News Column

Fattal reflects upon an ageing world

July 10, 2014

Chirine Lahoud

BEIRUT: Bulky, rough-hewn and immobile. Somewhat threatening too, giving pause to anyone stepping into the gallery about going any further.

Are these figures male or female? Are they gendered at all?

There are no easy answers to be found in "Warriors," as this series of matte clay sculptures is titled, but they certainty impose themselves upon the venue. Arrayed along the left side of the gallery, these totemic forms are indeed reminiscent of grappling combat, gladiators waiting to be summoned to the ring.

The work of Damascus-born Lebanese artist Simone Fattal, these forms comprise one side of the present exhibition at Mar Mikhael's Galerie Tanit. Entitled "Gres et Porcelaines," this show of stoneware and porcelain sculptures is redolent of history, myth and intrigue.

At the center of the venue is "Balls," an installation comprised of numerous clay spheres are at once leaden and ephemeral. The weight and size of the medium is counterbalanced by the way the artist has arrayed the spheres on the white disk that serves as their plinth.

Displayed in a manner reminiscent of an oversized child's game, Fattal's installation also employs script, with each clay ball cut by Arabic scribbles. Upon a closer look, discriminating viewers may recognize the 99 names of God to be found in the Quran.

The founder of the Post-Apollo Press, Fattal has long been an advocate of experimental art (whether literature or sculptures). This experimentation is evident in these pieces with which she seems to want to challenge how her public sees, and their instinctive responses to her objects.

"[Fattal] digs in the possibilities of having life enclosed in clay," writes artist and essayist Etel Adnan, the artist's close friend and colleague, in the exhibition catalogue. "She gives to muted earth a voice, a personality and a soul."

An exhibition of clay objects impressed with script is immediately evocative of the clay tablets used as written media in ancient Mesopotamia, a resonance reformed through the use of spherical shapes.

Yet the archaic aspect of Fattal's sculptures is less an evocation of ancient times than a means of shedding light on the thin line separating animal and human realms or, for that matter, the mundane from the mystical plane.

Fattal's porcelain works are smaller in size and lighter than the clay and stone pieces. Again, there is no way to decipher the gender of these angelic figures. These white "angels" have been formed in a fashion that emphasizes the pliability of the material. Delicate and ethereal, these sculptures provide a counterpoint to the bulky works, bringing equilibrium to the show.

All of Fattal's sculptures betray a dual nature, at once delicate and imposing. As onlookers moves from the odd warrior-like figures in the main gallery to the secondary gallery, they find at the center of the space "Doors," peculiar-looking, non-functional, pieces that re-conceptualize the notion of doors as conventionally understood.

Gazing through these, the viewer finds two tombstone-like steles (stonework slabs).

There are several recurrent themes in this exhibition the deity, mankind, the conception of the world and death which are as personal as they are universal.

These themes are not addressed directly. Fattal does not force the viewer into specific interpretations of her work. Rather, by degrees she offers suggestions as to how her pieces might be deciphered.

Fattal's work reforms the gallery space into a sort of temple, a microcosmic universe riddled with totem and ritual. So evocative of the artifacts of ancient Mesopotamia, these pieces give this profane space an oddly sacral quality.

Simone Fattal's "Gres et Porcelaines" are on show at Mar Mikhael's Galerie Tanit until Sept. 4. For more information, please call 03-257-805.

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Source: Daily Star, The (Lebanon)

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