Monads and Polyhedrons

[Acrylic on board, 38.5x76 cm, 2013]

The surface appears eerily calm, as still waters, without a sign of turbulence. It is only later that a spirit of breath transforms a fundamental operation of points and lines into a shapeless polyhedron, or a transversal plane of dihedral angles. Here, unlike the early modern proposal, the centripetal force of the point at the moment of implosion, does not reach for a fixed position in the Cartesian plane. In the drawings of Hala Schoukair, the morphological units of the polyhedron do not follow a trajectory or a curved path towards the formal rigor of an environment. Operating as monads, the units express the simultaneity of the one and the whole without internal conflict or division. According to Numenius of Apamea, the monad, bearing the stamp of divinity, splits into a dyad, a triad and a tetrad, giving rise to a material world of finiteness and otherness, by means of force or motion.

Yet the vital force and lapse of becoming is, in Schoukair's polyhedrons, not a measurable split or division, but the natural consequence of a rigid mechanism that veered towards abstraction, on the basis of a single operation. A number of paradoxes arise from the multiplication of a closed unity of meaning: There is no extension - either in substance or surface - without monads, but monads by definition, the basic structures of an infinitely dense universe, are not extended or extendible. It is only by means of actuality, 'that which is currently happening', and agency, that extension and monads coexist. A dense universe, where the infinite expansion of matter is halted - very much like our own - serves as the tableau for the strange drawings: Complex surfaces are not being created; rather they are being spun and strung out of a space already full.

[Acrylic on carton, 20x20cm, 2013]

Clearing out material space by means of encircling and enclosing in order to disclose its properties, is the operation opposite to representation, and one whose temporal axis can hardly be defined: It did not "occur" at a point in time but is constantly happening, extending the meaning of actuality within a closed system of parameters and signs. Drawing, being relatively free from the history of materials, is an autonomous human expression that preceded written language and is located chronologically at a crucial junction in the history of our species. Demonstrated by the production of cave and rock paintings around 30,000 years ago, it places the arrival of the modern mind in the Ice Age, coeval with the earliest figurative drawings. By "the modern mind," here we make reference to an evolutionary development in the brain cortex that allowed humans to interpret signs and symbolic forms.

This "modern mind," which is still our evolutionary stage, prior to the technological imagination, developed written language out of pictograms, depicted objects and abstract concepts in the last 10,000 years. This tense relationship between grammar and representation is omnipresent in Schoukair's meticulous practice, conceived against the grand scales of contemporary art which today represent the incommensurable imbalance between our own scale and modern architecture; our organs have not adapted to the new spaces. The artist, on the other hand, chooses warm and intimacy through works that need to be inspected from very close. As the gaze is turned inwards, the two-dimensional surfaces grow into sculptural forms with almost defined subject matters, but deliberately open to a variety of readings.

[Acrylic on carton, 72x53cm, 2013]

The actuality or time-quality of Schoukair's minuscule acrylic brush is revealed not only on closeness but on different temporal relations: They have a tendency to bifurcate from essence and line, into substance and matter. This is only obvious to those who have experienced them over time. "Filling me with truth until I am empty again," notes the artist in the poetry that accompanies the exhibition. Schoukair is emptying the plane rather than filling it, executing a work whose fundamental operation is not cartography but motion. In music theory, to provide an alternative reading, contrapuntal motion is the general movement of melodic lines in respect to each other so that they maintain their independence without dissolving the whole. Far from musical notation, the works still retain a rhythmic quality; they can be the parsing of human breath, or, according to Schoukair, "the silence between two sounds."

Making sense of a world of entropy and chaos, arranging its disjointed syntactic elements into an endless grid, almost meditatively, warding off mortality but yet, through the conscious repetition, establishing a proximity with madness. As in the great pre-historic art, depicting a world without ground and without volume, free from scale and gravity, falling prey to the impossibility of life, the impossibility of death, of infinity. Never totally free from body and presence, from gravity and constraint, Schoukair's drawings engage with human substance by turning to their most elementary symbolic forms, liberated from the narrative qualities of memory and lived time. The continuity of world-time has broken into a formless dispersion where the source and the destination have become identical. The possibility of insanity: Not knowing the limit, not recognizing the boundary, the sensuous possibility of a free fall:

This is how

It all starts,


At the end.

The urgency

To tell,

When you feel

The cliff is near.

In front of

The abyss




(Hala Schoukair) 

[Acrylic on carton, 12x12 cm, 2013]


Hala Schoukair's "Grains of Light" is on view at Agial Art Gallery, Beirut, November 18 through December 6. Disclaimer: The above text is not a commercial review but an essay approaching the artist's practice from a theoretical rather than critical point of view. 

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Arie Amaya-Akkermans is a specialist in contemporary art from the Middle East. Living and working in Beirut.