CRG Gallery is pleased to present Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige’s second exhibition with the gallery, a selection of installations from their ongoing series The Lebanese Rocket Society – A Tribute to Dreamers. Comprised of four works in photography, video, sound and sculpture, the exhibition questions perceptions of past and present as well as how we represent ourselves, both individually and collectively.
In the early sixties, a group of students at the Armenian Haigazian University of Beirut started the Lebanese Rocket Society. Led by mathematics professor Manoug Manougian, the group successfully launched the first rocket of the region. Between 1960 and 1967, they produced and launched more than ten so-called “Cedar” rockets, the greatest of which climbed over 600 kilometers. This project, which aimed at “designing and launching rockets for space study and exploration” was widely popular– it was regularly in the newspaper and a series of stamps were produced featuring the fourth rocket, “Cedar IV.”
In 1967, the space project was halted and its legacy almost forgotten. The documents, photos and films concerning this ambitious undertaking have virtually disappeared from Lebanon’s history. The artists question the historic events and mythologies of that period– the concept of Pan-Arabism and its decline after the 1967 war between Israel and the Arab armies, the Cold War, the “Space Race,” and more generally, the yearning for modernity and contemporaneity.
Before the program was stopped and at the height of its popularity, the Lebanese Rocket Society offered President Fouad Chehab a thirty-two-page photo album commemorating the launch of Cedar IV, which was given back to a member of the Rocket Society after the president’s death. Since then, it has remained in private collections and has not been seen by the public. The President’s Album, comprised of thirty-two folded digital prints, depicts Cedar IV’s profile in sections across the gallery.
As The President’s Album appropriates documentation of the space project,The Golden Record is a reconstitution of sounds from the 1960’s. A projection of a gold-plated disc that rotates on the gallery floor, the work references the golden discs that the American Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 exploratory space probes still carry today in the event that they run into intelligent life forms. A Carpet recalls a rug, given as a token of gratitude, to the United States by survivors of the Armenian Genocide in 1915. It is emblazoned with the image of the Cedar IV postage stamp that circulated in the 1960’s. The photographic series Restaged reenacts the transport path that the Cedar IV rocket took through Beirut. Using a white wooden replica of the rocket, the artists retraced its route through modern-day Beirut.
The Lebanese Rocket Society: A Tribute to Dreamers recalls this forgotten space adventure. It intentionally avoids the temptation of nostalgia, reactivating the project in present times by giving physicality to the missing in order to enlarge the territory of art and cinema and to fight dominant cultural histories. Further, it reanimates the stories which were kept secret but illustrate the faith and the hope of those times– those dreams that are now renewed in the streets of Arab cities.
A presentation “On The Lebanese Rocket Society” will be given by the artists on Saturday, March 2 at 3PM at e-flux (311 East Broadway, New York NY).
The ongoing Lebanese Rocket Society: A Tribute to Dreamers project also includes a documentary feature film: The Lebanese Rocket Society, The Strange Tale of the Lebanese Space Race. A monograph of Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige published by JRP/Ringier is available at the end of March.
Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige have been the subject of exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art Paris (France), Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery Montréal (Canada), the Beirut Exhibition Center (Lebanon), Gasworks London (United Kingdom), and The Photography Center of Geneva (Switzerland), Recently, they have been in group exhibitions at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (United Kingdom), the San Francisco Museum of Contemporary Art (USA), the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (USA), the Palais de Tokyo, Paris (France), the New Museum, New York (USA), Mory Museum Tokyo (Japan), and the KW Institute for Contemprary Art Berlin (Germany). In the past two years, they have participated in the Sharjah Biennial, the Istanbul Biennial, Biennale de Lyon, the Kochi Biennal, the Gwanju Biennal, the Triennale. They were awarded the Abraaj Capital Art Prize in 2012. Their feature films have been official selections and winners at the Cannes Film Festival, Locarno Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival, among others. The artists live and work in Paris and Beirut.