Saturday, December 14, 2013

At the Ocean IV

It took me several months to realize those had been the happiest days of my life. So happy they were that I was embarrassed to admit it, and often when inexplicably I had to cry, it wasn't out of grief or sorrow, or something immediately available. There was more to it. It was the uncontrollable joy of the present tense, of something that though dislocated and uproarious, was happening in that very moment, in a region beyond your control. The purest moment of uncontrollable joy, when you realize that everything that mattered in the world was happening right there, in front of you; a gratuitous gift. And in those small hours, when you rose above your skin, in rapid flight, over the lights, becoming a light yourself, between the eyelid and the corner of the mouth, you knew it was true.

It all had started so differently, you thought. Risking everything, absolutely everything, giving yourself as a gift to another person. The night before when your suitcases were already packed, and you were just about to enter the twilight of the unknown, everything was clear, and you knew the dream was over. Everything was met with silence in the other end, and a series of fabricated sentences and silences gave it away; you had come to a terminal end in which everything had been burnt. There were so many images, often theatrical, slipping from your mind in a second. It was in that hotel room when finally everything drowned in silence, and you didn't know where to go. You no longer knew what you were. The skies were pink in that early morning, your eyes of a beautiful pale green, somehow deserted, empty of any objective content.

And you had known it all along; for no warnings were needed. There had to be a free fall, a moment of absolute knowledge, a journey so long that it couldn't be traversed alone. And you were buried anyway, under thick layers of earth and memory, completely drowned, obscured in the middle of all that great light. It was something of a miracle that you had gone this far, but it wasn't this distance what truly counted. There was another measurement, a different edge of the slope, from which you permitted yourself to fall with all your heavy suitcases, with your presents, with your letters, with all your words. It was as if death no longer amounted to anything but a simple change of matter, the result of which was completely irrelevant. You walked through the streets of that city, unprotected, so scared, but knowing you simply couldn't die.

And the reasons you never understood. As you dragged yourself through the streets of Manama, you knew yourself to have once lived, and that it was nothing but courage what had led you there. An operation a lot simpler than love, a lot simpler than elaborate thoughts. You had to put into practice what once, several years ago, had been only an idea, a simple idea: The fact that there's no certainty. And you always have to jump, to shed your skin entirely in order to remain alive, in order to compose a story not so much about yourself as it was a stage where the world began to make sense again. Not for you, but as a whole. The wish to remain, albeit scattered, but yet to locate yourself inside something. In other words, to touch the ground, no matter at which expense. Even if the expense was your own image.

How to dissolve an image? The question of Trevor Paglen, I learnt so long later, that afternoon at the little food stand in Kurtulus. How to surround yourself (rather than vest yourself) in meaning in a moment when images themselves are in transit, navigating cycles of endless reproduction. If one experience (of viewing something for example) is universally translatable and reproducible, how do we legitimize the rawest experience of life as more than a repetition or logical fallacy? The mind, says Michele, is a logical impossibility, and yet mathematically conceivable. How to go from one place to another? How to abandon yourself and others? The casual tyranny of hope, the hope on an anatomy which is so inhuman and merciless; it is pure biological cycle, without contemplation or durable representation.

In the raving madness of weeks and months, things became less and less comprehensible, up to a point in which they faded from view and became insulated from the actual grammar of experience and perception. How can I relate my personal experiences to the violent randomness of the world? How to find peace? What is peace at all? There were so many dark days, in that tiny apartment, filled with dampness and moist, and Louis was the only one who truly knew. There was Amin too, the Iranian soldier, who probably taught us more about forgiveness than we ever expected to know. And so many times I saw in those dreams, that person who was irate, so irate that ponds of blaze set themselves alight, on his skin already burnt. And then he would vanish, for good... And ironically, everything else would remain. Everybody else.

In the beginning I dreamed that I would return, and that just accidentally in the street, I would find him, and that everything, absolutely everything would be alright. The story would continue unmolested and that brief impasse, would be quickly forgotten as an accidental adventure on the path of happiness. But the break was too deep, like the ripping of limbs, severing of fingers and then burnt, the ashes burnt a second time and smashed with hammers, in order to ensure that nothing would ever stand afoot, able to recognize itself. I always wondered if he kept that book of Kafka, which was so precious to me. Perhaps the most precious of all. What if it was left behind in the closet of an apartment in New York? What if it simply found its way to the nearest bin? But curiosity overrides the pain. There's always more to give, much more. Infinitely more.

And there it was. That day. Sparkling white. Dancing among stars, the waters nearby, the hopes so elegant always, the things that never would end. So many other names, faces from old, a bursting crescendo, and the fires of truth. Sweet afternoons along the Golden Horn, as if we had never been alone, as if all of this never happened. There was no need for more. Those moments that contained and consumed everything. And when just I thought that there was enough time, all the time in the world, everything abruptly ends. But it wasn't final. There were no good-byes, no one cried at an airport (except myself), everything was yet due and expected. I'm yet to learn how to write. I'm yet to learn how to use language again. How to bring all this to life again.

We became other things, in other places, that made us from scratch, when we were dead, when we couldn't breathe, when everything was so cold. And that's why we can't figure out anything upon return... Our belongings are scattered, in the lives of others, and there's no clear or straight path to retrieve them. I owe so many letters, so many words... But how I wish I could pay them back... How I wish I knew that lies deep inside me, what once was overflowing with joy and now simply feels numb and unable to recognize these realities other than piecemeal. In the end of the day, I was once dead, thinking there would never be more, and yet there were so many more dreams in store. So humongous that even today they remain incalculable. Those dreams that leave you breathless each time you remember they were not just dreams.

I try to stay awake, somewhat against my will, to carefully observe, to rewind my own life, as something worth the effort, plagued by endless luck, unambiguously clear, serenely bright, like that day I spent alone at the Black Sea. I've departed from this land since so long, but only now I become acutely aware of my condition, of my being elsewhere, and my rapid sense of lost which is replaced by an ever so new discovery of new lands, of new ports, new islands, where I can break ranks. We've been far away, and returned, we're still far away. It all seems deserted, for a few hours, until we walk into the night... Where we can imagine the water, the ferry from Europe to Asia, the endless laughter. Even as the city was ravished by fire, it was still there, the endless laughter, glowing and blinking from one island to the next.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Relocating Music in Bahrain

First published on THE CULTURE TRIP

The Relocators and Hani Malik: Relocating Music in Bahrain

Bahrain is not renowned for its contemporary music scene either within the Middle East or beyond the region, but that is slowly changing with the emergence of a new generation of musical talents, many of whom have been promoted by local enterprise MuseLand Records. Arie Amaya-Akkermans looks at two up and coming Bahraini acts: The Relocators and Hani Malik.

