Review by Gaby Maamary

Smell me, Touch me, Kiss me

Christine Kettaneh at Janine Rubeiz Gallery.

“Despite our advanced forebrains, we remain ignorant at a macro scale. We are, like ants, only conscious of our micro-decisions”. In the opening of her manifest Christine Kettaneh defines her understanding of the surrounding, the world and the universe.

Her exhibition “Smell me, Touch me, kiss me” at Janine Rubeiz Gallery, is a visual presentation of an immediate microcosm. By observing nature, she infiltrated the microcosmic world. It seems to her that the microcosmic is more comprehensible than the macrocosmic. It is within her realm. It is related to her scale. It is in her reach. A realm and scale where she can find herself easily, where she can find the answers that may explain more about life. A life that we may lose in an instant without having any clue what so ever why? Answers about why tomorrow does not fit our great expectations. Observing nature and the microcosmic world became an obsession offering for a tormented soul some answers on the existential level.

Instead of being controlled by the unexplained events and turns of the macrocosm, Christine decided to control the events and turns of the microcosm. One way or another she must have power over destiny.

The ant's instinctive behavior, the systematic spontaneous formation, and deformation of certain matters such sugar and soap are elements of that microcosm that she controlled, and programmed its outcome. Somehow she played God. Throughout her observation, she realized that to dominate the outcomes all she has to do is offer bait to the predator. Still how about sending earthly yet subliminal messages in the process, seducing the spectators with words and intriguing them with letters while documenting the natural behavior of ants and their lust for sugar. Perplexing enough. It is fair to wonder who is the seduced, the ants or the human being? Or are they both similar like she declared? Are they, the human, only but ants in this macrocosm?

Artistically, Kettaneh presented a solid installation, refined, gracious and extremely sensible. Her exhibition a sensorial experience displayed in photographs of ants and letters , laser engraved natural leaves, Hayat soap cubes and posters.

Her black and white photographs document the ant's instinctive behavior and formation over and around the sugar letters. Shot with a DSLR camera and a macro lens in a bird’s eye view. Their small sizes respect the ant's normal size just enough to emphasize the microcosmic proportion with the human scale. Well composed they express the vastness of space on a minute dimension and refer to the harmonious relationship between the empty and the full. The black and white are judicious. The visual content is well contrasted; the cast shadows are soft, and the highlight is off. The overall is perfectly white balanced, the ants are black, the sugar slightly sparkling and the ground is white. Moreover, looking at their visual documents the spectator is certainly intrigued and captured by the ants systematic formation around the sugar letters. It reminds me of the ancient Roman military formation assumed in battlefields. Highly organized the ants surround the letters to form a black contour like rays of black light. Interesting when we know that Ants, like most insects, communicate with each other using pheromones, sounds, touch and smell. They use pheromones as chemical signals, their mouth to touch and their antennae to smell. Smell me, Touch me, kiss me. Nice finale.

Ants are important to the ecosystem. “They turn and aerate the soil, allowing water and oxygen to reach plant roots.” Ants are responsible for continuity of life. Life, or “ hayat” in Arabic, is the end chapter of Kettaneh installation. “Hayat” is the name giving to a traditional known artisanal soap made in Tripoli, Lebanon.

Via a video work, Christine, intimately explores her relationship with the soap. Filming herself gently washing her hands in the washbasin under running water she presents a sensitive cleansing connotation. “Hayat,” Life is an existential enigma on a macrocosmic grade can only be perceived as an object of feeling on the microcosmic dimension. Its use on a daily basis became a hypnotic ritual where touch and smell foster a hyper sensorial living experience. The video edited frames, using tracing contour command, obliterate all connection to real world. Thus the screening becomes an esoteric consciousness.

The esoteric consciousness is touched in another chapter of her installation, The engraved natural leaves. In my perception, this micro chapter transcends her artistic experience to another dimension. All she has to do is invest in that direction. I will not endeavor furthermore on that subject matter. I will gladly offer to the readers the chance to explore themselves the touch, the kiss and the smell of Christine Kettaneh aesthetic enlightenment.