Embraced by the encircling walls of the Bacchus Temple, Cynthia Zaven’s sound installation Perpetuum Mobile creates a cycling echo effect as it loops on 12 speakers, arranged in a rough circle in the middle of the stone courtyard. One of the highlights of The Silent Echo, the first contemporary art exhibition to be held at the archaeological site of Baalbek, Zaven’s installation immerses listeners in a fluid, musical soundscape, where notes chase each other in circles, creating echoes and flurries, marking the passing of time in a space that has remained untouched for 2000 years.
The Silent Echo is curated by Karina El Helou, founder of Paris-based non-profit curatorial platform STUDIOCUR/ART. With a mission to provide an alternative to the pervasive white cube trend, El Helou chose to hold The Silent Echo in Baalbek to highlight the importance of on-site museums, while raising questions about the relationship between archaeology and contemporary art. The nine works on show, by nine different artists, all engage with archaeology from a unique angle. Together they explore the loss of artefacts, intangible heritage, vanished civilisations, identity, iconoclasm, destruction, preservation and progress.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s Foundation explores the destruction of traditional in favour of modernity. Weighing 16 tonnes, his huge oak and stone installation invites viewers to sit on the bases of destroyed traditional Chinese houses and reflect on the casualties of “progress.” Meanwhile, Marwan Rechmaoui’s Pillar series, a set of large concrete sculptures of imagined sky-scrapers, all of them derelict and damaged as though casualties of war, perfectly encapsulates Lebanon’s recent past in the shadow of its ancient history.
Displayed in the small museum close to the Bacchus Temple, Lebanese artist Ziad Antar’s series of concrete sculptures capturing public artworks in Jeddah covered with cloth after renovation are humourous reflections on restoration and conservation. Displayed beside ancient Roman artefacts, and a selection of photos of the covered artworks taken with an obsolete camera, they raise questions about public and private, and the permanent documentation of a fleeting moment in time.
Further works by Danika Dakic, Laurent Grasso, Susan Hiller, Theo Mercier and Paola Yacoub each add their own take to a show that questions our relationship to history and the links we draw between past and present. Dense, ambitious and beautifully realised, The Silent Echo is not to be missed.
The Silent Echo continues at the archaeological site of Baalbek until October 17.