A selection of chapters, essays and texts over 1500 words -partly to distinguish from those selected in Culture_Crit– will follow and build backwards as well as forwards. I’ll link to a site/page or book wherever possible, resort to a pdf or even screengrab if it suits. I might produce a fruitstore note to add commentary, update or otherwise engage with some of what follows:
. ‘Utopian Dust Versus Perfumed Amplification – Object Lessons from Saadiyat Island and Gehry’s Guggenheim, Abu Dhabi‘ pp292-309, Future Imperfect (Sternberg Press) December 2016
I am making tracks – Guy Mannes-Abbott
Orig. published 26 June 2014 by Ibraaz, an updated version is forthcoming in the Anthony Downey edited Future Imperfect: Contemporary Art Practices and Cultural Institutions in the Middle East from Sternberg Press. Look out for the special fold-out poster-wrap cover (designed by Zak Group) which is an image I took of the Louvre Abu Dhabi mid-construction, also in the (online) essay. A contents page for the book along with Downey’s introductory chapter can be found here.
. As Mud as Clear – WdW Review Vol.1 Arts, Culture, and Journalism in Revolt (Witte De With, Rotterdam) Forthcoming January 2107.
‘Better the Turks than the Pope!’ – Protestant Badge in the Shape of a Half-moon, 1574.
A talk I gave at the conference held at Witte de With in February 2015, linked to a major exhibition: The Sultan’s World at BOZAR, Brussels. ‘As Mud as Clear’ was reworked to appear online first on WdWReview’s site and is now forthcoming in the collection WdW Review Vol.1 Arts, Culture, and Journalism in Revolt scheduled for January 2017.
“This publication is an anthology of the thoughts and reflections that have been published on Witte de With’s online platform WdW Review since its inception in 2013, bringing together the platform’s four sections — namely Desks, Think, Image, and Sediments — as a printed collection of essays, cartoons, and image readings.”
Available in all proper books stores and online here.
. On Activating the Politics of Art in an Age of Globalised Systems – Art Review Magazine May 2016 pp86-90
May 2016 Featuring: Wayne Thiebaud; David Hammons; John Berger; Guy Mannes-Abbott on art and labour; transgression in 1980’s Latin American photography; an interview with Savonarola; plus columns and reviews from around the world.
Click on the images to read the pages
NB: this was focused on the broad new argument it lays out and discusses but was in final edits just as the Guggenheim pulled out of extended ‘live’ negotiations in which GL had introduced NGOs and international unions to the Guggenheim and its board in New York, after 6 years of trying. The board and their director, Richard Armstrong, were thus enabled to resolve the exploitation of migrant labour at their Saadiyat site -with concrete measures from those already implementing solutions on the ground- but decided to abort and walk away instead. So, background references to GAD had to be built-on and foregrounded, perhaps making the crucial affirmative turn at the end of the text seem less likely.
“My approach is instinctively and ultimately affirmative. It is a poetic (re)conception of the ‘everything’ of global systems, in place of the sensible imbrications of prose -which always knows its limits. I see continuities rather than contrast between acts of aesthetic innovation and ‘politically’ activated art practice. The former can become or generate the latter -immediately, tangibly, easily…”
In any case, the text contains some articulations of larger ethical-creative qualities and dimensions of the future-present which are all about thinking and making forwards…
. GUY MANNES-ABBOTT Ala Younis: Figuring Lesser Baghdadis (One to Seven) | Camera Austria 132 | December 2015 pp29-40
From the preface: “The contribution on Ala Younis in the present issue goes back to her participation in this year’s Venice Biennale. In “Plan for Greater Baghdad” (2015), she references Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1957 redesign of the city as “Persianate fantasia”. The Gymnase de Bagdad reached completion—in accordance with Le Corbusier’s plans from the 1950s—in 1980, at a time when millions of oil dollars were expediting the modernisation of the city. Guy Mannes-Abbott takes a fragmented approach to reconstructing this phase and contextualises the many misunderstandings and violations within history that were so fundamental to this modernisation.”
This text is an e.thing-like essay and response to Ala’s work which we intended as a ‘small collaboration’ too. My way-in to this very rich and complex subject is most directly through the work and person of the late indefinitely great Mohamed Makiya as well as the contemporaneous work that Corbusier was doing in India, at Chandigarh of course, but more significantly also in Ahmedabad, Gujarat -with which I have a real intimacy. Baghdad and this period of revolutionary change, is such a rich, under-explored or -articulated series of areas that I had to approach it in a very particular way, hence the series of seven texts -closer to the poetic than to narrative prose.
