Daniele Genadry: In Memoriam of a Train Ride

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"Towards Riyaq," is one in a series of paintings that depict artist Daniele Genadry's journey along Lebanon's defunct Beirut to Riyaq railroad. (Source: danielegenadry.com)

By: Leah Caldwell

Published Monday, June 4, 2012

In July 2011, Lebanese artist Daniele Genadry traced the route of the defunct rail line between Beirut and Riyaq in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The railway – built in the early 20th century – once stretched the 65 kilometers between the two cities, but trains stopped running during the Lebanese Civil War.

Despite the lack of activity, the railroad hasn’t entirely disappeared. Whether a steel track overgrown with weeds or a crumbling depot, Lebanon’s obscure railroad infrastructure is tucked away in unexpected places.

Genadry seems to share the fascination that has led curious travelers and historians to document the remnants of the railroad, but her vision veers from direct documentation. In “Blindspot,” an exhibit of her paintings of the vanished line at the Agial Gallery in Hamra, there is less a sense of what remains of the railroad and more of what replaced it, primarily, the road.

For Genadry, the works are a reconstruction of the journey she had from “a physical and temporal distance.” Her landscapes of roadsides are monochrome to the point of near invisibility and the most dominant features of her paintings are the outlines of road signs.

The sensation of traveling along the train’s old route is apparent; roadside signs and street lamps float above faded mountains, evoking motion and even detachment from the surroundings, like the passing images have already faded to memory.

In “Damascus Road,” possibly the centerpiece of the collection, we see a minimalist roadside view painted in tranquil Technicolor with a mountain background.

The non-linear placement of each featureless road sign suggests multiple roads darting in different directions. One side of the image is interspersed with vertical lines, suggesting the interplay of technology in our mental recreations of surroundings.

With this, a slideshow of 200 images from Genadry’s journey accompanies the paintings. The retro projection of the grainy images is almost like recounting memories from a family trip but with few landmarks and only images of the passing scenery. From some of the slides’ vantage points, it’s almost like you could be a passenger on a train of the past, except the scenery now includes fast food chains and asphalt roads.

Genadry’s past works have touched on the process of making a journey, as well as the passing of time. In 2009, working with a found image of the Hotel St. Georges in the 1960s, she focused on how the pool seemed to remain the only fixed element of an environment in constant flux.

Closer to the themes of “Blindspot” is Genadry’s series of screen prints and paintings that depict mountains in Utah, Crete, and Lebanon. Again, some of the prints seem to be framed from the perspective of a passenger in a moving vehicle just passing by, with the mountain view obscured by a warped lens or, in one case, sunglasses.

“Blindspot” calls attention to perspective in travel by questioning how we see and remember. If effective, we might end up questioning the very routes that we travel along.

”Blindspot” is at Agial Gallery, Hamra, Beirut until June 8.


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