Thank you Colette Khalaf and L’Orient le Jour for spreading the word and helping us make this exhibition a success!
Thank you Beatrice de Rochebouet for this wonderful article in Le Figaro!
Download the article here
Read on Selections’s website
written by Valerie Reinhold & Rania Tabbara
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Collectors Issue #38, pages 98-99.
Two of the three curators behind ART IN MOTION’s first public exhibition, Resistance and Persistence, discuss building bridges between Europe and the Middle East, and the role of art as a unifying force.
Marwan Rechmaoui. Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Courtesy of the artist
This October, 24 Lebanese and international artists are set to transform Beirut’s Sanayeh Garden into an artistic spectacle the likes of which the city has never seen. Sculptures, installations, videos, conceptual art, design and performances will be choreographed within the theme Resistance and Persistence with the joint aims of reconciling a painful past and a chaotic present through art and identifying new points of reference in our turbulent times. This public exhibition marks the first project launched by ART IN MOTION, a non-profit organisation co-founded by Rania Tabbara and Rania Halawi, Lebanese art-world personalities.
Dome Atelier Yok Yok. 12m diameter paper and wood. Courtesy of atelier Yok Yok
Two of the exhibition’s three curators, Valerie Reinhold and Rania Tabbara, cross-interviewed each other exclusively for Selections.
Valerie Reinhold: Rania, how was ART IN MOTION born?
Rania Tabbara: Rania Halawi and I share a common vision about contemporary art and its critical role in our societies to raise awareness and create a cohesive force. We believe that art should not be a privilege given to a certain category of people who can afford it. It should be a right accessible to everyone.
That’s why, through various art events, exhibitions and performances, ART IN MOTION makes it possible to pave the way for exchange and encounters between people from various backgrounds and to strengthen the dialogue between Lebanon and the region.
VR: The goals are very ambitious!
RT: Indeed, Rania Halawi and I want to give Beirut what it deserves — to let it revive and shine through contemporary art and culture. Call us persistent! We are fortunate to have a great team, including Lina Ghotmeh and Sylvia Beder, and amazing sponsors like Banque du Liban, MTV, BB Energy, Université Antonine and private donors: they believe in us and in the importance of this project on a social, artistic and cultural level.
VR: Resistance and Persistence: why did you choose this theme?
RT: First of all, the theme relates to Sanayeh Garden itself. It was built following a plan for the modernisation of the city and turned the area into a new urban development centre in the 19th century. Adjacent to the garden, a school of arts and crafts and a hospital were built. Sanayeh means “creation” or “craft.” The garden, the hospital and school were celebrated as a triumph of man over nature.
After the attack that took the life of President René Moawad in November 1989, the authorities wanted to honour him and decided to give his name to Sanayeh Garden. In recent decades, the garden has become a symbol of resistance and solidarity. In 2014, after two years of renovation by the Azadea Foundation, a non-profit organisation, Sanayeh Garden reopened; trees were replanted, flowers blossomed, ideas began to circulate again. It regained its initial function as a forum of dialogue and communication.
I also chose this place to honour my dad, Ahmad Tabbara, who gave all kinds of support to this garden throughout his life. I decided to give back to him, but to do it my way, through art.
Ziad Antar. Cactus Cactus and mixed media. Courtesy of the artist
VR: You also told me about a song —
RT: You may laugh, but I was also inspired by a song by France Gall called Resist. This song is about life. It tells me that life is mainly about joy, continuity and persistence, without always showing the pain.
VR: Is that the quality you were looking for in the artists you invited?
RT: Yes, I guess so, in a way. Some choices were obvious, like Ziad Antar and Marwan Rechmaoui: their body of work is all about our theme and they are also key Lebanese artists on the international art scene. Mustafa Ali investigates the fragility of mankind and Houmam Al Sayed speaks about revolt. Lutfi Ruhmein brings a positive energy to the exhibition and Chaouki Choukini a degree of spirituality.
We also selected other works from prominent and upcoming MENA artists to show different generations of artists whose works investigate the theme in a very complementary way.
It was also important to have artists from the whole region to outline the diversity and richness of our culture. We are very grateful to have this amazing artistic network here in Beirut, such as Ghiath Machnok, Agial Gallery and Galerie Tanit, who willingly lent us works from many of the artists we were very keen on having!
RT: How did you select the artists from Europe?
VR: The reason you and Rania Halawi invited me as the co-curator was to engage in a dialogue between European artists and MENA artists, as well as visitors, with one rule: the artworks would have to be produced in Lebanon. I selected artists whose investigations are complementary and who work with very different media.
