it to the critical reflection of the public, and above all those participating in the 2002 round of the Euro-Mediterranean Cultural Workshops. This initiative is part of Transeuropéennes’ desire to build up an informal network of competencies around themes of this kind.
The success of this residency was entirely due to the forward-looking spirit of those who proposed it. It constituted a focal point of thought on contemporary issues regarding the translation of cultures, which can scarcely be encouraged too much.
The video residency
The Marrakech Euro-Mediterranean Cultural Workshop video performance residency brought together video, theatre, music and storytelling. Conceived as a space of improvisation and place, combining written culture and oral culture, the point was, in the CNSS’s locale in Marrakech, to reconstitute through a mirror-effect the space of Jemaa El Fna Square. The coherency of the conception, its multiple levels of reading pleaded strongly in favour of pursuing the collaboration already underway to allow the emergence of a fully fledged artistic project.
Thus, it was proposed to Amal Ramses, coordinator of documentation and publication at the Association for Health and Environmental Development (Cairo), Talal Khoury, photographer and assistant director of film photography (Beirut), Hala El-Khoury, film editor (Beirut) and Nadine Chams, journalistscreenwriter (Cairo), to pursue the project in the framework of a residency.
The first part of the video residency was held in Marrakech from 19 – 28 June 2002, in collaboration with the Chouala Organisation for Education and Culture. At that time, the four participants chose to focus their attention on the city of Marrakech’s inter-culturality, to grasp the diversity of its images, colours and sounds – in short, of its identity in all its plurality. They thus returned from Marrakech with 320 minutes of rushes, which they plan to edit this autumn in Beirut. The final version of the film will include the four readings, brought together through tight-knit editing.
The art of creating a common space and the art of stretching time were both undeniable characteristics of the work produced in the course of these two residencies. By enabling participants to freely pursue an ongoing and indepth project, the residencies organised by Transeuropéennes and its partners in the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Cultural Workshops have been able to play a determinant role both in fostering networking between young artists and researchers from the Mediterranean area, and in the circulation of ideas beyond borders. This success, however, is dependent on stability both of partnerships and of financial backing.