Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mimmo Jodice in Proustian voyages at the Byblos headquarters

Yesterday, the Photomed festival was kickstarted in grand form at the Byblos Bank headquarters in Achrafieh with the Mimmo Jodice exhibition "Mediteraneo" as part of their Purple Lens initiative. This being the first Lebanese exhibition of the world-renowned photographer, the wait was worth it with 62 works being displayed making the event closer to a retrospective than a mere showing (hats off to Nada, Rouba, Karim and in extenso Geoana for orchestrating this).
Despite the large turn out on such a night, the works were prominently displayed allowing closer inspection, and I am sorry my amateurish photos above do not do justice to the originals. The mood is somber and heavy throughout the exhibition, the black and white editions make it even more palpable, and despite the different periods during which these works were taken (a work dating back to 1993 cohabitates with one taken in 2008 right next to it), the continuity of the thread is evident and - unless pointed out - one would never feel an "evolution" in the work from year to year, for the same idea of "damage" and "ruin" is pursued diligently throughout.
Maybe the works resonated so deeply because this is what Beirut is these days, a bad preservation of the old with little anticipation to the new, with war-scarred buildings a stone throw from the upscale fancier digs being constructed. Maybe it s us, as a Lebanese public, trying to deal with personal and collective pasts and embellishing them even more as we deal with incomprehensible presents and uncertain futures.
One could theorize forever about the blink-and-you-already-missed-it feel that emanates from the Jodice works. The artist, present and being shuttled from one reporter to the next, eventually was kind to give me some of his (and his interpreter's) time. The moment was kindly captured by previous Purple Lens winner Ghaleb Cabbabe.

My first reflection was to ask the artist about the sense of "drama" and "macabre" in the works, he replied (again these being interpreted thoughts I will try to frame them the best way I can) that the photos did not have such qualities in them and that such descriptive was my own projection on them.Toning down my rhetoric I asked about a sense of "nostalgia" or "unease", apparently I had hit the right dosage, and Jodice agreed there was "tension" in the works and that this is how he sees such places or "subjects" and he pursues the "feel". Is there a narrative there I wonder? Yes, he agrees, but it is about him and the places and the "moment" itself.
Suggesting, as Heraclites once said that one never bathes in the same water twice, Jodice admits that the photo of the same place is not the same since the conditions changed - time of day, lighting, weather and above all himself. Even if the place is immutable, the result will vary depending on all those shifting parameters. The "voyage" - very untouristic in nature - is the one that guides him he goes on.
My parting shot was to ask of the memory, forever fleeting and yet always trying to be recaptured, the most visible example of which is Marcel Proust's work, there were no words back from Jodice but the immense grandfatherly smile which he gave - even before the question was interpreted - was the sweetest confirmation of my theory.
Whereas Byblos Bank did not serve any proverbial madeleine among the pastries, as I was about to leave the building, my mind played enough tricks on me to have felt its taste in my mouth, and somewhere my nose caught a whiff of incense coming from the pseudo-religious relics I had just seen.

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