Thus Figuring Lesser Baghdadis (One to Seven) assembles crystalline shards which reflect what I bring to this offering to Baghdad (one of my old supports was Makiya’s book called Baghdad (London Alwarrak Pub. 2005), selected from his extensive collection of images and maps -as well as postcards and books- which was auctioned at Sothebys in 2015). There are many very good reasons for the awkward precision I am trying to articulate! One of them, not mentioned in the text but on my mind is a pair of family photographs of a great grandfather taken in Basra, “Mesopotamia” as his hand has it, where he was inspecting British military hospitals as a surgeon/military officer in 1916…
PDF: Figuring Lesser Baghdadis (One to Seven) ©Guy Mannes-Abbott (Ala Younis) Camera Austria #132 2015
(NB – This was a joy to do, but despite an extraordinary diligence with this commission, editing and translation, CA somehow messed up the printed text! The last two paragraphs of segment Two here, should be at the start of segment Three. The German runs correctly.)
. #34 ‘COMMONS VIEW (SELF-MANAGING 1 TO 27)’ BY GUY MANNES-ABBOTT | Various Small Fires NOVEMBER 28, 2015
1. Here’s an everyday photograph of a scene so familiar to Londoners, that it can’t be seen, as such. A postcard never bought or sent. A witless selfie-opportunity…
2. In fact, this is one overfamiliar sight you cannot have seen before. The image is a retouched photograph, akin to an architectural visualisation. It dates from May 1972 when it accompanied proposals for the removal of three storeys of the Post Office’s Faraday House (aka Faraday Building S Block) in response to decades of criticism that its height obscured views of St Paul’s Cathedral. The Post Office concluded that it would cost £850,000 to meet the City of London planner’s aspiration and that was that…
5. Beyond that, I’m interested in articulating a radical alternative to this proprietorial articulation of our city.
Read on for a radical re-articulation of not just the London View Management Framework but how London is approached and how different that might be.
(With thanks to Thierry Bal. More of his wonderful project here: Various Small Fires)
. In Bhupen Khakhar’s car & Muhafiz Khan’s Masjid by Guy Mannes-Abbott in the launch issue of Oberon magazine | pp 30-41, September 2015
Oberon is an elegantly produced periodical emerging from Copenhagen/Sydney, liberally and exactly illustrated, in this case with Bhupen’s work, my own images of Baroda and Ahmedabad, as well as the V&A’s images of modelled parts of MK’s remarkable masjid, carved minbar, jharockas etc. -including my images from 2002 and 2013 of pogrom damage and its hand-carved repair.
Here is link to an excerpt from my Bhupen text, a unique account of witnessing the 2002 state-authorised massacres of Muslims in cities like Baroda and Ahmedabad and much of the rest of Gujarat too. Witnessing some of that with Bhupen in his car -or the Maruti he was using while his own car was being fixed. I gently urge you to order a copy from my friends at Oberon here. Issue 1 includes interviews with Charles Lim/Shabbir Hussain Mustafa and Nasan Tur. Issue 3 is imminent!
The second text literally grew out of a footnote to the first, my mention of the specific qualities of sanctuary to be found in the stone-cut architecture of masjids in the context of a late work of Bhupen’s capturing them. It begins like this:
“Muhafiz Khan’s masjid, or mosque, condenses all the best qualities of Ahmedabad’s architectural innovation and allure: my first and last favourite in the city. A city founded as the capital of Sultanate Gujarat and thereafter frequently in the vanguard of medieval and modern Indian life…
Ahmedabad was founded on the east bank of the Sabarmati river in 1411 and became the first fully articulated Islamic city in India, bustling with continuous life ever since. Muhafiz Khan’s masjid dates for 1492, the peak moment in a century and a half of invention during which the city rivalled Delhi for wealth and cultural influence. (1) Ahmedabad’s finely-conceived old city inspired Emperor Akbar to his own heights at Fatehpur Sikri after conquering Gujarat in 1572-3(2), and is still largely present today in its fort and caravanserai, in its run of riverside bastions and walls, processional gateways, exquisite tombs and masjids.
