Kalfayan Galleries in Athens hold third solo show of Raed Yassin’s work.
Lebanese artist and musician Raed Yassin explores Beirut’s swinging Sixties in “The Future is Nostalgic”, on display at Kalfayan Galleries until 12 March 2017.
Raed Yassin: pop culture and the civil war
While Raed Yassin’s exploration of notions of archive, memory and fiction is characteristic of a constellation of practices emerging during the 2000s from Lebanese artists dealing with the unresolved civil war, the artist’s focus on popular culture distinguishes him from his peers. In an interview with Nat Muller for Ibraaz, Raed Yassin explains:
I am addicted to commercial films, pop films, pop music. But also this has a connection with collective memory. My work with popular culture has a focus on manipulating collective memory and also the unconscious in the whole Arab world, because we in the Arab world share a lot of cinema and music in common.
Yassin’s explorations of the possible and curious overlaps between family story, national history and pop culture was explored in the 2008 installation The Best of Sammy Clark, on display at Delfina Foundation in London. This work served as a tribute to the eponymous Lebanese pop culture icon 1980s singer Sammy Clark. The installation includes a series of digitally manipulated photographs, in which Sammy Clark appears to entertain the Yassin family during a birthday party. A text indicates that these objects are the only remains after an explosion that destroyed the Yassin family apartment during the Lebanese civil war.
Through the “contrived genealogy” of the installation – posters, magazines and compositions recorded on vinyl that could be listened to on four turntables displayed in the gallery space – Yassin constructed a series of fictional links between the figure of Sammy Clark, the disruptions caused by the civil war and family narrative, pointing to a representational rift between the lived experience and the normativity of its conventional forms of documentation.
“The Future is Nostalgic”: The material and visual cultures of sexual desire in Beirut’s swinging sixties
In the current exhibition “The Future is Nostalgic” at Kalfayan Galleries, the artist directs his exploration of the links between popular culture and collective memory to the question of desire: how may the visual cultures of the sex industry of a given epoch be made accountable for the framing and production of human desire? The exhibition includes the artist’s new “neon works”, Manual for Disasters (2016), The Future is Nostalgic (2016), Crying Station (2016), The End of the World (2016), and Conspiracy Theory (2016) as well as a new photographic series entitled Sex, Spies and the Suicide Dancer (2017).
For Yassin the project revolves around the question of what power-systems, architectures and individuals are behind the moulding of patterns of consumption in a given time period. In the aforementioned interview Yassin states:
I am interested in this area of mass production, how mass production can change the way people consume and the way people look at things. Because of mass production, we have popular, trash culture. Mass production really helps people consume more and more and make stuff more quickly and as a result there are mistakes and misunderstandings.
This question leads Yassin to uproot the material detritus of the epoch – magazines, posters and any information relating to the individual actors involved in the operations relating to the sex industry in Beirut. However, as is characteristic of Yassin’s work and that of his generation, the viewer would be wise to hesitate before these documents and remain suspicious of which are indexical and which may have been doctored or even invented by the artist for the purposes of creating a “contrived genealogy”.
Sex, Spies and the Suicide Dancer
A text written by the artist and published as part of the work Sex, Spies and the Suicide Dancer narrates a story that the viewer is unable to confirm as true or false. The text begins:
The Swinging Sixties and Super Seventies were a time of pleasure and paradise in Beirut, when it was the designated erotic capital of the Arab world. Dubbed “The Paris of the Middle East”, the city quickly became the top tourist destination in the region, attracting movie stars and pop singers. Beirut boasted many casinos, nightclubs and cabarets filled with flashy dancers and playgirls, ready to serve the sensual whims of incoming celebrities, businessmen, and royal Gulf Arabs. In those years, you could come across sexy lms and magazines everywhere, magazines like Sex, Arabic Playboy, Furnished Apartments For Rent, Stars Lights, The Camera, Cinema Wonders, and Alf Layla wa Layla (A Thousand and One Nights).
The owner of the Shahrazad nightclub Mr. F. had an idea to start an erotic magazine to promote the girls working in the club. So he published Alf Layla Wa Layla. Little did he know that the magazine would soon become a huge hit, as it was the only one featuring local Beiruti strippers, who would soon be showered in unending fame and desire while they adorned its shiny covers. In no time Mr. F. started to abuse his newfound success by using his girls to spy on customers, collecting scandalous information for future blackmail and bribes. Alf Layla wa Layla transformed into a dark source of power, and at one point Mr. F. even became an agent for the notorious “Second Of Ice” of the Lebanese intelligence, operating his club as a honey trap for actors, singers and politicians alike.
The text, written by Yassin, continues the narration with an anecdote in which Saudi Arabian “royal playboy” Prince Khalid bin Saudi encounters pimp and drug dealer Mr. F, becoming so close that the prince agrees to publish diary entries in Mr. F’s magazine, in which Prince Khalid narrates the “sexy details” of his encounters at Mr. F’s club in Beirut with “Mr. F’s girls”. The anecdote continues ending with the mysterious death of the girls mentioned in the prince’s published texts.
Sex-industry, politics and memory: repeating the cliches
The sex industry is without doubt under-explored territory by Lebanese artists investigating the material and narrative legacies of civil war. Yassin’s project stays comfortably within the accepted clichés established by mainstream movie culture’s musings on the relations between politics and the sex. However, Yassin’s intuition that the archive of the sex industry from Beirut may be relevant to current explorations of memory, war, nation and identity is groundbreaking.
- “Between Two Battles”: Lebanese artist Rabih Mroué at Kunsthalle Mainz – January 2017 – Rabih Mroué explores the “white noise” of civil war paranoia in “Between Two Battles” at Kunsthalle Mainz.
- A fictional collaboration: Lebanese artist Walid Raad at Asia Art Archive – July 2016 – as part of 15 Invitations, Lebanese artist presents project on AAA’s Ha Bik Chuen Archive.
- Lebanese artist duo Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige at Jeu de Paume, Paris – June 2016 – Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige investigate temporality, the construction of history and imagination, and the ways in which images persist despite the oppression of violence and war
- “Tell Me a Story: Locality and Narrative”: 11 stories from Asia at Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai – June 2016 – Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum presents “Tell Me a Story: Locality and Narrative”, featuring 11 artists from across Asia
- Wild Project Gallery kicks off new exhibition series with: “Did you know… Kazakhstan?” – June 2016 – Wild Project Gallery opened a 10-person exhibition of emerging and established Kazakh artists whose work reflects the breadth of Kazakhstani culture twenty years after independence
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