View of “Akram Zaatari,” 2014–15. From left: Untitled, 2014; Time Capsule, Skeleton, 2013; Ain El-Mir 23.11.2002. Photo: Cengiz Tanc.

View of “Akram Zaatari,” 2014–15. From left: Untitled, 2014; Time Capsule, Skeleton, 2013; Ain El-Mir 23.11.2002. Photo: Cengiz Tanc.

Akram Zaatari

View of “Akram Zaatari,” 2014–15. From left: Untitled, 2014; Time Capsule, Skeleton, 2013; Ain El-Mir 23.11.2002. Photo: Cengiz Tanc.

This impressive survey of Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari’s career included twenty-seven works from 1998 to the present, thematically spread across three spacious floors. The top floor, “Poses and postures,” was a study of the representation of self through photographic and digital mediums; the middle floor, “On photography,” an in-depth revisit and study of the photographic archives that led Zaatari to establish, in collaboration with fellow artists, the seminal Arab Image Foundation; and the first floor, under the unwieldy rubric “Acts of excavation and their reverse, archaeology and its opposite,” both an excavation site and a regrouping of some artworks that was at once intimate, poetic, and scientific—an apt description of Zaatari’s oeuvre as a whole.

His strength as an artist owes much to his embracing and discussing in conceptual terms the sensibilities prevalent in the Middle East. Zaatari is an eloquent speaker, recording and challenging the notions of representation, memory, desire, and politics. His video Letter to a Refusing Pilot, 2013, concerns an Israeli aviator who deliberately discharged his bombs into the sea rather than on the school that was his assigned target. Shown at that year’s Venice Biennale, where Zaatari gave a talk about the piece, and screened in tandem with this exhibition, the video attests to his ability to convey emotional responses while revisiting history and expressing personal or communal memory, providing alternative readings of experiences involving subjectivity as well as cold facts.

All the works in the show demand time and are worth it, but three stood out in particular. Endnote, 2014, is the final scene of Zaatari’s two-hour film (shot on HD video) on Studio Shehrazade, part of his installation 28 Nights and a Poem, 2006–14. In it, we see him and the studio’s owner, Hashem el Madani, who took thousands of portraits of people from various walks of life in Lebanon for over five decades beginning in 1948, sitting still and facing us, with heads slightly bent as they look at a laptop computer. Behind them, we see projected lights and images. The piece is a tribute from the artist to his muse, and an exquisite flow and display of early and later technologies that testify to the transience of the image. On the opposite wall, a single-screen video loop titled A Photographer’s Window, 2013, mainly shows an 8-mm film viewer, but the video is the final form of three films superimposed on one another. A second film showing images from a street as seen through a window—cars, pedestrians—is projected on one side, the rectangular portion, of the viewer; a third film showing the film projected on the viewer, seeming to roll forward and then backward, completes the visual play. The window is indeed that of el Madani’s studio, as seen in the next work, a large photographic triptych Studio Shehrazade—Reception Space, 2006, which shows the actual studio. Located in the mezzanine of a building, it was quite secluded, and intentionally so, because el Madani’s society did not exactly approve of individuals being photographed. Thus hidden, the window of the photographer and the lens of the camera both become metaphors for the gaze of the individual and the truth that is presented to the eye through a frame.

The third piece, Untitled, 2014, is a multimedia work that premiered in this show as the first phase of a still-ongoing project. It displays, in video and photographic fragments, scientific and personal accounts of Zaatari’s recent research into the Ottoman excavation of the Necropolis in Saida, Lebanon, in 1887. The actual records of archaeological excavations are accompanied by Zaatari’s earlier and new artworks that pertain to archival practice, such as the Time Capsule installation he did for Documenta 13 in 2012. As in all his works, here Zaatari searches out the nuances of images and their emotional and intellectual overtones in the ever-fleeting moment of the in-between.

Mine Haydaroğlu