MK’s masjid, as with many of these elegant buildings, is best encountered just after dawn or at least during the making of morning…”
. Guy Mannes-Abbott | To boycott or who to boycott: from the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Sydney and Istanbul Biennials, to boots and Brecht | Broadsheet 43.2 | June 2014 pp36-39
Dust on Boots | Labour Camp Abu Dhabi March 2014 | ©GuyMannes-Abbott
“I’m talking with a migrant construction worker of some rank about the conditions that he and those under him live and work with on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. He speaks calmly and authoritatively in urdu and english in response to questions and prompts from others, adding queries of his own as we proceed…
A fiery sun descends through the men while we talk. I point a camera at ‘nothing’ so that it will record their voices at least. When I watch later, ‘nothing’ has been transformed into the booted feet of men just returned from the day shift. I’m transfixed by the dust on the tips of their boots, beneath the measured detailing of systemic abuse. A dust rendered invisible in this place: obsessively swept out of sight like the men themselves but which, once located, speaks with resonant affect.”
. Theaster Gates: ‘My Labor is My Protest’ Guy Mannes-Abbott | Third Text 125 Vol. 27 Issue 6 November 2013 pp 811-814
I wrote about Theaster Gates first White Cube show, which opened November 2012. I wasn’t aware of major changes underway at the same time -though was shown an ugly extended correspondence soon after- and my critical scepticism about the lazy spectacularity of this inaugural show, both from the perspective of a White Cube still engaged in reflex bigging-up which had ‘delivered’ for so long but which was inappropriate with this work, and Gates himself, whom I felt badly misread the stage and strategy in depressing ways. I wanted to try to confront these difficult things with exactitude in print, and have (almost) regretted it ever since!
But, WC has undergone a major curatorial regrouping since then, and Gates’s second show there was of a different order, a properly serious exhibition of ongoing work. It’s not a matter of my having been proven right, though I do definitely think ‘we’ should be prepared to engage and critique each other from within as well as stay silent in dumb ‘solidarity’. I would prefer to have been wrong, to have overstated the case -and yes, I would tweak here and there… You are the judge/s!
(more to follow…)
. Mohamed Makiya – Deeply Baghdadi | Guy Mannes-Abbott | Bidoun Issue 18 INTERVIEWS Summer 2009 pp56-65
Click cover image for a link to INTERVIEWS -a fierce treat if it’s new to you and only 1 of 28 grand gorgeous, crazy and authoritative but unquestionably essential issues here: BIDOUN
“Guy Mannes-Abbott: Could you describe the world you were born into?
Mohamed Makiya: It was like the Middle Ages. I wouldn’t have to read about a medieval city because I lived it. There was no electricity, no water, no sanitation. I’m very much influenced by it. I’m deeply Baghdadi, and I’ve been thinking of Baghdad all my life. My father died when I was young, and as a child I worked for my uncle, who had a shop in the souk. Every day, I opened the shop for him. When I got out of school, I did my lessons in the shop. I had to hide my books under the counter so my uncle wouldn’t see me — he wanted me to pay attention to the customers.
We lived in a prominent Shia neighborhood called Suq Al Ghazl, very central, and close to something called the Weaver’s Mosque that went back to the Abbasid period and Baghdad’s founding. Our family was a prominent weaving family. My father would get the materials from the Silk Route and from China. He was one of the main dealers, and my cousin had one of the best shops in Baghdad for textiles. Later he started bringing them from Italy, but before that we brought everything from Aleppo, Syria, because the industry there was very good. Modernity first came to Iraq from Damascus, Syria, and the Mediterranean.
GMA: So if, as you say, you are Baghdad, if this upbringing is in all you do, how did the actual house in which you grew up influence you and your work?
MM: At the time, I didn’t think about the design of my father’s house. It was only later that I came to appreciate it. It was a masterful study of space. How could an area of less than 200 meters house five families? There was a central court and a diwan and a basement. There was a bent entrance and within it a place to sit so that somebody could read the Qur’an if they wanted to. Above, there were five rooms, but the roof was a sleeping space. I learned then that the sky is a roof itself. The whole idea of the house was very important to me.”
I was fortunate enough to spend quite a few hours with Mohamed Makiya, over a number of visits and exchanges. There is a lot in this interview, itself a condensation of tens of thousands of words, but so much more to discover and write! There are good but partial books (in English) about him but I hope an independently authoritative account of his life and work will emerge in time (a biography has been commissioned). He and I did get beneath the skin and some way further but I wish he were still with us and that I could keep ‘exploring’ with him and, of course, his buildings across the region -an absolute necessity. His exact age was not recorded but his mother said he was born ‘when the British came’, itself disputable, but he was about a 100 when he died in 2015.
