The curator of the 2009 Lebanese pavilion was talking to me about the pavilion when it was suddenly cancelled by the funders. I refused to lay down and suggested that we might project at least the digital Lebanese artworks from around public spaces in Venice during the Biennial opening week anyway. My idea was a guerrilla handbag that housed a secret weapon, a handbag-sized projector.
I prepared by gutting an ordinary bag and giving it the limbs and portals it needed to hold a small projector. It was the intention to disguise the bag as a distinctly Italian object, using similar materials I use for my sound sculpture. Since the sculptures I make are about bringing the sound alive to the listener (in fact enlivening the part of you that responds to the sound), I felt the two branches were perfectly in tune; the Venice interventions being concerned with the appropriation of space and the mental state that makes something art, and the mental positioning we adopt that makes a country part of our identity. We also had to have courage to wander around and impromptu claim space without negotiating any permissions. Luckily I could speak Italian and am an interventionist by nature.
So a team of us went out to meet and ‘paint Venice’ with 17 Unsent Postcards, by Laure de Selys, my adapted handbag with projector and camera for documentation by the artist Michelle Eistrup. 17 Unsent Postcards was 9.50 mins of staged and documentary videos filmed in Lebanon, who had been selected to show at Biennial 2011 before the Lebanese national pavilion fell through.
What was the result?
One Neapolitan we were walking behind, allowed me to project onto his back as he walked along, I had to ask and explain what it was at the same time. Another Italian group stopped and during their inquiry one of them told me not only had he never seen anything from Lebanon in his life, he had never been inside an art gallery to see any art. We met a Venetian who had a Lebanese great-grandfather he was overjoyed, he said to both us and his entourage, to find this presence on the streets. It was very dynamic with Venice’s dark waterways and worn walls complete with aeons of public communiques as posters, s tickers, street signs and graffiti creating the perfect setting for yet another, ephemeral layer.
A culture where people do not hide behind car windows and highways, where everyone is walking at the same level, the same pace, the same routes….but still drawing visible lines between the haves and have-nots.