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In/Visible Accumulations: Spatial Production and the Erosion of National(ist) Mythologies

Panel X-21, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
What is the relationship between spatial organization and ideology? How are national(ist) projects objectified and materialized in public institutions? Alternatively, what does neglect or aversion to certain spaces by leaders reflect, refract or structure in terms of access, belonging, and relationality with systems of capital and bodily control? What is the relationship between a visitor to a place and the place itself? Our panel takes up case studies from Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon to comparatively examine the (re)production of space in relation to national(ist) projects. By interrogating the relative and contingent in/visibility of aspects of specific museums and neighborhoods, our analyses focus on unpacking the operation of processural national myth-making in material means. Whether curated carefully or seemingly left to "decay," space organizes social relationships as well as working as an interface between the past and the present. Cumulatively, senses of dis/order are mediated through the affect generated by smell, sight, and sound, among other things.
  • Mx. Tess Waggoner -- Organizer, Presenter
  • Maysam Taher -- Discussant, Chair
  • Brian Plungis -- Presenter
  • Aida Bardissi -- Organizer, Presenter
  • Ms. Lidia Helou -- Presenter
  • Mx. Tess Waggoner
    In April 2017, the Adana (Archaeology) Museum opened as the first installment of a museum complex planned at the site of a former textile factory. The former factory where the museum is now housed was originally established by Kozmas Aristedes. Following massacres and expulsions of non-Muslim residents, the factory was nationalized, and later privatized as part of neoliberal economic reforms. During its tenure as a state-run textile mill, the location was immortalized in the social imagination by one of its laborers: famed novelist Orhan Kemal. Kemal’s 1957 classic Watchman Murtaza depicted the lifeworlds of laborers in the factory and the violent consequences of egoistic chauvinism in the name of duty. This study offers a trans-textual reading of the museum site, examining patterns across shifts in management and design of the space and the broader socioeconomic and political forces with which they are entangled. My discussion of the factors surrounding the changes in factory management over time will be contextualized in terms of political economy, (forced) migration and majoritarian state policies. The thrust of this research points to broader patterns of effacement, revision, and branding across time(1907-2022). Combining visual, spatial and textual analysis, I ask, what might the Adana Museum site's layers reveal about the entanglement of capital and political power in the Turkish Republic? Visual analysis of the new museum complex indicates the perpetuation of century-old museological tropes, especially through enforcing didactic chronological spatial design and reinforcing binary categories through aesthetic mediation of exhibits. The creation and display of new objects like dioramas and mannequins for the new museum reflect the persistence of the location as a locus of production long after it ceased (physical) manufacturing operations. In my analysis, the factory/museum site can be understood as a stage on which the (perceived and/or actual) distinction between state and capital accumulation, in/visible subject-hood, and senses of (national) duty play out. Reading the multilayered aesthetics and affects of the Adana Museum with an attention to erasure, revision and the provision of capital provides a mode to examine the multiple histories held up by, through and despite its renovated façade.
  • The neighborhood of Karantina (deformation of Quarantena) lies at the East of Beirut’s port, and was built in the 1830s as Beirut’s lazaretto to quarantine travelers and goods. Over the past two centuries, it has transformed into a site of nodal immigration history with waves of Palestinian, Kurd, and more recently Syrian refugees and Lebanese Shia composing the ranks of its residents. Now mostly known for its olfactive signature due to the mismanagement of waste materials and poor urban planning, Karantina has turned into a permanent antechamber to social and national integration. This study focuses on the production of Karantina as an “in-between” through the analysis of legal, textual, and sensorial archives. The paper first traces the legal and urban history of the neighborhood before delving into a sensorial study of Karantina’s identity. The methodology I employ in this exploration curates a combination of historical anthropology and legal history. The racial and xenophobic statal logics that underpin Karantina’s raison d’être and the invisibilization of its residents today are exposed in the paper through a demographic study of the space conducted in parallel with an examination of immigration laws that prohibit the acquisition of Lebanese citizenship and complicate the procurement of work permits for immigrants. Concurrently, I bolster the legal history of Karantina with translation theory and Jacques Derrida’s concept of hauntology to ask how Karantina cannot escape the determinism of its terminology. Following the legal exposé, I tackle the question of Karantina as a site of perpetual transit for its residents and state failure through the sensorial and ethnographic lens drawing on interviews and olfactory observations. From an illustration of statal efficiency and hygiene in the 1830s, Karantina has morphed into a mono-sensory metaphor of the failed state. Building on scholarship that has analyzed olfactive silence in relation to state-building in European urban history, and moving beyond an approach to Karantina as marked by traumatic events (namely the gruesome massacre of 1976 and the 2020 Beirut port explosion), this paper offers avenues to study the idea of citizenship in transit in a failed, even absent (spectral), state via the use of sensorial and legal history.