The Relocators
The Relocators
Little is known about the music scene from Bahrain, although some specialist and ethnographers might have heard occasionally about ‘Sawt’, a popular bluesy genre influenced by African, Indian and Persian music and native to Bahrain and Kuwait since the early 20th century, or the more traditional Khaleeji and Fidjeri styles. Contemporary sounds on the other hand, have received scant attention and perhaps do not have the reception that poetry and abstract painting have had in the kingdom. Nevertheless, contemporary music from Bahrain debuted in the 1980s with the progressive rock band Ossiris and the 2000s have brought about a new generation of musicians oscillating between metal, hard rock and alternative/progressive rock, similar to the Lebanese underground of the mid-to-late 90s.
The cultural context of Bahrain, however, together with the accessibility of technology and new media, and the sometimes cosmopolitan, sometimes constricted space of the Arabian Gulf, paved the way for very different foundations and results. The Elham Collective, founded in 2009 to give a boost to the country’s art scene, greatly contributed to the growth of the modest music scene and returned in 2013 with a new project: MuseLand Records, a Bahrain-based label committed to promote young talents from the country; in a way complementing a host of institutions that have emerged in Bahrain in the last fifteen years, including two international art galleries, a number of smaller local galleries, and an annual festival run by the Ministry of Culture, among others.
The Relocators
The Relocators
MuseLand records launched this year with the 3rd volume of a compilation of the same name, featuring some of the emerging talents from Bahrain and the region in a variety of sounds ranging from pop to alternative rock to folk, Indie and experimental. Favorites from the selection were the band The Relocators and solo singer composer Hani Malik, who have launched careers of their own, with debut albums. Belonging to a new generation of English-speaking Bahrainis, largely exposed to the ‘contemporary’ and performing for a different audience, less traditional and more cosmopolitan, The Relocators and Hani Malik profile themselves as trend-setters in the nascent music scene of a young country, a transit point of different cultures and nationalities, at the crossroads of the Middle East and South Asia.
The Relocators’ self-titled EP debuts with five songs somewhere between raw and alternative, with noticeable influences from Blues and progressive rock. Performing in verse-chorus forms within a loose acoustic ensemble, their spontaneous semi-acoustic sounds border on the grunge music of the 1990s but in elaborate dynamic contrasts where guitar and drums are prominent. Embedded in harmonious lyrics out of which short-timed extended lengths are born, the songs allow ample room for improvisation. Complex structures are built almost intuitively out of simple parts and without the symphonic and often orchestral sound of rock; their tracks also retain the casual ability of modern pop to engage through repetition of samples but without the electronic aura.
Hani Malik
Hani Malik
The band formed by Faisal Amin Sheikh — one of the brains behind MuseLand Records — as a vocalist and guitarist, Ali Al Qaseer on the drums and Romeriko Canvas on the bass, was born out of different former and on-going projects and influenced by sounds such as Jimi Hendrix and Incubus. While their sound is definitely raw, it is the antithesis of minimal: the editing and processing of their creative process leaves many rough edges untouched and does not fiddle with the density of Indie ensembles. Less is more, you would say. Their good-natured music is not melancholy but the range of expression is somewhat kept in check and it does not overflow into sentimentality. Clean as it might be, their music does not depart from compositional abstraction and simply grows naturally.
The listener can hear in the background a lot of plain experimentation with the physicality of the instruments rather than a composition scheme, but the sounds are later incorporated into time signatures that do not change abruptly but rather overlap in layers. The concept is very simple and the execution spontaneous and as the vocalist and guitarist insists, music is the most direct translation of the imagination. The uncollectable and intangible, an instant of expression or emotion, perhaps the only suitable metaphor would be a photograph overexposed or out of focus, from the perfect moment. The essential qualities still remain available, and in their case, barely tampered with. Pure experience.
Hani Malik’s album, No Remorse, released in 2012, in an extended play of 10 tracks, presents a similar texture but with a thicker ensemble, perhaps less harmonious but just as rough. His album, more than a full-fledged instrumental experiment, is the journey of self-discovery of a young man, oscillating between simple parts, near-symphonic themes and very personal lyrics. The nature of the sound is difficult to classify, for while the general aura certainly belongs to modern pop songs, the execution is that of progressive rock and the percussion is overarching. His songs seem born out of the lyrics, therefore a lyrical environment finds a free-floating time signature that is neither staged nor calculated. The influence from the density of post-rock is very pronounced here, although not yet audible.
Hani Malik
Hani Malik
Certain electronic elements of symphonic post-rock are always present in the sequence but shying away from minimalism. Sometimes in chorus-verse and sometimes resembling the thirty-two-bar form of ballads, but completely unrestrained and uncontrolled, No Remorseis audibly a contemporary rock album with the grammar of pop ballads. Hani Malik’s music is personal and sentimental, but again, like The Relocators, does not indulge in melancholy, as the articulation of the sound moves too rapidly to give space to slow depth. Sometimes dense, sometimes loose, sometimes synthetic, his style is still consolidating and the unique bidirectional voice sometimes recedes into a whispered lullaby, sometimes takes center age. Overall experimental and raw, but never un-emotive or expressionless.
These young musicians, born out of almost accidental circumstances, continue to shape in different ways the sonic panorama of Bahrain. A country both young and old, with an irregular landscape, shaped by the paradox of impermanence and tradition. In the audible contemporary, it would be difficult to tell where their sounds originate, and what spaces are they trying to shape, but perhaps a more careful inspection reveals a gramophone of personal stories, embedded in the circumstances of an undefinable place. The music scene in Bahrain is still a far cry from that in the Levant and not even comparable to Bahrain’s achievement in the visual arts, but it will always take only a small number of trend-setters to unleash creative potential and create a public.
The Relocators will launch their self-titled EP at Albareh Art Gallery, on September 5th.
By Arie Amaya-Akkermans

Interview with Blogger turned Gallerist Taymour Grahne

First published on THE CULTURE TRIP

Bringing Middle Eastern Art to NYC: An Interview with Blogger turned Gallerist Taymour Grahne

Middle Eastern Art is still under represented in the international art world and understanding of the history and depth of art in the region is still poor, particular in America. As Arie Amaya-Akkermans discovers, blogger turned gallerist Taymour Grahne has spent much of his career seeking to change this under representation, revealing the breadth and scope of Middle Eastern art firstly through his blog and now through his New York gallery.

