In Conversation with Krystel Khoury

Krystel is a Cultural Manager, Researcher, and Dramaturge.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon. Living and locked down in Brussels, Belgium.

‘[Our conversation] started with the lockdown and the pandemic situation. This context is ongoing and so is my email correspondence with you while our part of the world is drifting in war and chaos. I see that this conversational experiment is another way to resist to our speedy and spirling world. It is about challenging time and temporality. Wouldn’t you agree?’

I met Krystel, by introduction of my good friend Mihran Tomasyan, in Beirut in 2016, when she organized a place for me to stay during the time I was visiting Beirut International Platform of Dance. We already had many common friends -as is usually the case in this kind of enconters- and I knew I’d met someone who would become a good friend slowly. And I reaffirmed this every time we met in different parts of the world and above all through these correspondences.  With a background in dance, performing arts and a PHD in anthropology of dance and intercultural dynamics, Krystel has conceived and led research and creative project in two sides of the Mediternnanean, engaging with artists from the Arab world and Europe. She is currently the head professor of Institut Supérieur des Arts et Chorégraphies of the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and  works for Mophradat.
Our correspondence has not been about any of this. It is more about death, about food, about hope and many other things in life. And, thankfully, it is not over.

This email correspondence took place between Fatih Gençkal and Krystel Khoury from April 26 to October 20, 2020.

From: Fatih Genckal
To: Krystel Khoury

Sent: Sunday, 26 April 2020 16.53

Dear Krystel,
I want to start an interview experiment. I will ask you one question everyday and you will have 24 hours to respond to it. Then I will ask the next question based on your answers or my curiosities. You can also ask me questions in your answers and interview me in a way. It will be like a conversation.
If you answer quickly, I can ask the next question right away, so we don’t have to wait 24 hours. It can turn into texting each other too. Or not.
Please feel free to write as you are speaking.  Follow the spark the question starts in you.
So here is the first question:
What do you see happening with you and around you since the beginning of home confinement?

Krystel Khoury 27 Apr 2020 15:54
Dear Fatih,
What do you I see happening with me and around me since the beginning of the home confinement…First think that comes to my mind is that I see how much i need/miss physical presence – even if it is only to be sitting next to someone and having a chat. I see deep transformation in how i look to the world: small details – like taking care of plants and buying flowers every week to have them on my desk and be able to look at them when i just deconnect from my screen. I see that I cannot watch a movie for more than 45 minutes unless it is super captivating. I see that sometimes routines makes me want to break it. I see that I am calm and serene since i don’t interact a lot with the surrounding. I see that Ramadan has started when sitting in Brussels I hear a muezzin from my neighbours window. I that cities lack of green colour too. I see that i … want to smell the sea again – hopefully soon. I see sometimes that what i can be doing is simply to keep myself busy because i don’t know how to do otherwise. Sometimes it is tasteless… sometimes it is absurd… I see that I have become more attentive to sounds and colors in general. the birds in the morning and the sun … if i don’t have them in my day landscape, i notice I am gloomy. I see that reading news from time to time is best to stay healthy in the mind – otherwise, it is a door opening to very unhappy things.
A pigeon just passed by to say hello…
Hello Fatih , I wonder what you see happening around you?

Fatih Genckal 27 Apr 2020 21:15
First, it felt like a much desired retreat, which I wanted to devour while it lasts. Then I came to realize that this is something else. I still go back and forth. I spend most of my time organizing myself, my work, setting up a routine and flirting with the rush of creativity that comes and goes, much like I would in a residency or something. Then the gravity of the reality strikes. I go out every 4-5 days and feel really on edge in the supermarket. I feel my gaze has turned in, my eyes are looking down most of the time, either on the screen, on a book or on the floor. Maybe I’m shrinking. My mind keeps busy all the time, trying to make myself useful by reading articles about what’s going on, trying to write something, to contribute somehow to the chronicles of these times. Yet, there’s just too much out there, it overwhelms me. Lately, I sense a growing desire of returning to some sort of normalcy by governments as soon as possible. Coming from a desperate attempt to save the fucked up system that put them there. There also seems to emerge a parallel universe of sorts: People are again very busy all of a sudden. What are they doing? I feel anxious to use this opportunity to imagine and build a new life. For myself and for the world. But how? Big words. I remember millions still working to make the world go around. I remember that that is the real world. I am just home, hanging there, thinking about it. Do you ever get this sense of futility, too?

