Vincent Bassil’s exhibition “383-Armenia Street,” now up at ARTLAB, has been a decade in the making.
Mixing art and architecture, the show’s 30 untitled pieces attempt to visualize the changes he’s witnessed in the capital, especially on his home street in Mar Mikhael, since moving to Beirut in 2008.
“From then until 2018, I was studying architecture and I started this project, inspired by Beirut and the life I’ve lived here,” Bassil told The Daily Star. “My studio was in Mar Mikhael and around me were all these buildings being fixed up.
“Since 2008 a lot has changed in Mar Mikhael and in 2008, after the economic crisis in Dubai, everyone in Dubai came to buy in Mar Mikhael and it changed into something else,” he added. “Between this and my studies, I was inspired to think of how to abstract the city and see it in a new way.”
The acrylic paintings show bold blocks of color, designed in what could be an aerial view of a city, or an abstract map, with illegible writing in the background or woven between streets.
“These [words] are me trying to put the city I created in my own words, with my personal stories, how I’ve interacted with the city and it has become inside my world,” Bassil said. “In future works I might make it readable but these things are really personal, like a diary.”
Installations are also on show, some showing 3D models of the city in the same style as the paintings, others presenting put-together bits and bobs upcycled wooden planks painted brightly or bits of brick and metal found in the area.
“I tried to take the 2D and make it 3D. Even in the paintings I wanted it to feel like it was jumping out at you, just like the city,” Bassil explained. “It could be read as the facade of the buildings and the urban planning as one thing, one layer. I wanted to see what light and shadows I could create.”
Bassil spends much of his time taking photos of buildings and people to mull over later, a hobby that has aided his study of the area’s decade of change.
“It became more cultural. Buildings have been built, renovated or knocked down,” he said.
“Before, it used to be quiet by 6. Now people start coming at 6. It’s the opposite and yet has become more isolated and less connected.
“People visit Mar Mikhael and leave. It’s like this across the city, in Hamra, Badaro etc.”
This isolation has become more and more evident in his paintings over time. The oldest painting in the exhibition, from 2010, has been brought in specially despite already being sold. “I insisted on having it here because this one started everything. It was the first one where I felt like there’s something interesting happening,” Bassil said of the blue-red-black-and-gold piece.
“You’ll notice there is less isolation in it and its more linked to the surroundings - Mar Mikhael and myself were less isolated - whereas the newer pieces are very isolated [in their design] are have no links with their surroundings or the past.
“It was Armenia Street and it was full of Armenians and old people or longtime renters living there,” Bassil added. “Now there is no one. I have no neighbors. All the people I knew left or moved house or it became an office, a garage, restaurants and art galleries.
“It’s not wrong. I like both ways,” he mused, “but it was a drastic change in the city between 2008 and 2018 and it’s now a totally different street.”
“383-Armenia Street” is up at ARTLAB, Gemmayzeh, through March 9.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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