Sunday, April 27, 2008
In the long line of Phoenician tradition of exporting ideas from the world and transcribing them to a Lebanonese platform, installation art is a relatively new artform in Lebanon and it is being used quite widely in recent years.
Lebanese artist Nada Sehnaoui uses installation art to convey her messages. I have to say that she usually does a good job doing so and on many occasions; a small hop to her website might be useful for the interested.
Her latest was an installation in Beirut central district in the lot facing Starco center. The title for the installation was "HAVEN'T 15 YEARS OF HIDING IN THE TOILETS BEEN ENOUGH?", and the presentation is of a well organized set of about 600 crystal clean toilet seats neatly placed in an almost perfect grid.
The title in itself is quite silly since Sehnaoui presupposes that almost all Lebanese were hiding in their toilets during the (15 years?) of war on Lebanon hugging their toilet seats in a state of constant fear frenzy. Well, no.
Some Lebanese citizens were hiding in underground shelters, some preferred cast concrete staircases and some even preferred a more comfortable overseas hideout in Cyprus, Europe, Australia or other continents. Some lost their loved ones, some fought in trenches, in alleys, or on the frontlines.
Almost all Lebanese families lost a loved one, a relative or an acquaintance during those wars and the toilet seat, however tragic Sehnauoi thinks it is as a household item was probably the last thing on the minds of those families.
Portraying moments of war with a clean toilet seat brightly lit by huge light projectors as if glorified as an object is a message gone the wrong way. To say the least.
I will presume that Nada Sehnaoui personally thinks that the toilet seat is a reminder of the Lebanese civil war, i don't want to imagine her daily agony while performing one of nature's rituals everyday and how confusing that may have been to her for all those years but if indeed it was an object of miserable memories for having to shelter oneself in the most underprivileged room in the house, the mere sense of enclosure was probably the main reason some people turned to their toilets for shelter. That sense of enclosure was abscent in Sehnaoui's installation. Instead, she opted for exactly the opposite; a huge open space with bright lights, thus stripping the whole experience from its principal sensual asset. Besides, toilets during the shelling were most probably lit by faint candlelights since electrical power was cut. Again, Sehnaoui had an abundance of light shining on the new white seats.
I don't know if Nada Sehnaoui meant to create that contrast in contexts but if she did, then the whole "toilet thing" lost all its meaning.
Wars are tragic, they should always be remembered that way. Moreover, wars are learning experiences from which humans can draw conclusions for their common future. A responsible look at civil wars is not only framed in moments of fear and glorifying those moments to that extent, this only supposes that the people remembering those wars have completely missed the inherent lesson. Fear is normal but it's not the essential ingredient that we should learn from.
Almost every medical doctor tells you that the toilet seat is an important place where you can have a look to inquire about the state of your own health. So you wouldn't want to flush that toilet in a hurry for now.