Thursday, May 3, 2018

Noel Nasr/Chris Coekin "The Distance Is Always Other"

All above images copyrighted to Noel Nast/Chris Coekin
Opening tonight at ArtLab, "The Distance is Always Other" a photographic tour de force by Noel Nasr and Chris Coekin - the title is also the first artist book by Dongola (with a text by Fadi Tofeili, and a design by the incomparable Reda Abedini in addition to a curation by Abed Al Kadiri). The background of the story is this:
The project started with the appropriation and subsequent investigation of a photographic archive originally produced in 1973 by an elderly American couple, identified only as Bob and Ann, documenting their journey from Beirut to Baalbek. The couple used a basic stereo camera, which produces two images, one just slightly after the other, from the same viewpoint. The archive comprises vernacular images capturing the Lebanese landscape through various prisms—urban, domestic, exotic—revealing details of a country on the brink of civil war.
As seen in the images above, this is a forensic study of how "tourists" view the land, when it was already caught in a turmoil which will come to blow over two years later. Beneath the usual landscape and attractions, there was a hidden simmering heat of a volcano about to erupt dressed up in a pristine layer of what is today known as Instagram-ish colors.
But aside from the curiosity of the Bob and Ann trip which was painstakingly recreated, Nasr and Coekin provide crucial evidence of the social, demographic and architectural changes caused by the lengthy civil war and subsequent reconstruction. These various layers of evolution are identifiable through the juxtaposition of archival and contemporary images. Far from the kitschy element of nostalgia, the images ask pertinent question as to the nature of change - most crucially and majestically in that image of the Phoenicia pool shot which is no longer what it was, and yet always a cornerstone of a romanticized past that the Lebanese believe in at the detriment of its veracity.
The photographers, by studying the past using real images, are also questioning the present and the reasons and consequences which brought about the events that exploded two years after the images were taken, in addition to the effect on the aftermath of the many seismic shifts and changes that the Lebanese society has witnessed.
It is to note that a custom-made stereoscopic viewer and reel accompany the book, recreating the experience of the original Viewmaster through which Bob and Ann’s archive would have been seen. The reel contains the seven images from the original archive. The book is sheathed in a box-cum-camera bag, complete with shoulder strap.
An exhibition and book certainly not to be missed, specifically when the fake history of the land does not portray its present. And art is left to answer the "alternative facts" which were constructed for narratives with bizarre purposes.