2012/07 – Rasha Salti, Kenneth Goldsmith

Seven is our lucky number. At the seventh ephemeropteræ performance, two of the most fascinating figures of contemporary art and criticism meet at the Augarten and present their most recent and unpublished work: Rasha Salti and Kenneth Goldsmith. Both cultural practitioners work in a wide variety of fields, spanning poetry, the programming of art and film festivals and exhibitions, writing, criticism, and are also important instigators of new fields of cultural engagement, be it in the medium of the online collection of avant-garde films and writing, UbuWeb, or with regard to the arts and cultures of the Middle East, ArteEast.
Rasha Salti
1936. Jerusalem.

Mariam was a mere seventeen years old when she was engaged to Issa. She was a beauty, a real looker, the sort that earned her forgiveness for her vices, prejudices and proclivities. Her black and white portraits exude the aura of a movie star. Ironically, it was her sister, Latifeh, quite attractive but not as stunning, who would end up making a life in California, not far from Hollywood.

Issa was smitten with Mariam. He was handsome, but his kindness was his most striking feature. It showed on his face when one first came across him. One remembered that kindness every time his name came up. He was also an astute and resilient businessman. Mariam was the daughter of one of Jerusalem's most prominent Greek Orthodox priests. He was something else. His face was strikingly gentle, his gait prominent and his voice went straight to the heart. Before he became a full-fledged priest, he used to supplement his income singing and dancing at wedding parties and celebrations. He was also a painter. Once he settled into priesthood, he stopped dancing and singing, but continued painting: icons only. He was poor, though his situation improved somewhat once he became an employee of the church.

Issa was an only child. His father, Jeryes, had escaped conscription into the Ottoman army on the eve of the First World War. He is said to have taken a boat with eight other men, and rowed all the way from the Palestinian coast to Cyprus. There, he boarded a ship to Marseille, landed in France and ended up six months later at Le Havre, soon boarding another ship to Manhattan, where his cousins had settled and started a business. Jeryes did not take to in Manhattan; within months, he boarded yet another ship to Port au Prince, Haïti. One of his travel companions from Jerusalem, Ibrahim, accompanied him there. Once they landed, they, like a great deal of Arab immigrants in the Caribbean and Latin America, worked as traveling salesmen, selling notions, lotions and haberdashery. They saved up money and eventually rented a shop. Years later the shop would become a department store. They called it “Tout va bien”!


1938. Jerusalem.

Issa and Mariam married two years after their engagement. Being an only child, Issa decided to live with his wife in his father’s large house. It was neither uncommon for a bride to live with her in-laws, nor a prospect she looked forward to, as it potentially undermined her standing at the helm of the household. Issa’s kindness must have quelled her apprehension. He must have sensed it. Before they were married, he ordered a new bedroom from the best carpenters in Jerusalem, and bought her a piano. Mariam was very proud and fond of that bedroom. Her four children were conceived in it. She even gave birth to her first two there.

Issa and Mariam were married on May 15th, 1938.

Rasha Salti (born 1969) is an independent curator and freelance writer, working and living between New York City and Beirut. From 2004 until 2010, she was the film programmer and creative director of the New York based non-profit ArteEast where she directed two editions of the biennial CinemaEast Film Festival (2005 and 2007). In 2011, she was one of co-curators of the 10th edition of the Sharjah Biennial for the Arts, with Suzanne Cotter and Haig Aivazian. Salti has worked on numerous other projects, and as a freelance critic / essayist. Last but not least she is a writer.

Salti has administered a number of events, including a tribute to Edward Said titled For a Critical Culture (Beirut, 1997), and 50, Nakba and Resistance (Beirut, 1998), a three months long cultural season for the fiftieth commemoration of the tragedy of Palestine, and co-organized Waiting for the Barbarians: A Tribute to Edward Said (Istanbul, 2007) in collaboration with Metis Press and Bogazici University. In 2011, she was one of co-curators of the 10th edition of the Sharjah Biennial for the Arts, with Suzanne Cotter and Haig Aivazian. In 2011, she joined the team of programmers of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Salti writes about artistic practice in the Arab world, film, and general social and political commentary, in Arabic and English. Her articles and essays have been published in The Jerusalem Quarterly Report (Palestine), Naqd (Algeria), MERIP (USA), The London Review of Books (UK), Afterall (US) and Third Text (UK), to cite a few. In 2006, she edited Insights into Syrian Cinema: Essays and Conversations with Filmmakers (ArteEast and Rattapallax Press) and in 2009, she collaborated with photographer Ziad Antar on an exhibition and book titled Beirut Bereft, The Architecture of the Forsaken and Map of the Derelict. 

