When I was an Alien, Cultures Weren’t Opinions is a collaborative audio-visual performance with animator Lena Merhej and VJ Randa Mirza, produced in Beirut in 2006.
The three artists translated parts of their shared surrounding landscape using their respective artistic languages. Beirut, accordingly, becomes mediated in a multi-layered narrative that conveys a parcel of the city’s quotidian, a meltdown of past and present, harmony and dissonance, chaos and legibility.
Merhej, who works with animation, departed from the decorative patterns drawn on skin with Henna as well as the traditional arabesque patterns found in furniture and home and shops facades. She intervened in these patterns with some drawings that allude to a number of themes, such as war icons, Arab pop stars and architectural landmarks of the city, in an attempt to interrogate the surrounding pop culture’s visual identity and the crossroads between present and past in there.
Hassan, the sound designer, recorded sounds that are integral to the city’s daily fabric and her immediate surrounding , mixing these fragments with popular songs and old radio jingles reminiscent from the Lebanese civil war. In doing so, she played with the intimate becoming public, and went back and forth between celebrating the popular and taking a critical distance from it.
Mirza, a video artist, took videos of degraded and fading wall paints collected from the immediate environs of her life in Beirut that include: a sunset , a destroyed building and a building under construction.
A programmer constructed a special platform using MAX software to merge the three layers together in a live video performance.
Like every urban space today, Beirut is laden with contradictions. This work is an attempt to capture these contradictions through the artists’ sensual surroundings. It is also an attempt to de-contextualize the collected fragments from these sensual surroundings and question their meaning, just as they stare back at us continuously and consistently in our everyday. In this act, the monument is degraded, and the familiar elevated, in a temporary collapse of the boundaries between the real and the fictional.
while spitting the crude undusted through a new set of spectacles and ears
In the work, the artists offer a multilayered representation of the city, by recycling different elements from it, rehashing some of them, while letting go of others. In this representation, each layer speaks its own meaning, while together, they reveal an idea that is at times clear and others blurred, through the motions of sound and image. In this layers, unfolds the life of the city, seen under a new lens.