BEIRUT: Children love trying to spot faces in inanimate objects. Kids’ books, in turn, often anthropomorphize animals and vehicles, transforming them into creatures capable of speech, empathy and human interaction. As adults, these sorts of story tend to lose their appeal, but there remains something enchanting in the idea of an inanimate object exhibiting signs of life, as evidenced by the global fascination with robots and artificial intelligence.
“Some Body to Love,” an exhibition of work by filmmaker-cum-artist Shirin Abu Shaqra and Ali Cherri (best known for his video work), currently up at Galerie Janine Rubeiz in Raouche, explores hybridism and the human body through an installation that evokes these childlike feelings of endearment toward the inanimate.
The two artists worked together to create the installation, which consists of two electronically powered mechanical figures.
Abu Shaqra’s is decidedly feminine, made up of a series of antique objects clothed in a frilly dress. By contrast, Cherri’s appears masculine, an angular black robot, an assemblage of five television screens, mounted on a stainless steel frame in place of head, torso, hands and feet, and standing amid a tangle of wires, extension cables and plugs.
The torso of Abu Shaqra’s figure is a 1930s dressmaker’s dummy, mounted on two mismatched legs. The right foot is made from what looks like a gardening implement, a curved metal blade with a hook at the back, reminiscent of a stiletto heel. The left is an antique metal foot of the sort used by cobblers.
Clad in a 19th-century dress, the figure also sports mismatched arms, one a tube of pink leather, finishing in a hand clad in a net glove, the other an enormous billowing sleeve that sprawls across the floor as though reaching bonelessly toward Ali’s figure, culminating in a ceramic hand clutching a pink plastic rose.
In place of a head is a mechanical contraption mounted on a large spring. Two piercingly blue glass eyes are set into a piece of metal, fringed with thick white lashes made from trimmed feathers.
A simple motor turns constantly, causing the feathered eyelids to rise and lower in a metronomic blink and the blue irises to shift suddenly from left to right.
A vintage Italian suitcase from the 1930s or ’40s stands beside the figure. The installation can be dismantled to fit inside the suitcase, in keeping with the concept of hybridism born of movement, which Abu Shaqra sets out to explore.
Born in Qatar to a Lebanese father and a Syrian mother, Abu Shaqra has lived in Canada, Egypt, Turkey, France and Lebanon. Her installation reflects the hybrid nature of a generation living between two or more cultures, carrying their memories and stories with them from one country to another. The found and recycled objects that make up her figure are sourced from around the world, some from France, others Italy, still others Japan.
Where Abu Shaqra’s figure is mismatched and old-fashioned, the trundling motor emitting a buzzing sound as it turns, Cherri’s is symmetrical and decidedly high-tech – so much so that the soundtrack and the bottom two screens proved unwilling to function – despite the efforts of two staff members – during this reporter’s visit to the gallery.
In spite of the technical problems, Cherri’s piece was arresting. His filmed visuals, which play out by turns and in tandem on the six (or in this case four) screens, reduce the body to a series of flickering images, which in turn build a new body. Shots of a human skeleton, multiplying blood cells and flickering synapses fill the screens, imbuing the still human form with its own strange movement.
A dialogue between the two figures is intended to provide an element of interaction, uniting the installation into a single piece.
Even in the absence of sound, however, Abu Shaqra’s preoccupation with hybridism and Cherri’s interest in violence toward and visual representations of the body coalesce seamlessly in this show.
Each artist expands upon their approach in a series of works accompanying the installation.
Abu Shaqra has produced five mixed media works on beautifully textured, handmade tree bark paper, capturing her robotic figure engaged in a process of transition, loaded on a truck or tucked away in its suitcase, depicted against a delicately drawn map studded with tiny black-and-white pictures of tourism spots that resemble stamps, the travel document of the inanimate.
Cherri’s series of black-and-white photographs capture hands and limbs obscured by splashes of vicious white bleach that cut through the photograph, burning the image away in patches.
While Abu Shaqra and Cherri take different approaches to the subject of hybridism and the body, the two artists have produced a cogent and thought-provoking work.
“Some Body to Love” is up at Galerie Janine Rubeiz in Raouche until Oct. 25. For more information please call 01-868-290.