Kenneth Goldsmith
Ich bin ein amerikanischer Dichter, und wie die meisten Amerikaner spreche ich nur eine Sprache. Als ich gefragt wurde, ob ich in Wien aus meinen Arbeiten lesen könne, war meine erste Reaktion, dass Österreich (und der Rest der Welt) ganz sicher keine neuen Kulturimporte aus Amerika braucht, noch dazu in englischer Sprache (erinnert sei hier an „I’m So Bored with the USA“ von The Clash). Deshalb habe ich mich entschlossen, meine Lesung auf Deutsch zu beginnen, eine Sprache, die ich eigentlich nicht spreche und in der ich auch noch nie geschrieben habe.

Es ist sehr wahrscheinlich, dass Sie kein Wort verstehen, obwohl ich in Ihrer Sprache spreche. Wir sind also quitt: Weder Sie noch ich verstehen wirklich, worum es geht. Das einzige, was uns bleibt, ist dem Klang der Worte zu folgen und nicht ihrer Bedeutung. Unsere Beziehung zur Sprache ist plötzlich anders. Wir sind auf einmal in der Lage, dem Alltäglichen eine neue Gestalt zu geben, und zwar in der Sprache des Alltags.

Seit Jahren habe ich auf eine Situation wie die, in der wir uns gerade befinden, hingearbeitet: Sprache existiert nur als Form und ist trotzdem konkret. So wie die Sprache selbst, ist das, was ich gerade sage, voller Bedeutung und doch bedeutungslos. Der Raum ist angefüllt mit Klang, der als Sprache posiert.

Ich könnte nun die gesamte Lesung auf Deutsch fortsetzen, aber Sie wissen worauf ich hinaus will, selbst dann, wenn ich nun in meiner eigenen Sprache, also auf Englisch weitermache: es geht mir um die Annäherung an einen utopischen Zustand, ähnlich dem, in dem wir uns gerade befinden, an einen Zustand vorsätzlicher Ignoranz. 

I am an American poet, and like many Americans, I speak only one language. When asked to read in Vienna, I figured that the last thing Austria (or the rest of the world) needed was more imported American culture—in English—no less (remember The Clash's “I'm So Bored With The U.S.A.”?). Hence, I've decided to start my reading in German, a language that I have never spoken nor written.

Most likely, you can't understand a word I'm saying, even though it's your native language. So, we're even: We're both in a situation of not understanding. All we can possibly do is listen to the way that the words sound instead of what they mean. And by doing so we are all entering into a new relationship to language that permits us to reframe the mundane in the language of the mundane.

For years, I've been working toward a situation like the one we find ourselves in now: one where language is purely formal and concrete; like language itself, this talk is both meaningful and meaningless at the same time. The air is now thick with sound posing as language.

I could continue and do the whole reading in German but I think you get the point. Now I'll do the rest of the reading in English, but after this rough beginning, you can better understand what I'm trying to do with my work in my native language: to approximate the utopian situation we find ourselves in at the moment, one of willful ignorance.

Kenneth Goldsmith is an artist, conceptual poet, and founding editor of UbuWeb, teacher of Poetics and Poetic Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, senior editor of PennSound, critic and curator of experimental music, host at WFMU radio under the broadcast name “Kenny G”, and many, many, other things. He is preoccupied with “Uncreativity as Creative Practice” and within his artistic process has produced works including 600 pages of rhyming r phrases, sorted by syllables and alphabetized (No. 111 2.7.93-10.20.96, 1997); everything he said for a week (Soliloquy, 2001); every move his body made during a thirteen-hour period (Fidget, 1999); and a year of transcribed weather reports (The Weather, 2005). He is lives and works in New York. 
July 13, 2012 from 7 pm
Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary
TBA21–Augarten, Scherzergasse 1A, 1020 Vienna, Austria
curated by
Daniela Zyman and Boris Ondreička
free admission