Agial Gallery, Beirut
August – September 2016
“Once upon a time there was a pea” is an installation that associates several places, periods and socio-political contexts around one question – how can different religious communities and ethnicities live together?
More than just a simple theoretical question, above all it echoes a deep concern: “living together” is a fundamental notion that can generate immeasurable violence when it fails. This is why the installation displays human vulnerability faced with the threat of conflicts beyond comprehension, which, at any given time, can have dramatic consequences on one’s existence.
Sara Badr Schmidt has never addressed the Lebanon War so purposefully before in her work. She thought that the feeling of insecurity she experienced as a child had no reason to exist. But today violence has taken another form, and terrorist attacks in Western countries are multiplying. This project actually started the day after the attacks against Charlie Hebdo, after writing the following text:
“Nausea. A feeling of disgust that puts down deep roots, in childhood.
The nausea of knowing that this vermin continues to spread, with its sour smell, its mindlessness and its dehumanization.
This gangrene – an insult to blue sky and singing birds. As a child, I saw this vermin enter the world and spread.
I couldn’t bear its nearness. I left. It has grabbed hold of me, with its slimy paws and barbaric glance. It sickens me. They sicken me.
These humans who are barely human. They are monsters.
I would have liked to offer my own children streets that are clean, streets free from their lurking shadows. I would have rather that they never felt the fear of encountering the wolves from their fairy tales in real life.
Now I must teach them the courage to confront and live among them so that one day, perhaps, we will be done with this blade that hangs over our heads, the blade of barbarism and savagery.”
Even if fairy tales sometimes have disquieting aspects, the element of dream and poetry that goes with them can help us get through ordeals. It’s this resilience that she wanted to display, this manner of finding solutions to reenchant the world despite an awareness of horror.
“Once upon a time there was a pea” is a new phase of “Borderless”, a work on frontiers that she undertook ten years ago and which brings into question the notion of geographical and transitory frontiers. The photo which initiated the project was taken in Southern Lebanon, on the Lebanon-Israel border, and then photographs taken of the sky in different parts of the world were added, sometimes with along with a soundtrack or video installations. The only clues of where the photos were taken are words reflecting a unique characteristic of the location.
This project is a continuation of Borderless.
In the middle of the installation, a little girl is sleeping on a pile of mattresses. She lies beneath the frame of her bed, on top of which there is an enormous pea in the form of a cannonball.
It is a variation of the fairy tale, the Princess and the Pea. Except in this case, it is not about a wedding engagement, but about survival, to keep dreaming. Contrary to the princess in the fairy tale, the little girl, well aware of the threat, decided to make a shelter out of her bed frame, by placing her mattresses underneath it. The pea is in full view and is a green coated cannonball.
Everything is placed on a carpet on which appears this sentence: “A city with a blue sky and a blue sea, a lost cloud ended up in the blue sky, it started to rain, iron rain.”
Surrounding this strange bed are five photos of the sky mounted on glowing boxes. The photos of the sky resemble each other apart from a few slight differences, as they were each taken at the same time in five different representative sites in Beirut. The same word, “sawa” (“together”) is inscribed on each of them.
As background noise, the sound of the video projected nearby. The video immerses the viewer into a meditative state, with images of blue sky in which birds appear and disappear. Occasionally, this blue sky is replaced by the storm of war. In the sound track composed specifically for this video, a voice recites the text written on the carpet.
This installation is a reminder that beauty endures despite the absurdity and horror in the world.