Making the impossible possible with Raed Yassin
“Blowback” is a work of performance art in which a full-scale replica of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, has a passenger jet flown straight into it.
The symbolism of this piece is colossal. As a reenactment of the attack on the Twin Towers, it ignites the discourse on global powers and what they stand for, the ever-present tension between East and West, and the force of fear. As a work, it draws on Damien Hirst’s sentiment that the 9/11 attack was an artwork in its own right, the idea that an act of violence is a performance. “Blowback” is also a piece of art that will never be actualized beyond the conceptual world.
It is one of the five works in the performance The Impossible Works of Raed Yassin; the manifestation of pieces of art so fantastical that they will never be executed in material form. On January 25, within the strikingly bare white walls of the Beirut Art Center, the Works were brought to life by five female curators, with nothing but their words. Without physical objects, their performances, in which they described the features and significance of the fictitious works, gave the pieces presence and reality, though entirely confined to the realm of the imagination.
As with the works of British-German artist Tino Sehgal, the Impossible Works are “constructed situations;” their existence arose in the interaction between the performer and the spectator.
A whispered chorus sung in unison by every person on the planet, a floating public square instantiating Foucault’s heterotopia, and an album featuring cosmic jazz musician Sun Ra and Umm Kalthoum were some of the carefully crafted fabricated projects. Each piece was a poetic, philosophical creation with science fiction, political theory, and concepts of the individual and the collective featured heavily in various guises.
Yassin described his inspiration for the Impossible Works as coming from his youth in Lebanon where his access to art lay only in books and texts and he would enjoy imagining the works he was reading about. When he later had the opportunity to see the famous pieces in museums in Europe and the US, he was almost always disappointed. “I realized that my imagination had always had to work hard and that it shapes everything in a very beautiful and exciting way.” The Impossible Works became a platform for unfettered ideas to be pieces of art without needing to be executed.
Yassin collaborated with each of the curators individually in developing the pieces, to ensure that there was more than one source of imagination informing the immaterial creations. As the curators’ characters and interests shaped the scope and content of the pieces so fundamentally, the tension between an artist and curator was inverted. They not only performed the artist’s work and became vessels for it, but also put themselves inside his art and took part in sculpting it.
Curator Kyla McDonald, whose project, “Monument for the Chameleonic Society,” was a shape-shifting public artwork which only shows what each observer wishes to glorify, said that her concepts of artistic practice and curating had been completely challenged by the experience. “I learnt a lot by being on the other side, feeling vulnerable and watched.”
The narcissism of the work was exquisite. Yassin was metamorphosized into a mythic being through the curators’ descriptions of his abilities to create such marvelous and wondrous fantasy works of art. His presence, grandiose in the animated speeches of the curators, was tempered by his earth-bound physicality as he spent the evening ushering the audience towards the next performance, a jovial and very much this-worldy figure.
As “Blowback” curator Rasha Salti commented, in a performance of this type, meaning and even the image is produced with the participation of the audience. The Impossible Works became imagination, which by nature defies political prohibitions and the constraints of physics, made collective.
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