DAAR (Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency) is an architectural studio and art residency programme based in Beit Sahour, Palestine. DAAR’s work combines conceptual speculations and pragmatic spatial interventions, discourse and collective learning. DAAR explores possibilities for the reuse, subversion and profanation of actual structures of domination: from evacuated military bases to the transformation of refugee camps, from uncompleted governmental structures to the remains of destroyed villages. DAAR projects have been shown showed in various biennales and museums, among them Venice Biennale, Home Works in Beirut, the Istanbul Biennial, the Bozar in Brussels, NGBK in Berlin, the Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, Architekturforum Tirol in Innsbruk, the Tate in London, the Oslo Triennial, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and many other places. DAAR’s members have taught lectured and published internationally. DAAR was awarded with the Price Claus Prize for Architecture, nominated for the Curry Stone Design Price, the Anni and Heinrich Sussmann Artist Award, the New School’s Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics, the Chernikhov Prize.
The works developed during the three months of residency at Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency in Beith Sahour, West Bank/Palestine were focused on the environment of Oush Grabh (Crow’s Nest in Arabic) and the ex-military base on its hilltop. Oush Grabh – part of the village Beith Sahour- is a wadi on the border to the desert close to Bethlehem. As it is not inhabited or cultivated it is left now in almost natural conditions, showing the “wounds” of the conflicts and of pollution. The ruins of an ex military base from Jordanian occupation times are the dominant landmark of the zone, the ruins of former habitation were less visible.
In the Oslo agreement was signed that after the evacuation of the Israeli military, which held base in this period, the base would be handed over to the municipality as public space. The military base, almost destroyed during the second Intifanda, is not usable, but still the area is under remote control of the Israeli military and there are a lot of difficulties for the municipality to really use the site. In the same time Oush Grabh is an important environmental issue as migration birds -more than 520 species – land here during their migration. Furthermore Oush Grabh became also a political conflict point as settlers come here to demonstrate and try to establish a new settlement and despite the fact they are on Palestinian territory they behave very often violent against inhabitants, international visitors or bird watchers.
On the shooting ramp of the ex- military base in Oush Grabh are installed white banners on which are printed the biological names of migration birds landing here every year. Oush Grabh is on the path of more than 500 million migration birds passing over the Syrian-African crack (Jordan Valley). The paths are lying between south and eastern Africa and north and eastern Europe and Asia.
To be able to do an artistic work in political conflict zones, means to evade the emotional reaction. One has to prove the conditions of possibilities of judgment, which allows to take a position and to realize an artistic work. Proofing the circumstances enables to judge a given situation.
Oush Grabh is a place in which different categories of values collide.
Following groups of interests claiming territorial rights based on different categories:
1. The efforts of the Israeli settlers to determine the territory as a historical one and build on it a settlement. An interpretation of the space based on selective historical definition.
2. Ornithologists and nature preservationists want to protect the uniqueness of the territory. The scientific definition of the territory.
3. The Israelis occupy the whole area, the indigenous have no autonomy to deal with their own ground. A juristically – political definition of territory.
So it is given a territory contaminate by different definitions and intentions to control this space: A piece of nature with rests of military occupations on which we find nationalistic Israeli graffiti done by the settlers.
The nature, untouched part of the territory, is actually a cultural space in which several conditions and evaluations are confronted. Interesting are two of them seeming to be neutral because they base on collective conventions: scientific evaluation of space and historical identification.
The installation “Tell Me How Many Birds” indicates among other things that scientific cultural space is defining and conquering natural space. The reality of bird’s migration and their flyways is researched and categorized. The disposition or the categorization is a predicate and our approach towards nature is defined through it. It is a form of conquering space in which the aspect of conservation and saving nature is not the aim of science. Conservation looks moral but it is occasional product by the effort to control and getting decision capacity. This base offers justifications for control, but also reflection about intentions followed by conscious decisions. Necessity of acting is a consequence.
Star of Bethlehem in a ruined watchtower of the ex-military base is drawn a hexagram with wire.
The settlers’ effort to occupy the space is initiated on a selective historical identification and interpretation. On this base they justify every act and set themselves free from any ethical acting. Science and history don’t bring one necessarily towards morality neither they guarantee justifications. In absence of reasonableness they become instruments of power. But: We can also use them as instrument of knowledge proving always our way of thinking and feeling. An enlightened view requires visibility of cultural judgments. The search for truth and the understanding the different approach toward its and the relations between all things. This is also expressed in culture: take part on the other despite own circumstances and conditions of living.
The base for a cultural range of values, often not reflected, are ethical judgments. But these have a universal character we can only approach through rationality. We can’t give any true neutral judgments, we need always a mirror to understand our own opinions. Culture is not neutral, is not universal, it is based first on the human being’s aptitude to go beyond needs and own interests and empathizing for the other. If established cultural values are used under aspects of conquering the other, we are on degradation. Culture doesn’t justify anything but it is always helpful to analyze the mode of consciousness. That enables ethical acting and is a condition of a true encounter with the other.