Being a researcher – and now also a curator – in contemporary art from the Middle East has always been something of a daunting task, while at the same time a very particular adventure. In the absence of adequate sources, academic literature and a tradition of criticism and pushing boundaries, every researcher is mostly on his own, facing art with the help of critical tools acquired from other disciplines; art history, cultural studies, philosophy, etc. Other issues must be dealt with as well: attempting to write an art history in a time when art history itself is being challenged and one looks more at narratives than at histories. Then there’s also the struggle of not being entirely clouded by a critical apparatus born in and for the West, and the idea that there was no art in the Middle East ‘before Dubai’, as if the nearly one hundred and fifty years of Egyptian and Lebanese painting did not exist.
In the Arab world, aesthetic commentary remained largely confined to Islamic motifs and it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that an academic source distinguished between Islamic and Arab art, in the work of Texas-based scholar Nada Shabout. A few years ago, doing the rounds of the little material available in order to begin writing about regional artists, I came across the resourceful blog Art of the Middle East that was one of the only comprehensive resources at the time; though new platforms have been added, together with institutions and galleries, this now well-known blog was certainly a pioneer. In 2012 I became acquainted with the man behind this adventure, Taymour Grahne, a young art collector from Beirut (and other places) who shared the passion for regional art, and despite his age, a seasoned collector of some important names in contemporary art from the region.
Among his valuable collection, there are pieces of artists I highly regard, such as Camille Zakharia, Oussama Baalbaki, Hussein Madi and Reza Derakshani, among many others. Earlier in 2013 I learnt that Taymour had plans to open a gallery in the trendy Tribeca district of New York and thus, his cycle comes to completion: starting as a blogger and collector, then pursuing an education in art business and finally opening a gallery to showcase important artists from the region in one of the world capitals of art, where Middle Eastern art hasn’t had the exposure that it has in say, London or Paris. Indeed, a daring adventure in uncertain times for the Middle East and elsewhere. But he is well prepared for this adventure after a degree at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, hiring Helena Anrather, formerly of Chelsea-districtLehmann Maupin Gallery, an exciting artists program and a prime location in New York.
The Culture Trip spoke recently with Taymour about collecting art in the Middle East, the challenges of regional artists and the opening of his gallery.
The Culture Trip: How did you begin collecting contemporary art from the Middle East and how did you educate yourself as a collector in a region where art discourse is not particularly developed?

Taymour Grahne: I have always been passionate about the arts, so it developed quite naturally. I founded the blog [] four years ago as a way to document and share my reflections on artists and art events from across the Middle East. The gallery represents an opportunity to share the work of artists I respect with a wider audience – and to develop a strong program of events and exhibitions to showcase their work. I studied International Relations at Boston University, with a focus on the Middle East, including art history courses. After graduating, I decided to take my art education one notch higher and pursued and received a Masters in Art Business from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York. Because art discourse is quite rare in the Middle East, I take it upon myself to research as much as I can, and have amassed a wide-ranging collection of art publications and catalogues from the region. I also read a lot, from publications that cover art from the Middle East — including Canvas, Harper’s Bazaar Art Arabia, Bidoun, Nafas, Contemporary Practices, and Ibraaz — as well as international outlets such as Art Info, ArtForum, Frieze, etc. I also attend art fairs, biennials, galleries and museum shows as frequently as possible, which helps stay on top of new trends in contemporary art and the art market. I am driven by the strength of work coming from new art hubs around the world, especially from across Asia, the Middle EastAfrica and Central Asia. Artists are movements that have been overlooked are receiving long overdue international attention.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for artists in the Middle East from the perspective of artistic production? Censorship? Thematic variety? New formats?
While international attention on Middle Eastern artists has definitely increased, they need to exhibit more widely in the West — especially in the USA. This helps artists build a wider following for their work and also helps to expand the understanding of the diversity of art from the region. I also strongly feel that Middle Eastern artists should be presented without a ‘from the region’ label; we want the artists to be seen for the value of the work. This is why the gallery has an international focus.
The ‘Oriental’ in art is a topic tirelessly and yet unsuccessfully explored in art theory. Do you think that it is still relevant to speak of the Oriental in contemporary art?
Traditionally in both the West and the Middle East, the region has been viewed within the framework of the ‘Oriental’ — and there are some artists who play on this theme — however I want to show another side to work from the region.
How did the idea of opening a gallery come about? Do you think there’s a growing interest for art from the Middle East as a part of international art or it is still an exotic curiosity?
The gallery developed out of my work on the blog. It represents an opportunity to share the work of artists I respect with their wider audience — and to develop a strong program of events and exhibitions to showcase their work. More and more Middle Eastern artists are exhibiting internationally, with institutions such as the METTateLACMA, the Louvre, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, focusing on the MENASA (Middle East, North Africa and South Asia) region. Unfortunately when the West views the Middle East, there is sometimes an emphasis on such tropes as the veil, the role of women, calligraphy, exotic or orientalist connotations of the region. Also, explicit political and social commentary — however great the awareness about the region that this brings, but I think this is starting to change. My job is to firmly place Middle Eastern art in terms of international art, without the labels.
Tell us a bit about the artists you selected for your program and why you think they’re important figures in presenting Middle Eastern art to a New York audience?
I have selected an international roster of artists, with a core offering that reflects my experience in the Middle East and it brings a much needed platform for artists from the region to the US, however we do so in an international context, with a range of artists from Ireland to Indonesia. In fact, many of the artists we work with who have roots in the Middle East have lived outside the region. For example, Nicky Nodjoumi is as American as he is Iranian, having lived in Brooklyn for decades. Similarly Hassan Hajjaj has been based in London for many years now. Although they have roots in the Middle East, they are international artists. I am committed, as a gallery, to be a global space, which is driven first by artists I believe in rather than being limited to any particular locality or national perspective. I am proud that our program includes four artists who represented their countries in Venice this year — Tarek Al Ghoussein (Kuwait), Mohammed Kazem (United Arab Emirates), Camille Zakharia (Bahrain), and Albert Yonathan Setyawan (Indonesia). We want to cultivate an international following, but our primary audience is New York. It is an exciting prospect to introduce New York to contemporary artists from other parts of the world and we have already worked closely with several institutions to place works showcased at the gallery, in museums.
As a collector you should know how traditional the practice of collecting can be when it comes to Middle Eastern art. What are the expectations for new media works in this context?
Middle Eastern collectors are at present firmly drawn to painting and photography. There is a very limited audience interested in collecting video and installation works; however this is slowly beginning to change. This is why institutions in the region are so critical, as they can really expand the general public and collectors’ overall interaction with and experience of new media. It is great to see these institutions develop, as they support artists’ long-term careers, build international awareness, and cultivate local art-conscious publics.
Taymour Grahne Gallery opens its doors to the public on September 7th with the inaugural exhibition Chasing the Butterfly and Other Recent Paintings, by Iranian-American artist Nicky Nodjoumi, which has received attention from high profile magazines in the art world and will be the talk of town as the art world is returning from the long summer break and a busy calendar of exhibitions awaits lovers of Middle Eastern art in Dubai, Istanbul, London and Paris. Eyes are also set now in New York as Taymour Grahne’s project takes off with well-established artists who are well known not only to galleries, but to biennials, art fairs and professional publications. It will also be interesting to see what this young gallery; with an edge both Middle Eastern and contemporary, will be bringing to upcoming art fairs. Perhaps a reshuffle on the reception of Middle Eastern art in America? Time will tell.
By Arie Amaya-Akkermans

