Living under public scrutiny with life emulating art

BEIRUT: If you haven't already heard of Kiki Bokassa, you're unlikely to avoid her for much longer. Determined to make a splash on the Beirut art scene, over the coming weeks the 34-year-old artist will be sharing her life and work with local audiences through a series of activities.

The main event, described in promotional material as "a public show of immersive visual art," carries the moniker "72 hrs." As indicated by the title, this involves three solid days of artistic activity, April 24 through 27, with a set-up that might make David Copperfield balk.

Spectators might be forgiven if they find traces of Star Academy here. The ground floor of Laboratoire d'Art on Gemmayzeh's St. Nicolas Steps (Daraj al-Fan) has been transformed into a giant canvas cube, the entrance replaced by a glass panel so that observers can see Bokassa at work.

Bokassa will be stuck in her cube for the entirety, living her life under the curious gaze of passers-by. "I will be trying not to sleep," she said at a press conference earlier in the week, "but I will be doing everything in open view."

The mind boggles over the sanitary arrangements, but interested parties can go along and find out for themselves.

Not only is Bokassa undertaking this grueling challenge, she is using her confinement to cover the floor, the ceiling and the walls of the space with paint, turning her surroundings into a giant artwork.

"I'm taking advantage of this period of stability to bring my art to Beirut audiences," Bokassa says. "After the 2006 war, I spent a year and two months working with children in the South. This meant I didn't have time for art, so now I'm making up for lost time.

"I have never let anyone watch me while painting and I wanted to share this, to be myself: Impulsive, natural and emotional."

Bokassa has assembled an impressive retinue to cope with the logistics: Two coordinators, a graphic designer, a director, an IT professional and a media coordinator.

"One of our objectives was to marry technology with art," says Hadi Damien, the media coordinator. "We have to be pragmatic. This is the century of technology. We can't live in the past."

Technology, in this case, resides in the shadow of the event's corporate partners - including Samsung and IDM, the internet services provider - which have donated their solutions to Bokassa's artifice. Giant screens have been strung up along Gouraud Street and the St. Nicolas Steps, showing live footage of Bokassa at work in the manner of a reality television program.

The footage will also be streamed straight onto the website, bringing Bokassa's adventure to a worldwide audience. The only contact she has with the outside is via a blog. Bokassa will provide regular updates on her emotions, and maybe even respond to comments left by fans.

Media representatives have been given privileged access to the "survival kit" which Bokassa is allowing herself in her temporary new home. Along with paint and latex gloves, the list includes vitamins, wet wipes and a fire extinguisher.

Bokassa may be on display but she won't be a hunger artist. The Achrafieh outlet of a global baked goods brand will provide her with a succession of organic treats, delivered to the gallery's second-floor window using a basket and a pulley. On Sunday evening, for example, Bokassa will be tucking into a mushroom and chicken risotto.

The 72-hrs team promises a festive atmosphere on the St Nicolas Steps. "There will be local bands playing," says Damien, refusing to provide further details. "There are many other events we have not yet revealed, we want to surprise people."

One further event that has been revealed is a tribute to Yoko Ono's 1964 performance "Cut Piece."

A busy Bokassa will be constructing a dress during her 72-hour art extravaganza. At some point in May, she will sport the dress in a Beirut theater, inviting audience members to cut it off piece by piece.

"Artists must mobilize to find peaceful forms of expression," says Bokassa. "This is a political period, and it is up to artists to find solutions."

Kiki Bokassa's "72 hrs" can be witnessed at Laboratoire d'Art until April 27, 10 a.m. For further details, visit





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