Records for Beirut’s Uncertain Times

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Beirut Autopsy of a City 2010, mixed-media installation, dimensions variable views from MORI Art Museum, Tokyo, “Arab Express”, 2012

By: Rebecca Whiting

Published Friday, April 26, 2013

Because Lebanese history remains a deeply contentious subject, with no unified national version, even in school curricula, private memory can supersede any notion of a collective past.

In her current exhibition at Art Factum, “Records for Uncertain Times,” artist Lamia Joreige tackles the more obscure aspects of Lebanese identity through a multimedia collection of works, centering on the history of Beirut and its present as non-concrete realities.

The crux of the exhibition is the installation “Beirut, Autopsy of a City,” a pictorial timeline of fateful moments that have defined Beirut.

Starting with a legend that tells of “sea peoples” pillaging the city in 1200 BC, then moving on to the devastating earthquakes of 349 and 551 AD, through to the start of the civil war. The timeline brings together archival documents, personal accounts, and a passage from Mahmoud Darwish’s “Memory for Forgetfulness.”

In her introduction to the piece, Joreige wrote, “Since 2005, a series of tragic occurrences here have disrupted our everyday lives in Beirut... Each time I believed Beirut would vanish.”

The texts are accompanied by images of Beirut: a text on the crusader’s siege of 1110 is set beneath a 1978 picture of the harbor filled with poised battleships, highlighting the repetitious suffering of the city.

With Beirut’s fame and identity tied to its recurrent destruction and rebirth, many artists have drawn on these themes, but Joreige’s “Autopsy,” with its amalgamation of fragmented pieces, is a poignant portrayal of how Beirut’s history can never be unified.

In the second mixed media installation, “Under-Writing Beirut - Mathaf,” Joreige looks at the area in Beirut around the National Museum, which was pivotal during the civil war, and holds personal significance for her. From the vantage point of the museum, which was used by militias during the war, she took pictures with a pinhole camera. Exposed on photographic paper, the images are blurred negative shadows, ghostly, like faded echoes of another era, again toying with the notion of authentic representations of history and the present.

Elsewhere in the exhibition, the very personal “One Night of Sleep” is composed of large black and white photograms capturing life-size distorted female forms. To create the works, Joreige spent nights sleeping on giant sheets of photographic paper, as if her body burnt its slumbering form into print. The negative shadow images exude the sensation of absence, the memory of locks of hair and streaks of limbs being all that remain. There is an aspect of the frenetic in the frames that calls to mind the title of the exhibition’s uncertain times.

A certain sense of anxiety can be said to run throughout the exhibition, concurring with the notion of loss and the need for preservation. Joreige’s work, even as she refers to it as “Records,” defines the essence of an individual trying to capture history.

”Records for Uncertain Times” will be showing at Art Factum, Karantina until May 30.

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