EMPTIED GEOPOLITCAL BINGO
29 November 2013, Beirut
I feel empty. I have neither ideas nor inspiration left. I've done a huge amount of drawings here, including The Cola Wars (Coke is Zionist), Less Than 100 Calories, Oriental Style Instant Fantasia, Captain Rik Will Save Your Country, Arabiata, Golden Caviar, Ban Big Bank Bubble Gum (It Insults Our Religion), Fantasia (Arab Street Hookers), Le Meilleur des Mondes Possibles, Super Night Club Halal, Pepsiland, Loosing My Orient-ation, No More Tears. Die in Style, PeeWee Saves Abused Domestic Slaves, The Heaven Helps the Rich, Don't the Arabs Know They Are Oriental, Liquid Lebanon, This Project Is Made Possible with the Support of the American People, Diet Jelly, Skin White, Geopolitical Bingo, Arabs Got Problems and The Revolutionary European Artist in the Middle East.
TASTE OF INDEPENDENCE
24 November 2013, Beirut
Lebanon celebrated it's Independence Day this week. The editorial of The Daily Star was titled Un-independece.
On the 70th anniversary of Lebanon’s “independence,” it may do well to consider what this word actually means, and whether the country really deserves such a label. (...) it is hard to claim that the country has ever witnessed true independence. (...) Today, the country is as un-independent as ever, unable to protect its “sovereign” borders from rocket attacks or the entrance of rebel fighters. (..) Instead of basking in the glory of Friday’s military parade, the Lebanese must come to terms with the fact that this country is no more independent than it is an island.
McDonald's launched a new burger to commemorate the Independence Day. It's called the Taste of Lebanon and, surprising or not, tastes like all other burgers of the fast-food chain. In Thomas L. Friedman's 1999 book The Lexus and the Olive Tree the following observation was presented: No two countries that both had McDonald's had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald's. He stated that when a country has reached an economic development where it has a middle class strong enough to support a McDonald's franchise, it will not be interested in fighting wars anymore. This is what we were promised in the end of the Cold War - global capitalism will bring the world peace. Now ee all know that it was a big lie.
Furthermore, Friedman was totally wrong. In 1989, the United States had invaded Panama, a McDonald's country, and after the publication of the book there have been several wars between McDonald's countries, including, of course, the United States. The homeland of Ronald McDonald is the most belligerent entity of the world.
So it seems obvious that the Taste of Lebanon burger, served only a limited time, will not maintain the fragile peace (a situation that would be called in most of the countries a civil war) of this country. If you are interested in my humble opinion, a better formula would be a secular constitution and banning all religious and ethnic political parties, which means most of them excluding the Communist Party and a few more.
ON SUICIDE BOMBING
19 November 2013, Beirut
This morning, while I was working out at the gym, two Sunni jihadist suicide bombers, one driving a rigged car and the other on a motorcycle with an explosives belt, attacked the Iranian Embassy killing25 people and wounding more than 150.
Zena, who is now in London, messaged me: Please be very careful in how you move around. People are angry and may need to blame someone. Try not to talk to people you don't know, and most definitely, please don't go around photographing anymore. What happened is really serious and people are going to be on high alert for some time. I think things will be calm, as in no retaliation. but if things get crazy, please stay at home.
Naturally, Zena doesn't want her artist-in-residence to die but I was walking around and it seemed to be business as usual. I had a coffee at the Shia party Amal's abandoned van coffee shop and talked with the militants. They said that Amal doesn't want to get involved with Syria like the other Shia party Hezbollah.
I've been in Monterrey during the narco war and in Syria in the middle of the civil war but my closest moment with deadly violence has been in Madrid. In 2001, I lived in Calle Velazquez, the bourgeois part of the city, and ETA put a bomb in a bank nearby. One security guard was killed and the window glasses of our building broke.
Now I'm reading Talal Asad's book On Suicide Bombing.
17 November 2013, Beirut
Somehow I feel guilty that I'm not walking around Beirut too much but I need all my time for the studio work. I'm an economic artist - give me just one street, one corner shop and the daily newspaper and I can work for a couple for months. I've seen relatively little here but I've worked harder than ever before. I've doubled my drawing top speed. I've done in four weeks over 50 drawings. Maybe they are all not masterpieces but I see them as a material for a big installation.
I'm avoiding to think where the works will be shown. I don't want to define a target audience, which would limit my themes. If I show them in Europe, there will be cryptic things for the spectators and if I'm enough lucky to find a venue willing to show them in Lebanon, the danger of colonialism is present.
The few people, Lebanese and Syrian refugees, who have visited my studio have given extremely positive feedback saying that the works could have been made by a local artist and it would be important to exhibit them here.
11 November 2013, Beirut
I did 10 kilometers in the Beirut Marathon. Zena, who hosts my residency, walks the race every year in a pink wedding dress. The performance is called Pink Peace. The idea of the whole event, organized by Zena's mother, is to foment peace and unity in this problematic country.
I had never ran that long distance in my life. It was almost disappointingly easy after training three of weeks at the gym. My non-artistic project of this residency time was to get rid of my beer belly. I exercise practically every day but I didn't stop drinking beer. The night before the race, Abir was in town on her way from Vienna to Damascus. We went to have few drinks with Cynthia and Sonia. Maybe without going out the day before, I could run at least 20km.
I tried to convince Abir to take me to Syria with her. We've been planning a beautiful project in Damascus, inviting people paint on an old exterior wall names of the people they love. No provocation, love only. I said to Abir that my life is not more valuable than hers but she explained that anybody being with me in Syria would be put in danger.
I think the treadmill running doesn't peak my adrenaline level really.
BEIRUT COMPATRIOT CENTER
07 November 2013, Beirut
After several days without speaking to anybody, I broke my lonely routine and decided to interact socially. I went to the Beirut Art Center for the inauguration of Exposure 2013, an annual exhibition dedicated to emerging artists in and from Lebanon. The show is not curated but based on a selection of a jury, which I noticed immediately before reading the texts. When the shows are well curated, you don't think about the curator but look the art works. It's when you see a show without a curator that you remember why their job is so important. The lack of theme and rhythm and the imprecise installation made it difficult to enjoy of some interesting works like Camila Salame's little houses.
I give five stars to the catering of Beirut Art Center - more than enough wine, vodka and food without queuing. They have a comfortable terrace where people gathered to drink and smoke. I offered light to a guy that seemingly couldn't find his lighter. Then he said in Finnish that he had just read my column about Finnish Design published the same day on Cult24 website. He told that the small Finnish community of Beirut is aware of my visit. A trainee of the Finnish Institute in the Middle East had told him that she can't contact me because her boss wouldn't like it at all. Two years ago, I did a residency at the Institute when it was based in Damascus. The institute staff censored and spied me during my stay and director almost wanted to send me home. When I got back to Europe I told the story to the Finnish media and the Institute was ridiculed.
03 November 2013, Beirut
I have set up a strict and lonely routine for my days. I rarely go anywhere or meet people. That will take place later but now I'm happy producing a large quantity of drawings based on my first observations and images of the snack foods.
I begin my day in the gym. After the exercise I buy The Daily Star, a local newspaper in English and a fruit salad. I work until the Spanish lunch time and then get some take-away food at Bliss Street, next to the American University and five minutes from the studio. I work until nine and then I buy something to eat from the corner shop. My normal dinner consists of Aleppo style canned beans, a fried egg and tomato salad with local red wine, that are not bad at all.