Krystel Khoury 2 May 2020 18:22
Your question about futilities kept me wondering for some days. What is a futile geste? For me somehow, things are gaining back their purpose.

since the beginning of the situation, i did not need to keep myself busy. I was busy as I always had a part of my work done remotely. However, i was fighting the overall tendency of doing more than usual. I became therefore more aware of how i was spending my days. I was even noting on a piece of paper what i have written, done, read, watched, listened and spoke to. Just to keep track or maybe unconsciously to make sure that i am not “loosing time”. That what I was doing is not a futility. It was also very contradictory because i was simultaneously making sure that the people I am in contact with, feel no pressure of “productivity”. At one point, one night, I felt the need to play. yes, play. and I remembered that what i enjoy much about playing is the dynamics it creates with the other player. I looked at my tawlah and started remembering the friends who passed by my previous apartment in Munich and with whom I played. I thought that maybe I should take my playing card and play solo games my grandma’ tought me. Before playing I used to ask myself a yes-no question and they if the game “opened” it would be a yes, otherwise a “no”. This time i had a weird resistance to play cards, maybe because i had no questions to the world anymore. All seemed futile. Since a while i came to live life but trusting it and not forcing its destiny.

I went to the supermarket – that’s a story that i linked to futility  that I wanted to share with you. I went to the supermarket and somehow i found myself in front of the soap shelves. It was almost empty but weirdly enough, I found 3 brands left. Those 3 brands were: Dove, Fa and Diadermine. I stood up there confused. which one should I pick? Since 3 years, I don’t buy industrial soap but that’s not the thing. Those specific 3 brands were the only 3 that used to get at different stages of my life.A mother and a daughter were looking at me wondering why that hesitation… Fa was green and had a fresh lemony smell – it reminded me of a dear friend of mine and especially when after going to the beach in beirut when kids we had to take showers to remove the salty watrr from our skins. Dove, has a strong but rather sweet smell that made me go back to my students days in Paris. i remember even a guy telling me he bought it for him because it reminded him of me hahah. and Diadermine was a French brand my mother used to like – one with all those hypo-allergical tests etc… It took me 5 long minutes to decide…5 long minutes to stretch my arm and pick up a soap. While doing so, i thought about your question. Since when such a “futile” geste gain so much significance?…

By staying in lockdown, my temporalities are overlapping in one space. I eat, work, create in one space when before i could separate those action clearly in space and that’s maybe for now, something that I am still processing. Happy to have large windows though to be able to feel connected to the “outer side”.

Fatih Genckal 3 May 2020 22:05
Sometimes, time slows down and sometimes space shrinks or expands. I don’t know how many times I accidentally broke glass during my time in home confinement. Cups, glass jars full of lentils, bowls etc. You know, the moment you break it, you stop. As if there is a rapture in time. The moment right before the break, your gesture that causes the breaking almost magnifies. You let a breath out. Look at the mess and start cleaning up by focusing on the smallest pieces. Your story makes me think of that moment. I realize the rush as I experience the time signature change. I look to myself and feel like crying.
There is a guy in Turkey, bass guitar player in a political music band who is jailed for being member of a terrorist organization and the band was banned from stages. He is on hunger strike. His fellow band player died recently of the strike and this guy is in critical condition. I see many friends share posts on social media for him to be saved. I never listened to this band or know much about their politics. I see the guy’s skeleton-like pictures on social media and feel terrible. There are hashtags saying save him. There has been this kind of strikes in Turkey before and I don’t remember them ever paying off. I don’t know what to do. Share a post? What is the saving action? I am paralyzed. I don’t know how all this is related, really. I sometimes feel it is unfortunate that our primary connection with the world is the internet now. It distorts. Well, then maybe all media distorts in a way. What are your ways to build healthy communication?

