a poetics of repair






The work of Stéphanie Saadé develops a language of suggestion, playing with poetics and metaphor. She shares clues, signs,

imageless and occasionally silent trails with us, which interact like the words of a single sentence. It is for the viewer to decipher

them, as would an archaeologist faced with traces, fossils, and fragments. This enigmatic quality often stems from the artist’s own

experience. In her oeuvre, personal experience is invoked exclusively as a universal subject. Thus Saadé overlays photographs of

her childhood with real gold leaf, “colors” moons rising over nocturnal landscapes in gold, traces golden lines onto travel documents

(boarding cards, plane tickets) at the paper folds, and even delicately reinforces the links on a metal chain with the same resilient

and symbolically energizing material. The use of gold is one of the hallmark elements of the artist’s practice. A precious material, it

naturally evokes Byzantine and Orthodox icons, funerary masks, the works of the Italian primitives, and more recently, Yves Klein’s

monochromes or certain of Joseph Beuys’ performances. In How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965)1, Beuys holds a dead

hare to his breast, as one would a child. He moves around the gallery, approaching its pictures to show them to the hare, coming so

near as to touch them. His face is entirely coated in honey and gold leaf. The work is referenced by Jannis Kounellis in Senza Titolo

(1975), a pair of shoes with gold-leafed soles. In Art Make-Up (1967), Bruce Nauman, in front of the camera-mirror, applies gold

paint to his face. These historic performances are echoed in Identity in Change (2017), in which the artist completely “paints” over

her own identity photograph in pure silver. Its performative dimension, and the appropriation of the artist’s body as a “standard” for

the measuring of one point to another, and as a visualization of an Elastic Distance (2017), also typify Saadé’s practice, and recall

the conceptual works of Stanley Brouwn.

Born on January 11, 1983, thirty kilometers from Beirut, Stéphanie Saadé is a child of the period following the Lebanese-Syrian-

Israeli conflict, which has paralyzed Lebanon since the 1970s. Her travels and residencies, from Paris to Maastricht and as far as

China, have opened new horizons up to her. With this status of foreigner, she constructs an “esthetic of exile” and so of distance; for

it is indeed her experiences that shape the forms and situations that we are invited to experience with her. In this way, and along with

other Lebanese contemporaries, she assumes a different artistic posture from that of the previous generation. If recent political

history and its politico- financial mechanisms clearly remain omnipresent, they are never actually depicted, narrated, nor even

directly referred to. Strongly in uenced by modernist and conceptual gures of the Western art scene, from Marcel Duchamp to On

Kawara, Yves Klein to Felix Gonzalez-Torres, this generation is further pursuing a logic of the sensible, whilst also integrating the

precepts of a conceptual art which places the viewer in a position of creativity and responsibility, in an imaginary dialogue which the

situations offered by the artist facilitate, but do not impose. Like the artist, the viewer would be, to some extent, the metaphor for

what this generation looks to incite at the level of consciousness: a posture that is simultaneously active and participative, in which

every anti-establishment dimension has well and truly disappeared, giving way to a silent, profound and enduring action.

It is through a poetics of intimacy, sensibility and absence that Stéphanie Saadé effects a different perception of Lebanese history.

The archive, photographic documents, survivors’ testimonies and historical accounts are replaced by living, labile, impermanent

objects, by experiences, and by journeys. This exhibition for Marfa’ is, in itself, a total artwork, “forming a kind of stage strewn with

objects and instants, conceived as mechanisms inducing an immaterial action.”

From its very beginnings, several typologies of objects and actions have thus been at work in Saadé’s practice. They share a

preoccupation with questions of memory, remembrance, and the reconstruction of lived experience, eliciting forms that are in turn

immaterial: “These are not inert objects.” The question therefore raised is that of “repair”, in reaction to circumstances, tragedies,

accidents, and chance encounters. Tending to the welding on the links of metal chains by coating them in pure gold is perhaps the

most poetic of metaphors for this. Through reconciling the contraries and oxymorons at the very heart of humanity – past and

present, presence and absence, proximity and distance, growth and decline – man, nations and peoples become once more the

masters of their own destinies, able to shape their own becoming. Sometimes, the question of repair is more softly addressed, in the

style of bricolage: “All around the world, people find vernacular and improvised solutions. Reproducing them enables me to give

value to these invisible things that interest me, and prevent their disappearance.”

Indeed, the process behind Re-enactment is the living proof. The practice involves reconstructing hybrid and often anonymous

readymades. The readymades are everyday objects. Yet they are unique, and the artist is drawn to their strangeness and poetic

value, which awaits unveiling. For Self, the object is chosen for its anthropomorphic appearance: a vertical pedestal covered in

mirrors, with a thin belt at the hips. This ordinary object is not so inconsequential: it produces images, and might in some way be a

metaphor for the individual and the invisible sum of lived experiences. “It functions as a medium for images that are reflected

intermittently onto its faces, then disappear. The belt, which tightens and prevents any slip or fall, joins together these images from

four different directions: North, South, East and West,” explains the artist.

