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Guest Blog - Art & the Toxic Politics of Waste: Palestine and Lebanon

Wednesday 25 November, 2020

We've invited curator, moderator and Senior Research Fellow at The Bartlett's Institute for Global Prosperity, Hanna Baumann, to tell us more about creating the upcoming programme Art & the Toxic Politics of Waste.


From 1st - 3rd December DocHouse will be screening two recent short films from the Middle East, Waste Underground and Kink Retrograde.

On the surface both deal with landfills – one beneath the West Bank, the other off the coast of Beirut. Yet, in different ways, these two speculative films also engage with the way waste contaminates spaces and its connections to crisis, state power, and the future.

In a live Q&A session with the filmmakers on 3 December, we will examine the role of academic and artistic production in challenging conventional knowledge around waste and toxicity. We will discuss how the films approach the way value chains and waste circulations are entangled with toxic political systems. And we will ask how filmmakers can account for the often complex trajectories of rubbish, its slow and difficult-to-trace impact, and the complexity of political forces at play. 

This event is organised in partnership with UCL Urban Laboratory and the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, as part of their joint ‘waste’ research theme. A second event in the new year will examine similar themes through two films from Argentina and Brazil. 

Book your free tickets to the screening (1-3 December) and live Q&A on 3 December at 7pm GMT here.


Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins is a cultural anthropologist and an Assistant Professor at Bard College, whose monograph Waste Siege was published with Stanford University Press in 2019.

Waste Underground emerges from her fieldwork on efforts to bury Palestinian waste in the West Bank and was made in collaboration with Palestinian cinematographer Ali al-Deek. The film explores the idea that landfills are underground storage sites for waste that therefore have particular relationships to land and to futurity.

The film was first screened at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center during the Sharjah Biennial 13,  Tamawuj in Ramallah, in August 2017. It has also been screened as part of the Jerusalem Show iX at al-Ma’mal in the Old City of Jerusalem in 2018.

Watch Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins 
talking more about her film in this DocHouse Original:


Bassem Saad is an artist and writer trained in architecture. His work explores objects and operations that distribute violence, pleasure, welfare, and waste. Through video, sculpture, and writing, he investigates and records strategies for manoeuvring within and beyond governance systems.

Kink Retrograde developed out of a period of research and involvement with the Lebanese waste crisis (2015-present). In it, toxicity is seen as an existential and political condition arising from governance that normalizes crisis and prescribes resilience. The film presents a speculative allegory whose protagonists live in a world shaped by repeated shocks that come to resemble the apparent retrograde motion of celestial bodies: cyclical and seemingly backwards moving. The intoxicated characters decide that the social contract between themselves and the sovereign powers has always been breached, and so they must devise a new and transparent contract aware of its own abjectness, risk, and deviance — one of total kink. 

For more thoughts on the history of waste in Beirut, system thinking, destitute power and care structures, also see Bassem Saad’s essay, No Entropy Cassandra 2020, published in Unbag magazine.

Watch Bassem Saad's talking more about his film in this DocHouse Original: 

Watch the response to the films by Dr Elizabeth Saleh. Elizabeth works in the fields of political and economic anthropology with a special focus on waste, agriculture, labour and gender. She currently works as an assistant professor in Anthropology at the American University of Beirut.

For further discussion, and a possibility to pose your own questions for the filmmakers, join the live Q&A on 3 December at 7pm GMT.