Lebanese Artist Charbel-Joseph H. Boutros Encloses The Night With His Art

BY Katrina Kufer / Jul 3 2018 / 15:15 PM

Charbel-Joseph H. Boutros muses on the night as volume, the poetic impact of invisibility, and how ‘Night Enclosed in Marble’ speaks to archiving the contemporary

Lebanese Artist Charbel-Joseph H. Boutros Encloses The Night With His Art
Vijai Patchineelam
Charbel-Joseph H. Boutros

It began with a childhood memory playing in a forest, with nuit d’encre nights where you could barely see when you wanted to go home. The marble cube looks like early Minimalism, but Night Enclosed in Marble is a performance that, like many of my works, doesn’t look like it. But then you notice two hinges and understand there is something weird happening inside this marble box, constituted by two slabs of Carrera. Inside each interior of the slab, a half centimetre-cube of void has been extracted. When closed, a perfect, precise vacuum floats inside where air and light can’t penetrate. The cube already contains a kind of obscurity, a black volume as a receptacle where the night could be enclosed.

I took the cube to that forest on a specific night. Once a month in the lunar cycle the moon doesn’t exist, so I waited for this moonless night. Invisibility is a way of telling a lot of by showing nothing. My work uses invisibility in a sculptural manner, unlike Yves Klein or artists in the 60s who were interested in the void. It’s how to use it as a material, and how I as an artist can sculpt and charge it with sentimental, geographical, political and historical layers. Invisibility is also a way to escape notions of the spectacle, to avoid art becoming a spectacle’s tool, and as an artist coming from a loaded geography, specifically Lebanon, how to avoid clichés. The forest appears often in my work because it talks about a periphery, or a geography that isn’t consumed by culture. I opened the box for a few seconds and then closed it to capture one centimetre-cube of that specific night. 

charbel-joseph h. boudros

Night Enclosed in Marble. Photography courtesy of Aurelien Mole; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; and Grey Noise, Dubai

The most important things are invisible. The viewer only sees the superficial body, which formally is quite sober. Night as matter—not notions of night in Arabic literature or Romanticism, not the poetry of it—is a volume. But why capture night? It contains something very contemporary, but at the same time, is linked to a very far past. Giorgio Agamben describes the connection between contemporaneity and the night, where it isn’t looking towards the light of day, it is looking into the night because the night can project you into the past and the future, while still containing our present in a silent way. It’s a way to capture our lives, a geography that is disappearing. It’s a distant autobiography that begins with something introspective and unfurls scales of political, historical and geographical narrative, from intimate to universal.

I enclosed night in an eternal, symbolic material used for sculptures and graves in a fragile way. It has something emotional, a sense of mourning, and questions faith or trust, where once you believe, this hidden landscape opens up, but aat ny moment, the sculpture could be destroyed by the viewer if there is a doubt that haunts them. But what’s important is how to avoid an artwork only having life when exhibited, and to create complexity and to let it live. This work performs at different moments of its existence—first in capturing the night, in travelling to its exhibition, and then with the viewer at a museum, who either enters or doubts it. Even when not shown, it becomes a resting night in waiting, performing silently. This geography outside of an exhibition is part of the work, letting it have its own life, like a living organism.

‘Night Enclosed in Marble’ can be seen in the exhibition Painting the Night from 13 October 2018-15 April 2019 at Centre Pompidou-Metz, France. Centrepompidou-metz.fr