Krystel Khoury 3 May 2020 22:44
The last few weeks I got very upset from a very very dear friend of mine. He suddenly disappeared from the radar. I send him messages. I send him video. I called him. I even tried to reach him through his partner. and what I got as a answer: his phone is broken! I was so worried about him because before we last spoke, he did not seem well. He eventually appeared again and called me. I could not answer. I was very upset. I was disappointed. I felt my feelings were taken for granted – especially that he knows that I hate this kind of move : disappearance. In time of lockdown, it is worth. A healthy communication is not necessarily a regular day to day one, it is maybe one in which you don’t need to think much if the other person can listen to you or not and calculate but rather know that the other person will always be  available to listen and vice versa especially in extreme situations. It is maybe one were you don’t suddenly and abruptly “disappear”. It is maybe one where closeness is not related to geographical distance. It is maybe one where each give attention to the other with no particular intention. There is no real guide as it depends on your capacity of adapting your ear to the other.

I heard about the female K. singer who died from hunger strike…Yesterday a young 24 years old Egyptian promising filmmaker emprisoned since 2 years at least for directing a video clip that was considered moking the authorities died. His last letter from jail dating October 2019:
Prison doesn’t kill, loneliness does.
I need your support, to not die.
For the past two years I’ve been trying on my own to resist everything happening to me, so that I can come out of prison the same person you’ve always known, but I can’t go on.
Resistance in prison means resisting yourself – protecting yourself and your humanity from the impact of what you see and live each day. It means preventing yourself from losing your mind or slowly dying, because of having been thrown into a room two years ago, being forgotten, without knowing when or how you will get out.
So I’m still in prison. Every 45 days I go before a judge who gives me another 45 days in jail, without even looking at me nor the papers of the case in which everyone else was released 6 months ago. Anyhow, my next court appearance will be Tuesday November 19th.
I need your support, and I need you to remind them of me being still in prison, and that they’ve forgotten me – and that I’m dying slowly because I know I’m standing alone in front of everything. I know that a lot of friends who love me are afraid to write about me, thinking I will be released anyway without their support.
I need you, and I need your support more than ever.
– Shady Habash, Oct 26th 2019

On another note, Idir , the Algerian singer left us at the age of 70. I kept on listening to his most famous and beautiful song all day today
I leave you with that sound. : A vava inouva

Fatih Genckal 4 May 2020 15:26
I am listening to this beautiful song, thank you.
Maybe I’ll go somewhere else from here.
A few weeks ago, I translated an article called The Forgotten Art of Assembly which talks about the human need to assemble and how the pandemic destroys that. It is rather a simplistic view of what assembly can be. In view of our conversation, I think that being together can have different forms. Each is not the same as the other, but we do have various forms. It requires an intricate sensibility to be present in these various forms, though. In this sense, do you want to talk about what live arts can transform into in this environment? How can this communication be maintained? Does it have to be?

Krystel Khoury 11 May 2020 02:24
i am thankful that you leave me the space to choose if I want to talk or not about the shape live arts can take in our new environment because i actually don’t want to go through such an exercise. it seems to be at the heart of all the discussions between the people in the field. I don’t know would be the most honnest answer and I am not in a hurry to go out of this uncertainty. I feel also that I  am not in the right place to imagine how things can become bur rather maybe to make sure that whatever they become, they will not loose their essence.
this week was very intense. I put a lot of energy to keep on working or let’s say responding to what is required in “normal times” … I don’t know if I am fooling myself or not. Maybe. Tonight I feel a bit empty.
I will therefore let you read some thoughts i put on papers. maybe they indirectly answer your question. Maybe not.

Fatih Genckal 11 May 2020 23:17
Thank you for sharing this. It’s beautiful. I have been referred to a lot of other writing this past week by friends to explain how they feel or what they mean. My wife and I were out in the forest today after the weekend curfew. There is a residency space there run by a friend of ours who we wanted to help start planting vegetables there. We want to work with soil. We then visited some close friends. We sat in their garden while they sat on their porch and we spoke. My wife got the allergies and has been sneezing since the forest. I feel tired and sleepy. I closed like 4 tabs out of countless others I opened in the last week on my browser deciding that the articles are old or not interesting now and pointless to read. Since I opened my laptop, I am receiving constant WhatsApp messages from a WhatsApp theater play that I am … watching? I wanted to see what this would be like. I have 432 unread messages right now. I need to get up early for 2 online meetings. This chronicles my day and is all I can come up with. Good night.