  • Brian Plungis
    Since 2014, the Iranian state has undertaken efforts to preserve decommissioned sites of petroleum production and consumption, in part by repurposing these buildings into museums documenting the history of the nation’s oil industry. A recent Ministry of Petroleum initiative is working to open oil industry museums in notable locations, such as at port cities and drilling rigs in the oil-bearing Southwest. The first ever oil museum in the country, however, was established in the small northeastern city of Sabzevar, nearly a decade prior to the state’s official foray into preserving Iran’s “industrial heritage.” Housed at an unassuming mid-century gas station, the Sabzevar Oil Museum chronicles the city’s development into a minor oil depot by the 1930s, which primarily serviced Mashhad before railways and pipelines linked the city to Tehran in the 1960s. While this city seems largely peripheral to key sectors of the Iranian oil industry, I argue that the anomalous Sabzevar Oil Museum helps to articulate an alternative socio-cultural history of the ‘national’ resource of oil – one that pushes back against conventional state and academic histories of Iranian development and industrialization. First, my presentation will combine archival research into Sabzevar’s industrial history with visual analysis of the oil museum’s photographic and technological artifacts in order to reflect on the museum’s curatorial choices and its attempted interventions into the national narrative of Iranian oil. Then, borrowing from critical energy theory, I will explore how the Sabzevar Oil Museum helps demonstrate that oil in Iran remains a relational social and cultural phenomenon, whose meaning in the shared social imaginary continues to be generated and circulated through the nation’s material infrastructures. In this sense, I intend to use Sabzevar as a launching point to reflect on the historiography of the national oil industry and its connections to Iranian political modernity. In light of state efforts to communicate a unified, national narrative of Iranian oil history in its museum initiatives, I contend that it is important to take notice of ‘unexceptional’ sites whose geographical and spatial staging suggest an array of experiences of Iranian “oil modernity” stratified by regional developments and infrastructural networks. Thus, in this presentation I hope to reflect on how processes of uneven fossil-fueled development remain deeply implicated with histories of modern ‘nation-making’ as well as contemporary debates over Iran’s national cultural heritage.
  • Aida Bardissi
    What is at stake when museums bring history ‘to life’ at the site of the Pharaonic Village? The Pharaonic Village, opened to the public in 1984, boasts several rooms that represent the so-called valences of Egyptian history and identity, as well as Jacob Island, the site upon which the live re-enactment of Pharaonic life is performed. Live re-enactments obfuscate subjectivity to open up new possibilities for the heterotopic in a hermeneutic and affective experience intended to narrate a particular heritage of grandeur as it relates to Ancient Egypt. Weaving in cultural policy, museology, and performance analysis I argue that the museum, which began as a "place of spectacle and visual arrangement," as exemplified by Dr. Timothy Mitchell's work on the World Exhibition of 1889, morphed into an archive of material culture, and has now returned to the state of a stage due to the promulgation of live re-enactment (Mitchell 1989, 221). I argue that the re-enactments of Ancient Egyptian ‘civilisation’ (and by proxy, ‘civility’) subverts the didactic capacity of the museum as it redraws a genealogy of authenticity to the Egyptian audience. First, this paper seeks to examine the key players in the (re)construction of what constitutes the genealogy of ‘modern-day’ Egyptian civilisation at the postcolonial juncture, namely extricating Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Taha Hussein as primary sources. Secondly, I will explore the capacity for the museum to function as a stage — a departure from Foucauldian theory — particularly as it relates to the colonial history of Egyptian artifacts and their archiving. Ultimately, this paper discusses the role of visual and material culture at the site of the Pharaonic Village by proposing the valences of subjectivity per Bhabha’s theory of ‘hybridity’ — in that the live re-enactment quite literally embodies a ’Third Space of enunciation’ through what Bennett labels a “mechanism of modernity” (Bennett 2017, 13).