– Spring 2014

Tony Chakar: On Black Holes

Haig Aivazian

I. Homes and Storytelling

Jacques André Boiffard, Bouche (Mouth), 1929, black-and-white photograph. Image reproduced from Tony Chakar, The Eyeless Map, Beirut: Ashkal Alwan, 2003; originally printed in Documents, issue 5, 1929

I’ll tell you how this functions: I am going to use a metaphor from astrophysics...
I was wondering how they found out that there was a black hole, because a black hole by definition is something that you cannot see, but apparently they know about it because of the movement of the stars around it... the way that the stars move and the way that the light is tilted and the gravity... and all of this stuff is
 an indication of a really strong singularity within that galaxy. So what I... will try and do is exactly this. I am not going to talk about the war, but I am going 
to present... a constellation with these stars: everything that I show you is one of those stars.1

Tony Chakar teaches art history as well as the history of architecture in the Académie Libanaise des Beaux Arts (ALBA) in Beirut. He is an architect, writer and artist: the order of those attributes may change depending on when and where his biography is published, and he often identifies as the first or the first two, but never as an artist alone. It may not

  1. Tony Chakar, The Eighth Day: God created the world in seven days. This is the eighth day., lecture- performance presented at the ‘Touched Talks’ programme, Liverpool Biennial, 2 June 2010. A recording of the performance is available at http://vimeo.com/13263071 (last accessed on 29 October 2013).
The text has also been published as an eponymous article in Architectural Design, vol.80, no.5, September/ October 2010, pp.74—77.

  2. See Walter Benjamin, ‘The Storyteller’ (1936), Illuminations (ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn), New York and London: Random House, 1999, p.91.

  3. T. Chakar, ‘Once Upon a Time There Was a Mouth’, The Eyeless Map, Beirut: Ashkal Alwan, 2003, pp.24—25. See also Paul Virilio, Desert Screen: War at the Speed of Light (1991, trans. Michael Degener), London and New York: Continuum, 2002.

  4. W. Benjamin, ‘The Storyteller’, op. cit., p.90.

  5. Ibid.

  6. T. Chakar, One Hundred Thousand Solitudes, lecture-performance at the 11th Sharjah Biennial, 
9 April 2013.

  7. T. Chakar, ‘Once Upon a Time There Was a Mouth’, op. cit., p.19.

  8. W. Benjamin, ‘The Storyteller’, op. cit., p.93.

  9. Chakar’s ongoing project One Hundred Thousand Solitudes proposes a reading of the images of the 
so-called Arab Spring circulating on social media as the manifestation of a messianic time. The title
of the piece is based on a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, who described the city of Venice as being constituted by ‘a hundred profound solitudes together’. See T. Chakar, ‘One Hundred Thousand Solitudes’, in ‘Home Works 6: Programme Guide’ [exh. brochure], Beirut: Ashkal Alwan, 2013, p.35.

  10. ‘In July 2006, during the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, those of us who were fortunate enough to live
in relatively safe areas had a distinct and eerie feeling of the war coming back. By “war” I mean the Lebanese Wars of 1975 to 1990, where at least 200,000 people were killed.’ T. Chakar, The Eighth Day: God Created The World In Seven Days. This Is The Eighth Day., op. cit.

  11. Stephen Wright, ‘Territories of Difference: Excerpts from an E-mail Exchange between Tony Chakar, Bilal Khbeiz and Walid Sadek’, in Suzanne Cotter (ed.), Out of Beirut (exh. cat.), Oxford: Modern Art Oxford, 2006, p.64.

  12. See T. Chakar, ‘Once Upon a Time There Was a Mouth’, op. cit., p.21.

  13. Conversation with the artist, 29 July 2013.

  14. T. Chakar. The Eighth Day: God Created the World in Seven Days. This is the Eighth Day., op. cit.

  15. T. Chakar, ‘Once Upon a Time There Was a Mouth’, op. cit., p.37.

  16. See ‘Spectral Iconic Appearances’ (interview between Ellen Mara de Wachter and T. Chakar), Springerin, vol.8, issue 4, Autumn 2008, available at http://www.springerin.at/dyn/heft_text. php?textid=2138&lang=en (last accessed on 29 October).

