Sunday, 14 September 2008

Roads Were Open / Roads were Closed

The advantage of being unemployed is time. September marks the beginning of the post summer season and all the galleries have new shows so I may get to see them all this year!

I started a few days ago with a trip the Third Line showing its war themed exhibition ‘Roads were Open / Roads were Closed’. This exhibition features five artists interpreting either direct or indirect experience of the Palestinian and Lebanese conflicts. The exhibition’s focus is on exploring how we register trauma and perceive conflict. However, the work is also very much about how artists interpret history and preserve or package national and political, as well as personal memory.

As you enter the gallery, Palestinian Layla Shawwa’s ‘Weapon of Mass Destruction’ is a striking start. The huge slingshot complete with large stone sitting on a stand in the middle of the gallery floor is an immediately recognisable symbol of military asymmetry and moral triumph. The piece and its ironic title acknowledge this standard interpretation but Layla Shawwa’s point is more complex. In the absence of any forward movement, the symbol now stands as an impotent victim of its own mythology. It becomes a memory around which an uneasy internal dialogue revolves rather than being the external symbol of strength that it once was.

Photographer Tarek Al Ghoussein is also Palestinian but born in Kuwait and living in the UAE. As a consequence he is not directly exposed to the conflict but still needs to process and interpret his connection to it. His photographs, all taken in the UAE, depict huge and featureless concrete walls reflecting both the reality of the Palestinian situation and his inaccessibility to that reality. He also photographs barren desert spaces sometimes juxtaposing the two themes. When placing himself in the images he is inevitably dwarfed, either by space or by containment.

Fouad El Khoury documents a month of his life in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 when Beirut came under serious bombardment following the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. The technique is a series of prints that show his diary page for each day. Sometimes the whole page is situated inside his house surrounded by the normalcy of household items. Other times the text is superimposed on events taking place outside the house, sometimes images familiar from news reports during that period. At the same time as news of what is happening in the nation is reported in his diary, a parallel tragedy is unfolding in his personal life as a relationship fails which makes a nice if obvious juxtaposition of the personal and the political. The whole photo series covers an entire wall of the gallery and makes an impact as both visual and emotional archive.

A very different approach is taken by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige whose multi part project ‘Wonder Beirut’ documents the earlier civil war period using the ‘Story of the Pyromaniac Photographer’. This was Abdallah Farah, a photographer commissioned by the Lebanese tourist board to take postcard images of Beirut in the late 1960s. With the onset of the civil war in 1975, he systematically burned or altered the slides and negatives he used for the postcards to reflect the damage of battle. This results in some fantastic images with parts melted and blackened but retaining postcard colour intensity at the same time. Others such as the ‘Battle of the Hotels’ show sequences of the same postcard image gradually being destroyed.

Another part of the project relates to Abdallah Farah’s many rolls of film, which were never developed, first because of a lack of materials and then out of choice. Each roll is carefully dated, some as recently as 2000, and their contents documented so you are able to read the images but not see them. This part of the project is called ‘Latent Images’. Latency is apparently an engineering term meaning the time delay between the initiation of an action and its results. So the consequences of the action remain unobserved in the present. An exhibition about conflict seems the perfect home for such a notion!

This show runs until October 2nd. Thanks to the Third Line Gallery and artists for the images used here.


  1. Some of those images are extremely interesting. Love the one of the face that loks like its covered in sand.

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  2. Hi anon .. there are two of the sand face pics, both really good. Hope u can get to see the exhibition.