ESR 5 Blog February 2021: Claude Nassar

Welcome Note

As part of my research at the University of Iceland and the FEINART research network, I will be writing a monthly reflection on the process of my project (and sharing it through this space). This first blog will be an introduction to myself, the position from which I approach my research, my artistic practice, and the way my practice intersects with my theoretical work. Finally, I will give a brief overview of what to expect from this space in the months to come.

My name is Claude Nassar, I am an artist and researcher from Lebanon. I moved to the Netherlands in 2018 to take part in the Non-Linear Narrative masters program at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague (KABK). I left Lebanon after graduating as a graphic designer in an over-saturated, stagnating market, in the search for a way to live and make a living. During my time at NLN I was introduced to a new understanding of art and design where the artist and designer stop being producers of capital extraction tools. Being exposed to artists that blur the line between politics, activism and art, and thinkers that deal with the social role of art and its effects on society and the effect of the social environment on art and artistic production, I started thinking about the Lebanese environment that I was a part of and how it affected my practice. My interest started in the reasons art and design education in Lebanon were pre-occupied with the production of technical creative workers whose primary purpose is to fill low-income jobs in advertising agencies and commercial graphic design studios. From this initial curiosity to uncover the reasons why I had to leave my home country in order to encounter an education that focuses on the creative aspect of artistic practices and their potential in informing different futures, and through the guidance of my tutors, I was able to develop a line of research that makes use of post-structuralist notions of affect[1] and positive desire to understand the colonial roots of the production of the nation of Lebanon, its political and economic systems, and the colonial reverberations in Lebanese society today.

In October 2019 a revolution erupted in Lebanon, catalysed by an economic crisis whose foreshocks had led me to leave the country. All of a sudden the function of the historical investigation that I was undertaking collapsed in the urgency of a revolutionary present. In addition to the primitive accumulation and the colonial histories that gave rise to Lebanon as a polity I was forced to reflect on the way I engage with the Lebanese reality from a distance.

Like most modes of being in the world, the diasporic experience has been largely shaped by contemporary communication technologies. The diasporic experience can be described in terms of two processes of separation—first, physical, external and relative: by leaving one’s territory and most of its material and affective constituents, to settle in another part of the world; second, psychological, internal and absolute: by living a double life, one in relation to physical presence in the country of destination, and another in relation to one’s emotional and psychological presence in the country of origin (where the second separation is a strategy to cope with the first). Social media as a tool of communication, fits snuggly into the diasporic experience of home-from-a-distance and gives it its consistency, and makes it as affective, as generative, and as real as the experience of the present physical territory.

The highly affective landscapes that social media algorithms erect every time we enter the digital space become a new home that attaches itself to the emotions of the home that we left. In other words, the affective qualities of social media content give the experience of home-from-a-distance its consistency; its affective substance. From here, my artistic practice is based on the filmic investigation of the consistency (or the “realness”) of social media experiences and the way these experiences blend with the world and sink into our memories and our pool of associations; making it barely relevant if a past encounter or a heated conversation that I had a few month ago happened in the physical world or in its digital extension.

In the context of my research, and in alignment with the post-structuralist theories of affect that my work is inspired by, social media operates on the same register as art: the affective register. And since affects cannot be simplified into words and sentences, artistic practices are essential to the understanding of how social media functions, how it affects our bodies, and how it modulates our interaction with the world and our environment beyond conventional research methodologies. Social media platforms and their algorithms construct an affective landscape populated by images[2]. As such, the image is what gives social media experiences their consistency. And through the image, social media encroaches on the embodied experience of being separated from one’s territory and appropriates it as a potent source of engagement.

Because of the importance of art in the engagement with the affective digital space, as well as of the importance of socially engaged art in understanding the political and social manifestation of the digital space in social and political reality, and because my practice is an important part of my trying to understand the world around me, artistic production is a major (creative) part in my research. Accordingly, in addition to reflecting on the progress of my research and my academic secondments, I will use this space to share audio-visual explorations that help me to make sense of relevant social media encounters, and the way these encounters affect my daily life and thought process, and to reflect on the artistic value of social media content.

[1]                    In the context of my research affect is used to convey its Spinozian definition as the “affections of the body by which the body’s power of acting is increased or diminished, aided or restrained” (Spinoza, 1996/1677: III D3)

[2]                    Image in its broadest sense; referring to sight as a mode of interaction between the body and the world, expanding the image to include still and moving image, and even in this case the whole visual environment of the platform.

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