Marwa Arsanios

Beirut Art Center
Jisr El Wati, Building 13, Street 97, Zone 66
June 28, 2017–September 29, 2017

View of “Marwa Arsanios,” 2017.

You hear rushing water before seeing pristine mounds of earth with white infrastructural models atop them. Still beckoned by the sound, you see the video, Falling Is Not Collapsing, Falling Is Extending, 2016, from which it emanates. The film depicts a frothy white river foaming with contamination, and over the next eight minutes, you learn how real-estate oligarchs build dumps kilometers from Beirut’s center to devalue the land so they can buy it cheaper later. And then: Chirping birds and barren landscapes switch to machinery and apartments, indicating Beirut’s cyclical destruction and reconstruction of its territory.

Beirut’s current garbage crisis has the city at risk—many speculate it’s now too far gone to be saved. Artist and activist Marwa Arsanios addresses its devastating relationship to the recent real-estate boom, drawing parallels between the crisis and neoliberal economic projects from the 1990s. The concise, research-heavy installation is very aesthetically basic, featuring drawings, video, and architectural models that create a littered path across the narrow space. The works are unsettlingly literal. The dispersed mounds represent Beirut’s own actual floating: its trash fills the Mediterranean, while its buildings are supported by land extensions formed by waste.

Arsanios is proof of the consequences of how the non–mutually beneficial fusion of politics and ecology is reshaping the realities of a generation where pessimism is the new norm. The exhibition exudes the stillness expected from a dying landscape, but there may be hope yet, if Arsanios’s oversize scientific drawings are any sign: They depict the flora that has evolved to survive in the landfills. But looking around again at the mounds, you can’t help but think, “Was this really worth it?”

— Katrina Kufer