A Corps Perdu: Annie Kurkdjian at Art Lab
By Lara Salmon
Upon entering Annie Kurkdjian’s show at Art Lab one comes into a world of erotic desolation. The exhibition’s first room is lined with acrylic paintings while the second contains large drawings. There is a third room, curtained off for visitors to enter at their discretion. The characters in Annie’s work are engaged in various sexual acts. While uninhibited, their interactions are devoid of lust or romance. They direct their banal stares off into space, often breaking the fourth wall to look blankly into the gallery. Many of the pieces allude to ritualistic violence, or organized voyeurism. The female body is often the center of these actions.
In one painting the woman dumps her breast into the mouth of her male counterpart. Whether she is feeding him or pleasuring him, both characters appear removed from the scene. In the background, a funeral procession takes place across a barren landscape. The surreal moment has a feeling of disappointment. Death and sex are anti-climatic in actuality.
Annie Kurkdjian was born in Beirut shortly before the Lebanese civil war began. She grew up through its prolonged violence, an experience which she says has shaped her life and her art. Before she came to art she studied psychology, wanting to understand more about the repercussions the war had on herself and her generation. She has worked and volunteered in psychiatric hospitals, an experience that also greatly influences her work. Annie says she has learned more about uninhibited creativity from the mentally ill than through formal art training.
The pieces in “A Corps Perdu” were all made in the last two years. They are more erotic and the characters appear more lost than in Annie’s previous work. Producing them has been a form of escapism for her, and they are meant to function as such for the viewer. Annie says the chaos of Beirut helps her find the freedom to do anything in her work. The relentless disorder of the city provides an undiluted understanding of what it is to be human. She places this understanding in her work.
Annie’s show is at the gallery Art Lab in the area of Gemmayzeh, which has a longtime reputation for nightlife. This live-for-the-moment atmosphere has a specific connotation in Beirut, where the “next moment” has always been unpredictable. A city once riddled with war is now subject to daily power outages, lack of running water and a trash crisis with no end in sight.
Antoine Haddad opened Art Lab in 2012, and has been running it in this location for the last year and half. He came to gallery work as an art collector after a career as a consultant on performance management. His space is a venue for rebellious work, whether in subject matter or non-commercial practices. Annie’s paintings and drawings are the perfect fit for this model. Showing them in Beirut brings up the topic of caged sexuality in the Middle East. They are the beginnings for discussions about the role of eroticism in this country, and whether Lebanese laws allow women to seek justice for cases of sexual abuse.