Things live by perishing
The work of Lebanese artist Charbel-joseph H. Boutros inflects a particular reading of geographies, historical events and their associated collective memory. Contrary to other practitioners in the Middle East, who choose to commentate on the region’s present and past histories, for Boutros it remains as omnipresent as a white sheet of paper – a background to be inscribed with words – providing the eloquent silence to the sound of words. ‘Language is embroidered upon silence…[and] silence is the backdrop of speech’, writes John Biguenet. The layers of a civilization and its history cannot be lifted by the act of factual telling, instead the experience must be embodied and shown.
The works here at UMA LULIK_ are installed on a fitted carpet as a performative demonstration that literally takes the measure of the space and that of its occupants. Its industrial surface is buckled by metallic tubes hidden beneath that represent the precise weight of the gallerist and his assistant. Dead Drawing, depicts an equilateral triangle, while the drawing tool – the lead from a pencil forms the precise length of its baseline. The act of surveying as a philosophical pursuit also defines 2m long of isolated darkness, a hollow foam and plaster-coated steel tube enclosing two metres of darkness. While others may choose to disclose, Boutros prefers to employ a cartography of concealment to trace the scope and place of things.
The exhibition’s theme of invisibility is inflected with the politics of sleep. In a market economy sleepers are rendered invisible, adding no value through consumption or labour. In the series Night Cartography the artist poured wax onto airplane sleeping masks he had worn at night. The wax was melted from votive candles, previously stolen from a church in the Lebanese mountains. Dreams and wishes belong to the same personal and immaterial order of desire. They invoke the numinous, a spiritual quality which is, according to Maurice Merleau-Ponty ‘born into and lives in the secret space of the image itself’. Sleep is not a receptacle for private dreams but sculptural material that gives shape to the imperceptible. No Light in White Light/Night Cartography shows a drawn chart of the hours of a given day; a sprayed black carbon disk obscures the centre of the paper inscribed with the period of nocturnal rest. We are left to consider the duration of the artist’s unconscious state, rather than its private content. Perhaps the artist is, in the words of W.G.Sebald ‘accounting for things’, since ‘remembrance is fundamentally nothing but a citation…incorporated in a text or image… [and] compels us…to probe…our…knowledge of the world. This, in turn, takes time. By spending it, we enter into narrated time and into the time of culture.’
The notion of perpetual becoming is addressed in Removed Stone featuring a rock taken from a forest floor in Lebanon, displayed alongside a text that describes how the object, once extracted must be returned to the precise location of its removal. The work heralds a quest undertaken by the artist whose action fuses the geography of the exhibition with the sylvan setting. Moreover, ‘contrary to our usual idea of it as a symbol of longevity and impassability, stone, which is never reborn, is in fact the one thing in nature which is constantly dying.’
The exposure of artefacts to elemental processes and to the rigours of time is a recurring feature in the artist’s work. Neon Light, a fluorescent tube coated in wax taken from an art gallery is rendered obsolescent, while another example is returned to an existing ceiling fitting and spreads a soft white light over the exhibition. Days under their own Suns shows a single sheet of a calendar dated the 1st of January 2017 that has been exposed to daylight for an entire year – or, to be precise, to the 365 suns of that duration. Here the performative act of measurement eclipses its object; repeated exposure to the touch of light eventually leads to a bleached-out sheet, an object rendered invisible by fullness. Harold Schweizer writes:
By invoking things…we might not only enter into them and sense their perishing, but we might learn from them our own perishing.
Henri Bergson distinguished abstract time from lived duration; one provides a verifiable measurement, while the other stresses an experiential quality. Waiting is the endurance of pure time as ‘the waiter is the embodiment of the hour…rather than seizing it…time has seized him’. In this process, the individual is gradually defined by a narrative of dematerialization.
The romance of striving against time’s flow is writ large in the video No Light in White Light that shows a Syriac priest at dusk in a forest reading from Genesis; he reads aloud in Aramaic, a dead language, until he becomes unable to discern the words. The body and voice of the reader are finally absorbed by the gathering darkness. The return to obscurity signals a retreat from a hyper-visibility that is corrupting to the idea itself, to a state of purity. ‘The story of invisibility’, writes Kathryn Schulz ‘is not really about how to vanish at all…it is a story about how to see ourselves.’ 
Nicolas de Oliveira and Nicola Oxley
 Rainer Maria Rilke, The Ninth Elegy, in The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Stephen Mitchell, Vintage, New York, 1989, p.199-201.
 John Biguenet, Silence, Bloomsbury, New York and London, 2015, p.44-45
 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, Evanston, Illinois, 1973, p.151.
 W.G.Sebald, quoted in: Carol Jacobs, Sebald’s Vision, Columbia University Press, New York, 2015, p.149.
 Francis Ponge, Unfinished Ode to Mud, poems translated by Beverley Bie Brahic, CB Editions, London, 2008, p.45)
 The ‘soft white light’ refers to the description of the imagined illumination of the afterlife, David Eagleman, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, Cannongate, London, 2009.
 Harold Schweizer, On Waiting, Routledge, London and New York, 2008, p.26
 Schweizer, ibid, p.17.