CONVERSATION PIECE (Gotenborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art. July – August, 2017)

Code: Pedro G. Romero= PGR, Bassam El Baroni = BEB, Jose Iglesias Gª-Arenal = JIGA, Doris Hakim = DH, Yassine Chouati = YC

Archivo F.X. in collaboration with Bassam El Baroni & Pedro G. Romero with the participation of Doris Hakim, Yassine Chouati and Equipe Media

Pedro G. Romero has developed the Archivo F.X. since 1999. The archive consists of a vast collection of images and artefacts documenting examples of Spanish political and religious iconoclasm in the first half of the 20th century. For example, the archive includes decapitated statues, deteriorated pictures, expropriated sacred spaces, or melted religious items reused for civil industry. Romero is now in the process of institutionalising the Archivo F.X. with the intention to open it to others. GIBCA 2017 marks the first time an artistic researcher has been invited to develop a new project using the archive.

Curator and theorist Bassam El Baroni’s project considers the history and contemporary valence of the largely underrepresented figure of Averroes (Arabic name: Ibn Rushd), the 12th century philosopher who created early and highly influential examples of secular thought during the era of Islamic Andalusia. Averroism was a late 13th century movement of mostly Paris-based philosophers, who contributed to founding modern secularity through their separation of theological and philosophical perspectives. Archivo F.X. and Pedro G. Romero additionally invited artists Doris Hakim and Yassine Chouati, and the activist media collective Equipe Media to collaborate.

The installation is composed of numerous elements. Essential to the work is the ‘conversation piece’, a wall text representing a long e-mail correspondence between all the contributors to the project, moderated by El Baroni. In this thread, they discuss secularity and Averroes’ legacy in relation to their contexts, art, the image, and contemporary political struggles. Moreover, Romero and the Archivo F.X. team have collated for display a selection of documents and images from the archive under the entry Averroes and Averroism. The aim of the archive selection is to parse together underlying connections and associations between Averroism’s historical and philosophical trajectory, its possible concrete manifestations, and questions around sovereignty in Spain. The overall title of this multi-participant installation, The Destruction of Destructions, alludes to the first Spanish translation of Averroes’ polemical work The Incoherence of the Incoherence.

The work was presented at Röda Sten Konsthall. Gotenborg Sweeden 2017
The work is commissioned for Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art (GIBCA) 2017
Supported by AC/E – Acción Cultural Española, Embassy of Spain in Sweden and Mophradat

The question of secularity spans both politics and the intellect. Giorgio Agamben has been at the forefront of reviving the Averroist tradition which we decided to use as an entry point into this conversation. Averroes (Ibn Rushd) was a medieval Muslim philosopher, physician and judge during the Almohad dynasty rule of Andalusia. He is credited with integrating Islamic and ancient Greek thought through his commentaries on Aristotle. Historians have indicated how Averroes’ influence contributed to the Almohad’s increased ‘liberalism’, this eventually ended in a backlash by theological conservatives and Averroes’ forced exile. Agamben’s focus on Averroes and Averroism is in part related to his discourse on the notion of ‘potentiality’ which he marks as a distinctly political concept. As Agamben notes “[…] according to Averroes, the perfection of man’s potential to think is bound essentially to the species and accidentally to single individuals,”[1]. This means that there is an eternal general intellect[2] surpassing individual bodies yet “is never separate from any body.”[3]

We can see here how there is an attempt to unify the intellectual, the scientific, and the political without necessarily dismantling religious faith or spirituality. This while at one and the same time pointing towards the importance of a labour of imagination and thought since this work or labour is what realises ‘in action’ the potentiality of thought. Broadly speaking, we could say that this is the backdrop for a project that does not require a ‘giving up’ on God as a prerequisite to doing modern politics and in theory allows for multiple perspectives to enter a discursive space. As practising artists, how do you see this project as an activator of political and social imaginaries in today’s tense climate? Does it intersect with your particular trajectories? And how would you describe the Averroist legacy from your perspectives shaped by art, a concern with the image and imagination, the archival, and activism respectively?
[1] Giorgio Agamben, The Work of Man, In (Eds.) M. Calarco and S. DeCaroli ‘On Agamben: Sovereignty and Life’, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 2007, Pp. 1-10.
[2] Somewhat in line with Hardt and Negri, Agamben refers to this as the Multitude.
[3] Agamben, ibid


Well, I would like to think that the first approach to the figure of Averroes was triggered in a seminar in the late 90s, called “Machines & Images”. In this seminar, what was explored – in depth, I believe- was the relations between text and image, under the inspiration of Aby Warburg and Walter Benjamin, particularly by studying their respective projects the Mnemosyne Atlas and The Passagenwerk (the Arcades Project). It was from the influence of Giordano Bruno in Warburg, to medieval Averroism, that I began to discover -not without some surprise- the relationship of Arab culture in the European cultural renaissance, especially in Andalusian culture. I had lived in Cordoba a few years before. In addition, Benjamin’s relationship with Maimonides, Averroes’ great disciple, gave us a broader perspective and some very precise tools. The translation, the commentary, the quotation, the gloss, the criticism, the detournement were becoming key elements in the course of these theological thinkers. However, the commentaries based on the book, regardless of whether the origin- the true text – was the Koran or Aristotle, the procedure of commentary and of translation gives a different status to the written truth. The “double truth” of Averroes, the procedure that makes compatible the truth of the world from science and religion, becomes a sort of dialectic in Benjamin.

Years later I was able to produce – in Latin America – the project “… of Arab characteristics”, developed for Catherine David’s ‘Contemporary Arab Representations’. The project explored the political reality, the imaginary and a certain anthropology of the Arabs, the Muslims, the Moors – the same diffused concept that continues to operate in the world today- in the history of American colonization. I first placed the outlook on a historical context because the commercial expedition of Columbus coincides with the Conquest of the Kingdom of Granada, the last one of Muslim religion in the Iberian Peninsula. Furthermore, the mythology and the antagonism towards the “Moors” appears strongly correlated to the whole process of conquest and colonization. Following the dissolution of the Turkish Empire in the Balkans and in the Middle East itself,”Turkish” immigrations, as they were called, were joined by Syrians, Lebanese, and Christians, to the American continent. Finally, the strong Pan-American ties to the Palestinian cause during the emergence of the Third World and then the relations of the populist regimes with Iran, etc .. In short, I do not want to overextend myself, but the Averroist tools became keys with which to understand problems of various kinds. Let us consider the context of Catholic cultural colonization of indigeneity, the translation into common images of indigenous and imperial imaginaries, was first rehearsed with the Moors (also with the Jews) of the kingdoms of Spain.

The cultural fragmentation necessary for these translation operations was necessarily contaminated by the same imagination that Bruno or Dante rehearsed in his works. Suddenly, you understood how the monstrosity of the Guyanese-Iranian Chicano-Guillermo project worked. For example, Hector Parra’s photographs of indigenous Muslim communities in Chiapas. Elsewhere, the project “… of Arab traits” took its name from statements of the British police that justified the murder of the Brazilian Jean Charles Menezes for being … of Arab traits. Beyond cultural war we tried to understand that cultural differences were dialectical and that they surely worked because they were under the same cultural umbrella. Often, cultural antagonisms hide some laziness, some comfort that theory produces, the complexity of the world demands fragmentation, it is often hard to swallow.

I think reading Averroes in this project has power in the confusion spaces: the fiction of Averroes versus Averroism, the issue of the multiple translations, the lost information between different contexts and process… These information gaps are, precisely, possibiliting the imagination of new situations or “social imaginaries”, producing an almost-unconscious creative process, far away from the figure of the single auctor, and closer from the compilator or the commentator. Averroes, as a starting point and first of all, proposes a methodology.


As I said, I think that for Benjamin, the “double truth” of Averroism becomes a sort of dialectic. Not only in this transfusion Maimonides-Averroes that is crucial for the culture of the Jewish Enlightenment, it is also in its attention to radical attitudes like that of Sabbatai Zevi , its heterodoxies and the conversion of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki to the Muslim faith. Beyond mysticism, I believe that Benjamin takes these double functions as a true dialectic. Underlying his famous assertion that theology is the dwarf that hides within the machine that is historical materialism, (wonderfully illustrated by ‘the Mechanical Turk’ or automaton chess player), is where these ideas are found. A dialectic that allows the critic not only to operate in the theological regime, but also in the techno-scientist, it is fundamental to understand this. In Averroes’ Europe, a world without God is unimaginable. The “double truth” is not a way of making compatible the certainties of science and religion, but rather it is to acquire critical tools of those truths by crossing conflicting knowledge systems. That conflict is productive, and necessary; this is not to eliminate it, but rather to make it fertile. In a sense, when the F.X. Archive presents -in parallel- texts from the modern and avant-garde radical project, as well as texts from the recent historical chronicle of anti-sacramental iconoclasm in Spain, it operates in a similar way.


The existence of many extreme religious, non-secular countries, where the sovereign becomes synonymous to the Almighty and as such symbolically becomes Divine and leads to the abuse of power is a fact that we as artists have to react to.The diverse background I grew into (Palestinian-Greek, studied in a Jewish school) played a significant role in my artistic quest, triggering an exploration of the effects and concepts of society, religion, secularity and politics while focusing on the meaning of issues such as democracy, equality etc. In this light, I can consider the Averroist legacy a “tool” for my (re)search in the field of artistic projects focusing on the occult or manipulative messages of our societies viewing human behaviour.
By dealing with these issues, I attempt to reconcile with my culture and its socio-political boundaries, all the while engaging myself in the culture of others, out of doubt and curiosity on one hand, and the desire to stimulate a human, cultural discussion on the other. The objective is to motivate people to act, think, speculate and see reality, and this is one of the main points of activism, among the documentation of history, which will make people conscious of today’s reality and provoke feelings, thoughts and comments.


I consider this project an effective tool to question the political myths used to legitimize authoritarian governments. This can be done by combining Averroes as a methodology to unify interpretive and demonstrative reason. According to him, there isn’t an independent truth, but rather a unique truth inseparable between faith and science. For Averroes religion resorts to oratory and poetic means such as symbols, metaphors, allegories and comparisons to convey a particular message and for it to be general and destined for all men. However, his message is that religion transmits and needs philosophical thought (al-hikma) to be able to pass from the surface of the religious text and reach its bottom according to the conditions and principles of demonstration. From my point of view as an Arab artist living in the West, creating a South / North artistic dialogue is an important necessity. That is why I consider this project a formula to gradually introduce the recipient to the socio-political, cultural and identity aspects of the so-called Arab World. All of this is done through a combination of mnemonic images linked to a kind of nostalgia that gives me the distance with which I can observe events in Morrocco. The narrative in my case becomes a translation of the memory that unites the fictive with the real, similar to what happens in the process of Averroes’ translation of Aristotle’s work. Despite our efforts to enter the life, context and work of Averroes, we are more like onlookers watching a drama that we barely understand, because it is perhaps outside our system of understanding, and we only see it as a distant memory of bygone ages we long for.


