Friday, November 7, 2014

Helvetic Zebra: the stripes that earned Station (even more) stars!

Photo credit: George Zouein and Nabil Canaan

For me to speak of a show at Station Beirut is in itself biased, I was already full of awe for the Maripol opening bash and also covered Leila Alaoui's exhibition about the Syrian refugees with words of praise. In addition, In Medias Res, a show I was heavily involved in happened at the premises there. Still, I will start this post with a Mea Culpa considering I am speaking of a show which is currently ending, and I have only myself to blame for not having attended earlier. So these words will be considered "for posterity" much more than an enticement to go see "Helvetic Zebra".
Perhaps the positive angle of viewing the exhibition so late, is that by now - all the surrounding events have finished - which gives the remaining elements a different perspective than if there was a lot of brouhaha surrounding them.
To the untrained eye, the exhibition's understatement can be confused for shallowness, its restrained face for lack of ambition, and its sporadic visualization as creative overreaching for the topic at hand. However, the works are loaded with meaning, their poise full of zen and balance, and the scenography makes them synergistic without tiptoeing around each other's feet.
The works certainly differ in sizes, from a full wall to a decomposing structure made of a trash bag. Some of them technically challenging while others rely on the lowest technology possible. The "helvetic" angle is thankfully extended conceptually to notions which are not immediately obvious, making the pieces challenging to trace back to the original rationale they came from thus rendering them more layered and worthy of exploration. Considering that the space was occupied previously by the In Medias Res team, it is refreshing to see how it could be - without any change to the architecture - be converted differently and just as efficiently by someone else.
I could spend paragraphs detailing the works, which alas, at this time it's too late to comment upon, but I am not sure the sight of Dunja Herzog's trash can with a small chair on it is not easily forgettable, or the monochromatic screenprints by Philippe Decrauzat which lie in the realm of trompe l'oeil and that linger in the mind long after they were last seen, or the overall work by curator Donatella Bernardi making this exhibition a coherent whole (alongside her own included artwork - a gigantic wall which pays tribute to Bridget Riley's op art). Helvetic Zebra, though the language of typography and polyglot notions that Lebanon shares with Switzerland, managed to combine the unfeasible - bringing a common language to the divided land which exported the alphabet in the first place.
With this show, Station, once more, earns its stars with the zebra stripes.

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