We spend a pleasant night at home with Ali Cherri, one of those DasArts students. Originally a graphic designer, Ali has turned himself into a gifted, highly literate video maker, able to transcend the limits of the screen. His first work, Un cercle autour du soleil, was innovative in an unspectacular way: while Ali speaks of the unexpected feeling of unsafety he experienced after the Lebanese war was over, the camera very slowly pans down across the multi-layered, partly shell-shocked surface of urban Beirut. It takes the viewer a while to realize that this can impossibly be a true cityscape: in fact, he has been watching a montage of Beirut buildings, streets and walls, one added on top of the other, thus creating a perfect backdrop for the complex soul-searching of Ali's text. Here is a still from his video, accompanied by the full text of his voice-over.
Un Cercle autour du Soleil
A video by Ali Cherri
During my early years I loved darkness.
Especially during the fighting I used to close the curtains in my room, turn off the lights and get under the bed covers.
It was my way to create my survival environment where nothing is necessary to me, and everything could be invented.
I went into a process of disappearing into a nowhere of my own making.
...slow but ineluctable process of erasure.
In darkness things loose the connection with their names. Words no longer correspond exactly to the thing they describe.
I used to feel that I could only have deep thoughts when plunged in darkness.
In there I can go in a vertical descent to the bottom of my soul.
It was my way to escape the deception of my body.
Even should some eccentric idea require that I sprout a pair of formidable waxen wings on my back, they would obviously refuse to grow. In darkness I could forget how my body failed to meet with my ideas. I could recreate everything through words.
I used to think that if my body could achieve perfect anonymous harmony, then I could possibly shut individuality up for ever, in close confinement. I thought my flat chest with its protruding ribs and these scars I have from an early disease were excessively ugly. To me, these could only seem acts of shameless indecency, as though I were exposing my genitals on the outside of my body. It was a type of narcissism I could never forgive.
One night I read 'The sleeper of the Valley' by Rimbaud.
These words drew in my head an ultimate beauty far for me to reach. I was certain that any confrontation between my weak flabby flesh and death was absurdly inappropriate. I lacked the body suitable for a dramatic death. It deeply affected my romantic pride that it should be this unsuitability that permitted me to survive the war.
I was disappointed the day they announced the war had ended.
I used to be elated by the idea of living in a city that was eating itself, like excess stomach fluid that digests and gradually eats away the stomach.
I remember that day when I reconciled with the sun. It was my biggest disappointment, the end of the war. I went with my father to Nejmeh Square to look in the ruins for the store he used to rent. The streets were hit by the merciless light of noon. Despite a slight breeze, I was in a clearly hallucinating state. Everything seemed to be melting in the heat.
Standing there, in the blaze, I realized that now, the sun could take over the mission. The sun could precipitate everything into ruin.
That same sun, as the days turned to months and the months to years, had become associated with the image of death. The image of dazzling blood flowing sparkling from the flesh, and on the silver bodies of flies clustering on wounds.
Little by little I began to feel uncertain about the night in which I had placed such trust during the war, and to suspect that I might have belonged to the sun worshipers all along.
Around me, people's shadows were attached to their feet. I was aware as I went of how the shadow that I would cast among them would lie isolated like a black puddle on the earth, untied from my body. At that moment I was, beyond all doubt, freed from my shadow.
What is there, then, at the outermost edge?
Nothing, perhaps, save a few moldy ribbons, dangling down into the void.
When at every moment one's gaze is returned, there is no time to express things in words.
You will never succeed in grasping the essence of a reality that returns your gaze.
Ideas do not stare back, things do.
The only reality that stares back at you is death.