Monday, August 26, 2013

No Longer and Not Yet

First published on THE MANTLE

[Ermitage IV, postcard, Gregory Buchakjian]
It all begins with the syntax of an image: The knowledge that the moment can be repeated, altered and remembered; an illusion of permanence that is fundamentally an optic operation. Yet, the absoluteness of the image-moment, altogether suspended presence, stands on the way of this syntax. The photograph is always ghostly and immediate, everything has been already seen. There are no units within the image – as there are in paintings – and any attempt at formal analysis, will inevitably lead to the dissolution of the visual field. Unlike the material on the canvas, subject to the morphology of change, developed photographs do not respond to stimuli. They are construed as blocks of reality and simultaneous interpretation thereof, but the interpretation has been already closed off by the limits of the event.
Rolf Tiedmann writes on Walter Benjamin’s theory of perception and the photographic stand-still: “That is, to assemble large-scale constructions out of the smallest and most precisely cut components. Indeed, to discover in the analysis of the small individual moment the crystal of the total event.” Photography as an analytical operation effected on the thin boundaries of the moment, opens up as the trigger of an accidental creative force begot by the event. In the words ofAlain Badiou“An event is the creation of a new possibility. An event changes not only the real, but also the possible.” Hence, once the image has faded from immediate contact with the eye, the possible unfolds as a horizon for the re-configuration of the real into the boundless project of history.
Images, however, can exist without an adequate referent in reality or in the absence of such referents. The correspondence theory of truth, anchored inclassical metaphysics and the Thomistic “Veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus” (truth is the equation of thing and intellect), postulates a perfect agreement between thought, truth and reality. While this is still the prevalent idea insofar as perception is concerned, the rise of visual literacy and the stand-alone qualities of the modern painting object – from Manet through Magritte – has produced a new apparatus of consciousness beset by internal contradiction. Images seemly operate on the same principle of Hegel’s logic: “Everything is inherently contradictory.” Contradictions are the only way in which we can understand life.
[Photography by Francois Sargologo]
At the heart of photography’s problematic relationship to the real and the possible, lies also its ability to generate singularity: A point at which an object cannot be defined, distinguished or limited. In science, space-time singularity is a location where measurements have become boundless and the coordinate system is shattered. Similarly, in photography, the decentering of the traditional painting subject towards the margin and the introduction of motion has made images unstable and fragile by expanding the consciousness of the eye into an expanse which is no longer visual: Here lies the realm of the possible. What is the power and authority of the image if it is an unreliable container for memory which can be manipulated? Images articulate not objects but realities that convene on the Zeitgeist.
The question of the fragmentation and dissolution of images and the intrinsic relationship to memory was at the heart of Pellicula, a group exhibition across different formats, at Galerie Janine Rubeiz in Beirut. Photography here – in the works of Gregory Buchakjian and Francois Sargologo – confronts us with the abetted ruins of photographic memory. In the preface to the exhibition, Buchakjian takes us on a brief exploration of the topography of ruins in photography: In 1920,Man Ray composed the enigmatic “Dust Breeding” photographing from above, a work of DuchampThe Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even”, at a time when it was unfinished and laid horizontally untouched for a year. Ray’s expose captures the accumulation of waste and dust as tiny particles and pellicles.
The contemporary ruin was born in photography. In their artistic practice, Buchakjian and Sargologo show us not only that photographs – and images in general, or the visual repertory that makes the world understandable – are subject to ruin but that the initial image is a ruin already. Both of them, dealing with their hometown Beirut, choose to acquire a lens that permits to see right through the terrifying breath of the Lebanese wars of the 20th century, precisely by means of bypassing the aesthetic code of war photography and turning towards more intimate spaces where the decomposing body of Beirut – as an extended organic whole – becomes blurry, incomprehensible and contradictory. Their predilect trope is an out-of-focus, where the epicenter is emotional and the field of vision limited.
[Ermitage IV, postcard, Gregory Buchakjian]
A photographic ruin is not the attempt to capture a fleeting moment of decay or disintegration, but rather, as Benjamin put it, an allegorical and critical vehicle. The ruin, for him, is not an object but a process, a means of cleaning the symbolic order of the ruin, and approach history through minimal reduction: “The beauty of the ruin dissolves when the light of the divine knowledge sheds its light. Ruins are above all intelligent meta-images.” Stripping away the symbolism – political, religious and historical – of a freeze-frame, Buchakjian and Sargologo return to fundamental painting objects existing independently of their background noise. These objects are not narrative and stand outside the semantic order; they present themselves as archetypes, containing the basic units of experience – the moment.  
Gregory Buchakjian’s “Leningrad” is at the same time a photographic installation and excavation.  Found in the rubble of an apartment in Beirut, the postcards and stereo slides revolve around the story of two men who dwelled in the same building: Adnan, a Palestinian accountant who left for the United States at an unknown date, and “Abu Awd” (a pseudonym, but a real persona), a member of the General Command of “Al Assifa” forces within the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The story is textually reconstructed “in-situ”, with archaeological precision, based on found objects and without any narrative elements other than the ruin status of the dilapidated building. The ownerless objects – touristic images of Leningrad, postcards from the USSR – are muted signs from a shadow world.