To clarify and following on from all your comments while taking into consideration Pedro’s last remarks, “double truth” is better understood as two levels of truth: one based on religious knowledge (‘fiqh’ in Arabic or theology in English), the other on philosophy which one could also equate with science since the border between science and philosophy in the time of Averroes was fluid. This two tier understanding is evident in Averroes’ famous statement that “God would never give us reason, then give us divine laws that contradict such reason,”. Thus in his own way and from within his context, Averroes gave priority to a truth perceived through the mind (knowledge) over one that would be merely passed on from one generation to the next as a given, which is to say an inherited knowledge. Thus, thinking of Averroes as a pathway to a modern dialectics in which apparently opposing or conflicting knowledge systems can be crossed and synthesised is quite essential as Pedro has already noted.

This explains why some scholars (particularly scholars of Arab modernity and philosophy such as the late Moroccan philosopher Mohamed Abed Al-Jabri) have used Averroes as a benchmark for pointing out that there was a possibility of modernity in the Muslim world that could have been accessed from a different vantage point, one that might have resolved the debate on secularity and Islam that seems to haunt us whenever we are confronted with a discussion on political struggles in Muslim majority regions such as North Africa and the Middle East. Now, what seems important here is the idea of the “cross-over” that Pedro alludes to and how this notion actually provides the basis for a discursive enterprise that runs across the space of science, politics, belief systems and even democracy.

This seems to be a project that coincides with the mission of an art practice that is flexible enough to engage with diverse perspectives and materials while still insisting on the importance of reason albeit in a way that is quite different from what most of us are used to. In the expanded field of contemporary art, ‘reason’ is often bashed, trivialised, and frowned upon as a European and colonialist project and used as a coat hanger for all the world’s ailments, personally, although I often understand the reasons for this, I find most engagement of this nature quite incompetent and too easy. Do you see any possibility for Averroes and Averrosim to become a full fledged research project from within an art practice, a project that would think the term ‘reason’ differently? If we allow ourselves to speculate a little – using our own methodologies, research, and resources – what could the parameters of such a speculative project be?


Well, from that point of view what happens with the Averroes case is a diversion of attention. First, because it is within the framework of Muslim culture that first begins to litigate the pair of faith and reason as compatible, giving philosophy and science an important feature as a tool of knowledge and an illuminator of theological issues. Beyond the intrinsic problematics of all this, I don’t know, as when we consider Wittgenstein a “religious” thinker, imbued with glances over men, animals and things that come from the religious field. Beyond these considerations -I mean- what interests me is the displacement itself. At a certain historical moment the Muslim world functioned as the civilizing pole that rejected Christian cultures, for example, as barbaric and unsophisticated. Taking this displacement into account is important. Of course, the F.X. Archive has its headquarters, in Seville, Andalusia, Iberian Peninsula. To me, when we think in terms of cultures, different cultures, I have difficulty understanding why the Arab and Muslim world is also not considered part of the cultural umbrella with which the people who live in this particular part of the world operate. No podemos sentir a Averroes como algo ajeno, no podemos sentir lo árabe y lo musulmán como algo otro. Por más que fuera mediante la represión y la violencia que redujimos y adoptamos el componente morisco de nuestra cultura, hay muchas cosas que siguen ligándonos y que no puedo sentir como exóticas ni extranjeras por más que sepa muy bien como funcionaron los mecanismos del Orientalismo, por ejemplo, que como Edward Said sabía bien, tenían en España un territorio singular de operaciones puesto que no dejaba de ser un reino cristiano. This territorial singularity seems, to me, to be a key in understanding a position such as that of Andalusia and many other territories of meridional Europe -also subordinate.These regions are marked by regimes of colonial exploitation, and at the same time forming part of the western civilizing axis, protestant, white and Anglo-Saxon, but, we are not WASP!
I understand that many of the popular cultural manifestations of the place of the world where I work are a headache for the simplification of looks that, surely in a necessary way, operate in cultural studies and decolonial thinking. At least in these two fields in which I operate, iconoclasm on the one hand, that is, the political and cultural relations of people with images in an idolatrous country. But, also produced in the twentieth century the greatest devastation of religious images and sacramental spaces; and also in the fields of flamenco, music and dance that were created by gypsies and urban lumpen, although that is an issue that I just want to cite in passing. At least with the F.X. Archive, the complexity of their constructions prevents clearly differentiating which are subaltern, which are hegemonic and imperial, which are tools of struggle and which of domination. In short, it is in this quagmire in which the genealogy of Averroes, as it is presented by Bassam, takes place and makes sense. As I said, not so much in its modernist formulation of two paths, two ways, religious-theological and religious-religious, but in establishing a dialectical tension between the ways of ‘knowing’ versus ‘knowing and feeling’ the world.
Often, while cultural wars fragment us, the world-dominating operations of the techno-scientific complex gain more positions, more territories, more lives. Hence to establish a regime of criticism necessarily happens – not only to position our defenses but also – to attack the enemy at the center of its legitimating operations, we will no longer speak of “truth”, but of an effective colonization of the world. For example, thinkers like Miguel Benasayag believe that they are operating in this particular ‘range’ or ‘texture’, making it possible for activist theory and activist militancy not to exclude certain knowledge that we still call scientific. As is clear, I do not speak only of conciliating religion and science, the dialectic I am referring to is that which occurs between different regimes of knowledge and that is necessary, essential. It is something that -I believe- necessarily operates in our work along with the sensible and is always the fruit of intersecting fields of relations which are not univocal nor separated. The old peasant, that lost knowledge that Pasolini once refers to, is a little biologist, a little astronomer and astrologer too, a little economist and an activist in favor of ecologlical wellbeing and social rights. Sensitivity demands that we aknowledge a certain complexity in things, and, after all, the gap that Averroes opens is that one, that of the complexity of knowledge.


