BEIRUT: “Let’s Talk About Red” is an interactive installation by Mohammad Kanaan, which mixes factual history with the art of story-telling.
A barely audible crackle, similar to the white noise of an unturned radio, meets visitors at the door. It is later disclosed by creator Mohammad Kanaan, or ‘Moe’, that this sound is a loop of silences recorded during a conversation with his friends about the Lebanese civil war.
“We sat down and chatted about what we had heard. None of us are old enough to remember the war, so our knowledge is entirely formed by stories told to us by our families,” the 29-year-old Kanaan told Annahar.
It is the pause that is the most telling.
The knit of lo-fi silence is very effective; instead of using parts of the spoken conversation, Moe believed the gaps more eloquently express a history of Lebanon that is normally left unspoken.
“Every spring the Ibrahim River turns red and scarlet buttercups appear along its banks,” says Moe. He is seated in the middle of his installation, a square patch of grass speckled with blood-red buttercups.
In Greek mythology, Adonis, is a semi-divine embodiment of youth and beauty and the lover of goddess Aphrodite. He was killed by a wild boar while hunting; the savage beast which was sent alternately by Ares, god of war, or Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, who felt Adonis was too good a hunter.
He was killed near the Ibrahim River, which runs red every year from its source at the Afqa Grotto all the way to its mouth near Byblos, a phenomenon explained locally as the blood of Adonis flowing into the river.
“My mother told me how one day, when she came home at the age of twenty-two, she saw a stream of blood on the kitchen floor,” Moe explains. His grandmother was killed by a stray bullet during the civil war. “It influenced how our family interacted. It affected certain ways I behave.”
By evoking Greek mythology, Moe’s installation examines what it means to tell stories of our past.
Chris Rizkallah, studio manager at Beirut Art Residency (BAR), felt personally connected to the exhibit. “To me, this piece is very relatable. Being a Lebanese citizen who has not experienced the war but has heard stories, I can relate to this longing to explore what it means to react to our parents’ stories, and how to move forward from that.”
The exhibition was hosted by (BAR), a non-profit artist-run space in Gemmazye. BAR offers accommodation and studio space for international artists throughout the year, with a view to fostering cross-cultural relations between participants and the local artistic community in Beirut.
“Our artist-in-residence program is a prime stepping-stone for emerging artists embarking on their career and established artists exploring new disciplines,” Rizkallah told Annahar.
Among the exhibition visitors was Mani Pournaghi, Director of the Goethe Institute in Gemmayze.
“I’m German and I’ve lived in Beirut for two years, and of course I’ve read a lot about Lebanese history and heard individual stories. I think the installation is a very poetic interpretation of the Lebanese history which is still quite young.”
Mohamad Kanaan was born in Beirut in 1989, where he currently lives and works. In Kanaan's practice, art is an extension of architecture. His work consists of “little feelings, compartmentalized affects, and repressed emotions.” Poetics guide his approach to furniture and architectural forms; maintaining a romantic and tragic anticipation of the bodies that will interact with the work.
Kanaan received his MFA from the Institute of Chicago in 2016 after completing his BA in Architecture at the American University of Beirut in 2012. Recent group exhibitions include “Noche de Cortos” Nixon Gallery, Mexico City (2017), “A sudden and peculiar pleasure” Mana Contemporary, Chicago (2017), and “We Died and Here We Are” Beirut Art Center, Beirut (2016).
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