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.
The image that represents 2020 for me is August because the blast was so strong that it erased all the memories of 2020: it erased corona, and it erased everything in my head. That’s why I did a sculpture called 609. It was the time I looked at my watch while I was running to check on Roula in all the hospitals because she was wounded. From that time 609 stayed in my head and I made a sculpture out of it. Because I know that 666 is the number of the devil, bizarrely I checked 609 and, this is not something I knew by the way, 609 tuned out to be the number of the angel. For me, 609 was the time of silence, when after the blast everything went quiet and then all the alarms went off in the street. I did three different sculptures. I could integrate the eight and the nine in the three of them because some people were saying it was 608 and others 609. It was good in graphics to integrate the two zeros to become an 8 so it is 608, 609.
609 Sculpture, 2020. Corten steel, 150 cm.
If I were to write a note for a time capsule, I would wish to put Lebanon in a bottle and open it beautifully in 15 years from now, because what’s scaring me is what is going to happen. I wish it would tell me that I am still here, standing, and more beautiful. You know Lebanon might not exist anymore.
During the lockdown, I went through different phases. In the first phase I did nothing at all and I found that it was a bit vulgar because confinement is not something special for me. I am used to working for weeks and months without seeing anyone. But this time I felt that I was a prisoner, knowing that I was forced to be alone. So, it was a totally different feeling and I couldn’t work. The second thing is I wanted to get closer to my friends. I have a lot of friends in Lebanon and abroad. My mother wasn’t here as well so I was totally by myself. I felt that it was a bit vulgar to work when the important thing was to talk and listen to my friends because we were all confined at the same time and it was a common prison. That was the major thing because people were not used to being alone.
I read many books during this time, even though I don’t have a great deal of concentration. I read small books. I like philosophy so I read Lao Tzu and Sun Tzu, The Art of War. I read things that are very philosophical. I always read one or two pages or paragraphs to get inspired. I watched a lot of movies, like Gandhi, American Beauty, It’s a Wonderful Life, Life is beautiful. It is weird that I wanted to watch movies that I have watched before. I needed a human touch because this is what I was missing.
I was confined at my mum’s, which is in the same place as Fakhani supermarket. The street is usually very busy, but it was all empty except for Fakhani. There were deliveries after deliveries and plastic bags everywhere. Then I asked myself where all these bags were ending up. It was so overwhelming to think about it. Plastic is horrible. I was getting deliveries myself so I had to do something about it. Instead of throwing them away or using them as garbage bags, I started working on it and it was quite interesting. I couldn’t photograph it, as there was nothing to photograph except emptiness or doing self-portraits. How to photograph time is a project that I had wanted to do for a long time, so I started it. Since I was confined for months by myself, I worked with my hands, which was the best way to help time pass, but also it was much more human to have my hand in glue and paint, to feel like I was with someone. I used acrylic, paint, plaster, glue, etc. As for the plastic bags, I always like to think in a humanistic way, so I thought that I was doing something good by not throwing them away. These works are 50 x 50 cm. The thing is that acrylic doesn’t work with plastic, so I found a way with glue, and it was good to discover a new technique. The ideas for colours just happen: the red appeared like the Lebanese flag, and blue is my favourite colour. When I started the blue one, it was with the thought that all these plastic bags are ending up in the ocean.
I don’t believe in art; I believe in artists. I have a big problem with the word art. For me, it is marketing and decided by people who do not create art. I did a piece entitled My Art is My Weapon. The future of artists is like the past of the artists, like the present of the artists. They are all sensitive and feeling. You can build or you can destroy, and I believe that a lot of artists will destroy and maybe few will build, because we live in a time that if you want to talk about art, it is realistic. This is what you feel as an artist, you always think in a surrealistic way. Hopefully, people now know how artists feel, as what we are currently living is a total conception of art. It is beautiful for people who are staying home and don’t like to hug, but horrible for people who love to hug. It is so surrealistic that you don’t know what to do.
Born in Beirut in 1964, Hady Sy is a multimedia artist, with a major focus on photography. He has a bachelor’s degree from Beirut University College, a master’s degree from EFAP and a political science degree from the Sorbonne.
From 1989 to 1996, Sy founded and directed the International Festival of Fashion Photography in Trouville, Budapest, Barcelona, Monaco, Tokyo, Biarritz, and Paris. He was formerly the President of the Association for the Promotion of Photography in Paris and New York. In recent years, Sy has had solo shows in Paris, New York, and Beirut. In 2018, his work Le Marégramme de l’amour (Love Bible), published by Bernard Chauveau Édition, was acquired by the library of the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, Paris.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #53.