Meeting by the Mediterranean Im/Possible
that have left no trace
visible to the eye,
creatures that don’t exist
on land or at sea
– Ahmed Morsi1
The 2023/24 season of UNIDEE Residency Modules takes form around an overarching non-theme: the Mediterranean.
Sea, region, adjective, border, weapon, destiny, Mediterranean holds as many meanings as there are voices uttering the word. The Mediterranean is the geo-historical region where the European colonial project originated, the contemporary space where it continues to renew its methodologies and to fuel its aspirations. The Mediterranean claimed by Europe, the Euro-Mediterranean, is a militarised borderland, an unachievable horizon, for scholar Hakim Abderrezak, a ‘seametery’.2 It is also what Edward Said would name an imaginative geography, a north-to-south oriented system of representation, carved out of European nations’ desires for identitarian ownership of the sea. The Mediterranean is a political project, a reified trope, a choice made in pursuit of a goal.3
In the past twenty years, Cittadellarte – Fondazione Pistoletto has been engaged in activities that variously reasoned on the Mediterranean as either subject matter or operational ground.4 Moved by the conviction that the Mediterranean offered special conditions to intervene on the mandate – shared by the institution with its founder Michelangelo Pistoletto – to enhance the role of art as an agent of socio-political change, the project Love Difference5 utilised a regional framing to organise gatherings of professionals and organisations, with the scope to promote inter-Mediterranean cooperation in the arts and beyond. At the basis of the undertaking lied a specific interpretation of the Mediterranean as single geography, and a tacit acknowledgment of the ability of geographical conceptualisation to function as a productive tool.
Unsettling this existing institutional approach, the residency programme Neither on Land nor at Sea names the Mediterranean that informs its curatorial arguments a non-theme. The wording stems from the belief that resisting un-problematic thematization of the Mediterranean is to reject the consolatory ease of the figurative value, of the usable representation. This is an invitation to rather linger in the uncomfortability of restless negotiation, of positionalities and perspectives. During the moments of aggregation offered by the residency formats, we will move through shared conversations and actions, exchanged knowledges and understandings, with the goal to trouble the singular imagination of the Mediterranean, and so to attempt making spaces of possibility out of unresolved and unresolvable territories. We will stay with a Mediterranean plural, which cannot be found in the exclusionary rhetoric of the natural inclination toward painless hybridity preached by northern shores. We will encounter opaque and ever-adjusting geographies, which do not reside in landscapes of approximation that flirt with the argument of Mediterranean unity as result of a ‘very special climate similar from one end to the other of the sea, which amalgamates landscapes and ways of life’.6 Indeed, far from the environmental determinism participating in the thought of the best known historian of the European Mediterranean, Fernand Braudel, we will be made to remember, with Arjun Appadurai, that ‘histories produce geographies and not vice versa’.7 And this working of time on space is never completed as, with Katherine McKittrick, geography is the result of society’s construction of space, and concealment, marginalization, boundaries all are always-renovating social processes.8
In early November 2022, when the curatorial work leading to the development of this new residencies’ season had just begun, we had the opportunity to welcome to Biella a small group of practitioners –curators, artists, researchers, facilitators– from art institutions and projects active in the broader Mediterranean region.9 In the course of the few days spent together we intertwined images and words, in a continuous storytelling that spoke of ambitions and shortcomings. We described locality as a mandate and as a methodology. We talked about friction as a necessity, infrastructures as content. We weighed up the disparity in the means and resources available to each of us, we compared modes of (para-)instituting. We discussed the illusion of the postcolonial, erasure and resistance. And we debated ways of being – or not – in/with a regional geography some of us may have felt called to manifest. This first event, which anticipated a project yet to be written, seemed to crack some of its codes with unexpected precision. Venturing into tales of many Mediterraneans, while choreographing the temporary cartography of hospitality, fostered a double orientation, in which the position of the host and the guest were constantly rearranged. Can the act of evoking/making geographies in a malleable terrain of encounter allow for the unlocking of new ‘caveats of care’10 in arts’ production, curation, and fruition, which may better adapt to the ever-changing needs of contemporary spaces and times?
This is a call to meander around unreducible complications and on shifting grounds, to explore ways in which geography is historically, socially, and politically produced, to dig up and talk about the mental images we carry with us,11 which create space and, with it, its contrasting meanings. In the framework of the expansive working process that will unfold in the next two years, the Mediterranean will be treated as an opportunity to think of our present times geographically, across intertwined histories and overlapping territories,12 via the exploration of some of the experiences and imaginations that inhabit and traverse them. The project pluralises Mediterranean concepts/spaces as sites of worldmaking and experimentation in communal living. To do so, it adopts un-grounded geographies and colliding historicities not as objects of analysis, but as meeting places, in which to congregate to elaborate on the role played by situated practices and shared processes in the promotion of social transformations, towards epistemic justice.
In the poetry collection Elegies to the Mediterranean Sea, Egyptian poet and visual artist Ahmed Morsi weaves a personal, mournful tale of Alexandria and its sea. In a voracious Mediterranean, which encompasses as one the city and the sea that surrounds and engulfs it, the poet locates the superimposed contrapuntal voices of memory and fabrication. Both speak to the writer in the past tense, presenting to him the city/sea as a space/time only able to accommodate impossibilities, the never-was, never-will-be. Yet, in verses of negation, another possible Mediterranean resounds, one which cannot be met neither on land nor at sea, but whose capacity to inspire movement is not yet exhausted.
By these Mediterranean im/possibles, we propose to meet.
– Chiara Cartuccia
UNIDEE visiting research curator 22/24
1 Ahmed Morsi, Elegies to the Mediterranean Sea, Impression 7, translated by Raphael Cohen, in Poem of Alexandria and New York (London: Banipal Books, 2021)
2 Hakim Abderrezak, ‘The Mediterranean Seametery and Cementery in Leïla Kilani’s and Tariqu Teguia’s Filmic Works’, in Yasser Elhariry, Edwige Tamalet Talbayev (eds.), Critically Mediterranean: Temporalities, Aesthetics, and Deployments of a Sea in Crisis (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), p. 152.
3 Roger S. Bagnall, ‘Egypt and the Concept of the Mediterranean’, in W.V. Harris (ed.), Rethinking the Mediterranean, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 347
4 The most recent of such projects is the 2022 itinerant residency programme Caravan: Thinking with Alexandria, conceived and implemented by UNIDEE residency programmes at Cittadellarte – Fondazione Pistoletto as part of the European project Alexandria: (Re)activating Common Urban Imaginaries, and curated by Edwin Nasr in conversation with Sarah Rifky.
5 Love Difference is a project initiated by Michelangelo Pistoletto and Cittadellarte – Fondazione Pistoletto in 2002. Love Difference is also the namesake cultural association, whose regular programme of activities was put on hold in 2016. More information is available here
6 Fernand Braudel, ‘Mère méditerranée’, Le Courrier (UNESCO) 38 (1985), p. 7
7 Arjun Appadurai, ‘How Histories make Geographies’. In The Journal of Transcultural Studies, 1(1), 4–13 (2010), pp. 4-13
8 Katherine McKittrick, Demonic Grounds. Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), pp. xi-xii
9 Further information about the event and its participants can be found here
10 Bonaventure Soh Bejend Ndikung, The Delusion of Care, (Berlin: Archive Books, 2021), p. 50
11 Doreen Massey, For Space, (London: Sage, 2005)
12 Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism, (London: Vintage, 1994), pp. 3-14