Reason and faith, philosophy and religion were always an intense issue of debates, St. Augustin a theologian and philosopher, much before Averroes, tried to develop his own approach to philosophy and theology by combining both (pioneer of philosophy of religion). Centuries later, and after the Islamic golden era this similar dilemma continues (definitely with the influence of Averroes) with Thomas Aquinas’ intelligo ut credam, where he believes in the combination of secular law with religious law pointing that philosophy exists in its own, alongside with theology. This continuous conflict of “double truth” exist also in Spinoza’s’ philosophy in his statement “Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can exist or be conceived without God” referring to God as the universe, and reason, his ideas (like Averroes’) brought to his persecution by his Jewish society. Obviously, Averroes is a pathway to modern dialectics as said before, and a trigger point to our research. ‘Reason’ is within our human nature (Aristotle) and as such, we must use it for a social change (as the philosopher Nikolas Kompridis believes). By using the term ‘reason’ we refer to facts, therefore a combination of historical events could be an important parameter but rather focusing on the idea of resistance, at least in my case. This could lead to an open dialectic conversation and give the opportunity to debate, to self-correct and form ideas, although in former works of mine, this caused my work to be sensorized, criticized and brought me until the court due to blindness of religion. ‘Reason’ in Art is like an aesthetic thinking, aesthetic awareness, and extremely effective and essential nowadays where we can see that the idea of Averroism is slowly disappearing. The current sound project A-taraxia (Αταραξία, a Greek term used by Epicurus to define the state of tranquillity, but by separating the A from taraxia, the meaning changes completely and it means the exact opposite), is a kind of sonic archive, pointing facts and events from the time of Averroes till today. It is a picture of a socio-political reality trying to hear (literary) the voice of ‘reason’.


Well, I believe that the academic construction of the history of knowledge, of knowledges, is always a delicate matter. Science, the philosophy that Augustine integrates into religious knowledge, is, in a sense, an esoterism -let us say that astrology and astronomy, for example, are not far away. The neo-Platonism that Augustine of Hippo evokes is its main influence, and it is through it that Plato’s philosophy constitutes the theology of early Christianity. Unlike other Fathers of the Church, the Pseudo Dionysius, for example, Augustine attacks ferociously the knowledge that, in fact, is assimilating. The same thing happens with Thomas Aquinas and Averroes, the way to incorporate the Aristotelian Averroism in Catholic theology is to attack its main source, which is to attack Averroes whom Thomas Aquinas fiercely lambastes. In fact, this hostility and the condemnatory letters of the bishop of Paris are those that radicalize medieval Averroism and Boethius of Dacia. For example, the idea of “double truth” is radicalized to completely separate each ‘truth’s’ achievements. Borges liked to think that these two truths make antagonistic elements.
That is why what is often more interesting than attempting to grasp ‘the essence’ – the exact knowledge of how things are – is to understand how they work. The differences between different regimes of knowledge in the first centuries of the Christian age are not assimilable exactly to the ones we have today. Knowledge has its historicity and, often, academia construct a teleological history that facilitates its disposition to get to know (and conquer) the world, and that always seems suspicious to me. That is why I am more interested in addressing the functioning of things rather than the essence of things. For example, the way in which Thomas Aquinas attacks Averroes to assimilate him. Destruction of destructions, this is how it works. When images are attacked, there is always an acknowledgment of their power, the iconoclast is the one who most believes in the power of images, even if he places this power on the side of evil and punishes it. When we do not believe in images we simply store them in museums! Same thing happens with religions, attacks on religion, and interreligious attacks. They recognize the power of creed and the social power of cultural forms of understanding, the world created by community. Many times these attacks are made from outside of religion, and it is not always that clear. Secularization is not able to completely hide the fact that the essence of Western knowledge remains related to religion. In political science, for example, as Agamben reminds us, the separation into three powers : the political, judicial, legislative and executive has its origin in the Trinitarian mystery.
So, it is the functioning, how things work, that we must focus on and not the essence. The spirit of the written is too bound to its historical conditions and we can not take it without further investigation. It is important to attend to its space-time constructions, to its forms of social production, it is in that process of understanding where we find our tools. We can think of the way in which Averroes knows or reaches an understanding of Aristotle : through a translation, through commentary on the latters texts that also vary and often contradict each other. But these ideas of commentary, paraphrase, annotation, translation, criticism, as pointed out by Agamben in his prologue to Emanuele Coccia’s book on Averroes and Averroism “Philosophy of the Imagination”, offer us formidable tools that very widespread in the present as practices of knowledge. It is true that many of us retain some enthusiasm – not without a certain nostalgia – for the great programs of modernity, a yearning for total systems. But, totalitarianism is most comfortable when it is able to convince people of an absolute explanation of the world, whether under the umbrella of reason or religion.
Often, criticism of religious beliefs is based on this ability to close the eyes of the believer, give an explanation of the world and ask only obedience. But I think that these tools, which vary from commentary to criticism, are also deeply linked to the religions of the book (Christianity, Judaism and Islam), while commentary and criticism inscribed in “writing” hold the formula to approach the truth. The “double truth” regime that Averroes comes to propose is obviously linked to that way of knowing from ‘The Book’, to try to understand the literalness of what is said or to interpret it metaphorically, but to attend to truth as writing. In many ways, “conceptualism”, the prevailing regime in the visual arts of our era is nothing more than that, it is in the same tradition. Obviously, traditions like deconstruction are linked to this lineage too.
If I point out all this it is because I often believe that political debate with religions like Islam can only be done from the inner logics of their way of understanding the world and not from a secular exteriority that, in many ways, forces us to change planes and speak from another place. In fact our cultural structures and those of Islam are very close, there is a political confrontation in which cultural manifestations often operate as camouflage, decoys, visual deceptions. When we introduce Averroes, it is not, of course, with the intention of building a self-help manual from his knowledge. We will not find the words necessary for a certain ecumenism, so that overnight, we all love each other and reach peace. Averroes can serve us, not only as a prophet of secularism, but also as an instrument to question the clarity of the line that wants to separate the cultural forms of Islam from ours.


