Daily Star article - talk20 |3|

Bringing a dash of vaudeville to creative academic discourse
AUB hosts evening of art, design, architecture presentations
By Matthew Mosley and M J Sirois
Special to The Daily Star Monday, March 30, 2009

BEIRUT: Variety and brevity - a lot of acts, none of them lasting long enough to become tedious - were among the virtues of vaudeville. The spirit of that antique form has found a home in Talk20, which attracted a capacity crowd to the American University of Beirut's Hostler Center on Friday evening for two hours of presentations - this despite the driving rain.
The informal event saw Lebanese artists, designers and architects take the stage alongside AUB students to present casual presentations. The brief was simple. Each participant was permitted 20 slides, with each slide, and accompanying chatter, showing for 20 seconds.
Produced in a variety of cities around the world, Talk20 events happen locally within a global network of practitioners interested in promoting greater exchange between creative professionals and a wider audience. By giving each presenter a 20-slide, 20-second limit within an otherwise relaxed environment, Talk20 seeks to break down the borders of status in favor of unhindered interaction.
"Pretentiousness can be a problem in Lebanon ... that blocks the exchange of creative ideas," said organizer Carla Aramouny, who founded brought the event to Beirut. "We want to work on enhancing the networking aspect of the event, so everyone can get connected in a positive way."
"Talk20 is not a lecture but a gathering," reads the ubiquitous website blurb, "an open forum for the dissemination of ideas in art, architecture, and design."
The third edition of the Beirut event included Katrine Holmfeld and Mirene Arsanios of the Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts (Ashkal Alwan), video artist and co-founder of the Beirut Art Center Lamia Joreige, just returned from the Sharjah Biennial, and animation artist Lina Ghaibeh and graphic artist May Ghaibeh.
They shared the stage with, architects Karim Najjar, Bernard Mallat and Raed Abillama and AUB architecture students Joey Abu Jawdeh and Anthony Khoury, landscape architects Maha Issa and Gamar Markarian, musician and vocalist Salma Mousfi and DJ Jade, fashion designer Milia Maroun, and a student group who chronicled their AUB-sponsored trip to India under the name "India x20."
Within its 20x20 timeframe, participants expounded upon their artistic and cultural output. Organizers hope that this forum will serve to kick-start a dialogue among Beirut's frequently diffused creative community.
The constraints provoked a variety of responses. Some participants took a relatively straightforward approach. Holmfield and Arsanios, for example, used their 400 seconds to explain the various activities of Ashkal Alwan - which is responsible for the Home Works Forum on artistic practices, and is building up an archive of contemporary Lebanese art.
Other speakers used their slot as a creative opportunity in its own right. Landscape architects Issa and Markarian created an imaginary narrative with the starting point of a handsome man in a bar asking the dreaded question, "So what is it exactly that you do?"
The talk meandered through a variety of possible responses, taking in several rounds of drinks and competition from a rival woman. Along the way, spectators discovered the joys and frustrations of being a landscape architect, and the fact that for each Beirut resident there is less than one square meter of green space.
A number of presentations spoke to the frustrations to creativity in Lebanon. Architect Bernard Mallat explained his concept of "architectural tai chi," in which he endeavors to use Lebanon's constricting building regulations against the planners themselves.
Some participants built their talks around more abstract themes. Milia Maroun used her allotted time to reflect on the idea of recognition and how an artist should respond to success. Accompanying her musings were a series of backstage stills from the latest collection of her brand "Milia M" in Milan. Singer Salma Mousfi discussed the "filters" that an artist must use in creating a work. She guided the audience through the process of creating her latest album, "Salmanova," explaining how she "filtered" the various possibilities at each stage: The studio, the producer, the instrumentalists and the artist for the album cover.
The Ghaibeh twins provided a particularly charming 400 seconds. Standing side-by-side, looking utterly identical, they discussed their artistic exploration of their identity as twins. In one slide, they had superimposed the left-hand side of Lina's face on May's right, and vice-versa. It was clear from the resulting asymmetric images that they are not in fact identical.
On the other hand, they told the audience, twins are actually more similar to each other than clones. Since they originate from the same egg, they have one extra characteristic in common. In a short video, the twins re-enacted a recurring dream in which their twin disappears into an elevator, never to be seen again.
"The event shows students that there are a large number of people actually out there and doing something," Aramouny said, noting that the event works to encourage students from AUB and other Lebanese universities to remain motivated in their work.
Though students from architecture, design, or other creative fields were present, the audience included a variety of disciplines and simply curious passersby who heard about the event by word of mouth. Fans of Mashrou3 Leila, who played a few songs to introduce the event, lingered after the music finished to watch Talk20's eclectic mix of presentations.
"Creative work in Lebanon is often done in isolation," lamented Aramouny, underlining the need for such an event to connect Lebanese professionals in creative disciplines. She mused that a sea change is underway.
"There is a vibe now to bring the art to the public, to make art a livelihood," she said. "You feel in Beirut a vibe to bring art closer to the people, art is becoming a trend ... it's an interesting moment to be experiencing here now."

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