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Nadine Elali

In the midst of things

"In Media Res" engages themes of watching, listening, and being seen

In Media Res
In Media Res
In Media Res
In Media Res
In Media Res

“In Medias Res,” Latin for “in the midst of things,” is the artistic technique of telling the story of “now.” The narrative speaks only of the moment, with no reference to beginnings or ends. With this title in mind, a collective of young Lebanese artists came together this week to present a mixed media exhibit that reflects on art and its meaning in the world we live in today. 

 

“We are today in the middle of life as we speak,” says filmmaker and video artist Miha Vipotnik, who spearheaded the project. “We are in the center, the present; we are not in the past, nor in the future. In the case of Lebanon,” he added, “we are in the midst of times of conflict, and artists are responding to it in different ways.”

 

In a conversation with NOW, Vipotnik explained that the goal of the exhibit is “to rethink the artistic space, to reorganize it, and recreate it so to better reflect on the changing realities in our daily lives which are actually getting closer and closer to the moment we are living in, and not the process.” Spectators are thus invited to watch, listen, and be seen on screens in various segments, each showcasing a different artistic approach to storytelling.

 

One installation, entitled “Settlement,” invites spectators to “look at themselves as they look at themselves” as they approach a concrete object set in the middle of the space. The viewer discovers that there is a camera inside the object and that they are looking at themselves, a real-time experience that is simultaneously reflected on a larger screen.

 

“Look at yourself looking at yourself, as you look at yourself,” narrates mixed media artist Elie Mouhanna, “and try to see which is the original, the copy, the blind carbon copy… and go with the version that makes you feel the most at home, the one that gives you roots.”

 

In an interactive piece entitled “Silenced,” Italian performing artist Cristina Ghinassi collaborates with Lebanese visual artist Jad Tannous in encouraging spectators to experience silence. “If silence could be experienced, then what would it look like? Can one really listen to the sound of silence?” they ask.

 

“The idea is to try to make the spectator aware of silence,” says Ghinassi. “There is no silence here in Lebanon, and people don’t like it in a way; they fear it.”

 

The spectator is invited to wear headphones and stand in front of Ghinassi for eight minutes while she talks to them through the microphone.  She asks them to enter a dream in which both are standing in the middle of traffic, but with no sound.

 

“I invite the spectator to react to the sound pollution by screaming,” she says. “They have to decide whether they would like to scream or to stay silent forever. Most of the spectators were affected in different ways and reacted by screaming in different ways too.”

 

In another performance piece, Fadi al-Hamwi and Alina Amer use surveillance art to record intimate human behavior, leaving it to the spectator to judge “whether form follows function or function follows form.” The display evokes a failing social system as Amer uses a bathtub to symbolize the mother’s thumb and the state of perfect peace. The tub is penetrated by pipes, suggesting the invasion of brutal industrial elements. She is seen washing herself compulsively with water that is being contaminated and used over and over again.

 

“Human beings are being trapped in their own judgment that is imposed by outer influences, gained experiences, memories, and the duality of physical cleansing and dirtiness, forgetting what is genuine and spiritual,” she explained to NOW.

 

Noticeably, the majority of the works in In Media Res use surveillance as a medium. According to visual artist Firas Hallak, who assisted Vipotnik with the project “I spy with my little eye,” artists are responding to the rise of surveillance and the technology that is used to achieve it. The installation of surveillance cameras around the city to control conflict, he said, is resulting in a feeling of insecurity among people who are aware that they are being watched. As a result, artists have come to criticize, interrogate, and question this surveillance society.

 

“People are being watched and they don’t have the chance to see it,” said Hallak. “Here we are giving the spectators the chance to see how they are being watched and recorded.”

 

“Surveillance cameras have a certain aesthetics to it that suggests security and control. As a result, the spectator does not feel calm about it but does not react to it instantaneously either,” he explained. “It does, however, take awareness to another level, and gets people thinking about whether it is morally acceptable to be watched or not and to question why there are being filmed and for what purpose.”

 

Station, Beirut’s multipurpose venue, will be hosting “In Media Res” until April 18 from 7:00 pm to 12:00pm daily.

The exhibition space of In Media Res. (Image courtesy of In Media Res)

“The idea is to try to make the spectator aware of silence. There is no silence here in Lebanon, and people don’t like it in a way; they fear it.”