Selections reviews the sixth edition of the Beirut Art Fair
A teenage boy eagerly awaited his turn at the console, his girlfriend giggling beside him as he took hold of the controller in both hands and began blowing up spaceships. A small crowd gathered to watch, demonstrating the effectiveness of Janek Simon’s installation piece Carpet Invaders, an interactive floor projection linked to a Play Station in the corner of the room. Part of Virtual/Reality, the non-commercial portion of the sixth edition of the Beirut Art Fair, which ran at BIEL from September 17 to 20, Carpet Invaders encouraged visitors to play a live game of Space Invaders inside a decorative border inspired by a traditional oriental rug, a humorous response to those who believe computer games are incompatible with a social life.
Curated by BAF’s artistic director Pascal Odille, Virtual/Reality featured a diverse range of works characterised as “digital creation,” exploring attitudes to new or unusual media. Close to Simon’s playful installation, a wall installation by Italian duo Nadia Antonello and Paolo Ghezzi put viewers into a more reflective mood. Guardami ancora consisted of a series of mirrors, placed in front of lit candles and delicately pierced with tiny holes, creating miniature constellations of flickering light that echoed the infinity of the night sky, predicting the constellations to be seen above Beirut in decades to come.
Virtual/Reality, supported by Bankmed, was one of the more interesting undertakings at this year’s fair, though there were couple of minor hitches in the presentation. Those admiring an installation of a shark made of neon tubing by Duvier Del Dago — seemingly a satire of Damien Hirst’s famous shark in formaldehyde — were interrupted by a man who informed them that the piece was unfinished, the original work having been sold several days earlier, while a video work by Bridgette Zieger was cancelled at the 11th hour for technical reasons.
Elsewhere, visitors were invited to admire the fair’s trademark mixture of contemporary art and design, strolling among booths representing 42 local and international art galleries and 10 design galleries. Returning booths by the fair’s sponsors included the BLC Bank Design Platform and a photography exhibition by the current entrants and previous winners of the Byblos Bank Award.
At the entrance, Selections’ own booth made a splash with its colourful exhibition of miniature-format paintings by prominent Lebanese and Syria artists. A simple wooden board displayed 20×20cm canvasses by artists including Ayman Baalbaki, Laure Ghorayeb, Manuella Guiragossian, Nadim Karam, Thaier Helal, Mohannad Orabi, Kais Salman and Edward Shahda, among others, greeting visitors to the fair with a celebration of local talent.
At the other end of the hall, local publishing house Dar Onboz’s booth was among the highlights of the fair. Focusing on their award-winning book, SAMA, about a child with congenital heart disease, Dar Onboz displayed the illustrations, beautiful etchings by Hassan Zahreddine. Author Nadine Touma gave live performances of the story at intervals throughout the fair, while a video introduced visitors to the painstaking practice of traditional etching, in which designs are seared into sheets of copper using acid.
“In terms of the art direction I immediately though of etching,” says Touma, who was approached to write the story by a charity called the Brave Heart Fund, “because when you do a heart transplant it almost feels like an engraving. You are carving someone else’s heart onto yours, so there is something extremely violent and poetic about it, like engraving… It’s an art form that combines science and art so brilliantly.”
Other striking works included Lebanese artist Katya Traboulsi’s sculptures at the Jennifer Norback Fine Art booth. Two beautifully proportioned heads, resembling classical marble statues such as those found at Palmyra, were displayed in clear cases. Their faces were chipped and surrounded by pieces of jagged rubble, powerfully evoking the tragic destruction of heritage by extremist groups such as ISIS. •