  17. The lecture at the 11th Sharjah Biennial took place on 9 April 2013; the one at the 6th Home Works forum in Beirut on 23 May 2013.

  18. T. Chakar, ‘One Hundred Thousand Solitudes’, in ‘Home Works 6: Programme Guide’, op. cit.

  19. T. Chakar, The Dialogue That Is Us, Sharjah: Sharjah Art Foundation, 2013, p.4.

  20. T. Chakar, ‘One Hundred Thousand Solitudes’, in ‘Home Works 6: Programme Guide’, op. cit. Perhaps, too, this is the very Virilian horizon that Chakar is facing on his monitor while looking at the image of the Egyptian woman distributing mangos, experiencing these revolutionary moments through social media sites, or ‘in other words’, as he writes in the description of the project in the Home Works guide, ‘from deep within our solitude and isolation.’

  21. W. Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, Illuminations, op. cit., p.247.

  22. ‘Spectral Iconic Appearances’, op. cit.

  23. Ibid.

  24. Marie-José Mondzain, L’Image peut-elle tuer?, Paris: Bayard Éditions, 2002, p.36. Translation the author’s.

  25. Ibid., p.37.

  26. Ibid.

  27. ‘Spectral Iconic Appearances’, op. cit.

  28. Chakar’s notion of ‘messianic times without a messiah’ is derived from Derrida’s notion of a 
‘messianism without a messiah’. As scholar Owen Ware puts it, ‘Derrida distinguishes between messianism (as a specific determination of the emancipatory event within the overarching telos
of history), and messianicity (as the basic “experience” of an emancipatory promise that always stands in relation to the unrealisable future-to-come).’ O. Ware, ‘Dialectic of the Past/Disjuncture
of the Future: Derrida and Benjamin on the Concept of Messianism’, Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, April 2004, p.100. Derrida’s notion builds upon Benjamin’s concept of the ‘messianic times’ (largely developed in ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’), which is also central to Chakar’s own view of history. See W. Benjamin ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, op. cit.

  29. T. Chakar, ‘One Hundred Thousand Solitudes’, in ‘Home Works 6: Programme Guide’, op. cit.

  30. T. Chakar, ‘Once Upon a Time There Was a Mouth’, op. cit., p.39.

  31. T. Chakar, ‘Living in an Idea’, Parachute, no.108, Autumn 2002, p.61.

  32. See Victor Burgin, In/Different Spaces: Place and Memory in Visual Culture, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996, p.141.

  33. See T. Chakar, Traces of Life, Sharjah: Sharjah Biennial, 2003, p.90.

  34. Bernardo Zacka, ‘Travel as Ethos: Spatial Exercises in the Work of Tony Chakar’, Grey Room, no.50, 
Winter 2013, p.54.

  35. In the introduction to his book Warped Space, Anthony Vidler writes that Erwin Panofsky and 
Hubert Damisch both agreed that ‘modernism did not entirely disturb the reign of perspectival culture’. A. Vidler, Warped Space, Cambridge MA, and London: The MIT Press, 2000, p.9. Similarly, in his essay ‘The City in Pieces’, Burgin quotes Henri Lefebvre as saying ‘common sense space, Euclidian space and perspectivist space did not disappear in a puff of smoke without leaving any trace in our consciousness, knowledge or educational methods.’ V. Burgin, In/Different Spaces, op. cit., p.144.

  36. Ibid., p.143.

  37. T. Chakar, The Eyeless Map, Beirut: Ashkal Alwan, 2003, p.31.

  38. Ibid., p.38.

  39. Ibid.

  40. T. Chakar, ‘Convulsive Fables’, The Eyeless Map, op. cit., p.7.

  41. Ibid., p.11.

  42. Chakar has been giving this guided tour for a long time. However, the first one to be officially titled 
The Sky Over Beirut dates back to the 5th Home Works forum in Beirut in 2010.

  43. ‘Spectral Iconic Appearances’, op. cit. The city here is again anthropomorphised.

  44. Ibid.

  45. ‘To be sure, only a redeemed mankind receives the fullness of its past.’ W. Benjamin, ‘Theses on the 
Philosophy of History’, op. cit., p.246.

  46. ‘The flâneur who turns the street into a living room commits an act of transgression, which reverses 
an established distinction between public and private spaces.’ V. Burgin, In/Different Spaces, op. cit., p.145.