This type of archaeology is a common place in Buchakjian’s work, whose photographic project turns from a documentary enterprise into an exploration of latency – raw images become obscured by literality. Photographing abandoned buildings in Beirut, chasing after the movable traces of history in a city pierced by the melancholy of destruction. The constant re-making of the city under neo-liberal corporatist administrations bent on re-making the present in order to configure the past as a vacuous gap, relocates the ghosts of war into imaginary spaces and his photography appears sometimes as a simulation. This most recent project remains unfinished and intangible as physical ruins fade into oblivion, but re-appear anew in the form of more violence, more bombings, more and more death.
[Photography by Francois Sargologo]
The artist commented on the project during a visit to Istanbul, on how a certain day a trip was scheduled to photograph a house that happened to not exist anymore on that day. There were no traces of a lived history. An empty plot of land, not public and not private, devoid of markers. His previous project,“Nighthawks” (tribute to Edward Hopper), documented the decadent night life of Beirut, with dark and gloomy images, depicting the escapism of Lebanese society, fraught with instability and turmoil. His project was an affirmative statement that glamour cannot emerge without melancholy. His practice on the found images relocates the past as a suspended state in which there are no entrances or exits. The event is closed-off as an allegory on the leap of time; the void.  
Francois Sargologo’s “Au-delà de la Mer” (Beyond the Sea) is a lyric lamentation on the visual syntax of a city that he does not attempt to recreate, but simply to highlight its more essential qualities. It is not the nostalgia of mourning but of something circulating, vivid and present. The photographs, taken in Beirut in the 1980s, were lost and then many years later found and torn apart from theirmemory environment, then re-staged not as continuity, but in a voyeuristic manner: Mere glimpses accompanied by texts written thirty years later. The oscillating images do not strike us as pop art or an archive. They are a casual monument to happiness and do not indulge in the distance of the physical ruin. They are close and warm. Yet they’re very far away. Their power lies in the impossibility to become real now.
Something familiar emerges in Sargologo’s work. The coffee tables behind which missing relatives were awaited. The family photos of those who never returned. A pristine Levantine garden abandoned when entire families left Lebanon to never return, but the fruits are still on the table, the trees are still blossoming. His places are more real and tangible than the battlefields. These places still exist in the debris out of which a collective is re-mapped and made understandable. The emotional distance from the images attests to the fact they were excavated and presented as autonomous objects with muted meanings. The texts are poetic but candid, almost invisible, from a ghost-world. But they are crystal clear as the site of happiness.
[Gregory Buchakjian, installation views]
Both Buchakjian and Sargologo toy with the apocalyptic imaginary in the traditional sense – a symbolic universe that codifies an interpretation of reality leading towards another world; the images are not left alone to speak by themselves. In this parallel world, heaven descends upon earth and in turn, the earth ascends into an inferno. The project of history is intercepted by the crude logic of the present, in which the trail of contradictions implodes into a heterogeneous viscous substance. In the words of Benjamin: “History is the object of a construct whose site is not homogeneous, empty time, but time filled by now-time.” Being faced with the binary choice between history and freedom, the artists choose the latter and permit history to collapse under its own roof, at the expense of unleashing the critical powers of truth.
Unlike photography of war, the two Lebanese photographers are not in search of moral images that can elicit explicit reactions – fear, dread, disgust, pain, horror – but rather singularities; undefined, loose, smothered. Irredentism is a commonplace in their work, and by negating the possibility of redemptive and redeemed images, they place themselves at the edges of laughter. A laughter that is neither comic nor sinister, but a crystalline affirmation of the necessity to live without illusions, at the edge of a volcano, turning this into something marvelous and heart-breaking, while at the same time frightening and mysterious.  Or, asJacques Derrida put it, when talking about his friend, the late Sarah Kofman:“This ray of living light concerns the absence of salvation, through an art and a laughter that, while promising neither resurrection nor redemption, nonetheless remain necessary.”
Walid Sadek wrote recently about the “labor of missing”, discussing a number of contemporary Lebanese artworks, exploring the inexorability of the act of waiting for the return of those (persons, images, moments) missing from the war. Sadek postulates that it is only by giving up on the illusion and requisite of their re-appearance that waiting and the labor of missing can truly take place. Buchakjian and Sargologo recognize this interstice, and while it is not an empty space, they are not attempting to replace an unfillable presence with a ghostly visit. In their work, the labor of missing is an environment of memory and not of mourning; not a wasting away or a Messianic bravado. It is about living without illusions but at the threshold of hope, a hope whose inner contradictions remain unresolved.
[Francois Sargologo, installation views]
"Pellicula" was on show at Galerie Janine Rubeiz in Beirut in April 2013, the exhibition also included works by Bassam Geitani and Hanibal Srouji.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Istanbul, Beirut

