Critics’ Picks

  • Zineb Sedira, Of Words and Stones, 2018, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

    Zineb Sedira

    Beirut Art Center
    Jisr El Wati Building 13, Street 97, Zone 66
    October 24 - December 23

    Zineb Sedira calls herself a guardian of memories, but in the opening video of her first solo exhibition in Beirut, Don’t do to her what you did to me, 1998–2001, she erases them. The video shows a portrait of a woman submerged in water, until the titular words written on it liquesce into pools of ink, in an aestheticization of destruction. This work, like many others throughout the exhibition, speaks to its surroundings—a city caught between preserving and rebuilding after war.

    In her new site-specific installation, Of Words and Stones, 2018, a red line over a row of stones divides the gallery in two, resonant of the line that divided Beirut during the civil war. In the first half, the photographic series “Sugar Routes,” 2013, shows empty stone spaces with anonymous truck tracks or scratches of sticks. The red line reappears in the compilation of sculpture, photography, and video in the second half, which attempts to preserve the borders of Sedira’s father’s territory and forms the nucleus of the show. In the video piece Inconsistent Mapping, 2017, a Photoshop user superimposes a colonial-era map over an aerial photograph of the land. Her father’s diligent footsteps along the perimeter, captured in the video Tracing a Territory, 2016, threaten to unravel into abstracted spools of red thread in the neighboring sculpture, Walk the Line, 2018, highlighting the futility of the project’s own archival mission. Yet there is hope—like the scars of human contact on the rocks in “Sugar Routes,” Sedira’s work does not fully preserve personal histories destroyed by war, but it does leave traces of their memories.

  • Caline Aoun, Dispersion 4, 2017, inkjet print on hahnemuhle paper, 45 x 59”.

    “That Is Water, That Is Earth”

    1339 Marfa’ District
    September 20 - December 2

    Named for the port district in which it’s located, Marfa’ Projects is awash with waves for the third time in as many years. Following Tamara Al-Samerraei’s wistful paintings of shores from 2014–15 and Caline Aoun’s twenty-four-hour live stream of the Mediterranean Sea from the largely inaccessible port (Seascape, 2016), Istanbul-based artist Hera Büyüktaşçıyan has unleashed a regiment of diminutive wavelike structures in the gallery space (The Wanderer’s Storm-Song, 2018). These waves are in fact pillowcases that appear to be getting rolled up by invisible hands. Each one stands on a humanoid extremity made of brass, stranded between ebb and flow.

    For this venue’s first group show, “That Is Water, That Is Earth,” curator Mari Spirito brings together four of the Mediterranean’s outstanding young voices. Their works do not explicitly address any pressing historical or sociopolitical reality—works by established contemporary artists almost always do in Beirut—but instead rely on repeated gestures, such as Büyüktaşçıyan’s rows of waves, to evoke a sense of suspension if not stalemate. To this end, Athens-based Zoë Paul’s impossible game of interlocked, fragile-looking, and sometimes even half-broken ceramic hoops (Hoops at the shoreline of the sea, 2018) and Dala Nasser’s coating of a crumpled and punctured gold emergency blanket (I’m not going to talk about that, 2018) with resin and liquid latex cast disruption as an aesthetic tool.

    However, here such gestures are far from being written off as acts of unadulterated negation. Seemingly purposeless, mechanical repetition culminates most achingly in Aoun’s Dispersions, 2017–. After the artist continuously fed a simple ink-jet printer with large, folded papers, the toner ran out, resulting in dark violet and symmetrically creased color fields replete with dramatic, paper-jam-induced creases. Each one resembles a rippled surface of water, but also a bed, abandoned moments ago.