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Trade in your plastic lenses for ice
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BEIRUT: The great thing about condensing a great deal of information – the way you might do if you were cramming for a history final in high school – is the artificiality of it.

No historian would confuse the litany of names and dates that students are expected to rhyme-off in proper order with the nuanced balancing of complementary and contradictory stories that comprise the craft called “History.” The same is true of art, which is less a reproduction of reality than a reformulation of it.

“Cracked,” the eccentric solo exhibition of work by Belgian artist Tom Bogaert, which opened at Zico House Wednesday, is comprised of three pieces, each of which represents a condensation of the artist’s perception of the Middle East.

“Cracked” comes at the end of the artist’s two-year residence in Jordan, punctuated by trips through Palestine and Syria.

“I memorize what I understand of the country,” said Bogaert, “and try to condense it.”

Perhaps the most amusing work in this show, “Pavement Popsicles” is a multimedia work combining video installation and a papier-mache segment of a Beirut roundabout.

The video shows Bogaert’s hands as they remove broken curb markers – lens-shaped glass disks designed to reflect the headlights of passing cars – from some anonymous Beirut roundabouts and replace them with replicas he’s made of ice.

Why on earth would anyone do such a thing? The gesture is his “contribution to Beirut,” the artist explained.

“I replaced 40 to 50 curb markers,” Bogaert continued, recalling that, as he was shooting his video, an inquisitive driver stopped to ask what he was doing. After explaining his intent, the driver replied that he thought the gesture was useless, since the glass markers were made of ice and couldn’t last in Beirut’s suffocating heat.

As far as Bogaert is concerned, that was the whole point: giving his personal – albeit ephemeral – touch to Beirut.

The tale of the labors Bogaert had to undergo to create “Pavement Popsicles” is nearly as entertaining as the piece itself. It took, according to his exhibition notes, “a five-day quest” to collect prototypes of the curb markers from the Municipality of Beirut and various other offices.

“A hundred thousand curb markers are changed every year in Beirut,” Bogaert said.

Bogaert’s response to the popular demonstrations nowadays taking place against the regime of President Bashar Assad in Syrian was to erect his “Mausoleum,” a 3-meter high cardboard sculpture at the center of which is a monumental concrete structure that appears to be fronted by a three-column facade.

If you examine the work with your head at the right angle (literally), you may notice that the mausoleum bears a striking resemblance to the “E” (here toppled over on one side) that conventionally sits at the top of an eye-examination chart.

The work winks at the fact that, before succeeding his late father as the president of the Syrian Arab Republic, Bashar Assad was studying to become an ophthalmologist in the U.K.

“I wanted to give a poetic field,” Bogaert remarked, “maybe Bashar Assad is still dreaming of being an eye doctor. And maybe he’d be interested in this idea as a mausoleum.”

The point the artist wants to make with this cardboard model, he said, is that “Syria is still here.” The sculpture projects out from the wall and from the ground, emphasizing this point.

It is as though it were anchored to the ground, to prove that Syrians may be going through a rough time, but they are still present.

In addition to this model, Bogaert has created an online video game called “Minecraft,” in which the player is able to visit the mausoleum, repair it, and tour through the neighborhood in which it’s located.

“Cracked Windshields,” Bogaert’s third piece is (as its title suggests) a windshield completely shattered by a car accident.

Bogaert’s has transformed this pane of shattered glass into a map of Beirut. On the upper-left hand-side corner of the windshield, a blue sticker is inscribed with the word “Beirut.”

In another mapping gesture, a scale delimits the distance separating point A from point B. On the right-lower corner of the work, you can see a colored legend delineating individual symbols – streets, mosques, churches, parking lots and the like.

The artist explained to The Daily Star that he went to Shiyah to find cracked windshields. At first he wanted to use them for something else, but when he had the shattered pane of glass before him, he said he knew he would exhibit it as is, because, for Bogaert, Beirut is like a fractured and fragmented whole.

Tom Bogaert’s “Cracked” is on display at Zico House until Sept. 17. For more information please call 76-678-135.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 08, 2011, on page 16.
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