Oh, the guy stopped his death fast 2 days after I wrote you but then he died the next day. 🙁

Krystel Khoury 19 May 2020 23:56
“Is our interview over do you think?
– no! but i am so not regular! I am backing bread…
– I see. I felt it would be a dramatic ending like this”

I forgot to tell you that it was the first time I was baking bread. It was partially successful. I was so excited while doing it. I don’t have an oven so I did it using a pan. Doing bread makes you feel autonomous. On Sunday, i decided to take a break from my computer and do a “sunday lunch/diner” . the Lebanese way. how my grandma used to do hoping to gather her children and grand children over the table. Gatherings were so important to her. I think I understand better why today. I did the hummus and then I did a tabouleh. It took me ages. Not because it was the first time but because i think i took it as a moment of meditation and love towards the ones who are gone. Some go because they believe in something so much that they are ready to go for hunger strikes and die hoping to raise awareness against the ruling system. The ruling system does not care. One more, one less. It does not make a difference. I admire those people. I think of hunger strike while I am cooking. That’s absolutely irrelevant and I thank every little tiny cuted piece of parsley between my fingers.

I forgot to tell you that I did so much food for such an unknown reason that I decided to offer plates to my neighbours. One is fasting and was happy to receive this offering. When somebody dies, there is this tradition of gathering and eating and distributing food “for his soul”.
I did not predict that.
Our bodies  and behaviors do not always belong to our collective consciousness.
I forgot to tell you that I forgot to write to you on that day.

I am not sure what my father’s cousin was thinking or going through on his hospital bed in ER. I am certain though that he was not feeling hunger with the perfusions he had. He did not die of hunger. He was not an artist, musician, actor, activist. ¨ He fought very hard the last two months until he actually got the damn virus out of his system. Unfortunately, it caused way too much damage”. I receive this message from his daughter on Monday morning.
They both fought for life though. They both died. Dying is what gives sense to life, they say. They forgot to tell us how painful death  is to then ones alive.
“Is our dialogue over you think?
– no! but i lose my words when in grief.
– I see. I felt it would be a dramatic ending otherwise”

To the souls of the ones who left us. Sahtein.

Fatih Genckal 22 May 2020 23:06
‘…actually got the damn virus out of his system. Unfortunately, it caused way too much damage’. I heard this twice before. From two dancer friends whose father and grandmother respectively died. Thinking now, I realize I haven’t heard many stories like this during this time. Yesterday, I heard my neighbor on her balcony talking about the current death numbers being lower now and she was happy. 23 she said. That’s great!
The other day I tried to cook Msabbaha for the first time. Not bad, a little too much tahini. I have a tendency to try dishes not from my childhood but from other places that I love. Big fan of especially mint during these -already- extremely hot days. I am also corresponding with Alexandre Paulikevitch. He just told me how he loves cooking, how it’s an act of life and brings back memories of those who are gone. It’s a beautiful coincidence that these two conversations have crossed paths like this. Let’s talk a little more about food. And gathering. I was in the bazaar today to get some produce before the 4-day curfew during the eid, or bayram as we call it here. It will probably be the first time in the history of eid that people won’t be able to visit each other. In the bazaar, I could hardly stop myself from getting a bit of everything. So fresh, so cheap. But more than that, I was invigorated by the people from all walks of life getting their share of livelihood from nature that was distributed there. I felt part of the life in this community. I, then thought about how food consumption is an ancient way of gathering which is still alive but food production is detached from this process today and how we are usually alienated from the food we eat and its producers. Funny that. The more I cook, the more I feel this, the more I think, read, listen about this. Sorry, my stream of thought brought me to a different place:) Do you want to talk more about your relationship to food?

