Culture

On-demand video art at the Phoenicia

BEIRUT: For centuries, expensive hotels have helped create an aura of luxury by surrounding their guests with works of art. Some of the world’s premier contemporary hotels are known primarily for their art collections. The Four Seasons in Florence is famous for its 12 bas-reliefs by Bertoldo di Giovanni, one of Michelangelo’s teachers, dating from 1555. New York’s The Surrey, meanwhile, boasts an art collection worth $30 million.Collections selected for display in hotels are for the most part centered on objects – paintings, sculptures and installations – but this year Beirut’s Phoenicia Hotel is modernizing the tradition of showcasing works of art in lobbies, restaurants and rooms by offering guests access to world-class works of video art.

The hotel has entered into a collaboration with Italian art collector Rebecca Russo, founder and president of the Videoinsight Foundation, one of the world’s largest private collections of video art. Works by 18 international artists are being screened on a dedicated channel in the hotel’s bedrooms. Until the end of week, works will also be playing on special screens set up in the lobby, atrium and elevators.

“There have been very few attempts to offer video art to hotel customers in the world,” Russo told The Daily Star. “Video art is as much art as painting or sculpture, added [to which] its birth is a struggle against conventions – the conventions of movies in theaters but also social conventions in general.

“Video art also appeals to the larger public, and is easier to [screen] in places outside [traditional] gallery spaces.

“While most hotels show artworks in the form of original paintings or copies of famous paintings, the videos are available on demand throughout the year for free, and the logic of the copy versus the original does not apply here. Video art is about democracy and equality, in a way. This is what art should be ... available to everyone in the same quality.”

Accessible to the masses or not, the Phoenicia’s loaned collection promises to do more than simply delight the eye. In keeping with Russo’s belief that art possesses healing properties, the selection of works chosen to screen in Beirut will supposedly prove therapeutic for guests.

“Video art promotes the well-being of the body and psyche,” said Russo, who trained as a therapist and psychoanalyst. “It is energy, chance, possibility, creation, symbol. It is immortal and universal.

“I had the means to collect art for my own pleasure at first, until I realized that some of the artworks I own could be used as projective tests, a bit like the Rorschach inkblot test.

“This realization paved the way to my Videoinsight method. I use art for diagnostics, therapy, and rehabilitation ... Videoinsight can cause the evolution of personality, offers new solutions to psychological problems, and promotes psychophysical well-being.”

The collector added that she was currently in discussion with major hospitals in Lebanon about the possibility of creating a special channel screening videos from her collection for patients to watch from their hospital beds.

“This would be the next step and ultimately what really interests me,” she said, “and how I believe the foundation can contribute to mental wellness on an international scale.”

In line with Russo’s views on the therapeutic qualities of art, her collection includes only works of video art that contain no political or religious messages and have no spoken audio component. Visuals must be designed to be screened in silence or accompanied by music.

Works by two Belgian artists, Hans Op De Beeck’s “Parade” and Sophie Whettnall’s “Over the Sea,” are screening in the main lobby, while the reception area is showcasing Italian artist Marzia Migloria’s “Forever Overhead” and American artist Cheryl Pope’s compelling “Stacks” – footage of a woman piling crockery into precarious towers on a wooden table.

Further works have been selected for screening in several of the elevators and at Amathyste, the hotel’s al-fresco lounge. An additional 10 works are available exclusively to guests on the televisions located in each bedroom.

The indefinite collaboration is set to evolve in response to feedback.

“We are still at the phase of introducing the basic idea of offering art as video on demand for free to all hotel visitors,” Russo explained. “For the time being they are looped on a specific channel, but I hope that in the future hotel guests [will be able to] create personal playlists or even be offered advice based on a quick survey.”

For more information about the Phoenicia Hotel’s collaboration with the Videoinsight Foundation, please visit www.phoeniciabeirut.com.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 23, 2014, on page 16.

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