Cathy Weyders talks about survival, and to some extent about the issue of displacement. Yok Yok incorporates news in their work and manages to merge different cultures so that the most delicate shelter lures us and creates a safe haven. Karine Debouzie explores the relationship between humans and their environment, and the tensions, the resistance and the persistence of both. Ada Yu confronts us with ourselves in her delirious installations, where the only way out seems to be the way up: peace of mind, despite a chaotic world. Vika Kova’s video installation pays tribute to Lebanese women. Hanaa Malallah counts as British, but tough — she is also a MENA artist: she talks about the relationship between neoliberal capitalism, consumption and waste production, referencing Beirut’s recent environmental and public health crisis. All of the artists’ works seemed to relate to an aspect of the theme Resistance and Persistence.
This year, we are very proud to have the support of one of Lebanon’s most prominent collectors, Samir Abillama, who kindly lent us works by Xavier Veilhan, Thomas Houseago and Xander Spronken. This adds, in my opinion, another dimension and level to the exhibition. It would have been impossible for them to produce work specifically for the exhibition, so the rule didn’t apply.
VR: What is the expected outcome and impact of the exhibition?
RT: I think that this first exhibition, accessible to all, will be a true surprise, and that people will see and accept that there is a change in motion in our city. The exhibition is not only about reuniting different societies and cultures; it is also about individuals questioning and integrating their beliefs in this complex socio-economical region, so as to be able to have dialogue and understanding. I believe that this is an important step, and such established and emerging artists are able to give us a platform from which we can move forward and establish art as a universal and unifying language.
VR: I really hope the project will foster exchange and dialogue between the participants and the public. I think that the scenography by Lina Ghotmeh will increase the interaction between the public and the artworks and trigger discussions, questions and debates.
The whole project has been an eye-opener for me, about Lebanese and MENA culture and the transformation of societies, as well as the incredible diversity of the region. I have also learnt so much about the local history, mentalities and customs. I expect European artists to learn as much and come back home as messengers: it is time Europe learns more about the MENA region!
VR: How do you see ART IN MOTION in 10 years?
RT: We know that ART IN MOTION will act as a changing force, be it artistic, individual, social or political. It will create a movement that will raise awareness of connectivity between all people. We believe in the power of art to make this world a better place.
VR: I see ART IN MOTION as a driving force to promote art to a broad audience, and MENA culture abroad. It is as much social as artistic, and that’s what makes it so important. We need more initiatives of this kind in the world.
ART IN MOTION’s first public exhibition, Resistance and Persistence, will be on show at René Moawad Garden in Sanayeh from October 5 to 24.
Selections is a bi-monthly magazine with high quality content on all subjects related to Art, Culture, Design, and Style. Full of world-leading artwork, exquisite brand imagery, original creative illustrations and insightful written articles, Selections provides readers with inspiring cultural information about art, design, fashion and the pleasures of living well.
Curator and co-director of the Serpentine Gallery Hans Ulrich Obrist reflects on art in the digital age and his relationship to art in the Middle East
7:30am was the only possible slot Hans Ulrich Obrist, co-director of the Serpentine Gallery in London and world famous curator, had free for an interview. After reading his book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Curating But Were Afraid to Ask, I knew that it was actually a pretty decent timeslot — for Obrist hardly ever sleeps and simply never stops.
Do it! and the internet
Obrist had just taken part in the Art for Tomorrow conference, which was organised by The New York Times and ran from March 12 to 16 at the W Hotel in Doha. Together with prominent art-world personalities like Rem Koolhas, Jean Nouvel and Jeff Koons, he discussed subjects including about digital art, one Obrist’s many areas of interest.
Three years ago, the Serpentine gallery commissioned its first digital piece, AGNES, by Cecile B. Evans — a benevolent- spambot that lives in the online Serpentine Gallery system and interacts with users wherever they go. In 2015, the gallery asked artist Ian Cheng to develop Bad Corgi, an app at the junction between digital art and gaming technology. Digital art has all the qualities that appeal to Obrist: it is based on a set of instructions — the algorithms — that are never-ending and always evolving.
He stresses the commonalities with Do it!, the show that he originally developed in 1993 with Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier as a reflection on how to make exhibitions more flexible and open-ended. Curators encounter many obstacles that prevent exhibitions from entering the world and becoming part of it: shipping costs, loan fees, customs, etcetera. So the trio eliminated all these parametres.
Do it! provides instruction pieces that can be executed anywhere. “It is not something we have invented, it is something that has existed in art history,” Obrist underlines. The show draws its origins from artists like Marcel Duchamp, conceptual and minimalist art of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as Fluxus practices and curators like Harald Szeemann or Lucy Lippard.
