Emerging slowly from a troubled past, arts and culture are clearly a priority for the city’s present and future. Lebanon’s capital, a picturesque city of bombed-out shells and sparkling new structures, home to just 1.2 million people, is host to some of the region’s most exciting exhibitions and events, managing to rival the state-sponsored cultural might of the Gulf with the local talent for picking up on the next big thing.
Housed in a two-story space designed by local architect Raed Abillama, the Beirut Art Center (BAC) was founded by locals Sandra Dagher and Lamia Joreige to support local and regional contemporary creative projects and promote interaction between local and international artists.
The BAC offers a regular program of activities, from lectures and concerts to performances, screenings and workshops. The gallery also houses a unique appliance in the region: an open use digital multimedia library containing resources on contemporary art production in the Arab world.
A laidback space off the beaten track in the city’s industrial Adlieh neighborhood, the BAC is a prime example of what the city’s world class art scene has to offer the community. Like many cultural institutions in Beirut, the BAC pays attention to the ways that art can contribute to society by choosing to display works by local artists, as well as international ones whose themes resonate with Lebanon’s experiences.
Legendary French artist and filmmaker Chris Marker is currently being featured at the gallery in an exhibition that runs through the end of the month. The exhibition features screenings of three of Marker’s audiovisual works, “Staring Back” (2007), “Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men” (2005) and “Immemory” (1997). These works are representative of Marker’s career-long exploration of themes of truth, history and memory in an essay-like format that challenges the boundaries of the documentary form.
Marker’s work manages to send a strong social-political message while remaining deeply artistic in a way that is as timeless as the themes he explores. The three installations are powerful accounts of the relationship between history and humanity, and that inevitable interlocutor, violence.
“Staring Back,” for example, is a collection of over 200 black and white photographs from the artist’s archives of faces encountered during his travels. The images portray a range of faces, famous and anonymous, in everyday situations from the mundane to the revolutionary. Prints depicting protests in Tibet are especially haunting; Marker’s portrayal of a human reaction to political violence and oppression is a moving testament to the ways in which the personal informs the historical.
“Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men” is a multi-screen installation piece inspired by a T.S. Eliot poem describing the devastations of World War I. Marker’s thoughts and reflections converge with horrifying images in a powerful commentary on historical violence and the shadow it casts even in peacetim1e — a theme that rings especially true in a city like Beirut where the possibility of renewed conflict is ever present.
The third part of the exhibition, “Immemory,” is an exploration of Marker’s inner world. Taking the artist’s autobiography as its foundation, the piece extrapolates to comment on social and political currents to construct an insightful look at the relationship between time, memory and existence.
Marker’s three works are accompanied by a collaborative exhibition, “Inner Time of Television” (2007), with London’s The Otolith Group. This exhibition is a 13-screen installation showing a 13-part television program created by Marker on the culture of ancient Greece, and echoes the artist’s approach of investigating memory through image.
The success of Marker’s exhibition is a nod to the BAC directors’ ability to sense exactly what the city needs from its art at a certain point in time, setting new trends regionally in the process. BAC’s good taste continues in February with exhibitions by German artist and filmmaker Harun Farocki and Lebanese artist Paola Yacoub.
Beirut Art Center
Off Corniche an Nahr
Building 13, St. 97, Zone 66