Taking up this issue’s theme of ‘The Diary of an Artist in
Confinement Interesting Times’, Selections invited artists to share their thoughts on work, art and life in general since the beginning of the year. We guided them with the following questions:
What image(s) illustrate(s) 2020 for you so far?
If you were to write a note, a reminder, a memory to yourself, or to the world, in a time capsule, and you were to open it 15 years from now, what would it say?
If you had to describe the year 2020 in brief, what would it sound like?
Some of you have dedicated this year so far to working continuously in your studio; some others have found themselves completely demotivated and have halted everything. What have you been doing? Please describe in detail and share with us the work you have been doing during this period.
The pandemic has changed our perception of time and our relationship to our homes. What is your experience?
How do you see the future of art?
Have you been reading?
Some chose to respond in a diary form or with visual storytelling; others provided their answers at varying length and in different ways. Each provides a unique insight into and reflection of the most extraordinary period of our lives to date.
What image(s) illustrate(s) 2020 for you so far?
In general, 2020 is like a transient passage of what we lived and what we will live. It resembles a lot of historical periods. During confinement, I read the Diary of Rembrandt, books related to the Silk Road, and stories about welders’ experiments. When I was reading Rembrandt, I discovered that during that period they witnessed the Great Plague. I guess Rembrandt was in Holland at that time and he speaks about the disease and the medicine dealers. It resembles this period.
During this time, I was evading the Internal Security Forces by bike. There was a curfew and I was using my bike to navigate certain places around Bliss Street where there weren’t any checkpoints so I could go to my studio to work or meditate. I completed my life normally because of boredom. I organised my house and my life. I was stuck between the house and the studio. I was used to living in the latter, then I lived at home.
I started experimenting with mediums: resin, works on advertising panels. It was as if I was sitting in a laboratory experimenting more than working. I had done some works with resin before, but mostly I worked with bronze, using the same technique as resin. I tried different techniques with resin, mixing it with different materials. So, I tried to improve my work.
To be honest, during this time I was worried about the technician who works with resin because all his products – bronze, resin, gasoline – were priced and bought in dollars. And no one was working. I was happy to meet someone who knows how to work with such a medium, but I was worried for his work at the same time. I didn’t organise my life yet. I don’t have the discipline that I am trying to find, but my worry was completing the cycle and not letting the person I was working with close his business. I have been trying, along with Serwan Beran, to help him.
There is a change in our behaviour, I feel like we are shifting away from something. Artists always use old materials. If you take engraving, for example, mediums like old typography or ancient engraving techniques were used, then when artists used silkscreen and lithography, the system started rejecting all of this and no longer had a use for it. I think that the educational system will now move online, and paper won’t be used anymore. So, artists will be the last witnesses and the last people to use paper. Paper will be produced for certain jobs, so we need to think about things like this.
I have more concentration now. What happened stopped me a bit, especially because I was working with other people, but in general I was more focused because the atmosphere was good. Previously, I had a lot of pressure. I like to work slowly and think about the subjects. Sometimes I work under pressure, but I like to take my time, which I did.
“Every situation passes by” and “Everything under the sun will vanish one day”
I thought about a proverb that was said before the time of the Phoenicians and the Canaanites, something like: “Every situation passes by” and “Everything under the sun will vanish one day”. We are stuck between the fear of the idea of death and the worry and constant work to have a longer lifespan. But it is nice to enter this cycle. I am never afraid.
Born in 1975, Odeissé, Lebanon, Ayman Baalbaki lives and works in Beirut, Lebanon. He received his bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from the Lebanese University in Beirut, Lebanon, and a diploma of Etudes Superieures in Space Art at ENSAD, Paris, France. He completed his D.E.A in “Art of Images and Contemporary Art,” in Paris VIII in 2003. Recent exhibitions include Arabicity/Ourouba curated by Rose Issa at The Middle East Institute in Washington D.C., USA (2019); the 13th Cairo Biennial, Egypt (2019); Glasstress 2019, curated by Vik Muniz and Koen Vanmechelen at the Berengo Centre for Contemporary Art and Glass in Murano, Italy (2019); Le Monde Arabe Vu Par Ses Artistes at Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, France (2018); Scripted Reality at Lawrie Shabibi in London, UK (2018); Hommage à Marwan at Galerie Pankow in Berlin, Germany (2018); Blowback at Saleh Barakat Gallery in Beirut; Lebanon (2016); and Thin Sin: Six Artists from Beirut at Taymour Grahne Gallery in New York, USA (2014); among others. His work is featured in private collections and museums such as the Tate Modern, the Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Fondation Carmignac, and KA Private Art Space.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #53.