fORUM: Sarah Rifky with Courtney Lesoon, Radek Przedpełski, and Laura U. Marks

25 May 2021 1pm


Imagine what the General’s wife would say!
Careful Studies and Rogue Constructions of the Kėdainiai Minaret

Storytelling and history spring from the same origin, yet their alliance is sometimes troubled. In the exhibition A Minaret for the General’s Wife, by Turkish-Canadian artist Erdem Taşdelen at Mercer Union, the Kėdainiai minaret is a protagonist in a speculative history. Kėdainiai’s story is told through an imaginary history replete with archival matter.

Imagine what the General’s wife would say! is a discursive program that foregrounds other readings of the Kėdainiai minaret. In conversation with Sarah Rifky (moderator), architecture historian Courtney Lesoon and media archeologist Radek Przedpełski rehabilitate the minaret from the realm of the exhibition taking us on an—at times, forensic—journey that allows us to rethink the Kėdainiai Minaret in situ. The talks expand our consideration of the minaret, followed by a discussion that will reflect on what is at stake when existing structures star in historical fabulations. The talks will be followed by a response from Laura U. Marks, vivacious thinker, and author of Enfoldment and Infinity: An Islamic Genealogy of New Media Art (2010), and a moderated discussion. 

This event is developed and organized in collaboration with SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Centre,) Toronto.

Admission is free; we encourage you to register in advance. Live captioning will be provided.


“In the Garden,” on the origins of the Kėdainiai Minaret
by Courtney Lesoon 

The structure known today as the “Kėdainiai minaret” was built in 1880 by the Russian general Eduard Totleben on his private estate outside the town of Kėdainiai in modern-day Lithuania. Despite sounding entirely out-of-place, the Kėdainiai minaret,” in fact, belongs to a long tradition of oriental-themed garden architectures in Europe. Drawing on Erdem Taşdelen’s archival work, this talk explores how the construction of the Kėdainiai minaret” might be considered in its wider architectural context of late-nineteenth-century Europe. More broadly, I ask how the history of the Kėdainiai minaret” might shed light on questions of place, purpose, and possible futures in architecture.

Between Immaterials and Plasticity. Erdem Taşdelen’s 2021 A Minaret for the General’s Wife and Tatar Cosmopoetic Practices
by Radek Przedpełski

The essay interrogates A Minaret for the General’s Wife and its treatment of materials relating to Kaunas Muslim Society, as well as Lithuanian and Polish Tatars, taking two approaches. The exhibition will be first examined as an experimental laboratory that tests, and enacts, the limits of postmodern aesthetics encapsulated by Lyotard’s 1985 exhibition Les Immatériaux, begging the question of a decolonial ethics of care with respect to archival material pertaining to a minoritized Eastern European community. The second approach seeks to reclaim a multiplicity occluded by the artist’s perception of Kėdainiai’s minaret as “odd-looking thing (…) in such an unlikely place.” The essay will outline a media archaeology of Tatar mosques/minarets on the territories of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania, showing how these under researched media blend aniconism with local contexts and engage a larger continuum of artefacts and practices including muhir tableaux, talismans (hramotka), siufkanie (sorcery) and fał (divination).

Courtney Lesoon is writing her PhD dissertation “Spatializing Ahl Al-ʿIlm: Learning and the Rise of the Early Islamic City.” Her research interests include mosque architecture outside of the Islamic world, Damascus rooms, and the medieval Mediterranean. She is a doctoral candidate in the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture in the History, Theory, Criticism Section in the Department of Architecture at MIT. (Speaker) 

Radek Przedpełski is a migrant artist, and aesthetics and visual culture scholar lecturing on the MSc in Interactive Digital Media at Trinity College Dublin. His PhD explored a strand of Eastern European neo-avant-garde geo-media practices from the 1970s, and their speculative cosmo-poetics engaging the “Long Baroque”’ of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Bronze-Age steppe metallurgy. He co-edited a volume on Deleuze, Guattari and the Art of Multiplicity (published by Edinburgh University Press in October 2020). (Speaker)

Laura U. Marks works on media art and philosophy. Her most recent book is Hanan al-Cinema: Affections for the Moving Image (MIT, 2015). She is Grant State Professor in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. (Discussant) 

Sarah Rifky is writing her PhD dissertation on Cultural Infrastructure in Egypt in the ‘50s and ‘60s. She is the founding co-director of Beirut (2012-2015), an art institution in Cairo. (Moderator and Discussant)

fORUM is Mercer Union’s ongoing series of talks, lectures, interviews, screenings and performances. Free as always.