First published on THE MANTLE  

[Mashrou3 Leila, Istanbul, 2013]
It was the year 2009 in Beirut. That’s when Mashrou3 Leila, perhaps one of the most popular Lebanese bands, appeared in the public eye for the first time.  The story is well-known: They sent two demo tracks to Radio Liban 96.2 FM Modern Music contest, one of which was the now legendary “Raskit Leila”, heard also in the background of another classic of Beirut pop culture, the short film “Beirut I Love You (I Love You Not)”, a tribute by Mounia Akl and Cyril Aris to Jean Pierre Jeunet’s film “Amelie”, set in modern Beirut (later turned into a TV/web series by LBC channel). Mashrou3 Leila won the competition that also unearthed other talents likeSandmoon and Anthony Touma. But their story begins in 2008 at the American University of Beirut when the violinist Haig Papazian, guitarist Andre Chedid and pianist Omaya Malaeb invited people to jam with them in order to relieve the tensions typical of being an undergraduate in a country enamored with war.
And so Mashrou3 Leila, not a band but a project, was born. Their soft melancholy lyrics popularized, coupled with a seven-piece ensemble bordering on funk and folk rock that could have been labeled Indie, had it appeared ten years ago but nowadays stands as a thing of its own. The journalist Ziad Makhoul, one of the members of the jury in Radio Liban contest, put to words what he heard at the time: “A bastard baby and sumptuous orgy somewhere between Goran Bregovic, Abdel-Halim Hafez and Iggy Pop. Hipster but not too amateurish but not too romantic but not too eye catching but not too elegant.” And since then, the project of Hamed Sinno, Haig Papazian, Omaya Malaeb, Carl Gerges, Ibrahim Badr, Firas Abu-Fakhr and Andre Chedid has become something of a phenomenon in the Arab world. This requires further explanation: An almost casual blend of sexual ambiguity, idiosyncratic Arabic songs, and a now well established almost pop aesthetics of ruins slash glamour.  
Yet Mashrou3 Leila is not a discovery and one could hardly go anywhere past the countless features, interviews and what not that have appeared in press all over the Middle East. There seems to be so little to add. Two albums and many concerts later, the once quasi-underground band (a Protestant university hidden in a green corner of the Middle East hardly qualifies as underground) has moved to center stage and whether one is hypnotized by their music or not is already a bit irrelevant to their overall presence. When writing about Lebanese music, I wanted to go to pristine untouched places: The folk sounds of Sandra Arslanian and Eileen Khatchadourian, the almost-installation electronic performances of Marc Codsi, the melancholy of Safar Barlik. It’s not that Mashrou3 Leila wasn’t interesting to me, but it felts simultaneously too distant and too close. And as time elapsed, I moved from film and music to fine art and somehow the exclamation mark of Mashrou3 Leila remained.
I questioned whether it was not too commercial? After all, they gathered crowds in the thousands across the region and God knows how close I could come. I mean, my interaction with art was different: Usually I had very personal contact with obscure young painters and remotely known installation artists that I met in random dilapidated houses. And this wasn’t willy-nilly: I belong to a generation in the Middle East that has been told repeatedly that the art is bad because censorship, because no critics, because no institutions, etc. And as everybody was looking West – not so much as a style but as a stage for performance – I was bored and wanted to be that critic; though later I realized criticism is boring as it requires a critical distance from what is being talked about. A distance I would never permit myself to have from art. I wanted to invade works of art, ensembles, and films; hence nearness and even friendship was a requisite for this task.
[Mashrou3 Leila, Istanbul, 2013]
But these things are usually oblique and not necessarily straightforward. Every time I read another interview with Mashrou3 Leila, another polemic, gender this and that, Israel this and that, Palestine so and so, Lebanon this and this; that I never found interesting and the conversation lost some edge for me, although I remained always alert and curious to their music. I recognized intimately the place where it originated, just like I did with Annie Kurkdjian’s painting or Gregory Buchakjian’s photography. Something autonomous but uncontrolled: Beirut in 2006, the turning points, the tipping points, the return, the uncertainty. And the same melancholy that comes after suffocation: Do not talk about this, do not talk about that. Do not dress like this, do not dress like that. Love is between a man and woman. This is the way we are supposed to live. And the screaming inside as the sirens and planes buzzed outside, containing this fear, sometimes curious, sometimes paralyzing.
The voice of Hamed Sinno and the violin of Haig Papazian, both unpunctuated and unrestrained, were often part of my early morning repertory as I lay in vigil leafing through Michel Fani’s “Dictionaire de la Peinture au Liban” and studying the writings of Sarah Kofman, trying to find that voice that I was in search of when addressing art: “Art is not a matter of some shadow world that could be opposed, in any simple sense, to the real world of the living. Art upsets the opposition between these two worlds, causes each to slip into the other.” I hated the idea of a Lebanese or an Arab art; I wanted a non-descriptive topography for art in which the artist is not compelled to remain within certain restrictive boundaries of gender, ethnicity, nationality, only in order to please a contemporary audience hungry for pornography of war and suffering. The more it bleeds, the more it sells. And as those thoughts circulated, the music sometimes uplifted me, sometimes bled me out. It was always different.
It was something rather intimate, a private space in which both the music and I exhausted all our vital forces until a sentence looked perfect on paper, although it would become disappointing the day after. A change of scene. Istanbul, March 2013, lying in bed for days, with a heart broken and left behind in Manama. Reading from the journals of Susan Sontag: “I will never just outlast this pain. (Healing passage of time, etc.) I am frozen, paralyzed, the gears are jammed. It will only recede, diminish if I can somehow transpose the emotion –as from grief to anger, from despair to assent. I must become active. As long as I continue to experience myself as done to (not doing) this unbearable pain will not desert me.”But the music never changed. Perhaps it just became overwhelmingly incremental. I had this theory that sounds record memories better than images; images are often a cruel and frozen reminder of what no longer is, whereas music is perpetual re-enactment.
And then Mashrou3 Leila in Istanbul. I toyed with the possibility; I shouldn’t burn, I thought, but then it seemed as the possibility of returning to something, to something that circulated succinct but unexpressed. How close could I come? And then I found myself right there, across the band I had tried to skip so many times. And by right across I mean, only a few centimeters away. I remember almost the order of the songs, the first one in particular. And how I broke crying there, it was even funny. Words and people who write have their common stories, especially when they’re the words of others, some private property that you appropriate in secret. It could have been so many hours, but yet it all elapsed in a second. Anywhere but Istanbul it was then. A lifeline between Beirut and Manama that somehow broke suddenly allowing only enough time to pick up the little pieces and flee.
[Mashrou3 Leila, Istanbul, 2013]
And politics in Beirut. We’ve all heard it. It’s all terrible and bad. Life sucks. There’s no hope. There’s no escape. Just the continued deathless death. Where is your ID? One of the local greeting forms. The penchant for fireworks and heroes trying to save those who do not want to be saved. This intoxicated extension of the Holy Land in which there is no option but being savior or saved; no place for the simple free man. It all came back to me immediately, with flying colors. As I looked around the rather small hall, the Turkish fans – who thank God couldn’t cry with the lyrics – and a small group of Lebanese, Syrians and Israelis crowded at the front. I couldn’t be too bothered as I was completely withdrawn into the performance of Sinno and Papazian that might as well have been one of those carefully staged performances of Ali Cherri; drawing in the air with instruments and voices the imaginary maps of a country that could never really exist, except when looking at it from here.
That night I sent the band an e-mail telling them about the paralyzing effect that the performance had on my persona, like a teenage girl sending fan letters. And everything I put on Instagram, because that is what you do in 2013 to belong to the instagrammar of contemporary feelings, dating and visual literacy. The next day I returned for the second performance and in a surprising twist of events I had a casual chat with Hamed, the man that had made me cry the night before. He reminded me of the artists I had met in the studios: Nonchalant and casual, friendly and somewhat unrestrained, laconic but yet not quite phlegmatic. I guess art happens just like that. You’re not really in control. You don’t really know what you’re doing. And there I was, finally closing my circle with Lebanese music, outside my comfort zone, in a city I hated then, and unable to write it out for many long months. We talked about meeting in Beirut; being now unsure whether he or I remember.
Later that night, in a frenzy, I met a young architect from Aleppo who had come all the way from his place of refuge in Eastern Turkey to see Hamed Sinno perform live, being one of the many fleeing from the horrors of the Syrian war. And that made my grief at the time seem so insignificant, which comforted me in a way. I had just taken leave of my friends and sat with him, half-inebriated, on a bench next to Taksim Square waiting with him until morning for his bus to return to hell. And yes, this is a brutal place, not suitable for young people, certainly not for artists; and it is all the more reason to dare to do so many things. I’m reminded now of a time when I was a conscious student of Hannah Arendt and came across her dedication to Karl Jaspers in which discussing the cruel cold facts out of which the political thought of the 20th century was born, she adds, “I have not accepted the world created by those facts as necessary and indestructible”.
There’s no other form of resistance more adequate and brave than simply daring to live in these times, to create, to produce art, to unearth possibilities. And no, art will not liberate anyone, it is powerless before bombs and snipers, but it is dignity’s only life insurance in such troubling times. It sounds silly, but really, the alternatives are few. And soon Mashrou3 Leila will release a new album, I listened to the song and all; yet I will not be there but nonetheless it gives me relief that life never stops in Beirut. And while sometimes I wonder though, about the architect from Aleppo, that moment was one extended unforgettable sound, standing across Hamed and Haig, seeing art face to face, for the first time. Or, in the words ofMichael Cunningham“There is still that singular perfection, and it’s perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other.”
[Mashrou3 Leila, Istanbul, 2013]
Mashrou3 Leila will launch their third album in Beirut, August 28th.

