PRINT May 2015

Rayyane Tabet

Rayyane Tabet, Colosse aux pieds d’argile (Colossus with Feet of Clay), 2015, sixteen marble and sandstone columns, nineteen marble and sandstone bases, 292 concrete core samples. Installation view, Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg, 2015.

A YEAR AGO a friend and I went looking for old tiles to use for the renovation of her apartment. We were told of a parking lot on the outskirts of the city where a wholesaler sold findings scavenged from demolished historical buildings. Among the doors and the window frames, the stained glass and the piles of terrazzo tiles, lay broken marble and sandstone columns and bases. When I inquired about their origin, the wholesaler whispered: “Those are from the job we did a month ago.”

The story goes like this: A nineteenth-century single-family house sat in the middle of the city, on a piece of prime real estate coveted by a developer, but a legal dispute among the house’s eighty inheritors rendered its sale impossible. It sat abandoned for years. The developer, finally tired of waiting, hired a group of workers to clandestinely access the property and break apart the columns that supported the roof. This act accelerated the sale, as building laws in Beirut dictate that a house with no roof has to be either fully renovated or sold.

At the time the house was constructed, investors from Beirut had found a market for “goods from the East” among wealthy Italian families. The returning boats needed weight for stability, so they were loaded with marble columns, stairs, tiles, and balconies from a quarry in Carrara. Slowly, houses with stone from this quarry began to populate Beirut, adopted by a new social class that differentiated itself with a style borrowed from Europe. A century later, a glass skyscraper has arisen on the same spot.

Rayyane Tabet is an artist based in Beirut.