Recent exhibition Open Rhapsody brought diverse visions to Beirut
An eel wriggles frantically in a tank lined with a shallow layer of water, which leaves the creature’s back and head exposed. Above it, an impossible sculpture is formed by an explosion of water, which appears frozen in midair, as though displaced by something heavy and then rendered immune to the forces of gravity. Ceasing its sinuous writhing, the eel lies still, exhausted. Its mouth opens and closes slowly and the sound of rasping breaths, oddly human, fills the dark room.[two_columns_one]
Coagulate, a work of video art by Romanian artist Mihai Grecu, played out on a loop in a specially-constructed auditorium at Open Rhapsody, a journey into photography and video collections at the Beirut Exhibition Center in March and April. An exploration of what happens when the laws of nature cease to exist, the dreamlike film explores the materiality of water through shots of a still lake under an open sky, a man’s body immersed in liquid up to the neck and the writhing eel under its sculptural umbrella.[/two_columns_one] [two_columns_one_last]
The exhibition was curated by Tarek Nahas and Jean-Luc Monterosso, director of La Maison Européenne de la Photographie, which lent the BEC the seven video works on show. Lebanese photographer Roger Moukarzel, who was responsible for the scenography, constructed a central viewing room with theatre-style seating for the longer video works, which included his own piece, Sundust, Tribute to Freedom. He divided the remainder of the gallery in a series of independent, interconnected spaces. These were used to showcase an extensive selection of photographs on loan from ten Lebanese private collectors.[/two_columns_one_last]
The roster of names attested to the growing clout of Lebanon’s collectors. Pieces by international stars including Gerhard Richter and Sebastiao Salgado were paired with work by some of the best-known local and regional names, including Yto Barrada, Mona Hatoum, Walid Raad and Akram Zaatari.
The diverse selection was not united by a theme, but the curators loosely grouped the photos according to subject matter, creating a sense of continuity between one image and the next. The exhibition lacked a sense of overall cohesion, but the quality of the work made up for it, allowing visitors to view pieces by artists rarely exhibited in Beirut. Close to the entrance, two photos by Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf, from the artist’s Dusk and Dawn series, played with perceptions. Each captures a child peeping through a doorway into a room dominated by light or dark shades. At first glance, the photos appear to have been shot in black and white, but closer inspection reveals that they are colour images, cleverly constructed to confound the eye.
A section dedicated to interior and exterior architecture paired German photographer Candida Hofer’s two symmetrical colour shots of rooms in luxurious Italian places, utterly devoid of life, with Ziad Antar’s off-kilter black and white photograph of Beirut’s ruined Murr Tower, a symbol of the country’s years of civil war.
Rich, surprising and a fitting tribute to the diversity of photography as an artistic medium, Open Rhapsody’s many good points more than made up for any lack of continuity.
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Curious Issue #30, on page 52.