BEIRUT: When Marwa Arsanios and Mirene Arsanios launched 98weeks in 2007, it was homeless. Today, it’s homeless again.
The arts research project, which shifts its focus to a new subject every 98 weeks, is a two-pronged endeavor. One is the team’s own research and publication schedule. The other is a program of workshops, discussions, film screenings, seminars and reading groups through which the public is encouraged to engage with the current topic and offer up input and feedback.
Recent research topics have included an investigation into the politics of listening, led by artist Lawrance Abu Hamdan, and a series called “On Publication,” exploring arts and cultural publication produced in the Arab world since the 1930s. The current research focus is feminism.
For the first two years of its existence, 98weeks wasn’t tied to a venue, but since 2009 it has been operating from a project space in Mar Mikhael. Here the small team housed the archives, as well as hosting local and international artists and curators, who were encouraged to present their ideas and discuss their work with the public.
There was this kind of randomness to the programming that we’re trying to change
Last month, 98weeks lost its Mar Mikhael space at very short notice. The landlord decided to rent it out to someone else, who plans to transform it into a gym.
Sitting in a café in Gemmayzeh, co-founder Mirene Arsanios and director Zeina Assaf seem to be taking the loss in their stride.
“We’re looking for a new space,” Arsanios says, “and we’ve probably found it, but we haven’t confirmed it yet ... It’s a second floor apartment [in Mar Mikhael], quite big, but there’s quite a lot of renovations to do.”
The team are planning to launch a crowdfunding campaign to pay for the renovations, Assaf says, and hope to open the new space in December or January.
In the meantime, the 98weeks library is in storage but the programmed events are continuing to take place.
“We’re in a lot of spaces that are made available to us,” Arsanios says, “like the Beirut Art Center, Ashkal Alwan, Mansion – who all basically told us that we can use their space if we need to ... 98weeks operates around the public programming but also the research, which is not space-bound, so we can continue doing the research even though we don’t have a space.”
Co-founder Arsanios says that the need to move has had an unexpected upside, bringing the way that 98weeks operates into sharp relief and encouraging the team to rethink some of their programming.
“It’s probably not that bad,” she shrugs, “because it makes it a little bit more focused in a way. Some of the events were not always curated by 98weeks, so we had a lot of people coming and going.
“It was more like an open platform, in a way, but right now we’re trying to redefine 98weeks’ public programming and consider it a little more, so, like, curate a more regular program of events but around a conceptual framework.
“There was this kind of randomness to the programming that we’re trying to change ... We’re always open to people coming to us, but we’re trying to tighten up the programming a little more and keep it focused around the research topic.
“We have this curator-in-residence, so we’re going to be inviting new curators to come and propose programming for the space.”
98weeks’ existing program remains in place, Assaf stresses.
“We have a couple of long-term projects,” she explains, “so we have an online radio, which is a series of events with a live audience that we stream live online and we also do an edited version on FM radio. We have funding for that. We’re going to be doing that sometime in the spring. We also have publications that Mirene is heading up for 98editions, so the next one is coming out probably in April.”
In the meantime, the team are working on timing their new vision for 98weeks to coincide with the launch of the new location.
“It was probably time for us to rethink our position a little bit,” Arsanios reflects. “The new space gives us a concrete location to do that – to rethink our programming, rethink our structure, rethink our relationship with the city, etcetera. I think it’s going to be a good move. It’s going to generate new reflection.
“We’re thinking a little bit more ‘What is it that we want to do, and, like, what is 98weeks in the city?’” she adds, “... We’re at a turning point, so we can decide what direction to take and I think that we want to keep it as a research project, more than as an art space. It’s an art space because it’s a research project, not the other way around.”
For more information about 98 Weeks and upcoming events, please visit www.98weeks.net