Francis Alÿs’s first solo show in the Middle East, this experimental body of work explores concepts including turbulence, motion and the ripple effect, interpreting each on a micro and macro level. The artist explores Lebanon as a country marked by conflict and burdened with refugees, always on the brink of chaos. A series of photographs taken in Beirut in 2015, during a dramatic sandstorm, convey a sense of the city caught up in events beyond its control, forever teetering between the nostalgia of its idealised pre-war years, the realities of the violence that has forever marked it and the uncertainty of a future impacted by outside forces.
“Beirut seems to produce a space inside of the tornado, in its eye, with a vision of history frozen in monochrome vision,” reads the exhibition statement. “You can see it as a space for freedom or for alienation. You can build on it or drown in it. But it will not be the same for everyone nor will it be forever.”
Alÿs ably explores the complexity of ideas surrounding unrest and instability through photographs, paintings and video works that encompass the large-scale sweep of geopolitical protests and events, as well as the minute, seemingly insignificant detail of a knot of human hair. Along the way, the Belgian-born, Mexico-based artist explores binaries and dichotomies, envisaging the knot as link and bond, as well as resistance and restraint.
The result of two years of collaboration between Alÿs and the show’s curator, BAC director Marie Muracciole, Knots’n Dust features a new animated film, Exodus 3:14, centred on hair, as well as older works. It’s a magical exhibition with a local specificity designed to engage regional visitors.
Francis Alÿ | Knots’n Dust at Beirut Art Center until April 9.
Featured image: Untitled (The Liar, The Copy of the Liar), 1994-1995, 20 x 15 cm
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Curriculum Vitae #44, page 23.