Fatih Genckal 15 Jul 2020 12:23
My dear,
You’ve been awfully silent. I hope you are doing well, working I suppose. Summer time in İzmir, with work starting to come back, many funding applications and preparations for the already very busy looking September. My wife and I were in my parent’s summerhouse on the coast of Black Sea. It was nice and cool there, windy but nice. I met my newly-born niece for the first time -she’s 3 months old now- and played with my other niece who is 2,5 years old now and was crazy to see us. I met my parents and my sister after about 6 months. It was really nice and exhausting at the same time. I was also emotional to be in the summerhouse I grew up in, feeling a little far from it now that I live in İzmir and can’t go there easily for the weekend. I have gone away as my sister is building her family and my parents growing old. Well, maybe distances don’t matter as much in the pandemic world.
I am quite detached from creative endeavors these days, although I have many engagements. Well, creative endeavours as we know it, anyway. To make a performance, to curate something etc. I don’t have much of an urgency for them other than it being a job that I do. I am much more into reading, writing, being in nature and listening. Maybe it’s just the summer feeling. How are you doing my dear? What do you have in front of you?

Krystel Khoury 4 Oct 2020 18:10
Dear Fatih,
Since May 22 (your last email ) and there is this draft message suspended there in my inbox. The intention is clear. I opened it to write back to you but since then, you have not received anything back. You texted me and we exchanged briefly through whatsapp. Whatsapp texting is another way to communicate. It calls for another temporality. Answering short, fast – sometimes in urgency, spontaneously… I am not sure it is the most suitable way to exchange thoughts and feelings that are in the making.
I feel that we don’t dare to take enough time and accept being unproductive on certain levels, at certain moments. Our consumerist world decided that laziness is a sin. So we replaced it by contemplation and meditation and also sometimes by action. I have been in ” action” since May.
I did not want to write to you because I “had” to write to you based on this unspoken agreement. It looks like I do not know how to do that.
I want to keep the genuine side of this correspondence and I want to thank you for your perseverance and patience with me. Friendships are those relations where you can disappear for a while and then come back and not start where you left the conversation but where you are now – as if the presence of the other accompanied you through this passing of time.
You mentioned in a separate email – if you can write to me a “last” email and then maybe publish. I don’t want to be intrusive but I am not sure I want to end the conversation, do you? Its irregularity is what makes it honest.
It started with the lockdown and the pandemic situation. This context is ongoing and so is my email correspondence with you while our part of the world is drifting in war and chaos.
I see that this conversational experiment is another way to resist to our speedy and spirling world. It is about challenging time and temporality. Wouldn’t you agree?
I hope you are safe despite the craziness of our leaders.
Looking forward to read you,

Fatih Genckal 20 Oct 2020 13:27
My dear,
It’s a surprise to hear from you. A pleasant surprise. I said ‘last’ email thinking you might not be up to continue after not hearing from you for quite a long time. Also after the blast in Beirut, I’ve been shying away from pushing on, I think.
It was a little odd to see you on zoom last week for something totally else. It was like there is this immediate way that can bring us together, something quite harsh and direct and fleeting called video call. Bam! Say what you say and get it over with. And then there is this email exchange which takes time. Which involves more layers, patience, reflection… I’m a fan of live encounters, btw and it is the reason why I am in performing arts. But somehow I don’t enjoy it as much these days. Maybe the live encounter is powerful when there is a huge amount of work behind it (like the meditation and rehearsal process of a performance). The performance itself is a moment filled with uncertainty and presence but you can fully live that moment only if you’ve prepared yourself for it. And perhaps writing is similar work. The work is taking place right now as I write this but it is only possible because the real work has been in the making since we started corresponding. That is why we take time in between.
I myself have been in action since the beginning of September. Between September 9 and 17, I was supposed to make 3 different performances and curate a performance selection. The first performance was the one I had started with a colleague in Diyarbakır, my new piece, which makes me so excited. Suspended during the outbreak of the pandemic, we had an invitation to create a small performance presentation of it in one week. So we did that and it felt great to perform again in front of people. That work is very dear to me and something that is breaking many of my assumptions and ways of doing work. I would love to share it with you some time.
The other two got postponed because we are in quarantine now! Someone in my wife’s office got Covid-19 and all the office people are officially quarantined in their homes. And me with her:) It’s funny how life can change so drastically in a blink. It feels like I’ve gone back in time 6 months. Only now, the whole world is doing other things so it’s not so cool.

To be continued….

Conversations is produced by A Corner in the World, 2020
It is realized with the support of The Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

To share: