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Smoke in the Next City

Solo Show by Bassem Saad

Curated by Victorine Grataloup
February 11 - May 21, 2023, opening on Friday February 10 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Panorama, Friche la Belle de Mai

An exhibition commissioned and produced by Triangle – Astérides, centre d’art contemporain d’intérêt national.

Co-production avec la SCIC Friche Belle de Mai et in partnership with les Beaux-Arts de Marseille - INSEAMM, Frac PACA, MOCO, Mucem, Instantsvideo, VDS Bâti Renov, Picto

Bassem Saad’s first institutional solo exhibition brings together three videos, two sculptures, collages and text-based works (including two new productions).

Multiple modes of representation and forms of discourse coexist in Bassem Saad’s work.
The images overlap, reverberating and suffusing all at once. Vertical frames shot with mobile phones, the format par excellence of “rioters filming themselves” and to whom “we have barely gotten used”, are combined with those in the landscape format of traditional film and with footage found online and repurposed.
Even more defining of the artist’s practice is the interplay between the voices of different characters. We, the spectators, are party to a dense polyphony, oral as well as written. In Congress of Idling Persons, the artist writes in first-person and their words commingle with those of friends and fellow travelers. Elsewhere, Saad’s voice is substituted by that of another writer or transmuted into direct quotations whose sources are left undisclosed . The effect is one that directly incarnates the experience of struggle—inherently relational and collective—in the form of the work.

Political struggle is at the heart of Congress of Idling Persons, which questions the accompanying affects (“vengeful joy, guarded indifference, disenchantment and mass grief”) as well as potential belonging and solidarity, near and far, and in the unidentified “next city” of the exhibition title.
Playing themselves, writer Islam Khatib and activist Mekdes Yilma evoke the vexed positions of Palestinian refugees and of migrant domestic workers in the 2019 uprising in Lebanon. The film puts the uprising in Lebanon in dialogue with the 2011 uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria, the Chilean feminist mobilizations of 2019-2020, and the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, where Saad lived at the time of the George Floyd protests in 2020. Tears are omnipresent, from talk of crying by DJ and translator Rayyan Abdel Khalek and musical artist Sandy Chamoun, to the objects they play with while conversing amidst the smoke and its bluish penumbra: onions and cough medicine allude to the teargas used against protesters, as the leftover canisters are humorously imagined as sex toys.

The use of expired French teargas by Lebanese riot police is the subject of the research mapping in Still many hours to be spent with mixed company at the Square (2020), Saad’s second sculpture to employ an orthopedic device after To my mother and a protester detained on November 15th (2019). Both sculptures trace unsettling links between the body undergoing treatment or optimization and the body under attack.
In Kink Retrograde (2022 remake), a similarly unlikely relation is established between risk-aware consensual kink—embodied by a harness and whip yielded by Rayyan Abdel Khalek—and the non-consensual risk arising out of environmental toxicity, that which is always unevenly distributed among the inhabitants of a city.

Bassem Saad likes to speak of a “thin totality .” Regardless of medium, the artist’s methodology involves putting in relation phenomena which appear unconnected, such as sites and objects of confinement and those of leisure: the Baumettes prison in Marseille is superimposed with the Mucem (Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean) and the Tegel prison in Berlin with the Flughafensee lake, in the lenticular prints Untitled n°1 (2022) and Untitled n°3 (2023) of the series “Suppose that Rome is not a human habitation”.
Saad is interested in the position of prisons at the margin and periphery, geographically but above all symbolically. The artist’s work revolves around those who find themselves unaccounted for and made into surplus. “At the same time, riot is itself the experience of surplus. Surplus danger, surplus information, surplus military gear. Surplus emotion.” (Joshua Clover, Riot Strike Riot: The New Era of Uprisings, Verso Books, 2019).

Handmaiden or midwife? (2023), installed on the Panorama’s glass facade, bathes the exhibition space in an orange light. The multilingual site-specific installation echoes Untitled n°3 (2023) which faces the facade, as well as the set of collages presented in the scaffolding box at the entrance, by recalling the memory of the last person to be guillotined in Europe, executed at the Baumettes prison in Marseille in 1977. The arrow diagram points in the direction of the prison, like an abolitionist compass.

Bassem Saad (LB) is an artist and writer born in Beirut. Their work explores historical rupture, infrastructure, spontaneity, and difference, through film, performance, and sculpture, as well as through essays and fiction. With an emphasis on past and present forms of praxis, they attempt to place scenes of intersubjective exchange within their world-historical frames.
Bassem’s work has been presented and screened at MoMA, CPH:DOX, Busan Biennale, Kunsthalle Wien, and Transmediale. Their most recent film, Congress of Idling Persons, received Special Mention in the New:Vision Award category at CPH:DOX 2022.
Their essays and short stories appear in various online and print publications. They are currently a fellow at the Berlin Program for Artists.