While rummaging in my storage to sort out some plastic bags I bumped into this old work of mine.
Academic year 2003/4. Sir John Cass department of Art and Design. Guildhall University just merging into London Metropolitan University, a sign of the times, anticipating the imminent future. That is when and where I’d made the artwork.
Back then Al jazeera was the soundtrack that spelled my days. Fairuz would soothe the nights even if apparently you’re supposed to listen to her in the morning. Now that would be really ideal: her voice the ideal tune to start the day with and spark the right concoction of emotions, not just in the Lebanon. Her voice wording a nation’s hopes, singing out a shared destiny.
Back then in London we were high.
All high, or attempting to get high. If not on drugs then high on an idea, or high on the idea to get high.
High in London. If not high on Notting hill, high on the East End. High on London fashion week , high on the Tate Modern
If not high on Tony Blair then on Damien Hirst.
We were high in London’s high streets, left overs of a lascivious decadent economy. Coming out high of the 90′ making sure to inhale every little bit of it, sucking out the last drop to the last gram of dust.
We were high on the lights that were never switched off.
Everything under control, no more Great depression ever, ever again.
We were high on the property markets and on the last at least at last latest hip restaurant.
Jogging high to the gym, coming out Holmes Place high
High on the hype, on the last at least at last latest hype, high
We were high, high on whatever, whatever one had or could have or could have had or could have been.
High on recovering from yet another pint, yet another hang over: the last at least at last latest.
Hanging in high, and high on hanging on.
We were high in the Lebanese fumes and perfumed argile enhanced the flavours of our meze: kibbeh nayeh, fattoush, tabule hommous and muttabbal.
Banquets of black labels wiskeys, pistachos and salted almonds.
London in Beirut, Beirut in London.
Living up the last at least at last latest day to the last at least at last latest gram of dust.
To blow away the thought of the last at least at last latest future.
He came and blew it all up for us
the bubble bursted.
Finally! How long could it last at least at last?
Finally! how long can one be high for?
There’s always a b/Bush around the corner awaiting to jump out and spoil the party!
You got to get high then. Higher then ever to live up the last at least at last latest day to the last at least at last latest gram of dust
Yuppies high, bohemians high, London brick layers high, dancing all high under one roof. Out of the council estates, out of the 80′ into the 90′ swishing into the millennium .
WOW the Millennium!!
Millennium dome, millennium bridge, millennium this, millennium that, jubilee here, jubilee there, jubilee everywhere.
Wow, the Millennium was now!
Out of Subterranea to the Fridge then back to the Mean Fiddler for a breather of nostalgia before heading on to politically incorrect China White.
We were all high.
High on looking, watching each other portraits at some frozen art fair.
Voyeurs and protagonists, all high. High on the distorted reflections mirroring our dilated shiny eyes.
Donuts glazed in astonishment.
High on gloss, slick and sleek veneer varnished life: high
Everything glossy. What did we see? Did I recognize you, see myself?
Running, escaping high. High on terrorists, high on attacks, rushing high inside the city’s tubes through victorian pipes. High on wars, high on terror.
That is when we all went to Hyde Park again: to get high. To get high on demonstrating, high on booing, Bush, booing bombing. yet another invasion:Iraq.
to protest and get high.
To protest to get high on protesting.
Myself high in a numbing depression and in that haze of anesthesia without much thought nor ado.
I made the work to get high!
To get high on the work.
Driven by a reflex, a vital bodily function that like a digestive automatic impulse was necessary to metabolize the surroundigs.
First came the ‘Spread’.
Second-hand shops glad to get read of their black bin bags bursting with old, odoured clothing piling up high on London East End’s pavements.
For two months sewing repetitive gestures were an addictive hallucinogenic conductor into a world of colours, smells and textures. Hypnotized by the thread: in and out, rhythmically webbing through the materials, high on the smell of people’s life.
How many stories in each garment’s scent. How many lives inside those shapes. People of all forms, sizes and believes, cultures and places all inside my spread. A little universe at the tip of aching fingers. Hands sewing together rich and poor, young and old, all races, all together. A patchwork of stories and human forms.
‘Spread’ was selected for my very fist show. For an instant a flush of serotonin broke up the sad haze fogging up my head: my heart. ‘Campaigning: Politics & Shopping’ curated by Bob and Roberta Smith at the Unit 2 Gallery in London was a big deal for me!
Yeah, Bob and Roberta Smith was my tutor together with many other great ones.
‘Bed’: a tiny fragile crooked bed made out of white porcelain and hand made barbed wire was the other artwork that Bob and Roberta Smith chose for that show.
The big barbed wire painting came after ‘Bed’. After an obsessive series of clay beds, barbed wire eventually became the next fixation.
Two years later I was driving the whole lot: spread, beds barbed wire and whatever else have you, all down to Italy. All precariously piled and bundled up on top of the roof of a car.
The spread rightly trying to take off and flying all over the motor-way, while the barbed wire painting was dangerously balancing on top of what really was a mountain of old smelly clothes. For the whole 1400 kilometers it felt as if both artworks were sitting on top of my head and not only, on top of my conscience too.
For the entire journey my friend David steered the humungous bundle through side roads and motor-ways. One arm outside the window holding on to the loot, in panic, fearing for the worse, and it was not just my driving that was despairing him.
But we all made it to Imperia in the end: David, his arm, the spread, the clay beds and the barbed wire painting.
Back then even the small town Imperia tried to set up an art biennial, at last at least at latest. Yet another of those. Yes, back then we were high on those too!
Biennial sprouting everywhere, better than magic mushrooms, biennial here, biennial there biennial everywhere!
Of course it did not last at least at last!
But in that unique occasion I was able to fulfill my vision and complete the work by combining and connecting ‘Spread’ to the barbed wire painting into what became: ‘Stars and Stripes’.
‘Stars and Stripes’ that is how Bob and Roberta Smith had in fact named that piece.
Well that was pre-plastic bag era for me and while I was trying to reach for the ceiling to hook my barbed wire painting up to the old italian palazzo’s bleached frescos, British military boats were collecting people from the lebanese shores. People gathering at sea running for their life, away from yet another bombing.
Of course, only the ones with british passports had the privilege to be rescued………No frequent flier points, only VIP club members welcomed……..
So I’ve bumped into this artwork that I have kept and forgot. It was sinking admits all the plastic bags. I have rediscovered it just in time for yet another crisis, yet another war.