Raw as in War

First published on THE MANTLE

[Sandmoon at the Fete de la Musique, Beirut, 2013. Courtesy of Karim Sakr]
There’s much hearsay about the Lebanese music scene, labeled both “underground” and “alternative”. Perhaps both terms are overloaded with a certain idealization that borders almost on the soft power of activism: Something marginal, at the fringes of a turbulent political reality and almost illegal. This isn’t entirely untrue, but the daily reality of Lebanon is different: Pop stars sing at sit-ins of Salafist preachers and people record songs in basements as the Israelis are shelling Beirut. Sometimes resilience – and the Lebanese flaunt it with pride – is a code word for irresponsibility, but life goes on. The painter Mouna Bassili Sehnaoui told me last year: “In fact I never painted the war in a Goya like manner, being surrounded by tragedy and horror I did not feel like bringing the blood and gore into my workspace. I realize now that it is only many years later that one allows oneself to release the self-imposed control so necessary for survival.”
But perhaps music offers a different pathway in which the artist is unable to protect himself in the same way that material stuffs allow; music is the uncontrollable and uncollectable, you have much less of saying in what you’re doing than say painters or even photographers. The immediacy is absolute and the results evaporate once you’re achieved them. There’s a recording industry of course, reproducible copies, rehearsals, concerts, and what not. Yet there was that first time, the moment of seeing art right in the face, for a fleeting second. And then there’s the music scene in Beirut, collateral to the contemporary art scene. A scene is a horrible word. Reminds you of drunken ordinary people in extraordinary clothes crowding in the corners of white cube galleries. I prefer the word clusters. In fact, I became acquainted with the music from Beirut because of the films ofJoana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, which led me to Marc Codsi and aninterview.
The very informal Marc opened a world for me in which art and music overlapped in distinct ways. Beirut is small after all. There’s Mashrou’ Leila too, everybody knows, even provincial me chatted with them once in Istanbul; and some others of course. As Marc pointed out to me, the usual filters of art don’t really exist in Lebanon – critics, managers, labels – therefore the cluster is concentric. Joana and Khalil often remark that in absence of critics, it is artists who have to take on the task of speaking about their own work. My experience with fine art and the art galleries in the entire Arab world is basically the same. The music genres in Beirut are somewhat defined and by now, a bit homogeneous. The pioneering days of Zeid and Yasmine Hamdan, Marc Codsi, The New Government, and others, are kinda passé. There’s room for innovation always though, and in a region beset by turmoil, one has to innovate in order to survive his own life. It’s almost a reflex.
And that’s how I found Sandra Arsalanian, the singer behind the Indie projectSandmoon, based in Beirut. A number of clips on the Internet led me to this mesmerizing sadcore voice, accompanied by slow and diffused instrumental sounds, minimal, percolated and with the strong but continuous crescendo of folk music.Indie in Lebanon? It’s not that I was surprised, since after all I had spent days listening to Codsi, whose work borders on sound installations and the kind of sounds that accompany found photographs and overexposed negatives in a gallery space. Sandmoon was different; though I could hear the beating latency of anyone who has been to Beirut, the riveting waves, sounds that grow into elliptic and concave forms, and that punctuate the war-scared buildings, there was also a far-away. It wasn’t a distance or a territory. A movable far-away. I knew those distances well, stranded between three countries, so far away from my birthplace.
[Sandmoon at Waterfront, Beirut. Courtesy of Raymond Gemayel]
Encountering Sandra, it wasn’t just about the musician in “différance”. It wasn’t only about music, but about reclaiming a place in reality as our own in order to contest it. Always the politics that we could never agree on, but keeping the sense of humanity and dignity that makes art worth the name. Though rooted in Lebanon, in so many ways, through my work, and through the steel-proof hope that one day it will be a place to live with that dignity we tried to practice, I viewed Lebanon with entirely different eyes; perhaps partly clouded by the fact that my lens is accentuated by the reactionary environment of the Arabian Gulf. Also, in a way, it is interesting, because none of us lived through the Civil War. Do we share a sense of guilt about that? Perhaps so. The far-away emerged rapidly as we became more familiar and quickly an exchange in a language for me almost forgotten – Dutch – ensued, adding another layer of both familiarity and distance from Lebanon.
And she begins her story: “Beirut, 13th April 1975 (the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War). Ten days later I was born. Seven months later, I boarded a plane with my family and left (read: fled) to Belgium. I am of Armenian origin, conceived and born in Lebanon. I grew up in the West, but at home it was very much the Middle East. It’s both disturbing and enriching. The balance ticks one way or another depending on the circumstances. 32 years in the Benelux and then all of a sudden, an urge to flee again, this time to where I was born. The story of many; many Lebanese, many people whose country is ravaged by war. War, departure, return, the meaning of home (the physical, the emotional, the metaphysical), the quest for identity, nostalgia.” Can Lebanese artists stop licking their own wounds? That’s what art critics often ask me. But what is one to do when the privilege and responsibility of history is denied? When more and more war keeps ravaging it every time?
She continues: “We should make a tabula rasa and start anew. Like Downtown Beirut. Maybe we should sing about Solidere (the new historical downtown which unsurprisingly has nothing historical about it in a neoliberal frenzy). But somewhere between the Serail and the Corniche, the bullet laced Holiday Inn stands tall as a reminder of past wounds. I always wonder why they don’t demolish it.” Speaking at ease about her musical influences: Classical, Armenian, Oriental and Protestant church hymns, reminiscent of the folk tunes, and all varieties of good and bad pop, folk, jazz and bossa nova. She started off making music in Belgium and playing with several bands. Early in 2009, she admits to have known next to nobody in the music scene in Beirut and just having heard about the usual names, Scrambled Eggs, Soap Kills, Lumi. It was around the same time that I wanted to be a writer; I also knew nobody, except one painter, and hadn’t still figured out how that was to be done.
