LEBANON EXCHANGE 2018
ONE SHOWS ONESELF, ONE SHOWS UP, BUT TO THE OTHERExhibiting: Giorgio Bassil, Melissa Ghazale, Carla Habib, Firas El Hallak and Mirella Salame
Mentor: Miha Vipotnik
10 August - 1 September 2018
Locations: K18 Gallery, Koroška cesta 18/ EPEKA Gallery, Koroška cesta 8/ Centralna Postaja, Koroška cesta 5/ Youth hostel UNI, Volkmerjev prehod 4
Due to continuous exposure to many (un)important visual and other information, the question of the identity of the generation of digital natives is multifaceted. Their identity is conditioned not only by cultural, political and economic environments in which they live but is also regularly upgraded with modern ways of being online.
Commonly accepted modes of behaviour and communication have become factors that influence the
development of digital identity, which is reflected in a material environment, as well. With the help of a camera, the boredom of material reality is quickly transformed into a spectacle and ‘likes’ materialize into tangible capital. With modern technology, Warhol’s prediction that everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame came true, which is most clearly reflected in a flood of selfies. As theorist Ana Peraica says: " Selfies are unspecific, wide-ranging pictures. They report on arbitrary moments, which at the same time gain an important ontological place in our lives, appearing as subconscious and random stream of moments which meaning is absurdly amplified by their public exposure."(1) In what way do selfies and other images of personal experiences construct the identity of the individual? In the time of multi-tasking, can we be talking about multiple/different simultaneously existing identities?
The question of perception and representation of self in contemporary times is also the central theme of works created by Giorgio Bassil, Melissa Ghazale, Carla Habib, Firas El Hallak and Mirella Salame during their stay at the GuestRoomMaribor residency programme. What connects them is the fact that they studied at USEK (Holy Spirit University of Kaslik) or at ALBA (Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts) in Beirut, under the mentorship of Miha Vipotnik, a renown Slovene video artist, who has been teaching in both universities for several years. After graduation, their collaboration continued with projects such as In Media Res and Vertical Collisions, and within the framework of GuestRoomMaribor residency programme (2017). This Slovene – Lebanese collaboration took place for the second year in a row through placing young artists in a precarious situation of creating a group exhibition, where they are exposed to new environments and contexts of working, while at the same time they remain in a constant dialogue and question their own artistic creation. After a month of intellectual and spatial efforts, the artists have prepared this exhibition which highlights different ways of constructing identity through interlacement of material and digitally mediated reality.
The exhibition One shows oneself, one shows up, but to the Other borrows its title from a quote from a French philosopher Jacques Derrida, speaking of Narcissus, who can only show himself to the Other, never to himself. For Derrida, the subject can be seen more realistically through the eyes of the Other than through the subject’s own eyes. Therefore, the only possibility to see oneself is through self-recording.(2) In the end, the exhibition reveals this process of imitation, reproduction, viewing and exchange of roles between objects and subjects, between the author and the observer in an interlacement of material and digitally mediated reality.
ONE SHOWS ONESELF,
ONE SHOWS UP,
BUT TO THE OTHER
In the Youth Hostel UNI, Melissa Ghazale shows one video, Yours Truly (2018). In this work, she composes pieces of her personal digital video archive – materials which she’s been collecting ever since she got her first telephone. Her memory is connected to a memory of a camera, and through the collage of (un)important videos, the artist creates an open narrative. Her work is based on the understanding of I according to the definition of structural linguist Emile Benveniste, who says that the I is defined only when the speaker changes it in a specific time and space, in other words – the voice defines the I. For this reason, the artist uses a series of images and stresses the constant exchange with different speakers. Sometimes, the “I” is her, sometimes it’s somebody else. The exposed scenes are ephemeral, they can be easily forgotten or erased; they seem like scenes we’ve seen somewhere before, perhaps in our own past. The series /ai/: The expression of a subjective perception in a specific time and space. (2018) is based on similar principles. Among other things, the artist is showing scenes from nature, pairing them with a sleeping young man. Personal footage of nature is unrecognizable; it is unclear whether they were taken somewhere close to Maribor or perhaps in Beirut.