We can pick up on so many interesting threads in these responses. For example, the idea that museums (at least some of them) are in part public storage units where images have already been classified as ‘non-longer capable of producing transformation’ or impotent. To counter this, what seems to be suggested here is a performative idea of organising the power of images dialectically in which different regimes of knowledge are not simply seen as incommensurable i.e. ‘incapable of being measured together’. Incommensurability is one of the most prevalent ideas in post-modernism and is often used as a concept that can radicalise differences to the benefit of democracy, politics, society etc. What seems pertinent here, and what is perhaps distinctive about most of what has been said within this thread, is that rather than an attempt to push incommensurability between regimes of knowledge or cultures further there is an attempt to work with the materials that they make possible performatively and dialectically. A performative archival practice that believes in the power of images, it seems, is also a practices that needs to take a step back from thinking difference as concrete and absolute. Constructing image archives in this sense is a form of performative writing that works across different forms of knowledge to synthesise what we can call, after Deleuze and Guattari, a ‘minor literature’ of images that works to deterritorialize the parochial dimensions of modern knowledge systems. Would you agree to this and in which ways do you see your practices as contributing performatively to a sphere that intersects image-power and politics?


Nowadays the story of the author of Critique of Religious Discourse (1995), Professor Nasr Abu Zaid is little remembered. This egyptian thinker not only was expelled from El Cairo University in 1994 due to statements where he defended that Quran should be interpreted as a literary text, but also, according to islamic law, he was forced to divorce, abandon his family and his country to end exiled in the Netherlands. The whole system confabulated against him: the academic institutions demanded his defenestration (the millenary Al-Azhar University even asked for his death), mosques accused him of “kafer” (apostate) for his opinions on the sacred book and the Powers of attorney and press allied for his stigmatization, condemning him to ostracism. Nasr Abu Zaid’s cause is an example of the repression very similar to Averroes’ story and shows the rejection that even nowadays the idea of reason related to religious texts causes. Likewise, this event coincides with the disfigured image that frequently is shown linked to Islamic Contemporary World, specially starting with the terrorist threats and the last catchment movements of young people in Europe to fight in war areas.
In my opinion, to develop an artistic project around the term “reason” (mantik) as a way to deepen in the study of truth is a primary need, in the orientalist analysis of the Other seen from the West, as well as for the autobiographical study. This particular artistic project is based on Averroes (Ibn Rushd) thoughts in relation with the idea of a new Renaissance in the Islamic World (Nahda) that emerges from the freedom bestowed by artistic creation, considering the peculiarities and potentiality that art has, as recording medium and documentation, specially in its graphic facet.


We need to look no further than to what is happening right now in Poland or in many states of Donald Trump’s America to comprehend that theology cannot own the political space. In the course of history many events occured that prove this. Anthropologically, in the community in which I live, people can be categorized as ‘practicing’ more than they can as ‘believers’, liturgy has a greater presence than theology, and that works in the Iberian Peninsula as in southern Italy, for example, among other places. This may be due to the great number of converts that having been Jews or Muslims converted to Catholicism just shortly before Luther began his reformation. The relationship with worship, with religion, became liturgical, I do not know if from a cultural studies viewpoint it could be said to become performative, and with this a distance is established with the most rigorous aspects of Christian theology. The Inquisition, in short, became a system of political control and it is in its archives that we find endless evidence of, say, the overactivity of the faithful delivering on an endless liturgy. Despite what is known as ‟the black legend of the Spanish Inquistion” the Inquisition’s police criminality never exceeded the rigors of Lutherans or Calvinists. That is why the dissidents in Southern Catholicism were slow to adapt, barely provoking a true socio-political chang. We get glimpses of this in the work of the sensitive artists, figures such as Goya, a dissidence of another order but, from my point of view, more interesting than the secularization that Goethe or Rousseau carried out in their cultural spheres.
I am not sure why I am telling you this, Yassine, but the famous engraving “The dream of reason produces monsters” I think has something to do with all this. In a sense, the “regime of truth” has to do with a conception of truth as coming from the written tradition of the Holy Scriptures. But when I refer to the “double truth”, let us say in the Averroist tradition, I am not talking about relativism or obtuse or cornered subjectivism. It seems to me that when Enzo Traverso speaks of veracity, he establishes a realistic form of knowledge that allows us to abandon the games of postmodern mirrors where everything is reflected, where there is nothing. Because no one can seriously talk about objective truth, right ? Juan de Mairena liked big words always with question marks, but, after all, he gave place to great words. That restriction of the making that operates from veracity, in fact, also strengthens power. Both “truth” and “non-truth” operate totemically and drag the power of speeches, images and things to a strange vortex in which a part of the affairs revolves around a certain totem and another extends along the edges of the whirlpool. Some veracity does not fix, but it forces to establish some restriction in the operations of the sensible thing. It is not dispersed, but invites to explore fields of knowledge and sensitivity that are not yet controlled, which are not even in that field of truthfulness.
You use word “reason” (mantik) and I do not know if there is a word that simply alludes to the “reasonable”. Reason, like Allah, I believe requires too many sacrifices. In the name of the reason, we bombarded the rebels of the Rif with a killer gas for the first time in modern warfare in one of the colonial wars of Spain in the area currently occupied by Morocco. Sven Lindqvist in “Exterminate all the Savages” gives sufficient testimony on how such reason operates, precisely, as a justification for bombings, massacres and various genocides. That is why, I do not know, we may find other words, not reason nor faith, simply the “reasonable” and the “credible”, even at the risk of being considered “weak” or precisely because of the need to operate from there …