The altered readymade The Second Space is an old wooden beam. It is a fragment of framework from a traditional Beiruti home,

both structuring and architectural, which she has found herself in close proximity to since childhood: “when the house was

destroyed, my father kept this surviving piece of the structure, so as to place it in the family home.” This affective, nomadized object

is “a witness to both my childhood and to the country’s history, in their entireties. It has a universal value.” Stéphanie Saadé

appropriates it, and has the outline of three paths engraved on it. These three lines represent her three possible ways to school as a

child. Through the abstract reconstruction of these three journeys, the visitor in turn travels: moving in space, and in time.

With Stéphanie Saadé, the immaterial is actual matter, perpetuated by memory beyond the exhibition and the experiences it

engenders: “Another space is used: time. It is malleable, supple, and lets itself be kneaded, like a stone that is softened in spite of its

inherent rigidity. It returns upon our call, covering itself in silver or gold, to vanish or stretch out. Its passage, and the ageing of the

exhibition are measured by the stalk of a sprawling lentil sprout that looks down on its past habitat, which appears small to it now, as

it was. Time engenders distance. The elastic distance separating the artist from her exhibition and creating a sense of nostalgia

appears in the form of a number which rarely stays the same.” In her comments, Stéphanie Saadé evokes several works developed

for this exhibition. On the one hand, Contemplating an Old Memory, an organic work, and its replica in gold, conceived as a diptych.

Using just one lentil, the artist makes a mold without damaging the precious seed, full of energy and ancient richness. Then the mold

is cast in gold, while the real lentil is exhibited in a state of natural growth.

The cast will be frozen in time by an imprint process, whilst the other lentil will sprout and grow over the course of the exhibition’s

duration. In this way, “a distance develops between the two seeds: gradually, as the lentil germinates and grows, it distances itself

from the gold cast, matrix of its original self. The seed sprouts vertically, upwards towards the sky (recalling folktales and stories like

Jack and the Beanstalk, in which the seed establishes a link between earth and sky), and distances itself horizontally in equal

measure from the other seed, as on a historical timeline... All throughout its growth, it can contemplate the past, xed in gold.” The

metaphor for the process of humanization and assimilation of the earth and individuals is evoked poetically through a childhood tale.

“Instead of selling his cow for ten silver coins, Jack swaps it for a bean. The next day, as in a dream, whilst Jack slept, the bean grew

and reached the sky. In the old days, a diamond was exchanged for a carob seed: with an infallibly regular weight and height, the

seed was of equal value to a carat.”

On the other hand, and it is here that the link with the performative dimension makes sense, the artist also looks to embody the

distance, near or far, connecting or distancing her from her exhibition. It is not a physical, xed embodiment, but infrathin, invisible

even. A scent of jasmine, worn by the artist for the duration of the exhibition, a digital screen showing a series of numbers

corresponding to the distance separating her from the gallery (Elastic Distance, 2017), a diamond from her mother’s earring (Thin

Ice, 2017), that she has incrusted in the gallery’s oor and which an inattentive visitor will trip on. The latter recalls a trick Duchamp

enjoyed playing on his friends visiting his studio in New York in 1917, who would trip over a coat rack the artist had fixed to the floor

(Trébuchet, 1917). The second earring in the pair is worn by the artist or, should the circumstance arise, unveiled in another ongoing

exhibition. Here again, the relation is discreet but indestructible. “I’m interested in distances, in a definition of the individual by means

of different distances that separate him or her from elements, places, moments. These distances are not understood to be real, xed

distances but rather subjective distances.”

Lastly, the third typology of work proposed for the esthetic and poetic platform that is The Second Space is a performance in the

guise of a “living autobiography”. For the exhibition’s opening day, the artist invited thirty-three people who, like her, had all just

reached the age of thirty-four, to celebrate together “an unexpected reunion.” The artist circulated the following announcement in the

press: “Stéphanie Saadé is looking for people born on the 11th January 1983 for her upcoming exhibition The Second Space at

Marfa’ Gallery. If you were born on the above date, please contact the gallery.” For this ephemeral work, People Your Age, recon

gurable by a protocol, the artist takes an even bigger risk than in her previous propositions. No-one knows if these people will come,

nor if they will be able to connect with one another, exchange, and improvise new situations. Interweaving nostalgia and relational

esthetics, this work is without doubt the most ambitious in this exhibition of replicas. The gallery Marfa’, which hosts The Second

Space, becomes the vessel of a potential “second story”; unpredictable, it emerges, like the lentil sprout.

1 Schmela Gallery, Dusseldorf.


Caroline Cros, 2017