Above all, why did you choose the title “The Soothsayer” for your exhibition at the Venice Biennale?
The Soothsayer, or the diviner, is a secondary character in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, but whose role is more important than a priori since it is he who will carry an important message to Julius Caesar: the one predicting his dead. This character inspires me, just like the Shakespearean work whose atmosphere resonates with my work. The character of the diviner is little known, a bit like that of an artist whose mission is to warn, to send signals and messages ahead of the march of the world. In the end, the role of an artist is first to be misunderstood or misunderstood, before we understand the approach and the purpose. This makes me think of the theory of synchronicity as elucidated by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung and which fascinates me. It is the simultaneous occurrence in the mind of an individual of at least two mental events which do not present a physical causal link, but whose association takes on a meaning for the person who perceives them. In other words, it’s a current of thought that I adhere to and which stipulates that a chance is not a chance and is in fact only an alignment of energies.
You were trained as a clinical psychologist before starting your career in art. What is the connection between these two parts of you?
At first, I never wanted to be a painter. After my master’s degree in clinical psychology, I discovered the work of Alix de la Source, who is a specialist in the 18th century, and I literally fell from the clouds. I start at this time, intuitively, to work on copies of the great masters of the time, including Jan Van Huysum. I didn’t even know that I was capable of it or at least that I had this talent in me. It was almost something unconscious, which somewhat ties in with my interest in psychology. Moreover, it is said that my painting is metaphysical, conceptual, while being figurative. It intersects my love for philosophy, psychology and this eternal self-questioning that underlies my work. It’s a bit like that, the work of psychoanalysis, in short…
Have you always been inclined towards mysticism and esotericism?
It’s something that has fascinated me since I was little, even though I didn’t have the words to express it then. My journey is also made of chance which is the fruit of the synchronicity I was talking about earlier. During the period of confinement, I walked every day with my twin sister in the deserted streets of Achrafieh. At that moment, I was gripped by the metaphysical void that enveloped Beirut. And I instinctively told myself that this would be the subject of my installation for the Venice Biennale. Hence the idea of exploring The Three Graces of Greek and Roman mythology, in particular this human bond that is woven in the middle of a metaphysical void. I started, at the same time, to read and document me on the tarots and I fell into that.
Hence the choice to visually reinterpret a tarot deck within your installation?
Absoutely. I built the 22 major arcana in three days in a very instinctive and intuitive way, almost without thinking. As I chose to represent them on aluminum, I could not erase or go over my work. I had no room for error. Again, I don’t know how I managed to do this, and it was an occult force that carried me. It’s that the tarot cards place you in such a dimension that a lot of things come to you without really understanding the why and the how…
Why the choice of materials such as aluminium, in contrast to the location of the Saint-Georges church where your exhibition is being held?
I wanted, for this installation, to look into the question of artificial intelligence and oppose it to the materiality of our world by paralleling the frame, the esoteric side of a church and the materiality of aluminum . A bit like a follow-up to my Being and Appearing installation where I paralleled the figure of Betty Boop, a fantasized virtual woman, and that of the real woman, with all her imperfections, in order to underline the clash between virtuality and reality. This time, while the world is devoured by the virtual, I look into the antagonism between artificial intelligence and human mortality. Man takes himself for God by the power of his machines, whereas in the end, reality is what it is: the machine has no conscience and man will never be God. This man who wanted to explain everything is confronted with the mystery of creation, and that is the very purpose of “The Soothsayer”. The introduction to this work takes place through a journey through a sort of initiatory forest where a totem stands, which is reminiscent of Baudelaire’s sonnet Correspondances, an extract of which serves as a preamble to my installation. In the end, whether totems or tarot cards, these tools are keys that give access to the beyond and to the soul of the ancestors. Because, in the end, I see my installation as a process of enlightenment, that of the expansion of consciousness.
It was initially planned that you would be part of the Lebanese pavilion at the biennale, before finally joining that of San Marino. What happened?
Initially, it was Carla Rebeiz, a financier converted to gastronomy in Paris, who had the idea of setting up the Lebanese pavilion for the Venice Biennale and presenting my work there. It was then that the curator Nada Ghandour was approached to take charge of the curation of the pavilion with a team of art experts. Very quickly, Nada found a way to dismiss Carla Rebeiz at the same time as she invited Ayman Baalbaki to join this project. Little by little, she interfered in my creative process by intervening on each of the details, which goes against my approach as an artist, even wanting to remove my totems, under the pretext that they looked too to Christian crosses. She even made a point of reviewing all my speeches, forbidding me to use the term “new God”, whereas this concept is at the center of my thinking around artificial intelligence. Over the months, my work was reduced more and more until it almost disappeared. It was a form of harassment that peaked the day I received an email from him telling me that I had been kicked out of this project. In the press, and notably in these columns, Nada Ghandour justified my absence by a lack of space; while my installation was the starting point of this project and its dimensions were known. (Questioned by L’Orient-Le Jour on February 18, 2022 on the reasons for Mouna Rebeiz’s exclusion, Nada Ghandour had indicated that “the withdrawal of his participation is simply due to a lack of available space within of the Lebanese pavilion. Mouna Rebeiz’s project turned out to be gigantic, and its proportions exceeded the framework of the space allotted to us in the Arsenal”.
Despite everything, how does it feel to represent Lebanon at the Venice Biennale, even if it’s in the pavilion of San Marino?
Apart from the feeling of pride that any artist called upon to represent a country would have felt, I feel I am a bearer of beauty in a spiritual sense. The beautiful transcends the despair in which the world currently finds itself. The stars aligned, and this project came to life. Which reminds me of this excerpt from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy: “And from then on we went out to see the stars again. »
“The Judgment”, by Mouna Rebeiz. Photo DFirst of all, why did you choose the title “The Soothsayer” for your exhibition at the Venice Biennale? The Soothsayer, or the diviner, is a secondary character in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, but whose role is more important than a priori since it is he who will carry an important message to Jules…
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The esotericism of Mouna Rebeiz in a church at the Venice Biennale
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