Critics’ Picks

From left: Rania Stephan, Still Moving, 2016; 64 Dusks, 2010–16.

From left: Rania Stephan, Still Moving, 2016; 64 Dusks, 2010–16.


Rania Stephan

1339 Marfa’ District
May 25–August 31, 2016

Rania Stephan’s gallery debut comes at a point when a midcareer museum survey might have made just as much sense. She is better known as a filmmaker. Her work began migrating only recently from film festivals to exhibitions. Stephan got her start in the 1990s, as an assistant director to the filmmakers Simone Bitton and Elia Suleiman. In parallel, she developed her own work along two very different paths. On one side, she makes quick, powerful slice-of-life documentaries. On the other, she composes essayistic videos that toy with notions of memory, montage, and the obsolescence of materials such as Video8, Hi8, and VHS.

The latter works tend to mysteries and crumbled glamour: Tribes, 1993, is a tribute to Marlene Dietrich, among other things; The Three Disappearances of Souad Husni, 2011, narrates the wild and desperate life of an ill-fated Egyptian movie star, using only pirated videocassettes of her films; Stephan’s trilogy in progress, Memories for a Private Eye, 2015–, braids together material from classic Hollywood noir (Mark McPherson’s 1944 film Laura), a short-lived detective show (“Mufetish Wahid”) that ran on Lebanese television in the 1970s, and home movies outlining a devastating personal loss (the death of her mother in a bombing during Lebanon’s civil war).

“On Never Simply Being One” splices together the Souad Husni and Private Eye projects, including the video 64 Dusks, 2010–16, Stephan’s camera literally circling around the site of Husni’s suicide, never shown publicly before, and a related series of photographs, arranged dramatically in a long, straight line. Adjacent to 64 Dusks is a projection of Husni’s face, eyes beseeching through the thickest mascara. Slowly, damage to the VHS tape plays across the image in a slow, gorgeous dissolve of abstract imperfections. Two found photographs hung back to back round out the reconciliation of dualisms of view. One is a saccharine portrait of Husni posing with a camera. The other is a sultry pinup of the starlet in lingerie. Both were taken by a studio photographer Stephan found by chance, who had worked on the set of two films Husni shot in Lebanon. Pulling viewers around their installation to uncover their story, they show an artist as capable in space as she is in sequence.