Beirut Biennale for the Image (BIB) and its Aldebo Creative Platform: An Innovative and Compassionate Encounter of Art and Technology

Nélida Nassar   10.07. 2017

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For its fourth edition of 2017, the Aldebo Creative Platform will examine “the environment and its physical space, notably how people move through, occupy, affect and are affected by their surroundings.” What is the Aldebo Creative Platform and why this year’s activities are so timely?

Beirut Biennale for the Image (BIB) and its Aldebo Creative Platform is a contemporary art and design intervention based in Beirut, Lebanon. Every year its interdisciplinary projects bring together artists, architects, scientists, and everyday people to explore new technologies and media. It focuses mainly on disabled persons in the arts, and it gives them the opportunity to experiment at the frontiers of art and technology. The Platform features artistic creations and performances – which are not limited to disabled artists – that encourage society to recognize the accomplishments of the handicapped and the impediments they face.

This year’s theme comes at a very critical moment; for the region is struggling with instability, and the relationship of humans with their physical space and borders is being constantly challenged and negotiated. Founder Ghada Waked is interested in establishing new methods of survival, free from the usual boundaries, through art and technology. Her approach draws on models of economic development as well as on art and philosophy. She is keenly aware of Lebanon’s physical and psychological boundaries and the precariousness of its geographic position, lying as it does between two countries at war: Syria to the north and Israel to the south – not to mention its own 20 years’ struggle to deal with the influx of both Palestinians and, more recently Syrian refugees. There are also many internal boundaries and handicaps prevalent throughout its society, especially those arising from religious affiliations (there are 17 religious groups) and glaring economic disparities. Waked’s desire is to break free from all these societal constraints by diminishing the boundaries between artists and non-artists and by creating greater fluidity in all their exchanges. Importantly, the Platform seeks to gives its participants marketable skills which can enable them to earn a living with dignity.

To achieve her vision, Waked initiates and curates collaborations (“experiments”) between leading international artists and ordinary Lebanese people in workshops that run for fifteen days. The Lebanese attendees are pre-selected and come from all walks of life; the only requirements are an interest in art and technology and a commitment to attend the workshops for the entire period. On previous occasions, artists and lay people traveled as far as Sarafand in the southern part of the country to participate. And there are no age restrictions: a 10-year old student and 65 year old artists have attended in the past. The Aldebo Creative Platform is not concerned with the kind of disabilities their invited artists suffer from. It is interested first and foremost in whether they are highly talented.

This year the Platform invited three artists one of whom is Alessandro Schiattarella from Switzerland. His solo piece is “Altrove,” in which a professional dancer is afflicted with a rare neuromuscular disease. There is no box to fit it in. He is in an in-between place where he can explore a new aesthetics of movement and find new strategies for artistic expression. The key theme here is how to transform a boundary into a possibility and weakness into strength, particularly in the case of a disability that is less visible than many others. 

An artist from Germany named Barbara Wiegel, who is sponsored by the Goethe Institute, offers a video sculpture entitled “Hermes Faces / II.” In this work the city of Beirut appears as a huge and dynamic melting pot between the Middle East, Europe and Africa. If its walls could speak, what would we be hearing behind these walls, rather than the car noise and the aggressive silence of advertisements? Maybe ancient legends of Phoenician navigators, or the advice of multilingual traders and bargainers, chants of Gregorian monks, Islamic prayers, and the voices of the current population. 

Inside the city with its contemporary contradictions, Wiegel wonders if its roots are still connected to its ancient origins: to the culture of overseas navigators and traders, who invented the alphabet as a popular instrument for writing and thus made it possible to provide a common way of communication beyond the writings of the religious leaders. She wonders if people are looking onto the sea and over the mountains as their ancestors did, or if they remember that it was here that Europa left for her ride on the bull? In the few hours Weigel spends with people she meets here, she tries to find answers to her questions. Also showing is a film by Dominique Dalcan, a French acoustic and sound artist and cinematographer. Born in Lebanon, he was given up to adoption at birth and is now interested in rediscovering his roots.

All these artists-in-residence will live at the Sayedet el-Beer convent in Jal el Dib during the events. Aldebo offers three master classes and two workshops of 8 participants each. Each artist will perform or exhibit his or her work at the conclusion of the event. These collaborations between foreign artists and Lebanese participants will also produced original works to be exhibited during the month of December in Lebanon.

At the end of the event, the Aldebo Creative Platform will invite the public to experience these experiments free of charge. It also hopes to showcase the creative processes that drive innovation and create value in culture, industry, society, and education, and to demonstrate that the fusion of art and technology can produce tangible, worthwhile –– if experimental –– art and design outcomes. The Platform is in the process of establishing a board of overseers and is currently operating thanks to the generosity of sponsors and benefactors, among them the multi-talented interior designer and festival promotor Yola Noujaim. To learn more about its activities one should read the manifesto posted on its website. This platform is a unique enterprise deserving of the respect and support of everyone in Lebanon concerned with the meaning of art and the roles of the artist and the designer in society.

Aldebo Creative Platform Takes Place October 1 to 17, 2017
@ Minus 5 floor
Mkalles 2001 centre
Mkalles main road