Tak­ing a Stand

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As long-run­ning art and trade fairs be­come es­tab­lished in­sti­tu­tions in their own right, there’s the chal­lenge that th­ese an­nual shows be­come much of a much­ness. Not so with the Beirut Art Fair, which, in its sixth edi­tion, proved that it can stay fresh and rel­e­vant.

On the open­ing night of the Beirut Art Fair, crowds of well-dressed visi­tors gath­ered in the lobby, ex­chang­ing greet­ings and air kisses be­fore fil­ing slowly into the main hall. Amongst them, in a piece of su­perb in­con­gruity, roamed a live sheep, most of its torso shorn of wool, its bald pink flanks in­scribed with a mys­te­ri­ous pat­tern of black dots. Faro, as the sheep was named, was the cen­tre­piece of a per­for­mance art­work by Le­banese artist Ghas­san Ghazal. Cu­rated by the fair’s French artis­tic di­rec­tor Pas­cal Odille, ‘Vir­tual/re­al­ity’ was the main non-com­mer­cial un­der­tak­ing and the high­light of the sixth edi­tion of the fair, which ran from Septem­ber 17th to 20th. Fea­tur­ing work by nine con­tem­po­rary artists, the ex­hi­bi­tion ex­plored the co­ex­is­tence of the real and the vir­tual in the dig­i­tal age. Set in the cen­tre of the hall, amid booths by 42 art gal­leries and 10 de­sign gal­leries, it pro­vided an ef­fec­tive coun­ter­part to the work on show else­where, which was dom­i­nated by paint­ings (but also in­cluded plenty of sculp­ture, pho­tog­ra­phy and some work in less tra­di­tional for­mats.) “We have reached a mo­ment in so­ci­ety where we in­ter­act a lot more via so­cial net­works than through direct con­tact,” Odille told me in one of those rare face-to-face meet­ings in a quiet café in Sur­sock. “There is this sense that the lines are blur­ring be­tween what is real and what is vir­tual in our day-to-day lives. So I be­gan ask­ing my­self how to de­pict this process from the be­gin­ning, in a way that is play­ful and in­ter­ac­tive, and al­lows for a mea­sure of re­flec­tion. I set out to dis­cover where the no­tion of real ver­sus vir­tual be­gan, with re­gards to art.” Odille’s start­ing point was 17th cen­tury Flem­ish per­spec­tive boxes, in which a con­vinc­ing il­lu­sion of an in­te­rior was cre­ated in­side a box, us­ing trun­cated per­spec­tive and a strate­gic place­ment of walls and floor. The works on show at the fair in­cluded a con­tem­po­rary per­spec­tive box by South African artist Vi­vian Van Blerk, which gave visi­tors a glimpse into Le­banon’s cul­tural history, invit­ing them to peer through a peep­hole of a house full of fig­ures set against a land­scape of mar­vels housed in the Na­tional Mu­seum, from tiny Ro­man mo­saics to arte­facts. Ghazal’s Faro jux­ta­posed the re­al­ity of the an­i­mal, out of place and afraid in a sea of peo­ple, with the per­sona care­fully con­structed around it. “Faro ex­ists, as a sheep, but Faro has a whole vir­tual

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