press release

Kunsthalle Lissabon is proud to present, for the first time in Portugal, the work of Lebanese artist Mounira Al Solh. Al Solh's practice utilizes an ironic and fictional strategy as well as a self-reflexive position to investigate everyday reality, thus questioning what is perceived as normal by others.

The project The Sea is a Stereo introduces us to a group of men who live in Beirut and who swim in the sea everyday regardless of the circumstances: rain, wind or war. Their obsessive swimming behavior appears as an act of resistance against the impossibility of leading a 'normal' everyday life in their own country. This struggle for normality takes a sudden twist when the artist quite literally speaks for the men, dubbing their own voices. Al Solh uses her own voice not only to expose the vulnerability of their behavior but also as a way of exposing the fiction of 'normality'.

In the video Paris Without a Sea, one of the elements that constitutes The Sea is a Stereo, Al Solh focuses on interviews that she did with the men. Usually, making an interview presupposes that there should be an interviewer and an interviewee, and that the two stand on different sides; that they are two different entities or units. This video tries to defy this presupposition, without really changing it. The questions begin by asking very basic things that are so banal that they are usually taken for granted. Sometimes the exaggerated fast rhythm of the video, and these surprising questions and answers from the men (that are even more surprising) make the video slide into the absurd, where appropriation and performance constitute underlying strong components of the work.

Let's Not Swim Then!, also a part of the project, is a video based on different scenes of the swimmers filmed individually or in groups as they are on the beach or going there. These scenes were filmed between 2006 and 2008 at different locations on the public beach in Beirut, and during different times of the year. Each of the scenes is followed by remarks that some of the men made after watching a playback. The remarks are the thread that binds the scenes together, clarifying the relationship of the men with the coast line in Beirut and the shrinking public beaches where they swim. In a very realistic rhythm, the scenes intimately show us the daily engagement of the men: how they struggle daily to find the right spot for swimming in Beirut, and where each one of them prefers to swim. We also witness their activities and conversations while they are on the beach.

Also being presented as part of her project for Kunsthalle Lissabon is Al Solh's magazine NOA (Not Only Arabic). NOA is conceived as an experimental gesture situated halfway between exclusive magazine and performance. The second issue, produced by and launched during the 11th Istanbul Biennial under the title Arrest Buried Under Something Else (2009) deals with the various concepts and notions of arrest. It features contributions by Mohammed Abi Samra, Alena Alexandrova, Amal Issa, Zachary Formwalt, Erden Kosova, and others. The magazine will only be available for reading during a limited period of time and by appointment only. Please call to +351 912045650 to schedule a reading.

Mounira Al Solh was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1978. She lives and works in Beirut and Amsterdam. Al Solh studied painting at the Lebanese University in Beirut, and Fine Arts at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. Between 2006 and 2008, she was a resident at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. Her work is multidisciplinary, oscillating between video, installation, writing, photography and painting. Al Solh has been working on issues related to Lebanese immigrants, with both physical and mind-set manifestations, as well as Lebanese socio-political and religious conflicts. Her approach is not documentary but fictional, even fantastic. While transforming dramatic situations into ironical ones, she seems to be making conscious periodic parallels between socio-political issues and aesthetics. She frequently appropriates other artworks, and often metamorphoses into other characters, mainly fictional artists. Most recently, she received the Uriòt Prize from the Rijksakademie and showed work in the 11th International Istanbul Biennial (2009). Her video Rawane's Song was screened in several film festivals, amongst them VideoBrasil that gave it the jury's prize for 2007. Her video installation As If I Don't Fit There was part of 'Forward' at the first Lebanese Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007, and at the exhibition 'Be(com)ing Dutch' at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. Al Solh is one of the participating artists of Manifesta 8, happening this Fall in Murcia, Spain.

Mounira Al Solh
The Sea is a Stereo