Titled “Janus Gate”, Ayman Baalbaki’s work for the Lebanese Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale is his most ambitious and monumental installation to date. Standing five metres high, the 3D structure allows you to pass from one space to the other, moving from an exterior plastered with utopian promises, much like the real estate construction facades that pepper Beirut, to an interior that resembles, in the artist’s words, “all the shantytowns and refugee camps in the world”.
The title “Janus Gate” plays on the duality of the Roman God Janus, who is often depicted with one face turned to the past and one to the future, symbolising both the beginning and the end of time. Janus is also closely associated with the role of gatekeeper, thus once again echoing the idea of boundaries, between life and death, war and peace. The door in Baalbaki’s installation evokes the expression “closing the gate of Janus,” which means to make peace. As Baalbaki has explained: “In my work, the gate is half-open, or half-closed. This ambiguity is similar to a game of heads or tails. This game, which is one of the oldest in the world, was played by the Romans with coins bearing the effigy of Janus. The option is thus presented, and the decision must be made!”
Baalbaki is one of two artists selected to create works for the Lebanese Pavilion, joining Danielle Arbid, who is presenting a video titled “Allô Chérie”, under the theme of “The World in the Image of Man”. Nada Ghandour, Curator of the Lebanese Pavilion, has described the project as an invitation to “a symbolic journey into the contemporary world through a theme, a city, and two artists… who maintain a political and aesthetic dialogue from a distance, by presenting artworks that are so far and yet so close.”
Both artists’ works naturally resound with echoes of the worst crisis to impact Lebanon in recent history, but also resonate with a global audience via their explorations of the “perpetual action of the human imagination on the reality of the world” or the increasingly heightened competition between the real and the virtual. The olive green, for example, deliberately chosen by Baalbaki for his installation’s interior expresses the duality between war and peace, evoking the way that in wartime civilians are suddenly transformed into soldiers. Now, at one of the most prestigious international contemporary art events, at a pivotal moment in world history, Lebanon’s artists will take the spotlight with a resonance more chilling than could have been imagined, throwing down the gauntlet in an increasingly pressing battle of truth versus illusion and war versus peace.
Photo credit following images – Marco Pinarelli, Ayman Baalbaki, Anas Ghaibeh, Anastasia Nysten, and Basel Dalloul.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #58 BEING AYMAN BAALBAKI