It was that year that a small breakthrough happened: “I had just amateurishly recorded a few songs on my cheap Casio synth, and saw a poster for Radio Liban’s Modern Music Contest, sent in a copy of the songs, got selected and that’s when it all really started.  That’s where I met Fadi Tabbal, who records and arranges the albums of the most of the Indie scene now.” Coincidentally, that’s how I became familiar with her music; finding the release of Radio Liban and listening to all the tracks, trying to get a vibe of the scene where Mashrou’ Leila was born, when trying to write about them. “Summer 2009, I started recording with Fadi. It was just the two of us, with the occasional help from Tony, the drummer. I was unaware at first that I was intending to record a full album. But I knew that one day if I were to make an album, it would be called “raW” – read “War” from right to left. And after a year in the studio, there it was: Raw. Raw as in the roughness of War. Raw as in the unpolished treatment of the songs. Raw as in unprepared.”
[Sandra Arsalanian. Courtesy of Karim Sakr]
We talk about the song titles and their themes: An album soaked in sadcore, nostalgia, lost happiness. The band was formed in 2010 and lasted for some two years with performances in and around Beirut. On and off about the music scene in Beirut, the growth, the new players, some diversity, and what not. And then more talk about war. That thing so intent on stealing the future, time after time. And Sandra is back with Sandmoon for a 2013 remake, with new band members and everything else. The new album, slated to be called “Home”. I had the pleasure of having a sneak preview of some of the songs, and the concept is cunningly matured, departing from the minimal Indie of the early 2000s into more acoustic and polyphonic sounds that are still natural, bordering on folk music and very familiar, personal, removed from the aesthetics of transparency, unfurling into warmer spaces that open up with personal stories, whispered lullabies and a voice geared towards the center of the ensemble.
The nine songs, written and composed by Arsalanian, elevate the sadcore into certain moments of ecstasy and affirmation, yet a fundamental melancholy remains:“Though sadcore is still at the core of the album, there are some happier, crazier moments that sugarcoat the initial melancholy. That’s what Home is all about. Release scheduled for fall 2013.” I can’t help but ask myself what it this home all about, the one that Sandra and I are looking for, through writing, through performing and through staying on the revel of life in one of the world’s most difficult regions. Perhaps it’s not that the question is irrelevant, but most likely the answers are. The late philosopher Gillian Rose offers a suggestion as she lays dying in a hospital bed in England in 1995: “I will stay in the fray, in the revel of ideas and risk; learning, falling, wooing, grieving, trusting, working, reposing – in this sin of language and lips.”
And the topic of war returns each time Sandra and I speak. This reminds me of sitting with Lebanese art historian Gregory Buchakjian and Turkish artist Hale Tenger at a restaurant in Istanbul, speaking over lunch. Gregory wrote at the end of his book, “Useless violence makes history. Useless violence makes art history.”There’s an inescapable edge in this, in which one finds himself collecting debris from history, and trying to insert some hope in the world precisely by removing the possibility of redemption or hope, or in the words of Algerian artist Abel Abdessemed“We don’t need hope. What we need is truth.” Long by-gone are the days of beautiful art, Gregory and I agree, because the redeeming and quasi-religious function of beauty has evaporated in the course of the Arab world’s most violent century. We are talking about an art that speaks truth to facts without leaving us at the mercy of their brutality. What we need is re-interpreters of what we were never told; archaeologists of culture.
And Sandra Arsalanian is one of those archaeologists skilled in excavating the cultural memory of the present through her melancholy sound, altogether primal and intimately bound with her Armenian heritage – an obsession I share as I dig up the stories from the pre-oil Bahrain of wooden doors, mud huts and fishermen, just like Bahraini sound artist Hasan Hujairi. And this no nostalgia, but rather a radical openness towards the past as memory rather than historicism. The Armenian-Lebanese, whose new folk sounds remind me of Eileen Khatchadourian, another Lebanese singer of Armenian heritage and yet voluptuously contemporary, is yet not an artist from the far-away; she is from the here and now, drinking Lebanon in, with all its paradoxes, its wounds, its moments of happiness: She performed at the Fête de la Musique in Beirut, this June, as a political sit-in gathered in front of the Lebanese parliament. One of the dozen sit-ins that happen every year with no apparent result.
Yet, sometimes the tragedy seems to overwhelm and engulf us completely, for example with the recent bombings in Beirut. At the same time, the order of reality cannot be transformed without a wholly new order of political imagination, of which art is one of the building blocks. I have always loved a certain thought of the philosopher Franz Rosenzweig when he insists that the purely human element in art and in life is that which is equal and common to us all, that element awakened by and in tragedy. It is in those moments when the chips are down, when everything that is at stake seems so volatile and fragile, those are the moments when art stares at you right in the face and demands from you understanding that there’s no aesthetics of life, there’s only the raw materials of and in the world. The raw materials that sometimes read as war, as tragedy, as loss; out of which we derive the most elementary human capabilities. Helene Cixous completes the thought when she says: “Everything that is (looked at justly) is good. Is exciting. Is “terrible”. Life is terrible. Terribly beautiful, terribly cruel. Everything is marvelously terrible, to whoever looks at things as they are.”
[Solitude, videoclip still, 2011]
Find Sandmoon on YouTube