The Serpentine Gallery
July 12–September 17, 2011
The term Middle East, by many accounts, first appeared in an English newspaper at the end of the 19th century. Since then it has existed more concretely as an object of discourse than a geographical region, its contours more legible from outside than in. The Bidoun Library is an attempt to survey this imaginal territory through printed matter. It considers publications as objects, conditioned by the incentives of material production and beholden to complex and historically contingent objectives. The Bidoun Library does this by collecting and arranging in one place thousands of books, pamphlets, and magazines on or about the Middle East — not the most apt, worthy, or excellent publications, but the cheapest.
The Library’s London iteration coincided with the release of Bidoun 25, a special issue produced in Cairo over six weeks in the spring following the January 25 revolt that brought down Hosni Mubarak. While in Egypt Bidoun systematically collected nearly every book and magazine printed in those first few moths, including soap-operatic novellas about Mubarak’s last days in power; special revolution-themed issues of teen, fitness, and in-flight magazines; long-suppressed political treatises and sex-advice manuals.
The new Egyptian materials, along with publications found in London during Bidoun’s residency at the Centre for Possible Studies on Edgware Road, joined the Library’s compendium of guidebooks, conspiracy theories, romance novels, comic books, science texts, travelogues, and oil company publications.
Two new publications, both titled Remainder (1 & 2), were produced for the London library.
The Bidoun Library opened with a wedding-cum-dance party in the Serpentine Pavilion featuring Cairo-based musician Sadat and more shaabi music from DJ Funkyeast.
Throughout the summer, a series of talks and screenings highlighting aspects of the library were held under the rubric of the Serpentine’s Saturday Seminar program. Participants included Egyptian writer-activists Ahdaf Soueif and Nawal El Saadawi, Hatem Imam from Beirut’s Samandal collective, Payam Sharifi from Slavs and Tatars, and Bidoun’s own Michael C. Vazquez. The seminars concluded with a roundtable discussion featuring leading activists and librarians discussing the contemporary crisis of public libraries in the UK — amid a wave of library closings and deaccessionings that have dispersed hundreds of thousands of publications.
Special thanks: Centre for Possible Studies Delfina Foundation Ognisko Polskie