Tarek Nahas & Jean-Luc Monterosso
Open / Rhapsody: A Journey into Photography and Video Collections, 2015
If today, after two centuries of existence, the photographic image is emerging as an essential component of our connection to the world, this results from the fact that it has arisen, thanks to its inherent qualities, as a significant method of representing reality.
A fragment of reality, a luminous trace, a sign, a document, a witness of our personal and collective history, an artistic medium…
Photography is all at once an actor in our social practices, a structure that inhabits and informs our gaze and a support for our imaginary projections.
Since its origins in the mid-nineteenth century, photography has deeply altered our experience of vision, space and time by creating a new relationship with reality. Frozen, under control, the space-time continuum comes to a halt. In an instant, it inscribes itself on a sensitive surface to create the image, representation of a moment that is already past and will forever slip away. The quality of the photographic process has made it, from the very beginning, a documentary tool of choice. It was therefore long relegated to acting as a tool for the masses, serving scientific and material purposes but removed from artistic institutions, the art market and art criticism.
In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, however, intellectuals and theorists began thinking about the nature of photography as an autonomous form of artistic expression. They were able to see its possibilities for growth and to give it theoretical legitimacy, thus opening the way to its inclusion and development in the field of fine arts.
Since then, the theoretical perspectives concerning the field of photography have multiplied. They pay a key role in improving technique, creating within a single movement the foundations that make photography its own subject. Photography became a major artistic phenomenon at the turn of the twentieth century, evolving from a mere tool to a form of contemporary art, channeling its underground mutations, and disengaging itself from a debate as old as its existence to establish itself as a form of art ad expression among more classical mediums.
Dealing with imagination, meaning and form, contemporary photography is characterized by conceptual richness and formal plurality. It continually questions its own path by playing with and eluding the reality and temporality that gave birth to it. It is also reinventing itself through interaction with video art, widening its possibilities, generously pushing its artistic frontiers to include a new medium of expression and action.
Alternating between political, social, documentary, oneiric and artistic intentions, contemporary photography and video art weave ties with the world through which artists attempt to reformulate the status, mechanisms and methods of art for the purpose of innovating. Bearers of diversity, cross-cultures and continuous possibilities, photography and video now provide an enlightening insight into our society, revealing both the mechanisms of reality and the paths of imagination.
An exhibition such as Open Rhapsody, a Journey into Photography and Video Collections, is a perfect example of the photographic and cinematic destiny of art as perceived and announced by Walter Benjamin in the 1930s.
The exhibition presents an ensemble of photographs and videos by the most influential and innovative artists of their generation. Bringing their work together in an open field is an ode to contemporary visual creation.
From the renowned Grain Elevators by Bernd and Hilla Becher to the Beirut buildings documented by Walid Raad’s Atlas Group, formal and conceptual associations intersect and merge. The theme of memory, common to both the French Cyprien Gaillard and the Lebanese Akram Zaatari, does not, however, bring them together. They meet elsewhere, in the notion of witnessing and in terms of an urban approach. This is where the curator’s reasoning lies : to suggest to the public new, bold links in which dialogues veer from established patterns.
Whether it be the art of time, as expressed in Miroslav Tichý and Nan Goldin’s intimate journals or Mona Hatoum and Valérie Belin’s critical mechanism, the photographic medium will, throughout the visit, stimulate the impulse toward images, questioning links to reality.
Through contemplating these works, the viewer will discover secret understandings between the art of Hiroshi Sugimoto, Ryan McGinley or Scarlett Hooft Graafland.
From fantastic, sublimated landscapes to lyrical abstractions and playful approaches, all the important universal art themes can be found here, constructed and deconstructed. Elsewhere, the clinical frontally of Candida Höfer and Thomas Struth’s large-format works fuel a sense of anachronism that projects us into the representation of a word that strangely moves away from ours.
In this exhibition, wandering is a key concept, and quite a few open windows use fiction in playing with the medium’s capacity to make a recording. Here, Erwin Olaf, interpreter of myths, there Alex Prager, creator of melodrama, both awaken films that seem to meander through our collective subconscious.
Diverting, rewinding, forever mixing in order to ceaselessly creating means of communication, exploiting the plasticity of the moving image to renew in artistic approach, video art presents itself through all these approaches. Central to the exhibition, as if embraced by the still image, videos reveal in turn a field of endless visions.
To incessantly reinvent new forms of expression, artists explore the possibilities of moving images and sound. The singular, visual and poetic force of Roger Moukarzel’s homage to liberty opens a field of possibilities in which light sets reality ablaze. Each and every one of the artworks chosen for the exhibition has a fascinating quality. Watching Miguel Angel Rios’ work, our gaze, captivated and overwhelmed, fights for survival. The artist films a meticulous ,is en scène of a traditional Columbian game. Tejo, in which the reality of the game itself is surpassed, projecting us at the heart of a visual and resonant violence that leaves us breathless.
To put together Open Rhapsody, one had to patiently listen to images and their melody, documenting for a fleeting moment their visible and invisible relationships, the visual shifts that emerge so powerfully when we contemplate images.
This exhibition was made possible thanks to the vision of Lebanese collector Tarek Nahas and his understanding of photographic practices. As a collector, he is excited about making discoveries and passionate about the visual and theoretical richness that contemporary photography reveals. His eclectic choices, which include well-known works, works by young emerging artists and personal favorites, have, over a span of ten years, evolved into a collection in which each work is meaningful.
His passion for photography is shared by a small circle of fellow Lebanese collectors whose acquisitions, seen together, form a multitude of narratives. These private collections reflect a personal and meaningful look at the international photographic scene over the past 40 years. Demanding, intuitive and sensitive, their choices have naturally found their place in the midst of this rhapsody, to which Tarek Nahas invites us. By sharing his passion for photographic images with the grater public, he tries to awaken curiosity, sharpen vision, nurture the visitor’s imagination and perhaps even foster future vocations.
By choosing works present on Lebanese soil, he reminds us that a supportive gaze is important in the ongoing development of the local cultural scene, which is becoming increasingly effervescent from one year to the next.
Impressed by this ambitious project, Jean-Luc Monterosso, director of la Maison Européenne de la Photographie Paris, co-curator of this exhibition and a pioneer in the recognition of photography as an artistic medium, was pleased to join forces with Tarek Nahas. This “image explorer,” hoping to encourage Beirut to become a leading capital for the Image, entrusted us without hesitation with a selection of videos from the MEP collection. These selected works, still unknown to the Lebanese public, allowed us to go beyond the surface of images and explore their complexity.
Between privately owned works and public collections, between personal and professional methodologies, beyond conventional visions, this exhibition invites the visitor to stroll freely in the universe of photography. Those who are curious will discover possible dialogues, listen to the music of the conscious and subconscious, and find connections between images that create a world of their own.