Accidental performance enlivens a not-so ‘Xperimental’ exhibition

BEIRUT: A loud crash issued from somewhere in the room, followed by the tinkle of breaking china. Several well-heeled ladies briefly suspended their conversation, exquisitely- coiffed heads swiveling in search of the source of the sound. It turned out a visitor had backed into a metal stanchion that was holding up a heavy length of chain, ostensibly a barrier to protect the art. The falling pole had toppled into Fouad Chehab’s “Water and Fire,” a crockery installation, smashing three or four of its hundred or so mismatched Arab coffee cups and saucers.

“Haram,” intoned a basso voice from among the milling crowd of exhibitiongoers.

Unperturbed, a uniformed security guard returned the stanchion to an upright position and patted it gently, as though in reward for a job well done. He wandered back to his post, leaving the interacted-with installation a little the worse for wear.

This impromptu intervention unfolded during the opening of “Xperimental Art Exhibition 2014,” the show currently gracing The Venue, the Beirut Souks’ sometime art space.

The destruction of part of one of its exhibits succeeded in making this group show live up to its name. And the action was just beginning.

A few meters away, a lady with a razor-edged bleached bob, resplendent in pinstriped pencil skirt and needle-sharp stilettos, casually strutted across a floor mural made of multicolored sand and soil.

Oblivious to the makeshift sign (cleverly crafted from a sheet of printer paper) imploring visitors to not trample the artwork, please, the patron teetered atop Adnan Hakkini’s “Les Miroirs du Sable” with the panache of a starlet navigating the red carpet of her film premiere.

A group show organized by the Lebanese Artists Association, “Xperimental Art Exhibition 2014” opened Monday evening to mixed reception. Delighted children zipped back-and-forth among the scattered artworks. Socialites in carefully assembled ensembles sipped drinks, so divorced from the ambit that several of the works were interactive by virtue of inattention.

“Xperimental Art” aims to emphasize viewer interaction and postmodernist approaches to art. Comprised of contributions from a staggering 70 artists, the space is so crowded with works that it resembles a thoughtfully deployed art exhibition less than a flea-market.

There certainly is a lot of stuff here. What there is little of is experimental art.

To the left of the entrance hang several works billed as “interactive paintings.” In the exhibition’s opening hour or so, they utterly failed to interact with anything.

The show, which includes work by association members as well as an undisclosed number of Lebanese non-members, mostly consists of works classed as “installation.”

Saleh Rifai’s “Long Live Digits” is a tongue-in-cheek take on the transition from analogue to digital photography. A clear bowl atop an old-fashioned meat grinder is filled with film negatives, which jut from the bottom as though shredded. Below them, in a clear plastic tray, lie sheets of photographic paper printed with binary code.

Nearby, Missak Terzian’s exploration of tradition versus technology revisits Rene Magritte’s famous “The Treachery of Images.” A bundle of computer mice hang from their wires, rodent-like, above a giant green circle of foam. Atop it are several more of the devices, along with a placard reading: “This is not a mouse pad.”

Many of the other “installations” might instead be described as “sculptures,” as they lack any site-specificity or spatial relationship with the viewer. Take Joseph Honein’s “Kabis,” a selection of children’s toys placed in a large glass jar of what looks like pickling brine.

Eight short video art works are screened on a single small TV screen to one side of The Venue. Since their audio component was inaudible in the opening-night din, each was rendered a bit more experimental by their want of soundtrack.

An hour or so into the opening, a bemused-looking gentleman in a suit and tie could be seen tapping a woman on the shoulder.

“I was just passing by and came in to take a look,” he said in an American accent.

“What is this? An exhibition?”

“Apparently it’s Xperimental,” she rejoined, “but I can’t think of anything less experimental than that.”

She gestured at a nearby display of glazed clay plates, bowls and vases, their traditional earthy colors recalling the ancient vessels on display at the National Museum.

The gentleman laughed and made a beeline for the door. As he sauntered off, his voice carried faintly over the clamor of opening-night chatter and cheek-kissing.

“Pretty weird.”

“Xperimental Art Exhibition 2014” is open daily from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at The Venue in the Beirut Souks. A program of performance art is scheduled for May 27. For more information please call 01-989-040.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 21, 2014, on page 16.




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