L’ORIENT LE JOUR.com
L’Orient Le Jour.
by Aline GEMAYEL
Joana Hadjithomas and Joreige question the creative impulse …
The photographs of varied objects manufactured in detention are spread out over tables with trestles, with at the end, the two cells showing 2 films which accompany the exhibition.
INITIATIVE in Aix-en-Provence, space 3 bis F is an out of the norm place to house contemporary art because it is nestled in the heart of Montperrin psychiatric hospital that is still in business, since 1982. This space dedicated to performances, hosts the couple, Lebanese artists Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. The reason for their presence is this exhibition: “Khiam, the schedule” and a residency for research and creation around their work on the detention camp.
The events that highlight the cultural year in Marseille, European Capital of Culture 2013, do not occur in Marseille only, but expand to different cities in the region.
The 3 bis F is housed between two old buildings, in a closed off section of the hospital for women on the right as you enter the hospital campus, steps away from the main building. This structure houses all kinds of performance related directly or not to the subject of addiction, artistic creation, confinement, etc..
The work of Hadjithomas and Joreige is in two parts: the first part is a screening in two cells – the old housing cells where women interned – of 2 videos; Khiam & Khiam, 2000-2007, those are filmed with the 6 detainees in 1999 at the time of their release and again 7 years later, just after the destruction of the camp by the 2006 Israeli bombardment. The second part of the exhibition takes place in the large common room and presents, for the first time, around sixty hyper-realistic photographs of some objects made by inmates during their ten years of captivity. The pictures are not hanging on the walls, but placed on two large trestle tables, to maintain their status as documents. We are in a sort of no man’s land between art gallery and psychological hospital in a white, neutral environment, devoid of any visual cue.
The images in the photographs are of varied, with some of utilitarian objects: hair combs made of carved wood, sewing needle, toothbrush, stung olive cores covered with multi-colored threads, fabric handbags … and decorative items: stone carvings, embroidered fabrics … In an detention where everything was prohibited, word and deed, these objects reflect an artistic impulse and are the image of a freedom regained. The making of such objects was an opportunity to socialize, to exchange knowledge among inmates and even make gifts between prisoners … to disobey orders, to fight against the dehumanization to which these women and men were subject to … in one word: resist.
These objects represented here have never been shown, ‘because then they would incorporate an artistic and commercial circuit, which is not desirable, confirms Joreige. For us, they are a pretext to reflect on the emergence of art.’ The pictures of these objects shown at 3 bis F are made possible to open up meetings, organized discussions by participating audiences and other professionals.
The videos “are there to give context,” says Joreige. ‘ The project Khiam is relevant here in 3 bis F, but it should not be tautological presenting work on confinement, it must go beyond where we are and address rather the theme of the need to create, “says the filmmaker.
Could these objects be labeled art? What are the requirements needed to be considered artistic works: that they are created by artists? Do they need to meet specific criteria? On a whole, the questions multiply. Both artists filmmakers, are far from making speeches or giving answers and are more into prompting questions and discussions.
All this led to a day of exchange with Jean-Pierre Cometti, philosopher and translator, author of several books on art, in light of the use of aesthetic, and Jean-Pierre Rehm, CEO of International Film Festival of Marseille. This confrontation engaged the public, rather sparse, I must say, in the intricacies of creation, be it artistic or not, art object or act of survival …
In his analysis, Jean-Pierre Cometti said that “nothing describes the object as artistic.(…) Intrinsically, these objects are related to an act of survival and stamped as art. What is puzzling is that they do not meet our criteria. Their significance remains enigmatic, calling for our imagination to understand what is presented. ” Isn’t this the primary function of any work of art?
Looking back on a work that began fifteen years ago.
Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige discovered the Khiam camp in the mid 1990s as simple citizens activists, claiming that the Red Cross be allowed to enter the camp and provide care and assistance to detainees. “In 1999, many were released, including the emblematic figure of the camp, Soha Bechara, a militant communist who had attempted to assassinate the commander of the Army of South Lebanon.” It was the opportunity to meet with the detainees. Through meetings and conversations, the two artists became aware of these fabricated objects during the years of captivity. “Initially, we were interested in these objects, says Joreige. When we looked into the camp of Khiam as a subject for our work, we encountered a double impossibility: the access to the camp (which would be released only in May 2000, after the Israeli withdrawal) and in a sense better, since the second impossibility was that we were unable to share this experience.”
They will fill these “gaps” by addressing the problem from a human and artistic approach and by trying to answer the seemingly simple question: “What was the schedule like for these prisoners?” which quickly lead to another one: how does one spend ten years in captivity, including six in total confinement, without going crazy? And many more followed relating directly to the experience of these detainees.
The body of work of both artists does not only explore one period, that of captivity, but extends over the years “after”, the reintegration, and the looks given by these former prisoners and society.