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Doing wilful damage to the media

Miscellaneous

The act of burning a piece of paper, for whatever reason, until it is completely vaporized into nothingness is cathartic. In fact, there is probably no better way to destroy most things than to burn them.

This article was first featured on the Daily Star’s website (www.dailystar.com.lb), written by Natalie Fox on August the 13th, 2011.
Then there is the practice – at times juvenile, sometimes psychotic – of burning holes in an object, the effect of leaving the surface of a pristine object scarred being altogether different than merely obliterating it. Then there is the application of paint – whether before the burning or after.Burn marks are expressive tools in “Burning,” an exhibition of work by Jean Boghossian, nowadays up at the Beirut Exhibition Center.
The exhibition consists of paper and canvas works, some worked with various unspecified types of paint, that have burn marks, perforations and scratches to various types, shapes and sizes.
The painted canvasses have the color unevenly applied and the effect varies from glossy, matte and water-color tones, which makes the effect of each piece quite distinct.
A few canvases have been painted over after having been perforated by burns. The ironic effect of this is to make the work look cleaner and feel less invasive and aggressive. At times it could be evocative of moth-ridden fabric. At others, it is as though the work depicts an effort to conceal the burn marks and the damage. This contrasts to other canvases where the artist has directly burnt the previously painted surface.
Whatever its relationship to the media, the effect of the flames are irreversible and not only graphic. No amount of paint can undo the impact of the flames upon the media.
This would seem to be Boghossian’s purpose. Anyway this is what Victor Hugo Riego suggests when he writes, in the essay he contributed to open the exhibition catalogue, that Boghossian is working “to rediscover the flesh” of paper and canvas. Such insights are available to anyone who purchases the $10 exhibition catalogue, or consults the BEC website. Disappointingly there is no introduction to the art in the actual exhibition space.
“Burning” cannot be categorized as an exhibition of abstract art, as the focus is more on the condition and texture of the paper and canvas than it is the object depicted on its surface. The vociferous scorch marks takes the eye beyond, or rather behind, the two dimensional surface. At times the wooden structure of a frame canvas is visible behind the perforations. The works aren’t representations of objects but studies of attacks upon media and efforts to conceal them.
In this way, Boghossian poses the question of how to paint today.
The individual pieces themselves are all untitled, and the effect of one in particular is almost that of an optical-illusion. The square, otherwise unpainted canvas is pockmarked with round splats of brown paint, which that is the same color as the burn marks, making it difficult to distinguish between the two unless you examine the work closely.
Next to this piece is one very similar but it is spotted with bluish-grey paint. Its effect is that of a different type of degradation, looking like moldy bread. In contrast, the burn marks on a canvas that is slathered in navy blue paint is reminiscent of a starry night sky.
The power of Boghossian’s “Burning” is that each piece is capable of evoking different images in the viewer’s mind.
A Syrian national of Armenian origin, Boghossian comes from a family of well-known jewelers and gem wholesalers, a craft that he himself has learned. He began painting in 1988 and has participated in a number of sole and collective exhibitions.
In “Burning,” Boghossian’s training in the use of fire to bond precious metals and stones to create jewelry echoes upon the images rendered upon each canvas or paper.
In 1992, the Boghossians acquired the Villa Empain in Brussels which the family transformed into an exhibition space. Their intent was to create “a center of art and dialogue between the cultures of the East and the West.” Boghossian has also chosen to exhibit these pieces in a city which has seen its fair share of fire and the destruction it causes. Beirut’s history, as well as the artist’s history considering that his grandfather survived and fled the Armenian genocide, is riddled with the ordeal of fire.
This exhibition’s tone is generally one of unease and sadness – and the scars of fire tending not to evoke pleasant memories or images. Boghossian’s “Le Livre de Feu” is a direct illustration of this: a large blank open book that has had each of its painted pages scorched and scuffed.
Boghossian could not have chosen to redefine the artistic medium or as he calls it, the “flesh” of the canvas in a more invasive manner. Whether these art works are a metaphor for Beirut’s years of conflict is up for debate. They are, in any case, highly evocative of the human condition of which that conflict was emblematic.
Jean Boghossian’s “Burning” is up at the Beirut Exhibition Center until Sept. 18.         .
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 15, 2011, on page 16.

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