Espace Kettaneh, Beirut (2007)
A Strange Feeling of Familiarity
A strange feeling of familiarity
[…] A fragment is captured, enlarged, repeated, thus turned into another version of itself. It carries its own memory: stories enacted (or to be enacted) in other geographies. (…) Violence projected unto any act, at that singular instant when the real and the non-real are indiscernible. Violence endlessly re-enacted, always recognized. Is there a trace that is not already withdrawn in relation to itself ?
Excerpt from Replay, 2000
The question of History and the possibilities of its narration is raised throughout my work. How do we approach history? Individual stories and the collective History.
What image of it do we retain? What image of it will I re-create?
What are we left with from happy or dramatic experiences ? Remembrances which are more or less clear, feelings which are more or less strong, impressions which are more or less blurred, but mainly obscure areas. Some facts, dramas and experiences will never reach us and will remain unspoken, buried. We will never be able to witness their existence, but only presume that they are there, yet missing. History appears to be missing and becomes subjective stories, stories in the first person.
In a manner similar to the mechanism of memory, my work attempts to collect, record, erase, invent, forget, capture, miss and divert. I say attempts, because it also points to the impossibility of accessing a complete narrative, thus underlining the loss, the gaps of memory and history. I underline the process of such attempts, integrating it as part of the work.
It is important to keep a trace of thing like a diagnosis of our time. This is why, I believe that collecting existing material or recording new material, hence creating a personal archive, is the first step of the creative process.
As History escapes us, only fragments remain, words and images; each fragment carries its own memory and its whole History. These fragments are memory and oblivion at the same time, parts of an incomplete whole and assembled subsequently. Rearranged and re-interpreted, they border fiction.
Such fragments constitute the core of past works reflecting on the idea of relative truth, such as the video installation Objects of War 1, 2, 3, 4 (1999 – 2006), in which I asked each participant to choose an object as a starting point to recount his/her personal story on the war, therefore building an alternative archive of the Lebanese war(s) through these assembled personal testimonials.
In the video documentary Houna wa roubbama hounak, (54’- 2003) a journey across what used to be the dividing line between East and West Beirut, I ask the inhabitants I encounter, if they know someone who had been kidnapped here during the war. Testimonies and discourses on the Lebanese war are assembled through a process of memory and language: What people recount or refuse to tell, what they fear to express or can’t remember, what gets repeated from one person to another.
I cross Beirut using archival photographs, to find the exact place of former checkpoints, drawing a personal map of this city.
In the short written fiction: Ici et peut-être ailleurs, (2003, published by H.K.W. Berlin) freely inspired by Kurosawa’s film Rashomon, a dramatic event – the disappearance and probable murder of a man, Wahid Saleh is recounted by several protagonists.The accounts of the protagonists follow one another in an illusory attempt to reconstitute the event through clues and cross-examination. Here the gaps in the story prevent us from reaching a unique truth. Each protagonist claiming the murder of Wahid Saleh, raises the question of responsibility, making each one of us a potential actor in this crime.
The question of truth and responsibility, as well as that of disappearance and loss are at the heart of A Journey, a documentary that follows my grand mother Rose. Born in Jerusalem in 1910, she moved to Beirut in the 30’s. From the borderless Middle East of the Ottoman days, through the Occupation of Palestine, to the Lebanese civil war until her suggested death the journey of Rose through life, parallels my journey to the just-liberated South, reflecting on the conflicts in our region, questioning my identity and political choices.
The three screen video installation Replay, (2000) draws its origin from two archival images taken from the book The War in Lebanon.(Dar El Massira, 1979). One, a man photographed three times lying on the ground, wounded by a bullet ; the other, a woman, barefoot in the street, begging for help. These images / fragments haunted me for years. I tried to imagine – to project – what might have happened in that place during the war. That instant when the man falls, is what I call «an instant of rupture», rupture of time. I reconstituted the frame and the action of these instants of rupture, by asking a man and a woman to replay the imaginary instant which preceded each photographic take.
The idea of rupture in time is also the starting point of the video Replay (bis). A drama set in an undefined place and time and which might have been experienced or dreamt is repeated (replayed) in various forms three times. Using archival photographs, Super 8 and video footage, the story told is “missing” – it has gaps, only bits of it reach us, like recollections bursting into the consciousness of the narrator
Untitled 1997-2003 my first video installation, explores in a different way the process of memory and narration. The images and the sounds are abstracted and decomposed, oscillating between being identifiable and totally losing their origin. The same video is projected from two opposite sources on five aligned rectangular Plexiglas panels.
As images and sounds appear to us like reminiscences, while crossing the multiple panels, they are transformed and parts of them get lost.
