I guess that dreams are always there

Charbel-joseph H. Boutros, Let it ring, 2014

Charbel-joseph H. Boutros, Let it ring, 2014


This review of the Grey Noise exhibition I guess that dreams are always there was originally published by FAD Magazine

This is an exhibition of duality – an intimate, personal cartography of the artist Charbel-joseph H. Boutros and a deliberately obscure and impersonal collection of inanimate artefacts. It is an exhibition riven with the tension of displacement, where carefully delineated details dramatically gesture towards that which is missing.

Objects suggest the absentee other half, invoking them to an almost-presence, but repeated and deliberate subversion renders them inaccessible. Like a virgin key, forever separate from the lock it might have opened, objects are silenced through separation, though they bristle with the potent potential of the pair.

Charbel-joseph H. Boutros, Untitled until now

Charbel-joseph H. Boutros, Untitled until now

It is the artist himself who is simultaneously missing and omnipresent, his identity triangulated by reference to the measured signifiers of his absence. Actions, lived time, sentiments and ideas are hinted at obliquely – pages of his calendar, two single tears – one from each eye – in a twin pair of phials, a pair of shoes empty save for a thermometer that implies the warmth of the body that it does not measure.

Charbel-joseph H. Boutros, No Light in White Night, 2013

In No Light in White Light the void of the artist’s sleep is called forth in the rough cipher of black spray on paper. Every night since November 2011 has been meticulously collected then assiduously obliterated in this way. It is a documentation striving to counter the absence of sleep, where absence becomes the inverse of endeavour. Yet, ultimately, what is depicted is a gaping admission of the absence – and through this tension the attempt is foiled.

The same creative tension is mirrored in The Rubber Rubbed, in the ultimate self-reflexive action “a rubber that is usually used to erase, is here operating its own function on itself… 1h 10 min is the time needed to totally erase the eraser”.

Charbel-joseph H. Boutros, The Rubber Rubbed

And so, time is present and life absent; a month lines the walls in the form of calendar sheets, the span of a day – each hour marked – appears on paper, and sleep is measured and tracked in pencil marks. All this measurement is a knowing nod to undermine our preoccupation with quantifying the minutiae of our lives, refuting the method as a means to truly live or comprehend life.

Like the “equal stacks of salt and sugar” in Dream Salt – measurement suggests precision, an action weighed out, so we are told, though it is also vague and non-specific and its veracity cannot be perceived.

Vast spaces are described, though ultimately circumscribed into nothing; in Let it Ring three far-flung, never-known strangers, across three never-specified continents are summoned. We are told three phone numbers, each relating to one hypothetical geographical vertex of an equilateral triangle, were called for one second. The phones are present, the numbers too but the action is missing and the dial tone never heard. The impasse is the dramatic absence, like the rest note in a symphony. We listen to silence and it implies everything that went before and after, but it is nothing.

These are either the intimate shadows cast by a life being lived elsewhere, or the relics of a life obscured by documentation.


words by Rachel Bennett