Studio International spoke to Dabrowska about her installation A Lebanese Archive at the opening of the group show From Ear to Ear to Eye at Nottingham Contemporary.
It was while on a SPACE residency at the Arlington hostel for homeless people in Camden, north London, in 2010 to 2012, that she encountered Diab Alkarssifi, a Lebanese-born photography enthusiast who presented her with two plastic bags stuffed with photographs, film and negatives. It was part of an archive he had put together from personal and found artefacts, spanning more than 100 years of Lebanese life. The other half, he told Dabrowska, was back in his home town of Baalbek, and, in 2013, she undertook her first trip to the region to try to unearth this companion archive, but also to connect the history, legacy and life of this man, and the places and spaces his archive recorded.
For the Nottingham Contemporary show, Dabrowska has created an immersive installation of these multiple geographic and personal journeys – the initial one into Alkarssifi’s archive, the resulting trips to the Lebanon, as well as the interrogations these events inspired in her practice. A multi-part display includes her own photos of the places she visited, a three-screen rotating display of 1,500 images, both archive and contemporary, and vitrines showing Alkarssifi’s original prints accompanied by her own notations and codifications for the book she went on to publish, in conjunction with the Arab Image Foundation.
She says: “I think there is something in the power that archives give artists … and it goes beyond the looking back and referencing the old. There is some kind of agency that we possess: by the retelling of archival stories, we have the power to articulate new ideas of who we want to be identified as, or how we want to formulate our own identities.”
From Ear to Ear to Eye
16 December 2017 to 4 March 2018
Interview by VERONICA SIMPSON
Filmed by MARTIN KENNEDY