Critics’ Picks

Stéphanie Saadé, Second Nature, 2014, gold leaf on broken glass, 2 x 2 3/4''.

Stéphanie Saadé, Second Nature, 2014, gold leaf on broken glass, 2 x 2 3/4''.



1339 Marfa’ District
May 21–October 7, 2021

One of the closest galleries to the Port of Beirut, Marfa’ Projects was gutted in the August 4 blast last year. Gallerist Joumana Asseily rebuilt it exactly the way it was, in time for an exhibition on impermanence and fluidity. The show, entitled “Water,” is a collaboration with Galleries Curate, a loose consortium of twenty-one international galleries that arose during the pandemic, and a response to their inaugural theme, RHE (Greek for “that which flows”).

In Tamara Al-Samerraei’s Fissure, 2019-2021, an indigo river appears at a geological fault line, paint bleeding down the fringes of the painting in an appeal to material opacity. Raed Yassin’s “Untitled” series, 2011, playfully frames photographs of water in cityscapes through a Mondrian-like grid of sheer colored panels. His video, Final Destination, 2009, slowly degrades a still image of a man running into sea into a glitchy blur. The layering of analogue and digital formats is mirrored in the oceanic horizon of Rania Stephan’s print The Sea X3, 2017, its lapping waves divided into differently hued registers of bruised film and video stills.

Surprisingly, only two works deal with water in a directly political sense: Ahmad Ghossein’s The Point Or One of The Governments Secrets, 2017, a group of metal rods on plinths invoking the French mandate’s measurement of the Port of Beirut’s sea levels, and Lamia Joreige’s video essay The River, 2013, a sociological look at the Lebanese’s capital’s dried up waterway.

It is the sculptural works though, that really steal the show. Second Nature, 2014, Stéphanie Saadé’s broken glass rimmed in gold leaf, recalls the Japanese technique of Kintsugi—except instead of gold joinery sealing broken objects whole again, her jagged edges conjure absence. Paola Yacoub’s pencils half-submerged in blue wax blocks (Crayons dans l’eau, 2021) seem suspended on the brink of movement and Caline Aoun’s refrigerated, perspiring copper pipe (The Kinetics of the Invisible, 2021) is a powerful instance of evaporation and accumulation made visible.

The exhibition ends in an abandoned garage across the gallery, projecting Vartan Avakian’s film Short Wave Long Wave, 2010, which was actually shot by the port. The artist’s silhouette surveys a shifting, puzzle-like skyline he understands to be America. In this parody of orientation, water marks a moment of suspension, the beginning of a boundary, the relationship to land and city.