ADA X, Montreal

Mare Extractionem

The conflict between Lebanon and Israel dates back to 1948 and the creation of the Zionist State. It has consisted of long periods of slow violence and shorter full-blown wars with a two-decades-long occupation and numerous ecocides committed on Lebanese soils. It thus came as a surprise that in October 2022, the two countries agreed on delimiting their maritime borders. But, when gas or oil are part of the mix, the most intricate issues become solvable.

Could you pass me a pencil? is a work currently being developed by artist Joyce Joumaa that imagines a congress where these borders are negotiated based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Joumaa aims to offer a speculative enactment of the numerous rounds of indirect negotiations which happened behind closed doors under the United States' mediation.

In 1609, Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius published Mare Liberum, a treatise commissioned by the Dutch East India Company where he formulated the principle of freedom of the seas, allowing for the unrestricted circulation of ships to protect international maritime trade. Notably, the treatise was inscribed within a dispute opposing the Netherlands to Portugal over the domination of sea trade through the Pacific Ocean. The principles erected then have come to form the backbone of the UNCLOS. Often, legal principles and regulations are part of a story of colonization, capital, trade, and extractions that have benefited Western powers.

For her work, Joyce Joumaa chooses to set the stage of her congress under sea waters and to populate it with fish. The protagonists, 3D rendered with high details and fidelity, will be some of the species inhabiting this part of the Mediterranean. They will impersonate human characters ranging from politicians, scientists, envoys, and diplomats. Joumaa transposes the plot to the domain of the absurd, with direct identification made difficult. Perhaps, she asks, such is the only way to depict a dialogue with a sworn enemy that has come to represent the ultimate ‘other’ in the local imagination.

On July 14 and 15 2006, the Israeli shelling of the Jiyyeh Power station in Lebanon resulted in a 10 km wide oil spill covering 170 km of coastline, one of the worst ecological disasters in the country's modern history. By anthropomorphizing fish/animalizing humans, Joyce foregoes the possibility of another congress, another diplomacy to exit: one for and with the more-than-humans. Their stories remain untold, only glimpsed at, as they continue to suffer through the atrocities of extraction and the ensuing climate change.

Marie-Nour Héchaimé is a curator, currently working at the Sursock Museum in Beirut. She is interested in the interdependencies between humans and more-than-humans and history writing through an environmental perspective.