Culture

The four-sided shape of normalized violence

BEIRUT: Artist Jacko Restikian was browsing online when he came across a photograph that looked vaguely familiar. Taken in Tripoli in 2012 or 2013, amid clashes in Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, the photograph showed a large sheet of blue plastic stretched across a street. In the distance, Restikian recognized the building where he used to work for a local NGO. The sheet of plastic had been hung as a makeshift protection from snipers, its flimsy material obscuring those walking behind it from view.

He emailed the photograph to a number of artists and asked them what they thought of it. Some found little of interest. Five artists were so struck by the picture that they decided to use it as the basis of a new work.

Restikian began a series of discussions with Gheith Al-Amine, Aissa Deebi, Bassam Kahwagi, Walid Sadek and Shawki Youssef. The six artists, all of whom employ vastly different approaches, initially each came up with their own projects. Ultimately, however, they decided to collaborate on a single work, adhering to three simple rules: The piece should have no title, no accompanying text and should not consist of an object.

The final work, currently displayed in an untitled exhibition at Galerie Tanit-Beyrouth, is extremely minimalist. The ideas and emotions raised in their minds by the photo, which encapsulates a response to violence so normalized that the photojournalist responsible for the image couldn’t remember taking it, have been distilled to four symbolic forms, open to endless interpretations.

An oblong hole with rounded corners has been cut out of the gallery’s front wall, revealing a section of the windows opening onto Mar Mikhael’s main street. The main hall is empty, save for the two central pillars that support the weight of the building above, and, next to each of them, similar oblongs, this time carved into the concrete floor.

In the small central room beyond, the white plasterboard removed to create the narrow window is stacked against one wall, cracked and splintered into pieces that have been artfully arranged to create a layered version of the same shape.

Intended to signify fragility and destruction, the two indents in the floor echo the size and shape of the supporting pillars, the one thing in the space the artists were unable to alter. Through the aperture in the wall, the apartment buildings with their blank windows take on new import, each offering a potential line of fire.

In the absence of any explanation, the work will prove difficult for the casual passerby. Should you succeed in collaring one of the artists, however, it’s a multilayered show that promises to linger in the mind for some time to come.

The untitled exhibition is up at Galerie Tanit-Beyrouth through Sept. 20. For more information, please call 76-557-662.

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

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