By Stephane Sisco
Brothers in arms. That is what we are with Ayman Baalbaki. Because we know that the real battles, the ones against our own selves, are not fought during but rather after the war. So, we impose obligations on ourselves because we can’t bear the constraints that anyone else would want to impose on us.
Ayman’s studio is both a physical place of work in progress that belongs purely to him, and also an imaginary space in which I find my own place to reflect – where I smoke in silence with him and smile at deceptively banal ideas that come to me about the political violence we have witnessed and which I know he will react to. Always surprising, always sideways, always elegantly.
It was here in his studio that our complicity was born, at the same time as the idea for “Beirut Kaputt?” Because when confronted with the Beirut Port explosion, it’s as if we were obliged to follow “the effective truth of the thing” [la verità effettuale della cosa], rather than the image we carry of it.
Isn’t this Machiavellian injunction the only possible path for Art in war? In other words, isn’t the search for the effective truth of the thing through Art the only struggle to be waged against the impostors who provoke wars, and against all the impostors who live indecently from it without ever having actively fought?
When we are together, usually in Ayman’s studio, we often smile despite the seriousness and sincerity of the things we say, because we get along very well without really understanding each other. We talk about the same life without speaking the same language. We appreciate each other for having remained on the frontlines of our lives when we could have long since slipped away. In his studio, I distance myself from events and memories by looking at his work, and we regain the time confiscated by violence: he by painting, I by observing. And both of us commenting.
Time and death and the search for lost time and the frantic quest to fight the race of time toward death through violence – this absurdity of pretending to bring finitude to an end through extreme brutality. All That Remains. The massacre of others’ time and the annihilation of others’ space through violence. All That Remains. This is what painting war is all about, and then taking the time to look at the traces, both visible and invisible, on the canvas.
In his studio, Ayman introduced me to other brothers: Serwan Baran and Abdul Rahman Katanani. And for my part in our communal heterotopia, I smuggled in Slavoj Zizek, from the time of the Yugoslav wars: “Welcome to the stinking Desert of the Real”.
For a better understanding of how this particular brotherhood of arms works, it began with a dialogue with Slavoj that never took place out of which the book, “Beirut Kaputt?” was made. Then, from a photo that Ayman took of some “Zizek in Leb” graffiti on a bank in Hamra, we decided with Slavoj that a real dialogue on the end of violence would finally take place between Slavoj and myself in front of “The End”, a painting by Ayman, at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. It is also a question, on this occasion, of discussing violence, its representation, the war, the war against oneself, the war of representations… between Ayman, Serwan, Abdul and myself – probably on a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean after Venice…
We try, therefore, to follow the effective truth of the thing by cobbling together activities among ourselves that would not exist without us. Why? Because we will be no more and no less than whatever we have contributed to.
And also, because to paint the war is to allow it to be seen – without giving lessons – in its absurd and fascinating brutality. And this is what makes all the difference between the luminous will of the artist and the dark submission to the degradation of profiteers and impostors.
Bien à toi, mon cher Ayman, en attendant de fermer les portes de Janus à Venise
Stephane Sisco, founder of the CONDOTTA FOUNDATION, spent all his life in theatres of war. He was the curator of Beirut Kaputt? in Beirut. His work is centred on the representation, narration and perception of war. He has been a crisis analyst starting on the field in Cambodia in 1988 and ending in The Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019. Anxious to transmit his first-hand experience of violence, he is also a great enthusiast of the arts and political philosophy and takes on the challenge of fighting ignorance through the subjectivity of talented artists. He does not live only in his memories but participates in the new war for attention.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #58 BEING AYMAN BAALBAKI