What did he make of this piece? I don’t truly know, of course, but he did send me a very nice gift when he had had time to read the copy I gave him…
. Mourid Barghouti: The Bombing and the Bombed English P.E.N. 2008
. Brink-Man: Mourid Barghouti at Midnight | Introduction (pp9-28) | Midnight and Other Poems Mourid Barghouti (Arc 2008)
“I’ve heard Mourid read his poetry many times since it began to appear in English. He reads without introduction or quip and the work is received in stunned silence. Audiences realise they’re hearing work of lasting rarity on first encounter. Work that wrestles with the particular and universal in unique ways. The poems have an openness which encloses great depths, their lines draw landscapes in your palm, catch the skin with universal truths.
Barghouti is also the author of a classic memoir of exile, I Saw Ramallah, in which he describes writing itself as a displacement. As this doubly-displaced writer, he had published five collections of poetry by his mid-30s. The fifth, Poems of the Pavement published in 1980, marked an important shift…
… However, I see in this endlessly denied and deferred existence potential for new life. Amidst desolation in the shadows of stolen hills, there is a refusal of defeat and a resistance to closure constitutive of poetry. ‘Midnight’ is also a message of doubt to the victorious, something with revolutionary – by which I mean real life, actual and historical – potency. Mourid Barghouti’s poetry is a writing against all conceivable odds: brinkmanship of the highest aesthetic order.”
“Midnight at last gathers into English a generous selection of his poetry in a bilingual edition, with original texts partnered by lean and supple translations from the Arabic by the Egyptian novelist and critic Radwa Ashour (the poet’s wife). Guy Mannes-Abbott supplies a revealing essay, enriched by interviews with Barghouti, on this “taut and often tortured writing” that “emerges from the deepest realms of our humanity”…
Midnight, a radiant cry from the vanquished, delivers its heavy load of thwarted wishes. In compensation, and as a balm for battered hearts and minds, Barghouti’s insight and warmth grace every page of this precious collection.”
“In 2004 TANK reprinted extracts from my extensive notebooks on Gujarat in western India. They’re taken from the days of “mass massacres” when I was locked up under curfew in my room on the 4th floor of a hotel, forbidden to leave the building or even to go as low as the 1st floor…”
For extensive, read hundreds of thousands of words, part of millions altogether, thousands of images, hundreds of people, hundreds of days, tens of thousands of kilometres, and crucial re-circlings that turn these numbers into much more difficult-to-acquire qualitative understanding, experience, time-limited authority (then, not so much now, although the time of Gujarat does not stand or fall on single decades) deployed in a manuscript that got thwarted and which I will return to during 2018. We began working with Penguin India to publish it there first which made me very happy because that sweated-out manuscript was written from somewhere between there and here, London. Closer to ‘there’, in fact. Also because India, at a deeply engaged level; under-the-skin if not of the flesh (can I write that?), is barely part of British consciousness or even curiosity. The willed mystification and associated disinterest has long been bewildering to me (outside new-academic interests, like this wonderful-looking book; Jinnealogy (Stanford UP) about the reviving from ground-up of Firoz Shah kotla in Old Delhi, which made me so happy to stumble upon some years back. Nothing to do with Gujarat, except that everything is; Firoz Shah and army were almost deliberately stranded in the Rann of Kachhch by local trackers, on his return from Sindh in the 14th century). However, the world goes on changing and Gujarat and my authoritative manuscript about it and its astonishing stories and people doesn’t need that kind of curiosity so much any more and Britain can afford the lack of it even less. ‘We’ are heading back into an age of begging for coastal Factories or equivalent in reverse, certainly if Brexit take place. The manuscript, which I will want to revise/revive having only been in Gujarat once in recent years were I saw superficial and substantive changes, is unique when it comes to this most interesting state -so often in the vanguard of subcontinental life. It also rehearses the way that these greatly influential centres rise and fall and rise again. My manuscript was badly hit by Penguin India’s actual lack of independence when budgets and lists were severely cut from afar. Then it fell into an agent-shaped hole, with a new agent who preferred to break the contract they had just had me sign, rather than countenance my writing anything in relation to ‘Ramallah’. I’ll save quotes about A Gram for the eventual book cover/bumpf, but it captures valuable, grubbed-up primary research, has some highly affective chapters (including the one built for these kinds of fragments) that interweave personal, public and historic elements, as well as engaging many large, universal, eternal things -things which a world in melt is having to figure out again- with urgent clarity. I have a lot else to do right now, some of which -in the Gulf- stirs directly related Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean pots, but will recover this during this year, and keep you posted!
