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Cutting through the skin of the surface.

Summary: Nature, a Greek fellow named Aristotle is once said to have observed, abhors a vacuum. Some years later, the material world appears to abhor stasis. This is particularly evident in this town.

BEIRUT: Nature, a Greek fellow named Aristotle is once said to have observed, abhors a vacuum. Some years later, the material world appears to abhor stasis.

This is particularly evident in this town. The cavernous holes gouged in the Beirut landscape have become so pervasive that you might imagine an alien race is conducting surgical attacks on the urban fabric.The surface is the subject of "L'Insondable Surface" ('Unfathomable Surface'), now up at the French Institute's Espace Montaigne. The show samples paintings, photographs and sculptures from the oeuvres of 11 artists, including such acclaimed figures as Fouad ElKoury, Oussama Blbaki, Nadia Safieddine and Tagreed Darghouth.

In their various ways, each artist takes the country's landscape as a subject, representing the surface on which we walk and the impact our passage has upon it.

The show includes a pair of 90x90cm photographs from ElKoury's "Guerre Civile" ('Civil War') series. Both pieces capture collapsed buildings in Beirut's Shiyah quarter, specifically in Hayy al-Madi.

The ruined buildings are complemented by muddy improvised roads, burnt-out cars, garbage -- creating the impression of a ghost town. ElKoury has chosen an angle and proximity that makes the onlooker feel able to step into the vista, an intimate witness of a razed neighborhood.

A similar aesthetic is evident in the paintings of Oussama Blbaki, particularly the untitled 90x120cm acrylic-on-canvas work on show here.

It represents a burnt-out car sitting on an abandoned-looking street, bereft of its tires. The monochromatic rendering of the scene somehow adds to the sense of dread, loss and fatality that is redolent in the scene.

Blbaki's work has been praised for the aesthetic of enigmatic banality it cultivates. Here, the burnt-out car's mundane quality only adds to the mystery surrounding what exactly happened here.

"L'Insondable Surface" includes "L'Abime appelle l'Abime" ('The abyss call for the abyss'), 16 55x65cm acrylic-on-canvas works by Tagreed Darghouth, each placed one alongside the other, as if to accentuate their impact.

Drawn from the artist's most recent period -- a radical departure from her work on Lebanon's fondness for cosmetic surgery -- these works take craters as their subject. Although these holes in the ground look like representations of the surface of Mars or the Moon, the text accompanying the work suggests Darghouth's objective is somewhat different.

The first abyss refers to humans' will to destroy. The second one stands for the indentations torn out of the ground by the testing of nuclear explosives. The artist suggests the relationship between these two abysses creates a snowball effect, one in which our actions will lead to our own extinction and that of nature as a whole. The surface of the Earth will soon be a massive abyss.

Nadia Safieddine's sole contribution to the show is an oil-on-canvas piece entitled "Bourbier" ('Quagmire'), 250x200 cm. Technically speaking, the painting is highly reminiscent of those in her recent exhibition at Agial Art Gallery. Thick layers of red, brown and black paint coat the canvas, with figures emerging from the startling juxtaposition with color.

In "Bourbier," a colorful cacophony bursts from the medium, as though portraying the perpetual social, architectural and political racket of the country.

"L'Insondable Surface" is on show at the French Institute's Espace Montaigne until Thursday. For more information, please call 01-420-200.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Apr 15, 2013
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