the leaf once pilgrim





NL, 2016.


“In entomological literature, which soon began to fill the house on the island, he quotes a Finnish scholar, Olavi Sotavalta, whose only interest was to

calculate the frequency of the wing beats of insects. In particular, he studied midges, a kind of stinging gnats that, as it turned out, reach the astounding

rate of 1046 beats per second.”

Fredrik Sjöberg, L’arte di collezionare mosche, Milano, Ierpborea, 2015, pp. 18-19, translated by the author.

How many times do you blink in a year’s time?

Welcome to The Leaf Once Pilgrim, Stéphanie Saadé's first solo show in the Netherlands. What we experience in the gallery is the artist’s path of

pilgrimage through growth, accompanied, from time to time, by a leaf: the years at school, her travel diaries, a map still being drawn, skies not yet fully

explored, departure and arrival schedules on uncommon transportation systems… Though very personal, the exhibition includes and absorbs the 

spectator, whatever provenance and millennium he/she is from. The frequencies Saadé transmits on are definitely uncommon and they can be heard if

only we walk on the same traces left by the ballerina that was the first visitor of the show, and is, after that, always on her toes.

Wall Piece sets a shifts in perception, indicating what happened when the ballerina came: a wall moved to the floor, from vertical to horizontal, willing to

support her delicacy and kindness, maladjusted to just be watching, standing. It could not prevent itself from making that extreme gesture. A wall that

might remain untouched for the time The Leaf Once Pilgrim is given: only the ballet slippers can float on its side, never actually touching it. The smooth 

surface allows a subtle investigation to take place in the gallery entrance: why isn’t the wall reported missing? Two works nearby remain suspiciously

silent, mirroring each other in a guilty way. Golden Memories, a photograph from the artist’s childhood covered with gold leaf, addresses Identity in

Change, a recent passport photograph of the artist covered with silver leaf, and vice versa. They stare at each other, while time continues to interrogate

them about what they have circumspectly witnessed, oxidising the surface of one of the two, to better read the hidden expression underneath.

Perhaps a clue for this mystery, of the provenance of Wall Piece, can be found in N-S-E-O, clearly indicating where everything once originated. It shows

four cardinal points in four chained, linked pearls, that leave no space for doubt. Another trace of where Wall Piece might come from is tangible in The

Four Corners of the World. Wooden beams coming from four locations in the world enclose a map, visible to some, invisible to most, clearly reporting

the pilgrimage of the artworks, how they were carried on the Amsterdam water canals and then finally hidden in AKINCI. The four different forests

definitely have met once in the past, while playing cards, but with leaves.

Some more circumstantial evidence regarding a possible location from where Wall Piece came from can be found in Saadé’s The Sky is a Village and

Portrait of a River: works that directly address our perception of natural phenomena; shifts, moves, twists, somersaults, and pirouettes.

In The Sky is a Village, tiny pieces of sky taken from childhood photographs are scanned and enlarged to the size of the artist’s studio’s windows. The

marks left by the rain, wind, and air reactivate them today. In Portrait of a River, a map of a part of Lebanon is rendered waterproof, except for the river

showing on it. The work is hanging from the gallery’s ceiling. Water is poured on the top of the map and drips through the Lebanese river onto the floor. 

These works relate to each other not only in the weight given to their materiality, but also for their particularly tactile dimension. Indeed, they all have

been through a process of transubstantiation, the change of one substance into another: fragments of the sky become the sky itself, while a blue line on

a map becomes a flooding river.

Similar conditions occur in Portrait of a River, when evaporation of the water on the gallery floor feeds the humidity of the air. Again, another shift in

perception takes place at the moment in which the map, which represents the ground, is above us, upside down, and the river, upside down, starts to


Another question arises: how can the sky be captured or depicted? Saadé, regarding to that, notes: 

The sky is, in general, a very abstract, hard to  grasp, to define and to delimit, notion or construction, and here it has been untouched, unaffected by the

political events happening 
underneath it at the  same time. As in  Golden Memories and Identity in Change, the actual image disappears. In  Golden

Memories, the image becomes a background, the  one 
of icons, an abstract surface, on which new images start to appear, while in  The Sky is a Village,

the background also comes forward to become  the subject itself: an abstract 
background which is a village, a village to be inhabited.

These maps bring the spectator to the most encrypted work of the exhibition: Travel Diaries. This series of works presents travel related documents

printed and used by the artist to leave and return home where gold leaf has been applied on the plights formed with time. This technique allows

unexpected codes to emerge. Paper transforms into a landscape where Saadé deeply studies the topographic relief of yet unnamed mountains.

Deleuze suggests that “a ‘cryptographer’ is needed, someone who can at once account for nature and decipher the soul, who can peer into the crannies

of the matter and read into the folds of the soul.”

Deleuze, The Fold. Leibniz and the Baroque, The University of Warwick Library, 1995, p. 3.

Later, he specifies that he considers cryptography an art for inventing the key to an enveloped thing; exactly what we witness in Travel Diaries. The key

is metal as in the case of Home Key – the key of the home of the artist in Beirut, plated with gold. The occurrence of leaving and returning home are

registered in the material of the key as the gold slowly wears off. A similar condition of ephemerality becomes more tangible in The Shape of Distance:

do all materials grow? How can a pupil chair and table cope with the growth of the child? How do they relate to the natural, perhaps, magical

phenomenon of a child’s expanding antennas?

How is growth measured?

Saadé responds to these questions by clearly sharing with us two little lines, corresponding to the size of the artist, and her size when she is standing

on the tip of her toes, presented side by side in a frame. The title? Double Altitude. As we can see in The Leaf Once Pilgrim, a new language is set;

made by signs, a ballerina’s toes, hidden, unnamed mountains, giants drops forming rivers, and subtle particles of sky. There is no space for

sophistication, rather a full immersion in nature and its fortunate codes. 

Saadé shares an anecdote that introduces an essential work in the show; The  Rose is Without Why: “Biology class back at school… The topic was

cockroaches. A question was asked, whether we were to measure them with their  antennas or without? The teacher answered with another question:

do you measure yourself with arms up?” 
The idea of being composed by different entities, shapes, elements, becomes indeed tangible in The Rose is

Without Why: a rose is dismantled into its main parts to understand the logic and the musical chords it was composed on. What is released in this

dissection process and why could perhaps we understand where beauty lays? This region of investigation is also at the centre of the 

performative work Sub Rosa by Estelle Delesalle.

The search for the essence can be visible in the piece Oud: the string of a Oud is smeared with Oud oil. Perhaps we can still listen to the musical chord,

while we accidentally step on Thin Ice: a diamond that has been hidden for millions of years, while we were looking at the sky, which, by the way, is a



Stephanie saade the leaf once pilgrim

Exhibition View from The Leaf Once Pilgrim


The Leaf Once Pilgrim Stephanie Saade AkinciThe Leaf Once Pilgrim