Link to the published text and some reflective notes in Tank here.
. Forster’s India | Introduction to Shared Experience’s production of A Passage to India at the Lyric Hammersmith 2004
“(Forster) is surprisingly steely about India’s flaws and incisive about the costs of Imperial domination for all involved. Forster was interested in intimate actualities as well as eternal questions, but everything personal in British India was political -as the novel demonstrates. However, his had been a passage towards Indians, not just an impersonal India. As such it mirrors the Indian notion of parikrama, signifying both a circuitous pilgrimage , and a journey out for the self towards the other.”
. dot dot dot Gavin Turk catalogue essay 2003
. MC is… Before and After: The Fall Sadlers Wells 2001
“… This enables us to conceive of new, mobile, dirty Utopian enclosures whereby limits are drawn and theorized within in ways that are physically traceless (but no less potently actual for that). This is a Utopianism written in time (time in space rather than space in time). It is a Utopianism, therefore, of dynamic form – as opposed to prescriptive schema. A Utopianism that is broken-down, miniaturized, cobbled together, as light and mobile as digital space, an insistent and necessary hope against hope. It is a dirty Utopianism that can take something elemental (like time) and transform it.
In Wong Kar-Wai’s film Days of Being Wild the lead character eventually persuades a woman who is resolutely refusing his advances to spend a random minute with him in silence. After huddling together watching the seconds pass, he declares that from 16 April 1960 ‘we’ve been friends for one minute. This is a fact you can’t deny. It’s happened’ – he will always remember it. This act of memorializing forms the film’s narrative dynamic and it does prove unforgettable in peculiar ways. But it is also an act that exceeds its context; the political instability in Hong Kong at this time, and the totally dissolute, incoherent, listlessly ‘in-between’ lives that characterize the film and the period in which it was made – the 1990s (so brilliantly staged in Kar-Wai’s classic pair, Chungking Express and Fallen Angels).
This is an ‘act proper’ in the Zizekian sense – a hysterical, decontextualizing act that precipitates qualitative change. This is so in terms of the film itself but also in terms of Kar-Wai’s reworking of the experience of the millennial city and its globalized cultural spaces. It is a Utopian act in a form and of a material available to us all. It is a bursting forth, highly mobile, unanchored Utopianism, technologically and spatially contemporary: a generative, radical act. It also invokes a notion of threshold in which such an act involves the destruction of what is (in this instance, the shiny static junkyard of postmodernity). It is modest but potent, elemental not sophisticated, individual yet incorporative. It is dirty Utopianism…”
. SC is… on Sophie Calle for Sexy Machinery 2000
. Indian Blooms – catalogue essay pp 18-23 | Drawing Space – Sheila Gowda, NS Harsha, Nasreen Mohamedi – inIVA 2000
“Mohamedi’s work often takes the form of dense concentrations of lines or line patterns, precise markings that ripple rhythmically across paper, suggesting both very small and very large spaces. Drawn with pencil and ink, the lies stretch out towards abstraction but ar interrupted with sudden blocks of finite space and linked with shadowy threshold zones, sometimes patterned regularly , sometimes geometrically irregular. Mohamedi’s photographs reveal an obsessive interest in form, light, structure and human landscapes, and her journals -coloruful lines upon lines, epigrammatic prose, aphoristic in density as well as haiku-like in suggestivity- continue this aesthetised concentration…
Mohamedi is drawing in space; hers is the space usually make day architecture -potential, abstract, planned. Her lines have topographical echoes, from deserts to agricultural landscapes, and hint at the weave of textiles. The bear strange alliances to Islamic and Corbusier-inspired architectures and state a specifically Nehruvian modernity. Her forms echo Soviet constructivism and Eisenstein’s formalism -from steps to pyramids- but perhaps, most of all, they recall the patterning , detail and dense richness of Islamic art and architectural decoration. In this ways, her drawings are both freed of context and nothing but their contexts …
The work of all these artists carries influence, in a world in which connectivity is now a multidirectional, healthily unstable process. It is as potent as the most vital contemporary art being produced today and exudes a whole range of compulsive attractions.”