Lamia Joreige

Lamia Joreige’s Je d’histoires, 2006–2007, is a small, room-size installation that consists of an LCD screen, a control pad, a table, and an armchair. The viewer enters, sits down, and begins to play. (The title translates literally as “I of Histories,” but it toys with the similarity between the words je, “I,” and jeu, “play.”) The control pad offers a grid of options, and the viewer can choose from six videos, three texts, and five sound tracks to create a single work. There is a finite number of permutations, and part of the fun of the piece lies in figuring out all the possible combinations, like a child who cheats while reading a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.

Joreige’s texts are eerily poetic, puzzling, and abstract. They allude, albeit enigmatically, to violence, pain, and rupture: TODAY WE UNDERSTAND . . . THE WAR WAS NOT OVER; THE WEATHER IS SO GORGEOUS HERE. . . . THE LIGHT, SO UNIQUE, EASES MY SADNESS; HE HAD NO FACE LEFT TO CRY....I INSERT MY BODY IN HIS PLACE....AND THEN, THE EXPLOSION. The music, inflected by post-punk and minimalism, offers melodies that slide into sinister drones. And then there are the videos, each separately titled: The Road by the Sea captures the Mediterranean as seen through the window of a car speeding down a coastal road in South Lebanon; Once We Were Lovers consists of double-exposed Super 8 film footage, corroded over time, of what appears to be a wedding. Match the same text to different videos with different sound tracks and the mood shifts along with the meaning, though not always in the same direction.

Je d’histoires was one of four new or recent works included in Joreige’s solo exhibition “A Strange Feeling of Familiarity,” which was organized by Naila Kettaneh Kunigk (founder and codirector of Munich’s Galerie Tanit) and Sandra Dagher (the curator responsible, with Saleh Barakat, for Lebanon’s first national pavilion at last year’s Venice Biennale), and mounted in a building slated for demolition. The precariousness of the site amplified Joreige’s themes: fading memories, faltering histories, and fleeting moments that elude capture to the point of frustration. All of the works in the show—from the photographic series “The End of . . . ,” 2007, and “Night and Days,” 2007, to the video Full Moon, 2007—deal with visual traces that ought to trigger narratives but fail. Joreige pits memory against history and finds the former more honest and humane.

Full Moon is about a luminous full moon above the Beirut skyline, something the artist once saw while driving at night; for many nights afterward she tried to repeat the experience, camera in hand, as she drove from one side of the city to the other. The video is a record of these trips, a record of failure, yet it is also a crafty net for unexpected audiovisual material, such as radio news broadcasts and excerpts from speeches by local political leaders. And while she never quite finds the equal of the gorgeous, ripe, shining orb that resides in her memory, undocumented, she does record two buildings that anchor each leg of her journey—the ominous Murr Tower, a solid block of reinforced concrete that was never finished and never used, except as a sniper’s nest during the country’s civil war, and the Manara Lighthouse, a literal beacon. These two structures, though stationary, appear in Joreige’s work as if locked in a dance. The contrast between them creates an intense drama that is, as in all Joreige’s best work, mysterious, evocative, and, yes, strangely familiar.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie