True||A pre-teen boy splashes in a blue plastic pool perched on a rocky outcropping that stretches into the ocean on the west coast of Ras Beirut.||
BEIRUT: A pre-teen boy splashes in a blue plastic pool perched on a rocky outcropping that stretches into the ocean on the west coast of Ras Beirut. He doesn’t seem to care that he is swimming in art. Raymond Gemayel’s “Dalieh’s Infinity Pool” is one of the seven contemporary art pieces that formed Temporary Art Platform’s contribution to the Heritage Watch Day events focusing on the Dalieh outcropping – described as one of Beirut’s few remaining public spaces.
“This kid is from Burj al-Barajneh camp. He doesn’t know how to swim and his parents can’t take him to any resort where they have to pay money,” TAP founder Amanda Abi Khalil told The Daily Star Sunday. “He said, ‘I’m coming tomorrow morning and I’m going to swim in this pool.’ This is an ‘infinity’ swimming pool because the future project is a luxury resort, so this is a very cynical [artistic] gesture.”
The Dalieh outcropping has long been the domain of fishermen, swimmers and picnickers, but most of the land is privately owned and slated for development. Abi Khalil is part of a campaign that since 2013 has advocated the preservation of the area as a public space, and organized this festival to engage the public in the issue.
All these public art pieces deal directly with the encroachment of development on nature and public spaces and, as is TAP’s wont, they engage with the local context. “The main idea for this project was to collaborate with the [Civil Campaign to Protect the Dalieh of Raouche] ... to catalyze these conversations between contemporary artists and activists, to really come here and engage with the community.”
Picking one’s way down the rocky slope, through the scrubby, litter-festooned brush to the sea, the TAP pieces are not all conspicuous. They are mostly subtle, both to ensure minimal environmental impact, but also due to budget restrictions.
Ieva Saudargaite Douaihi’s “Thin White Line” drew curiosity and even consternation as visitors crossed it on their way to the Souk al-Tayeb food stands in the main festival area, where the market and music would carry on into the night. The artist found a map demarcating the land that can be developed from that which is protected. Using lime chalk – a limestone byproduct found on site and used in construction – she drew this line through Dalieh’s bush, sand, rock and sea.
“I was surprised to find that people felt aggressed by it,” Douaihi said. “I would hear them speaking in Arabic saying, ‘Are they going to build something? Are they going to do it now?’ They were very suspicious of it. So putting a line out there, it becomes an aggressive act, and construction can be like a very destructively aggressive act.”
Omar Fakhoury’s piece “4’50” could be interpreted as aggressive in its own way. Near the entrance to the site, a flag towers over the giant concrete blocks – dozens of which were placed on the eastern portion of the site by the Public Works Ministry in 2012. Across a white background “Al-Bahar” (The Sea) is emblazoned in blue.
“It’s like the sea came and planted this flag,” Fakhoury said. “Flags are used usually for claiming something for [political] parties etc, but here it’s only a word and it’s a poetic word.”
Mustapha Jundi’s “Washzone” shows just how much Dalieh belongs to the sea, and how the sea’s encroachment on the land has defined its status. An architect by training, Jundi explored Law 144, dated 1925, used, as the exhibition plaque puts it, to delineate the “lands along the Lebanese coast that should be free of any development, rendering them untouchable.”
“I think it’s important to flesh out the parameters of these laws, to make people understand what the law entails physically and what is the method,” Jundi said, explaining that the four markers he had placed along the length of the site represented both the height sea waves had reached in various years, as well as the variables used in the method: the wind, wave height, coastal depth and coastal morphology. “This method is dependent on different natural elements and is used to delineate something very physical that effects the built environment.”
Composer Nadim Mishlawi’s sound piece, “The Invisible Soundtrack” took the TAP interventions directly into the sea and the caves carved in the outcropping. Using special microphones, he recorded one-to-two meters underwater, then used the unaltered on-site recordings to compose 13 tracks. The aim, the artist said, was “to explore the sounds of the area’s unseen landscape” but also to “demonstrate the yet-undiscovered potential of this site ... and emphasize the importance of why such places should remain within the public realm.”
The impetus behind preserving Dalieh as a public space is, in part, Beirut’s limited natural and public space. Dalieh is one of few the areas of the city that’s pitch black at night, something Ghassan Maasri explored in “Partially Occupy Darkness.” Over four nights, the artist “activated” an area of Dalieh with a mobile light box and invited people to gather and, as Maasri’s artist statement read, fish, stargaze and “claim that the ‘revolution is won,’ thus creating new memories based on the site’s potentials and narratives.”
More allusive was a piece entitled “On the Same Wave Length.” Pascal Hachem and Rana Haddad installed a washing machine atop the edge of the on-site concrete blocks, and stranded another in a fishing boat bobbing offshore.
“The whole point,” Abi Khalil said by way of explanation, “was to create an absurd situation.”