Sharjah Biennial 13: “Beirut Heterotopia” at Zico House

Katharine Gordon
Staff Writer

“‘Beirut Heterotopia’ examines our physical and mental experience of sites and conditions of perceived otherness.” Akira Takayama

Credits: Katharine Gordon.

        Akira Takayama’s “Beirut Heterotopia” is a multi-sensory, experiential performance that guides guests through a living story. The work encompasses the third and second floors of Zico House, a once grand Lebanese house that has been refurbished as a communal space for creative projects. Takayama’s work reinterprets the space, bringing together audio, visual, and literary mediums to create interactive memories. The idea behind the show is largely to create a spatial encounter that invites the visitor into various confrontations with intimacy, familiarity, family, and otherness.

Under the direction of Takayama, the team of accomplished collaborators, including artists, performers, and writers, put together five stories, each with its own room and voice performance via an audio guide. Each recounts personal memories and family histories, in various styles of writing. Each story focuses on a unique kind of family structure. Some recount their parents, either within Lebanon or reluctantly abroad. Others take up more intimate narratives, between lovers and friends. Visitors begin on the third floor of Zico House and move downwards, following the story as they move from room to room. Each room is designed and deliberately orchestrated to provide material substance to the recollections and memories recounted in the five stories.

Credits: Katharine Gordon.

        The design of each space is exquisite in its own right. Each one is put together with the care and detailed organization that allows for a total immersion into the story. One begins to identify with the characters, becoming absorbed into the politics and intimate dramas of their family experiences. The idea of the family is especially poignant for those who may see similarities between the tales they hear and their own memories. For some, it is a much more personal experienceone that generates a deep emotional connection.

        Perhaps however, the true success of the piece is how it buries itself into the fabric of the city, maintaining its integrity as a performance but also becoming a part of the urban rhythm of Beirut. Even though the rooms are physically contained within Zico House, they manage to morph and blend with the city outsidewhich periodically announces itself through shouts and honks. The show gives back to the city that informs it.

Even the time of day has an effect on the experience of the show as the sun streams in at noon and dims towards dusk. Each visitor will leave the gates of Zico House with a different interpretation of what they witness within the space. Re-entering the real world, leaving behind Takayama’s house of memory, it is up to the viewer to determine how they will choose to encounter the city from there.

“Beirut Heterotopia” is on display on October 14 to 22,  from 12 to 8pm.

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