In Need for a Poem

 Detail from a photograph taken at room of Hotel Beau Rivage in 1982. Archive Horst Sturm, 2013

Image 1: Detail from a photograph taken in a room at Hotel Beau Rivage in Beirut in 1982. Archive (c) Horst Sturm, 2013.

On Sunday, I called Horst shortly before noon. He didn’t pick up the phone. I left a message on his answering machine to say hello and to ask how he is. Shortly after, he called back telling me that he cannot walk properly. But he can drive the car that seems to function like a prosthesis to continue a life on the road. Horst is 90 years old, and repeats to report about particular events in his life endlessly many times in each conversation anew. One of them is that he was death-sentenced by Hans Filbinger, an infamous German Nazi-judge, a few days already after the end of the war in May 1945 because of Horst's disobedience to war order. It is the same Filbinger who had been Minister President of Baden-Würtemberg (West-Germany) later in the 1960s; the fact that a Nazi-functionary could become a politician in West-Germany after the war supported Horst's absolute support of the new nation-state called GDR. This story-telling comes next to another flash of thought, which exposes the memories on his journeys to more than 30 countries as a photographer from the GDR (East Germany). From this narrative, he prefers to recall his many encounters with Palestinian friends and photographer-colleagues from the 1980s in the Middle East and North-Africa.

There is one particular photograph that I received from Horst Sturm in 2009. It is one of a small number of Horst’s privately archived images from his journeys to Beirut in the early 1980s, when he worked together with Tariq Ibrahim, Mahmoud Nofal, Youssef Khotoub and many further Palestinian photographers and future-photographers in the region. This single photograph is stunning. It simply looks really good and could make it easily on the cover of a magazine, into a glossy publication, or as a title-image for this blog entry. It would fit quite well in the currently exhaustively excessive desire for archives in the world of contemporary art, particularly when discussing geopolitics and economic globalization.

But something hinders me to make this photograph public as if it called for another way of treatment. As if it was an 'incurable image' as Tarel El-Haik calls the failure of professionalism in curating, when the image ‘disorients us by forcing us to return to chaotic affects that cannot be curated in the professional sense of the term.' (This is taken from his lecture in a conference in Neaples early this year.) As if this image from the early 1980s wanted to fail the transition from a moment of ideological intimacy departing from educational encounters framed by real-existing socialism to ‘capitalist realism’ as Mark Fisher calls the psychic condition we are living in today. The strong reluctance for making this photograph public informs profoundly my idea for the itinerant, as a condition to re-think the exhibition space without subscribing to curatorial practice in the common sense, i.e., refusing to simply put this photograph on public display for intellectual vivisection.

But, as a curator, what to do with an 'incurable image' that resists to be exhibited in the world of contemporary art as a single shot? My re-reading of Jean Genet’s sentence – ‘Put all the images in language in a place of safety and make use of them, for they are in the desert, and it’s in the desert we must go and look for them.’ – will take a poetic turn this time. In doing so, it flirts with the ‘poetic virus’ that Suely Rolnik entrusts the archive, although I am anything than a writer of poetry. But the virus builds a link between the exhibition (to make public) and the archive (which always conceals when it reveals) that tangle up with one another here. This 'poetic virus' departs from the exhibition's counterpart, which easily is indicated by calling for 'inhibition.' It departs from the body, from the not-yet articulated, from the un-documented, and from a missing vocabulary.

Concretely, it departs from an intimate moment of solidarity which one does not want to disturb even if this moment results from a state-programmed idea of solidarity (as I elaborated in the previous blog entry briefly; and will continue in following entries). There are always these two confliciting sides: the formal structures of solidarity and the informal incidents outside of any possible / official plans. The first can be researched in visual as well as textual manifestations (protocols, documents, institutional archives); the other side takes distance explicitly from these kind of classification but cannot exit without its official side. The photograph here at stake departs from the 'other side' although it exists as a physical print out. But it was taken in a moment of informality, friendship, triviality, and solidarity without protocols. It resists to be published in the professional way. It will be published, below the following image, by other means.


Image 2: On the back: "Swimming pool and defense fighting position. View from my window at Hotel Beau Rivage in Beirut 1980." Photo and archive (c) Horst Sturm, 2013. 


A young man. Chest naked. With a moustache. Black skin. Curly hair. 

He wears glasses. He sits in a bed. Seemingly relaxed. Reading a book. 

He lies more than he sits. He is lost in the book. Absorbed in reading. As if he observed his lover.

His gaze absorbs. Letters and images. 

Is he aware of the gaze of a third person, who is not there yet but is already represented by a photographic lens? 

We have heard this question many times. In Ici et Ailleurs. Godard, Mièvielle, Goran … 

The man reads a book.  

PENTACONSIX PRAXIS by W. Gerhard Heyde VEB Fotokinoverlag Halle near Leipzig


It was the only professional photo camera in the GDR. My father worked with the same model. 

Al-Damoor in Lebanon. Bombardments. A child cries. 

A French cameraman asked to buy the picture. He could pay you 400 dollars. Are you stupid not to accept?. He called me a stupid man. (Laughter).

The camera in the book. It is a good one. Pentaconsix. It brings a detail in focus. 

Even if the detail was a bit more distanced.

It is good also in capturing the architecture of a space.

With depth of sharpness.

The depth of the image. The weight of the image. Different levels within the image. That’s what we learned.

Next to him. On the bed. Rests a gun. 

It is a small gun. It looks like a gun that usually is used in short-distance. Not for the war on the battlefield. It is not a Kalashnikov. It seems to be a gun for proximity.

While the camera in the book is able to shoot in distance. 

The gun next to him can potentially manage proximity. 

It seems that the young man: Chest naked. With a mustache. Black skin. Curly hair. 

That he replaced the gun by the book. For a moment.

Hotel Beau Rivage.The gun takes a pause.

At a hotel room in Beirut in 1982. 

They form an allegory for ‘solidarity.’ The book, the gun, the camera, the guy.

The proximity and distance at once.

It requests. A certain weight. 

A compulsive desire. Perhaps a force. 

Closer to struggle. Than to direct action.

Closer to stammering. Than to proper words.

It requests transformation on October 28 in 2013. 

Image 3: Photographic exercise on the street during the photo course in Beirut as a moment of the collaboration between the press agencies of GDR and the P.L.O., likely 1981. Archive (c) Horst Sturm, 2013.

Doreen Mende 2013