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Beirut Design Week Gives Chilling Depiction of Human Impact on Our Planet

Jun 25

Beirut Design Week Gives Chilling Depiction of Human Impact on Our Planet

Forget design, and forget galleries. Forget any sort of preconceived notion of what “design” represents, and you may have a shot at getting through Beirut Design Week. Hidden at an intersection between Pierre Gemayel Highway and Mar Mikhael’s Armenia Street sits a parking lot. On any other day, it’s like any other concrete patch of Beirut.

But this week, the area hosts three installations for the seventh annual Beirut Design Week, which opened Friday at multiple locations around Beirut, including Beit Beirut, under the theme, “Design and the City.”

But here at the BDW parking lot, artgoers are presented with a chilling depiction of the detrimental impact humans are having on the planet.

The potency of these installations will stop visitors in their tracks.

“[It’s called] ‘Design and the City,’ but this installation is going against anything called ‘design’ and anything called ‘city,’” said Fouad Bechwati, a member of acoustic audio consultancy 21DB, which produced the “Shame On Us” installation with international creative collective Das Scharf.

“It’s the way we overdo things, and what we have already done as humans here,” Bechwati told The Daily Star, referring to the project’s critique of the way humans are destroying the environment.

Shame On Us challenges the human psyche to the extent a mandatory waiver must be read and signed before admittance. Visitors enter a dark room and are locked inside a “guillotine-like” apparatus, where viewers are meant to place their heads and arms in a wooden structure.

The immersive installation, running for several minutes, packs a punch. Graphic imagery of human violence tests the mind and body, concluding with “The Mirror Effect,” when the camera is turned back on the viewer, who is suddenly faced with an image of themselves in a vulnerable state, helpless and ashamed.

When was the last time we felt pure shame? When was the last time society felt shame for the harm inflicted on nature? These are the themes and questions that linger in the minds of those who participate in this interactive experiment.

“Maybe we are exactly who we are supposed to be, we are a product of nature ... maybe if you go back [in time] our actions will be exactly the same,” Bechwati said.

Following this experience, visitors are led to a garden where swings are placed in a circle facing each other. Every swing has headphones playing classical music, a counterpoint to the violent effect of Shame On Us. Visitors are then invited to write on a wall labeled: “Shame on us because ...” and fill in the blank.

BDW’s parking lot has a frustrated attitude, but the angst is mixed with an open invitation to be educated on sustainable living without being lectured.

Also at the parking lot space is the Urban Hives installation, where cars can park underneath a garden built on blue scaffolding. The project seeks to intertwine an environmental project with the city’s landscape.

The third installation, the pop-up Waterscape, is a square pool of water with a group of blue squares nestled inside, a vision for the sort of cheap and accessible water features that the artist wants to see in the city, to bring people together in a public space.

Doreen Toutikian, president and founding director of BDW, is also Loop, the artist behind the project.

“Water has a sense of calmness. But here [in Beirut] if you see any water features ... there are just these monumental types of water features, like the Hariri one, where you can’t even come near it. It completely defeats the purpose,” she said, referring to tiered pools that surround a statue of Rafik Hariri in front of the heavily fortified Grand Serail.

Toutikian says the city needs water features that are “cheap, efficient, can be replicated and put it in a place where everyone can actually enjoy it and see.”

She expressed her appreciation to have the opportunity to host the interactive project. “We didn’t want to do all this kind of stuff and put it in an exhibition hall that a lot of regular people would never go to,” she said.

“This parking lot is so much more than a parking lot. ... This is a proper community. When the sun goes down, all the kids come out and play, the whole neighborhood.

“Regular mothers, families, people ... are super curious and interact the way you want them to.”

Beirut Design Week runs June 22-29.

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