An “impotent” image that no longer has the capacity of transforming did have its power in a certain point, and as Pedro said, have a life of its own. As ‘Minor literature’ has three main characteristics, the deterritorialization of language, the connections of individual to a political immediacy and a collective assemblage of enunciation, the Minor literature of images can perfectly identify those characteristics and deterritorialize the parochial dimensions of modern knowledge systems. As political animals, we create within our society, as artists we comment, critique and react to it. We have to respond to reality, create dialogues and debates with the spectators or between ourselves, it is within our obligations. In my practices, I usually create from a minority point of view; a Palestinian born in Israel (the so-called Arabs of 48’) which I believe gives me a different perspective from which to see things. Mostly by the usage of religious symbols, ethnic symbols, objects, images and sound which has a religious-political or socio-political power, I try to make a strong connotation and a statement on political situations or idea(l)s.


I understand, Doris, but I want to point out the paradoxical aspects of deterritorialization, to subvert the comfort of the formula to which, surely, many operations of Archivo F.X. belong. Let us think of Kafka, the exemplar par excellence of a minor literature. Well, a Czech Jew writing in German. Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, a great Catalan writer who wrote in Spanish said he felt this way, writing in the language that politically rejected many of his ideological precepts, his ways of being and living. Juan Goytisolo, another Catalan-Castilian, understood that the great foundational moment of Castilian literature, the years around the picaresque, Cervantes, Celestina, etc., was undoubtedly due to the practice of the Jewish and Moorish converts, Christianized not to be exiled, persecuted, imprisoned. Obviously we are not only referring to a partisan politics but in a Joseph Conrad writing in English or Samuel Beckett writing in French, finally, he operates, albeit residual, at the same heartbeat of a Paul Celan writing in German. I am referring to the fact that the operation of deterritorialization affects so many transterrados , Palestinian writers, Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi, Saharan, Algerian, Moroccan artists … It is no coincidence that much of the theory, the famous French theory, comes from northern Africa, is a direct daughter of decolonization. Jacques Derrida, Hélène Cixous, Louis Althusser, Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière. We think of the tribulations of thought which is our deep sea : Averroes exiled in Marrakech, Maimonides in Cairo …

So here we have the position of the exiled, the emigrant, the refugee, the transterrado. What should it be ? The very condition that obliges him to deterritorialize himself is at the same time his enemy. It is true that the melancholy of exile often reduces reterritorialisation to the nostalgia of the lost place, to a certain bourgeois and reactionary, if not simply the goodest pastoralism of a weak humanism, close to collaborating with the enemy, whatever it may be. Of course, I, like Duchamp, reject the war, I would escape have escaped it, war seems to emerge and be organized from instances that are foreign to me, from states that administer us with the same contempt as they administer citizens under an enemy flag, indeed, I think I would have left, zero patriotism, maximum deterritorialization, but against the Nazis ? Maybe it would have been necessary to fight against the Nazis …

I am aware that I am conceptually bending the meanings of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, I apply a certain literality to those operations to reduce them to non sense functioning, to gag, to nonsense. But, it seems to me that it is necessary to operate there politically, not only in partisan politics, not only in solidarity with friends, with the community itself, not only in obviously administrative politics, it may be necessary to politicize these contradictions. Sí nos ponemos aquí bajo el in-título “La destrucción de las destrucciones”, no es solamente por el significado de lo que Averroes decía, aceptar sus ideas en torno a la “doble verdad”, a la convivencia de distintos regímenes de saber, lo es, fundamentalmente por el pulso poético que se adivina en su retórica, en las traducciones al castellano que he podido leer, en el sistema de escritura colectiva que significan los comentarios, las anotaciones, la critica. Averroes’ refutes Algazel who in turn refuted Avicenna. It is a system, the refutation installed as a way of operating from a thought, beyond the proper boundaries between science and religion, what excites us is how writing shares that general operation, it inserts itself into the machine of a knowledge that belongs to the whole community, and that pulse beats in each comment, in the capitulation itself.


Following up on this, I want to point to two directions that emerge from our discussion. First, there is perhaps a distinction to be made between ‘reason’ and ‘reasoning’, although they might be mistaken for the same thing, reasoning is a process that is based on taking ‘the universal’ (which is perhaps similar to the truth in Pedro’s reflections) as a regulative horizon that can never be reached. As James Trafford notes the idea of reasoning is that when subjects enter a conversation none of them leave the conversation with exactly the same ideas that they entered it with, the measure that a ‘conversation proper’ actually took place is the non-intactness of ideas and positions, their ability to shift in one way or another within a framework that takes all constraints and structural power issues whether political, social, or economical into full consideration. Thinking of ways to develop and design a politics of reasoning might be very difficult and even idealistic to a certain degree but the tweaking of reason with it’s cousin reasoning which is a distinctively intersubjective process is perhaps necessary because applying reason does not always entail the best or fairest outcome for all in a conversation. Secondly, this takes us to Talal Asad’s point that secularism ought not be considered a successor to the religious or the theological nor a purely rationalist endeavour, but a category in it’s own right that intersects with many layers of history, modernisation, and the development of democracy as well as the conceptualisation of ‘human rights’. So secularism cannot simply be equated with rationalism or reason but is rather an imperfect category which has been crafted overtime using variant tools, concepts, and laws and is potentially ‘open to further improvement and transformations’. Do you think art in its expanded sense, has a role to play in thinking or researching secularity, which is obviously the topic of this edition of the Gothenburg Biennial, where can it enter the picture so to speak? What are its tools of influence and how should it be influencing this debate from your perspectives?


