Studio Baalbeck – An Emerging Lexicon

Clementine Butler-Gallie
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Studio Baalbeck was a film production company active in Beirut from 1962 to 1994. Its archive was rescued by Monika Borgmann and Lokman Slim of UMAM[1] in 2010, and has since been researched, restored and cared for by a dedicated team[2]. Yet, this archive is still amass with undiscovered and ‘perverted’ material, a collection of which is being viewed for the first time as part of the Whole Life Academy workshop The Perverted Archival Image[3]. Following the notion of “Archives not as sites of knowledge retrieval but as sites of knowledge production”[4], the workshop participants have been given the opportunity to not only view but also expand upon this material through collective production.

Starting from the question of how local narratives, archival objects and biographies contained within archives can be made legible for today, the construction of this lexicon is a tool in attempting to make legible the unknowns of Studio Baalbeck Archive, whilst also deconstructing the already existing rich dictionary of the archive’s memory and meaning in the larger context of Lebanon and its film history. The lexicon is built from the perspective of accessing and observing the archive for the first time. The descriptions that follow each term are crafted from the knowledge, memories, insights and narratives shared in the workshop by the tutors and guests, as well as the immense research already carried out by the UMAM team in Beirut.

The words and accompanying images take a patchwork form, avoiding chronology and order out of respect for both the inevitable caveats in an archive and an archive’s power to have meaning across multiple spheres of time. Within the gaps of the patchwork lexicon, scribbled questions sit patiently.

As images on a film strip slowly reveal themselves in the lab, the current state is just one mark in an emerging lexicon.

This contribution is published in the framework of the Whole Life Academy as part of the workshop “The Perverted Archival Image”.

  1. UMAM Documentation & Research is a Lebanese non-governmental organization. 
  3. The workshop is convened by Siska and Ayman Nahle, who have been involved with UMAM for several years, in the 2021/22 iteration of the Whole Life Academy. 
  4. Sven Spieker, quote from his talk at the Whole Life Academy 2019

Connected Material

Chto Delat’s installation Canary Archives employs the imagery of the canary in the coal mine, once used to alarm miners when carbon monoxide levels rose. Where is the canary today, that tells us wether the danger is real? It seems to have gone silent, the sharpest signal it can send. In an emergency newspaper issue under the impression of the Russian war on Ukraine, Chto Delat assembles anti-war views of artists and critics and expresses their solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

The legacy of anti-colonial leader and Pan-Africanist revolutionary Amílcar Cabral (1924-1973) still calls for cultural readings, and not strictly political ones. Contemporary art, so-called “artistic research” and critical theory will benefit from a cross-disciplinary approach which puts Cabral as relevant to art or which turns Cabral’s many contributions into tools.

The video explores the encounter (digital and analogue) between the body and the archive.

Scanning the Horizon works with and towards the seemingly unattainable, yet powerfully generative utopian demands of queer life set out on the horizon.

The Perverted Archival Image workshop centered on and tentacled off from Studio Baalbeck. The workshop participants created an audio montage of recordings to accompany some of the visual archive material.

What does it mean to do archival research in embodied ways? Where is ‘the archive’ located in such an approach? And how might the open form of ‘the score’—a provisional map, a musical or performance score, a speculative cartography, an image atlas, a set of instructions—offer possibilities for articulating and transmitting the knowledge of elusive archives?

Beyond the objects in any given archive is a myriad of people, encounters and exchanges. The desire to locate the human element beneath archives is challenged by new technology. As part of ‘Life Stories and Archives’, we began a virtual ‘common archive’. Our collaborative thread addresses pertinent questions arising from shared interests in how individual’s origins, biases, networks and political struggles fuel the need to collect.

Delving into the notion of the desktop as an archival site and methodology, this contribution presents two divergent outputs resulting from collaboration between the participants and co-conveners of the Academy workshop “Desktop Shortcuts”: an in-development simplified database of hyperlinks, and a poetic game of disorder.

Imagine these fragments are a response to a not-yet-written manifesto for a hedonistic archive. Then imagine they are a response to a manifesto which cannot be written at all and should not be either.

This collective visualisation represents the outcome of our workshop. It represents our attempt to create our own archive on escape fantasies, inspired through theory and practice of the workshop sessions, which featured several interview with local Berlin artists and curators.