(Audience members are directed through an intimate tour of Bourj Hammoud in the X-Apartments exhibit.)
In an old building near Arax Street in Bourj Hammoud, a photo of a Kalashnikov greets visitors at the front door of Boghos Svadjian’s apartment. Svadjian (a.k.a Klashin Boghos) sports a thick, salt and pepper-colored mustache which he energetically points out has also turned a bit yellow from years of smoking. His smile emits a beautiful, almost tangible warmth.
Entering Boghos' home offers an instant glimpse into this man's life; like an homage to a famous movie star, hundreds of pictures are posted over every inch of an entire wall in his living room. In some photos he’s seen holding guns from his militia days, in others he’s happily cuddling his son, and in another, he shows off his biggest catch from the Mediterranean Sea: a shark that weighed over 100 kilograms.
The wall stands as a living tribute to perhaps an ordinary man, but nonetheless one that has become part of the X-Apartments exhibit, happening now through Wednesday, as part of Ashkal Alwan’s Home Works 6 culture series.
With a written set of directions to guide them, X-Apartments audience members – just two people at a time – walk through either the neighborhoods of Bourj Hammoud or Khandaq Al Ghamiq in a roughly three-hour tour that takes them inside the homes of real people living in these areas. At each stop, a surprise performance awaits you. It could involve anything from an experimental video project to a dance piece or an installation. “We asked for two people per visit to maintain the private feel of the place,” Matthias Lilienthal, the artist who conceived and curated the exhibit, explained to Beirut.com. “The concept was built around the people themselves and their private spaces” he added.
Lilienthal, who is currently a resident professor at Ashkal Alwan and former director of the Arts of the Hebbel am Ufer (HAU) in Berlin, said the research involved in seeking out residents to take part in the exhibit was long and difficult. It took over three months of work, including negotiations with city officials and/or political parties to make the community comfortable with the idea of having strangers walking so freely and thoroughly through these neighborhoods and into people’s homes, Lilinethal told Beirut.com.
(A photo of a machine gun brandishes the front door of X-Apartments' participant Boghos Svadjian's front door)
X-Apartments brilliantly and delightfully forces visitors to navigate through neighborhoods they might not otherwise encounter. Very distinct boundaries were established around Beirut’s neighborhoods during the civil war and those borders remain ingrained in the Lebanese psyche to this day. As a result, most Lebanese stick to the neighborhoods they grew up in or are familiar with. Moreover, the project highlights the individual and collective stories germane to the Bourj Hammoud and Khandaq Al Ghamiq neighborhoods, and explores the ways in which residents, artists and visitors can interact in this space while being faced with scenarios that mix reality with artistically-driven fiction.
To put it simply: just a few minutes of walking through this exhibit and you’ll be completely resigned to the fact that there’s going to be a surprise behind literally every doorstep. At one stop in the Bourj Hammoud tour, a pair of identical, blonde twins dressed in matching bright blue shirts and red pants appears just at the doorway like characters out of a Dr. Seuss book. At another stop, you sit in a man’s bedroom as disco lights turn and electronic music blares through the headphones handed to you at the bottom of the apartment while he tells you about his Filipino girlfriend and the tattoo on his arm. And at yet another stop, the smell of urine and semen overwhelm the senses as you’re invited to watch a racy film in the old Cinema Royale.
Bottom line: X-Apartments takes you on a tour through Lebanon in a way you have never experienced it. And with an open mind, you're bound to enjoy it. The only way to take part in the exhibit is to reserve a space by calling: 70841580.
For more information about X-Apartments, click here.
(A wall outside the Sanjak Armenian camp in Bourj Hammoud, one of the many stops on the X-Apartments tour).
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