in cooperation with Lala Studio
The second Konesh event happened in the old city on the Nile, more specifically in Darb El-Labbana a former diary producing neighborhood in the old town of Cairo in Egypt. It was organized in cooperation with the Egyptian architectural research centre Lala Studio.
Curated under theme of ‘TRACE’, we went on a windy afternoon on an urban exploration through Darb El-Labbana. Taking the example of a local neighborhood in Old Cairo, we thought about how to unpack local heritage of an urban setting by looking at the marks that both repeated and routinised practices of everyday life as well as single impactful incidents have left on façades and staircases.
The afternoon was both a practical encounter with a neighborhood in Old Cairo as well as a moment for reflection and discussion on the engagement with urban histories by listening to the stories of a number of different loud and more quiet voices.
To begin with, Nedaa Mahboub from Lala Studio guided our more than 60 attendees through the area that is largely unknown even to most Cairenes. Nedaa told us about life and work of Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy who together with other artists and architects of his time, stayed in the 1960s and 1970s in a local residency programme in what is today re-opened as the Egyptian Architecture House.
Besides it, a closed off gate with arabesque features and well-kept facade paint, a gate that is a leftover from a former hospital that was built for the neighborhood about 200 years ago. Back then it meant to cure the whole range of physical as well as soul diseases, told us Nedaa, and later it was repurposed as a bar and local hang out. Today it is theoretically accessible for visits yet the large stone blocks at the entrance show that visitors haven’t been welcome here for some time.
Down the street, we visited the carpenter workshop of Mohamed Abdel. The workshop has been in the hands of the family for decades and until the 1980s also Mohamed used to live in the same building which the workshop is in. He kept the workshop because the area gets at least some visitors, for example those coming to the nearby mosques, El Refai and Sultan Hassan, both big landmarks in the area.
We continued our walk through the alleyways and staircases of the small yet hilly site and came to a large traffic roundabout where Nedaa pointed us out to the borders of the neighborhood. Large vehicular corridors demarcate Darb El-Labana’s limits connecting the “old” ottoman-ruled city with its main seat in the Citadelle (overlooking Darb El-Labbana) with the later newly constructed modern centre of power, Downtown Cairo. Being at a major traffic axis, Darb El-Labbbana’s soundcape is mainly composed of the overpowering noise of the cars, tuktuks and taxis.
Back at Lala Studio, we zoomed out onto the more strategic level and methods of how to access and surface also those lesser known stories of a local area.
Konesh co-founder Saba Zavarei was connected from London to the event over Skype. She talked about her most recent project Radio Khiaban that has been exhibiting at the time of the event at the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF) in Cairo. Radio Khiaban – meaning the radio of the street – is an audio art project in both Farsi and English. It documents a large number of otherwise scattered performances of women singing in public spaces of Iran, an act that has been illegal in the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.
Saba’s work exemplifies how to give a platform to the voices that otherwise remain hidden from the public sphere. Showcasing her story telling medium, a bilingual podcast, Saba made reference to all the diverse tools and methods that can be used to engage with the multiple layers of traces of everyday life and the urban public sphere that happens today both in the physical as well as in the digital sphere.
Finally, Sophia New, on behalf of the Berlin-based artist duo Plan B, ran a workshop on how to trace the ephemeral, seemingly mundane practices of everyday life. Together with Daniel Belasco Rogers, she has been recording every journey she made with a hand-held GPS device, thus collecting a large number of data of their urban everyday. With this data, they have created a number of alternative forms of representation of their home Berlin - carpets, drawings, glass engravings - that uphold the overlap of time and space, manifested in the number of traces that their body has left in the urban environment over the years.
Through her presentation and the joint exercises, Sophia took us on an exploration of the relationship between data and movement, maps and storytelling - where a trace becomes a physical manifestation of the coming together of time, movement and space.