“The rule of the game is that the curator and the artist can never go to install, because it is kind of against the rules if I interpret,” adds Obrist. “I shouldn’t police the instructions… I want to be an enabler, a catalyst, I don’t want to be someone who controls. I don’t want it to be top down.” Obrist has been promoting the idea of the curator as catalyst for his whole career. Over the past 20 years, the concept has evolved by taking into account local histories of instruction art. “What we have to do is not just send out our instructions to the world, but actually listen to each place where we go, and that was the biggest change of the concept,” he explains.
Do it! is a sort of toolbox provided to communities to make art happen and to make it accessible. The result is an ever-growing archive in art. “Do it! is almost an open source to come back to the digital age. It is for free, people can download instructions and do them,” says Obrist.
The exhibition has so far travelled to more than 50 locations worldwide and is currently on show at the Sharjah Art Foundation, where it was co-curated with Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi.
Art in Dubai
When we met, Obrist was in Dubai for 89+, another project he actively promotes. 89+ is a platform, co-curated with Simon Castets, which aims to map the post-internet generation — those born after 1989. This idea stemmed from an article written by Randy Kennedy about Ryan Trecartin in 1999, in which Trecartin spoke about this amazing generation of artists born in the 1990s. Obrist and Castets realised they didn’t know any of them. The 89+ platform currently has more than 7000 artists from all over the world catalogued.
In collaboration with Art Dubai, Obrist started an 89+ workshop in 2015, where artists from the region could send their portfolios. It led to countless meetings and interviews, and ultimately two artists, Abdullah Al-Mutairi from Kuwait and Sarah Abu Abdullah from Saudi Arabia, did a performance and had the video, Vessel Verse, installed in a shack at Art Dubai. The piece explored the relationship between the virtual self and the physical self — specifically, the disparity between how one reacts emotionally to online interactions and those that are face to face.
Art in the Middle East
Obrist first came to Dubai 10 years ago, for the first edition of Art Dubai, where he was invited to take part in a conversation with Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. “Visiting the cities here, Dubai, Doha, the exhibitions, the fairs, gave me the possibility to become more familiar with art from Iran, Lebanon, even Turkey, because in a way all these artists and galleries that participate in the biennales, fairs, they would all come here. And then I would also do local research,” says Obrist. He discovered many local artists, like Hassan Sharif, but also those from the wider region like M. F. Hussain, the famous Indian artist who lived in exile in the U.A.E.
For the past 10 years, Obrist has pursued his research in the countries of the Middle East. He stresses the long cultural history that one shouldn’t forget. “I very much make a protest against forgetting,” he says. “This part of the job of a curator.”
In the course of our interview it became clear that Obrist is much more than a curator. He captures histories from the past and the present, learns about them, records and archives everything, maybe to fight the amnesia that he believes “is at the core of the digital age.” On that note, Obrist dashed out of the hotel for his next meeting, this one with Lebanese artist Marwann Rechmaoui, who later greeted me with: “So you were the reason he was late!” Had it been up to me, I would have ordered more coffee and carried on until dawn.
by Valerie Reinhold
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Creative Issue #36, pages 54-55.
Photo: Courtesy Lapesh Lathigra
Playtime issue, Selections the art magazine, July 2015.
We were invited to curated the “Colours” issue of Selections, a leading Art Magazine from the Middle East. We decided to focus on a personal area of interest: the use of colours in relation to different materials.
We were thrilled to have Akili Tommasino and Pendar Nabipour as our contributors. A big thank you to the artists for their time and great insight: Jean-Michel Othoniel, Jacob Hashimoto, Nabil Nahas, Marcel Wanders, Hadieh Shafie, Anish Kapoor, Sidney Regis, Hoda Tawakol, Nadim Karam, Maha Malluh and Farhad Moshiri.
Charm, beauty and creativity. Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia, daughters of -nobody less than- Zeus, have had it all. No wonder they have been an iconic source of inspiration for artists, for thousands of years.
“They bestow what is most pleasurable and beneficent in nature and society: fertility and growth, beauty in the arts, harmonious reciprocity between men. They enjoyed venerable cults in Greece and Asia Minor. In mythology, they play an attendant role, gracing festivals and organizing dances. Their closest connection is with Aphrodite, whom they serve as handmaidens.” Metropolitan Museum of Art
How have they changed though the centuries?
Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Three Graces, 1535
Peter Paul Rubens, The Three Graces, 1638
Antonio Canova, The Three Graces, 1817
Robert Delaunay, the Three Graces, 1912
Raoul Dufy, Les Trois Grâces, 1942
Lester Johnson, Three Graces, 1966
Salvador Dali, Three Graces of Canova (unfinished), 1979
Ranciman, The Three Graces, 2010
Mickalene Thomas, Three Graces: Les Trois Femmes Noires, 2011
Kehinde Wiley, The Three Graces, 1881-1956, 2012
Sidney Regis, Les trois Graces, 2013