Well, Bassam, now I do not know if I understand correctly. I mean, I do not know if the automatic translator with which we follow this conversation solves well the nuances of your English. But it is interesting to speak with certain blind spots in what is said, after all, in the conversation the performative conditions of the speakers are fundamental to what is said. That these questions and words are delivered in writing, here on a wall, has a lot to do with the way we are producing it, with translations and translators. But I think we want to bring our conversation to the core of what secularization might mean. I am interested in referring, then, to an inquiry a few years ago about Hans Blumenberg’s hostility to the idea that secularization, and the militant secularism it provokes, is not simply an extension of Christianity without a Church, even of Christianity without God. I only know of some of Talal Asad’s articles and I found in them his surprise towards the “religious” way in which U.S. policy used “modern and secular democracy” to harass Muslims after September 11 and the sophisticated rhetorical processes through which, once again, Muslims are turned into “infidels.”

I understand that Asad cannot simply accept that many of our modern values and attachments come, with some teleology, from a secularized Christianity. And not only because of the conflict that this genealogy would have with the traditions of Islam, or with Taoism. The suspicions that this genealogy raises about our own critical, communitarian, libertarian forms of life and the concepts that underpin it make us claim genuinely anthropological forms in human language that already entail an understanding of the world that we later historically know as secularization. For Blumenberg this was fundamental, he needed to liberate from any theological scaffold many of the metaphors he explores as keys to the human challenge of understanding the world through language. And, in a sense, I can share that certainty. But, in the end, the critical arsenal is adjoined to secularization, we are talking about those definitions that since Max Weber have been understood as capitalism and its productions – democracy, market economy, institutionalization. All this, allows us, gives us tools, and warns us that the instruments that we work with are not entirely ours or totally free or entirely clean but they are inserted in structures that surpass us and govern us at the same time as they help liberate us.

For Blumenberg, as for many of us, artists, producers and operators in the art field, imagination, understood liberally as the creative and anthropological capacity of the human, cannot simply be the result of historical transformations, imagination is connected to human rules of being in the world. This is apparent with categories such as love, which we often think of as a non-historical and material category, a kind of epiphany that solves all our being in the world but in reality it is a category historically built in such a way that, for example, it is fundamental in Provencal courtesan poetry adopting the eroticization that Sufi mysticism gave to its relationship with Allah; the humanization and incarnation of love for God. But, I’m afraid, as I said, these tools, devices that release us, also control us and I prefer to thoroughly know the tool with which I work, the image, the imagination, the relationships between different imaginaries.

When one understands the field of art, in its broadest expression, popular cultures, pop industry, as liturgical forms of capitalist theology; when museums are referred to as the new churches or mosques in which one attends to the renewal of the rites of the moment, to the way in which we make the world a room. And when it is understood that aesthetics like no other “discipline” has helped in the colonization of the world, space and time; and when, finally, from Feuerbach to Debord, art is spoken of as the ritual religion of the times of secular capitalism; I prefer to be aware of the materials, the tools, the operations with which I work, to be aware of that secular inheritance.

This is an inheritance which is not only Christian and this becomes apparent, for example, precisely when Agamben begins to address Averroes and Averroism by reading the modernity of Dante, Provencal courtesan poetry, the narrative meaning of the poetic caesura. To know their dangers and anathemas. When Simone Weil decides that Christianity is the intellectual and poetic background to his philosophical inquiry into the world, it is partly because he realizes that to think, in a sense, meant operating with the restraints and liberations with which Christianity modeled language and the life in which she was immersed at the beginning of the 20th century. She understood that in this way she could free herself, free us better from her restraints in a mystical exercise of knowledge that began, of course, from a refusal to be baptized or regulated by any religious institution. So, even knowing that many anthropological features circulate in an exteriority to politics, to the very history that constitutes them, I prefer to be aware that the elements of art are nothing more than a secularization of diverse religious forms, of mysticisms and psychologisms that do not relegate, precisely because I think that in that historical inquiry -against, if you will, in Benjamin’s way of making histories against history- in that archeology of the devices that bind us, that govern us, we can continue to find, that which frees us, the zones of anomie that allow us to live well.


This is my response to an earlier question, sorry for replying so late, I am away from home. I totally agree with you Bassam and also with Pedro about the concept of deterritorialization, from my particular point of view as a displaced artist I find the crossroad between image-power and politics in the constant allusion I make to the “the South shore” of the Mediterranean and to those multiple Mnemonic images referred to by the Palestinian sociologist Edward Said in his book on Palestine, After the Last Sky (1998). For Said, to have an expatriate consciousness and a problematic relationship with a lost home helps to model the entire critical disposition of an outsider. That is why I share the vision of art as a tool for political positioning, where the image is drawn as a vehicle of citizen awareness capable of changing the perception of the world in both the host country and the country of origin. It is not a question of contributing to the visualization of a complex and often difficult reality to show, but rather to offer a singular point of view, built from the filter of my particular look and sensitivity, providing the problematic with a dimension that invites reflection from a different perspective.