In I thought it could have been me, but it wasn’t (2018) exhibited in K18 Gallery, Carla Habib created a network, which starts with the partial appropriation of fragments from the previous exhibition in that gallery titled Living with Tito? through drawn images of personal experiences of her co-residents. The artist’s narrative is based on photographs documenting the placement of Tito’s image in a contemporary environment, and on selfie culture, which depicts trivial situations as if they were historical events. She uses her personal photo archive, created during her residency stay in Maribor, and draws selected photographs on the wall, while at the same time depicting each of the characters in her own image. In this way, she compares her own image with the image of Tito, which was omnipresent during the times of Yugoslavia. The artist’s starting point was personal stories of individual residents, and when she portrays them as herself, she negates the specificity of a particular moment; instead, she presents it as an experience (a missed flight, a conversation about feminism, sleeping under a tree...), which anyone could relate to.
Firas El Hallak is present in several exhibition places. In K18 Gallery, he exhibits Crying Reloop (2018), a private video of himself as a baby. The video of a crying baby is confronted with various words, one of which is crash. As part of Carla Habib’s monumental drawing, Firas El Hallak’s work Love me Tinder (2018) is exhibited. The shot of the smartphone screen, which was created during his European visit, highlights a digital, rather than geographical experience, and lies somewhere between documentation, Tinder, and a video message. At the same time, he also exhibits his video Stillmovedonthold (2018) in K18 Gallery. In this work, the camera functions as the author’s mirror, juxtaposing different media (drawing and video) and two different portraits. El Hallak uses his camera to record Carla Habib while drawing his portrait, which puts them both in a position of the object and the subject at the same time.
In Centralna postaja gallery space, he exhibits his video portrait Ella (2018). In this one, he uses videos recorded during Mirella Salame’s field research, and frames them with disruptions, as if the video signal has poor quality. Mirella’s image is captured on video with crashes and errors, and sometimes even temporarily erased. His camera thus becomes similar to a display case, in which a sleeping Mirella is closed at the end of the film. In EPEKA Gallery, in its darkest backroom, his installation Videosynthesis (2018) is on display, in which a live feed of a plant planted in an aquarium is also the only source of light for that same plant.
In the same gallery, Mirella Salame exhibits her work You (2018), created from soil and growing mushrooms with rhizomes connected with mycelium, that invisible body of mushrooms, hidden underground. Unlike aforementioned artists, Mirella Salame perceives identity through a body or physical reality. She is particularly interested in a relationship between people and their physical environment – either natural or urban. The artist began her creative process with walks between the woods and local shops and named this series of actions Footnotes (2018). During these actions, she dug up small forest plants with roots and, with a clod of soil, placed them in various shops, where they were given a role of intruders. Her actions in public space function as ephemeral cracks in sterile shopping areas. At the opening event, Mirella Salame performed Untitled (2018) in Centralna postaja, a performance in which she puts herself into the frame and uses white paint to hide her body from the Other.
Like Salame, Giorgio Bassil also starts from the physical materiality of the body as a system, in which disease has a status of an error. Although he doesn’t use digital images in his work Sunset Yellow (2018), the archive is the base structure of his work. His starting point is his own experience with medications which he has consumed over the last two years, that has enabled him to comprise an unusual and extensive collection of instructions for use of medications, which he even expanded in Maribor due to a work-related injury. Giorgio Bassil exhibits his entire archive in EPEKA Gallery. Through utilitarian texts in different languages, he exposes a very intimate side of the history of his disease, without actually saying anything about the disease or the injury. Instead, the artist uses colour to highlight certain words in these instructions, thus creating special instructions for the viewer. These painted words are the artist’s directions for a better quality of life, converting the monotonous pharmaceutical instructions into random and humorous, yet meaningful poetry. He further highlighted this with a yellow flashing video that contains these marked words and functions as a bait for unsuspecting viewers that happen to be passing by.
1 Peraica, Ana (2017) Theory on Demand #24. Culture of the Selfie: Self Representation in Popular Visual Culture. Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam, p.89
2 Peraica, Ana (2017) ibid p.53
Producer: Pekarna Magdalenske mreže, GuestRoomMaribor programme
Co-producer: USEK Holy Spirit University of Kaslik
Co-producer :PERON Cooperative
Funders: Municipality of Maribor, Office of the Republic of Slovenia for Youth
Donor: Asist d.o.o. and GLOBRENT NEPREMIČNINE d.o.o.
Sponsor: Middle Eastern Restaurant Mr. Falafel
Partners: EPEKA Gallery, Centralna Postaja, Terme Maribor, Youth hostel UNI