Unearthing Narratives

Excavating layers of urban developments and ruinous archaeological sites, Maeve Brennan’s major new film The Drift (2017) traces shifting economies in contemporary Lebanon. Presented by the Chisenhale Gallery, London, and Spike Island, Bristol, the feature is also commissioned by The Whitworth, The University of Manchester and Lismore Castle Arts, Lismore.

Piecing together material residue and documentation of specific historical and modern communities, the work forms a dense and intricate narrative, with a significance stretching far beyond local subjects. Through exhuming artefacts buried beneath the dust of the Middle East, the Beirut-based artist draws attention to the urgent need for cultural recovery and preservation, particularly in the context of the crises in Syria.

The Drift has a strong political resonance as it explores the care and circulation of temple treasures, smuggled antiques and exchanged car parts – unearthing a tale that would otherwise be supressed. Brennan fuses archival footage with staged scenes, visually combining the lives of the gatekeeper of the Roman temples of Niha in the Beqaa Valley, a young mechanic from Britel – a village renowned for trading automobile parts – and an archaeological conservator working at the American University of Beirut. As the gatekeeper recounts his work restoring the temple ruins, the conservator rebuilds clay artefacts and the mechanic searches scrap yards for used car parts.

Gathering information from an extensive long-term investigation, Brennan’s efforts reanimate decaying cultural sites of Lebanon and provides an intimate insight into those attempting to reconstruct its fragmented landscape. The practitioner’s previous work also studies the significance of artefacts, geology and community. For example, Jerusalem Pink (2015) delves into the role of stone in Palestine and builds upon her great-grandfather’s work on the architectural restoration of the Dome of the Rock (1917-1937). Similarly, Core Sample (2012) surveys the social and geological strata hidden within contested materials.

The Drift, Chisenhale Gallery, London, until 4 June. For more information: www.chisenhale.org.uk

1. Maeve Brennan, The Drift (2017). Produced by Chisenhale Gallery, London and Spike Island, Bristol. Commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery; Spike Island; The Whitworth, The University of Manchester; and Lismore Castle Arts, Lismore. Courtesy of the artist.