These works reflect on Repetition, whether through a repeated question or a device creating a frame for testimonies to be gathered, (as in Houna wa Roubbama Hounak and Objects of War) ; or through a narrative that is repeated in different ways (Replay (bis)), or when reconstituting a scene and playing in loop (Replay.)
In the film Sleep (7‘- 2004,) it is a single shot that repeats itselfs expanding at each replay and transforming its content as well as the rhythm of its images every time. This single shot is made of a succession of photograms. These recorded fragments of sleeping time are as many ellipses; they signify all those moments that have not been recorded and never will be, those moments that will remain lost to the story. Sleep is part of Time and the Other a story of love and separation.
Time and the other is a missing story, recounted through the subjective eye of one lover (the “I” of the first person) in the absence of the other. The other is present through his absence and the traces left by his body.
Repetition is certainly a way to reflect on Time and to express a perception of History as a non-linear and incomplete narrative. All these works constitute essentially a work on Time: the recording of time, of its trace and its effects on us. A reflection on our relentless pursuit, and yet our incapacity to measure, understand and accept the idea of time.
Elements that disappear (incomplete stories and words, images vanishing or erased); and inversely elements which survive, which impressed us and left a trace. The work present in this exhibition is rooted in the continuity of the one described earlier.
Je d’histoires explores narrative possibilities, this time with the participation of the spectator. Je d’histoires plays multiple stories. The visitor is invited to construct his own visual story from an array of video images, texts and music. He/she becomes an actor in the narrative process, each time renewing it. The visitor affects – disturbs the playing. His / her presence is therefore imprinted in the sequence, making it unique. Je d’histoires reveals the process of story telling and the mechanism through which text, image and music are linked to create a narrative. How can one same « event » be told in various ways?
The video and series of prints Full moon presents a few attempts over years to capture a poetic moment which happened once : A traveling with an extraordinary full moon while driving to Raouché crossing the ring, then back home. The same travelling is repeated each time in a different way, the recordings which are each a diagnosis of our « present » in Beirut, constitute as many fragments of history.
Is it possible to capture an instant ? Aren’t we always beneath or beyond reality ? Here, Repetition becomes the reflection of a vain desire to capture beauty and at the same time a mean of renewal. It reflects on the process of creation.
The series of prints Nights and Days which are part of a body of works all relating to the war of summer 2006, is based on videos and written notes made during that summer. Nights and Days expresses the passage of time, the awaiting but also the transformations made by the war. It reflects on representations of violence and war and notions of « beauty » versus « horror ». The images presents « beautiful » urban or natural landscape where a detail, a written comment, and the relation between one image to another reveals the presence of war and its violence.
Nights and Days explores narrative possibilities through the many layers one image can present, playing with text and repetition, refering to cinema, diaries and painting.
The series of prints The end of … are not far at all from Surfaces, FCC, Beirut 1997, my first exhibition in which I wrote :
My work pulled by two temptations that it seeks to reconcile: to completely make disappear or completely reappear the object. (…) The border that is the surface of the canvas is, at the same time, a concrete space of communication, an interface, and a metaphor of both what is hidden and what is revealed on the surface. (…) There is what I “erase”, which I “scratch off” the surface, and what I voluntarily let re-appear in the foreground. (…) Each painting finds itself in a liminal state between an improbable memory and an impossible amnesia.
The series of prints The end of … are all « mental images » made of photomontages or single images transformed. I used images from Super 8, video and written notes assembled over years. They are reminiscences of a history which has gaps. Here the process of memory, through the recording of traces as well as erasing and diverting, is visible on the physical texture of the images.
Images from archives diverted from their origin and recreated in other geographies, images disappearing. Images-fragments, words bursting out, taking on a new meaning. Though they represent post-wars landscapes and specific places in Lebanon, the non-realistic, poetic imagery of the series The end of … with an emphasis on images vanishing, is a mean to reflect on violence, loss and desillusion. They are not mere beautiful landscapes but carry within them, in an understated way, all the tensions, conflicts and political turmoil I/we experience. Rather than engaging in any political statement they express a sense of despair and desillusion critical of all ideologies.
Espace Kettaneh, Beirut (2007)
A Strange Feeling of Familiarity
Curators: Naila Kunigk & Sandra Dagher
Elements that disappear (incomplete stories and words, images vanishing or erased); and inversely elements, which survive, which impressed us and left a trace, the works featured in this solo exhibition continues exploring the question of History and its possible narration as well as the mechanism of memory.
The exhibition A Strange Feeling of Familiarity features four works:
Nights and Days, a series of 8 Lamda prints
Je d’histoires, an interactive video installation
Full moon, a video and a series of 5 inkjet prints on fabric
The end of…, a series of 11 C prints mounted on Diasec
A booklet catalogue was published by the gallery at the occasion of the exhibition.