Yassine, I do not want to dwell on it too much, but precisely that is the paradox I was trying to point out. It is not for the same reasons you suggest that the F.X. Archive adopts a “minor literature”. The task might be more akin to a voluntary expatriation in which identity attachments are questioned, and thus national forms of organization, the concordance between geographies, cultures and states. This is not the same as a position springing from an autonomous poetic elaboration. I mean it is not comparable to the structural conditions that a Palestinian, Syrian or Saharawi refugee find himself in, where the real forces of police banishment and compulsory deterritorialization necessarily push subjects to occupy that permanent condition of foreigners, to frequent foreign forms, to live in the suburbs. I believe that abounding in that gap, in that difference is important to understand many of the political and cultural phenomena that operate in the variant exiles of this world.

The memory of exile is important, in Spain we are aware of such memories, for example, the exodus that followed the civil war of 1936. This is often idealized with ideas of critical conscience, resistance and hospitality of the host countries when, in fact, it is a very hard situation in which detachment and contempt are the least when it comes to maintaining minimum conditions of life. In short, I do not believe too much in singular points of view or in individual sensibilities, and it is precisely in those communitarian conditions such as that provoked by exile where these common interrelations and precariousness of the subject are appreciated: the need to spread with others and yes, to show the complexity of a situation, precisely through that transmission of a common that we sometimes call solidarity.

What I want to say is that it is not the same to arrive by rhetoric as by terror to these situations of deterritorialization, to take the classic Jean Paulhan distinction in which both ways, of course, are legitimate forms of poetic creation. We understand “rhetoric” as the arsenal of forms that the language offers us to understand the world and “terror” as the way to be in the world as a thing, with the same category that a stone is next to the banks of a river, to broach Agamben’s example. I think it is important to know these distinctions, to be able to operate with the difference that is given between the different tools.


I would like to add on Pedro’s comments on the paradoxical aspects of deterritorialization in a minor literature, referring to the Arab minority of Israel, the so-called Arabs of 48. As you know we live in exile in our own country, fighting with inner conflicts and identity issues further more than a language matter. Write down! I am an Arab; one of the poems of Mahmound Darwish (in his case written in Arabic and later on translated into Hebrew) can give you an idea about the dimensions of this conflict. This leads me to ponder on Averroes’ “double truth”, is applicable in certain areas (mentally and territorially) or is it an utopian idea!? This is to approache Bassam’s remark on the idea of ‘reasoning’. In order to be able to reach this level on a debate, the first step we should consider is the ability to listen taking into consideration the ‘other’, leaving our biases behind and taking into account (as before mentioned by Pedro) the background of the ‘other’ confronting us.

Talal Asad mentions in his book ‘Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity’ that “The concept of the secular cannot do without the idea of religion.” By Religion meaning as well traditions and culture; therefore, Secularity and Religion, which both are ambiguous, cannot be separated, but elements from each should be exchanged. When talking about human rights he mentions the (ab)use of political power of the state of profit (and its allies) and the oxymoron meaning of it, eventually serving the states’ interests.

Researching or thinking secularity is not only a matter that academics, anthropologists, theologians, sociologist and other ‘experts´ should analyse. It is and should be open to anyone that would like to make a statement and a comment. Nevertheless, Art has a powerful and a particular way to approach conflicts; as a universal language, it is approachable to all kinds of audience, from all cultures and levels. Art can talk, criticise, and make a statement through images, sounds, or any kind of ‘tool’ or material that each artist chooses. The diversity of artists and the background that each one of us carries is very important. If we can ‘touch’ peoples’ hearts (provoke any kind of feeling) than we can reach their minds as well, this can be a catalyst for a change, to promote democratic values, coexisting with religion, culture and tradition. Therefore, for me the question would be: “Where do I begin?” rather than where do I end and you begin…


You are going to have to forgive me, but this optimism about the function of art is a willing thing. It is precisely the question of secularization and the numerous voices that establish that the leeway of art from Romanticism assumes many elements of religion, a kind of religion without God, not only in mystical matters, but also in the organization, the hierarchy, the economy (museums such as temples, faith and financial spirit, surplus value and holy spirit, etc.) and the sophisticated forms of subjection that characterize power in the last phase of capitalism, the global phase. Consider how the insertion of art from non-Western areas since the 1980s, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, has often become a renewal of the art market based on subaltern handicrafts, to name only one especially perverse trend. But that is what it is all about, the power of aesthetics, the operations of art are revulsive but also convulsive. The art tools that seemingly release us are also a powerful restraint system. Power, control, the “grazing” referred to by Foucault, has taken tremendous control, persuasion, and manipulation capacity in the age of audio-visualization and vast electronic networks, which go much further than even Guy Debord noted in “The Society of the Spectacle”. And with this we can say that Avant-garde art, to continue with our topical denomination, is precisely the vanguard.

It is in many of the forms of art today that operations related to the secularization of forms of subjection previously attributed to religious cults – not only Christian – become evident to us. The introduction of Tao and Buddhist Shintoism, for example, in the American counterculture of the 1960s, provoked a Dadaist nihilism which, on the other hand, was unexpectedly politically very peaceful and so comfortable for political and economic situations although active and effective in other social and spiritual contexts. When I speak of secularization, I also speak, for example, of the domestication that voodoo, magic, esoteric cults, ancestral rituals, and santeria suffer in their re-elaboration in the field of art where they offer a mixture of spirituality and merchandise that not even the Marx of the “dancing table” would have suspected.

Of course all of the things I am saying come from an artistic practice, from being there full of contradictions but I think we have to be very aware of the danger of the tools with which we operate. “In the danger of fire is also the salvation.” Hölderlin’s adage touches the bone, the sensitive area, and is a fundamental touchstone when we operate with poiesis, the ways of doing art lead us to this realization. But let us not forget that it is fire that we handle and that actually fire burns, destroys, domesticates. “Fire”, the fire that Prometheus robs from the gods, precisely, a good image of the process of secularization.