Surface: Beirut 2010/12 months

Transformations (installation)

What happens to art when it dies?



This installation is made of 29 rods hanged in a white limbo and a process video.

Gazing upon the gently spinning rods creates a hypnotic effect –  the viewer may experience a dreamlike sensation, a hidden level of reality.

(frag. COPYRIGHT 2011 Al Bawaba (Middle East) Ltd.)

Chamaa’s exhibition combines video installation and paintings, all 28 paintings are oils on canvas. What makes Chamaa’s art so original is the two-stage process of media-manipulation, which effectively transforms his art into something else.

Chamaa’s paintings are not set upon canvases stretched and framed for consumption, representations of figures set against a horizon line. They are uniquely, spinning mobile art.

The walls of Joanna Seikaly have been painted an immaculate white and Chamaa’s works are accompanied by a light, peaceful music. The space’s stark colorlessness provides a beautiful contrast with the canvases, which (even in their rolled-up and knotted state) exude a range of strong primary colors — bright reds, blues, browns and yellows.

“I want to “represent art in its basic shape, without any philosophical or deep thinking,” Chamaa told The Daily Star. “It is ‘art is dead,’ or maybe a re-birth of art.”

As his works are rolled up and knotted, it is impossible for the spectator to know exactly what the subjects of Chamaa’s paintings are. For some of those spectators, that’s what makes the artwork so interesting.

“It has never been seen before,” as one visitor said. “We can interpret his art the way we want.”

The absence of an obvious subject doesn’t mean the works leave no impact. When gazing upon the artist’s works — hanging from the ceiling likehypnotic pendulums — the visitor may experience a dreamlike sensation, as though he or she is inside a vortex where time has stopped…

What happens when art dies?

The response to the question Fady Chamaa asks himself and us stands suspended from the ceiling like a lyrical bat.

It is in his own creations that the matter he addresses finds its answer.

Soon after Chamaa’s painting starts living its own life, does he “kill” it by twisting it, gutting it and literally turning it inside out? That is how he proceeds in his experiment.

The work starts from within the art itself. A whole finished and polished piece, ready to be framed, hanged and enjoyed, finds itself destroyed, only to be ultimately transformed and therefore propelled into a new and inimitable form of life; a three-dimensional painting.

Than an extra layer of life, through color, is added to it. Perhaps it is this what is referred to when talking about “the perfect crime”.

Once he achieves his distillation and purification, an act of violence during which the artist himself takes in all the pain not what he has created, Chamaa displays the “creatures” dangling, like something you would find in a butchers shop.

There is a double feeling of rawness and delicacy in the response the artist presents.

He shows us the guts of his paintings, a new life. What was this painting in its former life? What’s in it? Only the artist knows, as no one would be willing to untie the knots or undo the contortions that paved the path from a painting, to its gestation, to its rebirth. The painting’s former existence becomes its present soul.

The three-dimensional paintings move and sway elegantly, slowly and draw twirls in the space they occupy. The still time of paintings in a frame becomes a self-generated wave powered by an invisible wind. As if the artist is saying, after art, there is art and after life, there is life. Or so do we want to believe. One can imagine that by killing art, Chamaa only succeeded in unveiling its soul.

By wondering what happens when art dies, Fady Chamaa pays a tribute to both art and life. One could say that in that sense, he failed in destroying his own creation, as if, by taking life he gave another and by squeezing the colors out of his canvas he added a layer of soul.

Is the artist a serial killer, or to the contrary a creator?

It seems one is intimately connected to the other as we all have this duality and opposing energies in our nature.

The findings of the “killing art” experiment show only the profound respect and essential value the artist invests when working on his art: Paintings with a history within.

Reina Sarkis / Psychoanalyst

PAINTING, the soul

The image throws in my face an intimacy that reaches me in the midst of intimacy… The image always comes from the sky… the sky as firmament, the firm vault from which the stars are hung… the sky is the separated… (Jean-Luc Nancy, The Ground of the Image)

“An original and finite set of different atoms and molecules together blow an energy interpreted on the other end as an emotion…” (the artist)

What began as painting, figurative lines and colours on a canvas hanging in a former kindergarten turned artist’s studio, slowly and strenuously became something other than a formal representation of a humanlike figure associated death (to quote Barthes) or the ‘sacred’ (to quote Nancy).

“Portraits are the image of the image in general. A portrait touches… what touches is something that is borne to the surface from out of an intimacy… Every image is in someway a ‘portrait’… in that it extracts something, an intimacy a force”, to quote Nancy again.

In an abandoned single space structure in the suburbs of Beirut an attempt has been made, some time back, to paint (as one would go about is the usual way) images of people, portraits of self; of oneself. The images made were successively and uninterruptedly rolled, one after the other, after having borne three knots along their lengths, and then rolled even more to create energy that could not be interpreted as emotion anymore, and then painted again, and once again to create hanging sculpture, archeological mobiles, postmodern totems “housing the soul of the image they contain” and preserving them for the afterlife of the portrait trapped within.

The artist, at this stage of his career has experienced at one point or the other the relation to death; not that of the artist or any other existential ‘soucis’ but that of the image and the portrait it holds, and more universally that of art in the actual definition of the term.

“Where do paintings go to die?” is the title of a video elChamaa made at a turning point of his process. Such a question has an obvious answer of course, since art history museums are littered graveyards of the sublime through the ages and the final resting place of most of the world’s beauty (the western part at least).

But what happens when Painting refuses to die? What happens when, in a place such as this, somewhere in the suburbs, something else happens? something other? The only possible answer is the one humans find when they enter a space where the painting has related to the sky and made the journey to the other side, and back, suspending space in time along the way where rotation along the axis is still present and connects people to the depth, and from there to life.

He sometimes takes pictures of the canvases, before rolling them up and tying those ritual three knots that make them hold their new sculptural shape and bury the image forever. The new objet is painted with motifs and colours and becomes a mobile when hung from the ceiling.

The canvas becomes a support that retracts to any synoptic vision giving only parts of the overall design, and colour scheme. The texture and the fabric are still there in their new three-dimensional configuration, and still invite to a viewing accustomed to painting — since the object is still a painting— but the vision breaks down an infinite series of glimpses, a spatialized zenon’s paradox.

Painting had been declared dead some time ago, and even though all indicates to the contrary, one artist asked the other question: what happens if we still had to paint if that were true? The answer has to viewed from different angles. (G. Rabbath, Beirut, January, 2011)

1. Process video

2. Installation video

3. Photos