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Accepted Paper:

Un/knowing Toxicity: Artistic interventions into Lebanon's waste crisis  


Hanna Baumann (University College London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper is concerned with the 'expertise' that artists working on issues of toxicity in Lebanon bring to the table. What can creative work reveal about the complexity and uncertainty of contamination through waste that scientific research and political debates cannot?

Paper long abstract:

Numerous artists have recently engaged with Lebanon's ongoing 'waste crisis'. While taking different approaches, a number of them address the 'toxic uncertainty' (Auyero and Swistun 2009) of causes and consequences of toxic harm being difficult to sense, trace, and represent. The work of Marwa Arsenios, Jessika Khazrik, Fadi Mansour, and Bassem Saad in particular brings to the fore how this uncertainty is fed:

First, in toxic political systems, where citizens cannot trust authorities, rumours abound, and there is direct repression of information and scientific findings. Here, artists play our inability to know the truth and with the relatability of their own narratives. Second, uncertainty is fostered by the complexity of human-non-human entanglements. Here, artists show how toxicity reverberates across socio-spatial scales, from the microscopic to the geopolitical, as local circulations of matter and labour are tied into wider, global circuits. Third, toxicity operates across timescales. Not only is environmental harm a 'slow' form of violence (Nixon 2011), where invisible relationships become difficult to follow, but it is also underpinned by longer histories of political violence. Further, the speculative artistic work considers toxic futures not only as dystopia, but also points to the potentialities of altered life forms and new social arrangements.

Citizens are often overwhelmed by the magnitude and complexity of processes of toxic violence, where truth cannot be told from fiction. I ask whether, and how, creative work can offer a alternative entry point into such unknowable systems.

Panel AA01
Activism by Disciplinary Experts vis-à-vis the Violence of the Anthropocene