Culture

A traditional mix of contemporary art

BEIRUT: In May 2014, Lebanese artist Christine Kettaneh and British artists Chris Drury and Clare Whistler gathered in the East Sussex town of Seaford.

There, Kettaneh gave a lecture on economic theory to a crowd of onlookers. Then Whistler led them in an improvised dance down to the beach. Together, they launched half a dozen round cakes of soap into the sea, then watched as they gradually melted.

This performance art work, entitled “Coin – A Gift for Wealth,” is part of Whistler’s ongoing, 10-year work, “The Gift Series.”

The basis of the series is eight symbolic objects, traditional presents given to celebrate childbirth in the north of England – eggs for life, coal for heat, evergreen for eternity, salt for health and flavor, candles for light, bread for food, coins for wealth and a silver ring for love. Each year one object, revisited by Whistler and collaborating artists, is presented to a small crowd.

In addition to university degrees in fine art, Kettaneh also holds a Bachelor of Arts in economics from AUB and a Master of Science in finance from the London School of Economics. She devised the six soaps in response to Whistler’s request that she create coins to be set to sea. Each one takes the form of a black disk, on which economy-related (and possibly detergent-making) words – “equilibrium,” “volatility,” “liquidity” – are written in white.

A description of the performance piece, along with a replica of the coin soaps, is currently on show at Raouche’s Galerie Janine Rubeiz as part of the collective exhibition “Clin d’Oeil” (Wink).

The sole performance-related work – or document of a work – in a sea of more conventional media, Kettaneh’s art stands out from that of the 21 other pieces on show. In a show that aims to provide an overview of the contemporary Lebanese scene, “Coins” nods to the growing number of young artists working with new media.

Kettaneh is listed as one of four “newcomers” to the gallery’s roster – along with Adlita Stephan (pen on paper), Sahar El Hassani (oil on canvas) and Emma Harake (acrylic on canvas).

Ranging from sculpture to painting to photography, the rest of these works from the gallery’s core stable of artists highlight a segment of contemporary Lebanese production in traditional media.

A mishmash of work with little to connect it thematically, stylistically or materially, the selection has been curated to create a show that nevertheless hangs together aesthetically.

Contrast is the most striking feature. Two framed photographs by Rania Matar, capturing a middle-aged woman and a teenage girl reclining on sofas, hang beside a large ink-on-canvas work by Laure Ghorayeb.

To the right of this untitled work – in which faces loom from the scrawling tangle of lines, Arabic text, scrawling figures and abstract patterns – hangs a bold figurative work by Charles Khoury, a mass of jagged red lines on a textured background.

Highlights of the exhibition include delicate ink- and watercolor-on-paper works by London-educated artist Dalia Baassiri. Clamped between the slats of two wooden coat hangers, they echo the complexity of Ghorayeb’s drawings, capturing vaguely humanoid figures within whose forms tiny figures, feathery patterns and translucent washes of color compete for attention.

Paris-educated artist Bassam Geitani, whose output includes installations, experimental films and performance art, is represented by a more traditional piece, an abstract entitled “The Sun.” A ragged-edged circle is formed by a conglomeration of straight lines that seem to have leaked their color across the canvas like rusty strips of metal left out in the rain.

An acrylic painting by Syrian artist Ahmad Kleige – thick swipes of paint in a subtle range of tawny colors – captures buildings collapsing drunkenly forward into the street, as though damaged by shelling. Something in the sharp-edged strokes of the palette-knife and the use of light and shadow recalls paintings of war-damaged Lebanese architecture by accomplished painter Ayman Baalbaki.

A varied and engaging selection of work, the mysteriously named “Clin d’Oeil” is a cut above the usual summer collective exhibitions that sweep through Beirut galleries in July and August.

“Clin d’Oeil” is up at Galerie Janine Rubeiz in Raouche until Aug. 31. For more information please call 01-868-290.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 11, 2014, on page 16.

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