the shape of distance






“There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that

moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”

David Eagleman, Forty Tales from the Afterlives, 2010.

In his book Forty Tales from the Afterlives the neuroscientist David Eagleman describes the scenario that people experience while  waiting for their

names to be pronounced for the last time: a passageway where you can hear the persistent steps going back and  forth. Suddenly you hear a name and

that man leaves the waiting room; he died. We are callers; in the moment when we pronounce  the name of someone for the last time we allow or 

condemn her / him to die. But Stéphanie Saadé is not: she acts in a more subtle  way, as she doesn’t emit a single sound; her mouth keeps safely

closed. Nevertheless, she is able to name without naming, to touch  without touching, to remember without remembering. She holds tight many

substances and traces, identities not yet disappeared, because she doesn’t allow anything to leave her. The materials she generously shares with us in

the gallery hardly make steps, they  perhaps float, sometimes swim and mostly sail. We could argue that Twelve Tales from the Afterlives are presented

in Stéphanie  Saadé’s exhibition The Shape of Distance.

In her work Golden Memories, she doesn’t pronounce the­ name of a person, but addresses herself. We can read in her carefully  written notes that

accompany the exhibited artworks: “A photograph from the artist’s childhood is covered with gold leaf. The past memory is no longer accessible, but

now mirrors the present reality”. A relation is established with childhood, this golden period in life, whose end cannot be determined by universal factors:

it varies indeed, according to countries and cultures. In the case of the artist, her childhood ended at the same time as the Lebanese Civil war. Her

earliest memories are closely associated with this political event, and are inseparable from it. Strangely in the title, they have been tinted with more

sweetness, but nevertheless remain invisible to us, who become visionaries by the mirroring golden veil. 

Modern science proves today that our body constantly renews itself, except for the cerebral cortex cells, the inner lens cells of the eye and perhaps the

muscle cells of the heart. These components constitute the “present reality” - the continuum Saadé is addressing in her sentence: an on-going part of

the human being that stays unaltered. But if that part is not subjected to metamorphosis we understand that even a date can age, as is clearly visible in 

Down to Earth: “The artist looks for her birthdate in three drop-down menus, at ten years intervals. In thirty years, the date has aged, and doesn’t appear

anymore”. How can we face these issues? By building extensions on pupils’ chairs and tables, as in The Shape of Distance? Or by representing time in

circles instead of linear ways as in Moon Pills, considering how time cycles function in other planets or eras?

As said, the Twelve tales presented are not written in words, they rather constitute signals that a cosmonaut could easily grab and convey in the darkest

space, to imagine distances among interstellar particles:

This world, as it is, is not bearable. So I need the moon, or happiness, or immortality, something that would sound insane maybe, but that is not of this


Albert Camus, Caligula, 1944.

In the exhibition, Saadé suggests the existence of other scales, showing the unexploited potentials of human geometry. In The Day in Order a ruler

conveys visions and not centimetres or millimetres: wherever it points the land will merge with the horizon. According to her vision, and that of Georges

Schehadé, “the sky is a village” 1; densely populated. Why? The sky, which constituted the background for many portraits of the artist’s childhood, had

mostly served as a backing, as useless atmosphere. Still, it contains so much. Therefore Saadé decided to bring it to the foreground: she reframed the

pictures in a way that the sky would become the protagonist, and printed them at the size of her actual studio’s windows, then exposing the prints to the

weather elements. Can a printed particle meet its own twin that has been floating in the air or is it, as Saadé proposes, that: “The blue sky doesn’t

betray all that it has witnessed?” We are left to make up our own minds.

Processes of change, metamorphosis, are also witnessed in the work Graceful Degradation, where a ladder is constituted by iron, stainless steel and

brass. The material’s value - according to human standards - increases with the height. But, as has been whispered, we should commit to the memory

of the Allegory of Alchemy sculpted on the middle pillar of the portal of Notre-Dame in Paris - same is the number of rungs of Saadé’s ladder: 9; Lady

Alchemy reminds us that metals can be transformed. Graceful Degradation can perhaps take us closer to the sky to better see the moon. Isn’t it that the

artist used both alchemy and the ladder for Moongold where the moon is gilded with Moon Gold leaf?

She is showing us many possible directions coexisting in the gallery space: “On an intricate map, arrows are pointing towards the East or the West, the

Right or the Left, while others indicate the North or the South, the bottom or the top”. The intersection of all these references points allows the visitor to

experience the layering of the artist’s exquisite visionary worlds: a process of synaesthesia might arise in the moment when we are hypnotized by the

rainbows of Re-Enactment LB/ Taxi and we smell Re-Enactment LB/ Jasmine where “A pile of jasmine flowers drying seen in a house in Beirut is

reproduced”. In a conversation, Stéphanie told me more about the flowers:

They have 5 petals, so they are referred to as star-shaped flowers. Re-Enactment LB/ Jasmine will be a triangle of fallen stars on the floor. Stars which

would have stayed, after falling, at the tiny size they have when they are at a distance from us in the sky. The fragrance of the flowers is localized on the

internal side of the flowers petals.

They exhale their most delicious perfume at night.

Re-Enactment LB/ Jasmine might be seen, like Artificial Nostalgia, as a monument to her private memory: the key opens the door to the house in which

she grew up as a child, in Lebanon, although the sand is from Dubai; the flowers, seen in a state officer bureau in Beirut, might have disappeared by

now or they might still be there, in the position that is now visible in the gallery. The artist is showing modest, unpretentious memorials, where visitors

are apparently invited to be part of her most intimate life. But her Artificial Nostalgia reveals us a deeper sense of the diaspora, where citizens, no matter

where they are, regularly become foreigners, in an on-going alienation. Perhaps the only solution is to keep breathing close to each other, inflating the

same balloon that has flown for thousands of miles landing there, in the gallery Grey Noise2.

Georges Schehadé, Monsieur Bob’le, 1951
Souffles d’Artistes - work by Stéphanie Saadé and Charbel-joseph H. Boutros, 2016, inflated balloon, breaths of two artists in love.


Ste phanie saade 25

Exhibition View from The Shape of Distance.


The shape of distanceThe shape of distance