On Wednesday, June 2nd, 2021 Beirut Institute hosted e-Policy Circle 36 with Bernard Khoury, architect, Nada Debs, Founder and Creative Director at Studio NADA DEBS, Céline Semaan Vernon, Designer, writer, and Executive Director, Slow Factory, and Thalia Dergham, Senior Brand Strategy Manager, FARFETCH.
This 36th episode of the e-Policy Circles is part of the run-up program to the Beirut Institute Summit in Abu Dhabi Edition IV, under the theme Stability Redefined-Who Authors the Future?
This global conversation, focused on the politcs of creativity, resulted in excellent points around the following issues, including:
On creative practices as political acts:
I am not an architect who aims at designing pretty things and beautiful things but […] I’m also very keen about the political meaning of my practice particularly on this [Lebanese] territory. Particularly in Beirut, in this part of the world, I think architecture is very much a political act; I think any creative field is. We are I think the true resistants and this is where real true politics happen, not in the conventional realm of politics. […] Our institutions are hijacked and we simply have to find other ways to practice politics and build meaning.
If you deeply believe that architecture is a political act and you come in that climate in Lebanon in the 1990s, you’re very much deceived. So you try to find other territories to practice architecture in a meaningful way. You are forced to do that. There’s no other way. […] Beirut forces you to develop other strategies and other ways to produce meaning in all creative fields, not only in architecture.
Powerful design in fashion or other fields […] often comes as a political act often related to a specific cause.
On the imperative of promoting sustainability today:
Celine Semaan Vernon
[People, businesses and organizations often ask], What should we do? Should we go carbon neutral? Should we use only organic? Should we like invest in artisanship and craftsmanship? And the answer often is all of the above and/or. Sustainability is a spectrum. It’s not just one or the other. It is all of the above. And with Slow Factory we help brands, organizations, even governments understand how they can approach these topics because we are, as the UN claim, in the decade of action since 2020. Climate justice is becoming one of the most important factors of our time. The Middle East is one of the red zones that the UN stated the first zones the frontline communities that are going to be hit by climate change.
Celine Semaan Vernon
New materials are very impactful in bridging the gap between human rights and climate justice. Just with the change of a material we can already lower the carbon and invest in lab-grown material as well as waste-to-resource and the Slow Factory invests heavily into these material sciences as well as bringing them to the market.
What we’re seeing now […] is this sort of more holistic and increasingly intersectional and progressive value system that is embedding itself in fashion and in the culture industries whereby people are demanding that these industries reshift and redesign their systems to shape a new status quo that shapes the future of behaviors. I think sustainability is a really good example of that because we know that sustainability for many years was very niche […] but there was a distinct shift in the past few years that really convinced people to take on sustainability as something that they were to demand of diverse industries and more specifically the fashion industry.
[Luxury] is really about slow design, it’s about things taking its time, appreciating […] handcraft and so for me these are really important things. When you speak to craftsmen, [you see] the way they speak about their work, you’re just drawn into that world and [this is] so valuable [and] cannot be reproduced.
On creative businesses seeking a positive social impact:
I think what happened this year is that the world really changed dramatically and that it affected the fashion industry, whereby, businesses really had to embrace not only being an industry that provides luxury fashion goods, but really being a platform for good for their communities. And what they realized is that essentially now it’s officially ‘cool to care’.
Your values can help you make decisions regarding your sustainability strategy, regarding what you want to do for the climate, for human rights, and how to measure your decisions to make sure that your long-term plans are effective and are actually making a positive change. So the values really are a form of compass to decision-making.
On being creative in Beirut after the August 4th, 2020, explosion:
The blast was something that really shook me in a way where it either was going to make me go forward and embrace what we have or the reverse. [My studio] was completely destroyed. About 60% of our furniture was destroyed, all our windows, doors. […] For us it was an immediate reaction to fix the studio to get back on our feet in order not to leave the craftsmen because […] for me it was so important that we don’t abandon the people who are creating the identity of who we are.
There’s so much that we can do here, and I think [that although] circumstances keep pushing us in different directions, we’re always finding ways to deal with it. And this is something that we’re very good at, and […] I feel that today there’s a way forward. There’s some light at the end of the tunnel. And we have to keep going.
I resist the word rebuilding because rebuilding implies in a way that once there was something, and then an accident happened, and then we’re cured, so we rebuild as if nothing has happened. Rebuilding doesn’t necessarily take into account the process [of] what happens specifically at a very specific moment in time, the reaction you have to that accident, which will certainly give another shape or inform in many ways whatever project you’re addressing. It is something that happened with the August 4th blast.
You can access the full video on this link.