Academic journal article Afterimage

Beyond the Frame

Academic journal article Afterimage

Beyond the Frame

Article excerpt

Diary of the Future

By Lara Baladi

Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

May 3-June 10, 2010

After one leisurely finishes a cup of Turkish coffee, a dense liquid known for its thick, molasses-like qualities, the saucer is placed on the top of the cup and is turned upside down. The cup is rotated clockwise three times. The coffee drinker makes a wish and places the cup and saucer on the ground or a table to cool and dry while casual talk continues. Afterward, a person with a trained eye--usually a friend or relative--will read the fortune of the drinker by using the coffee residue that forms abstract shapes and patterns in the cup. This ceremony was the foundation for Lara Baladi's recent exhibition "Diary of the Future" at the Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde in Dubai.

Entering the exhibition, the work appeared to be playful and inviting with its tightly cropped macro imagery of coffee residue, forming sensuous and beautifully abstracted forms. Yet, upon closer observation of the work, one senses melancholy. Consisting of five works--three large-scale and two smaller-scale, no larger than four feet wide the exhibition used the coffee fortune-telling ritual to reexamine notions of memory, loss, and destiny.

Relative Destinies (2010) is a large-scale work (roughly thirteen feet by thirteen feet) that envelops the viewer with its grid-like structure and contains 192 stunningly composed photographs of Turkish coffee residue, creating an altar-like visage. Beyond its pleasing formal qualities, the piece raises questions about fate and existence.

According to the catalog, coffee readings became part of Baladi's Sunday ritual when she moved to Cairo in 1997. Her grandmother would invite family and friends over for lunch on Sunday, and, as part of the gathering, they would conduct coffee readings. When her father became ill and returned to Cairo in 2007 to die, Baladi asked her father's visitors to partake in the Turkish coffee reading ritual following her succinct instructions for proper reading--and she then labeled and dated the cups.

Chronologie (2008) is the documentation of the ritual, from her father's arrival in Cairo to his eventual death, made into an ambitious large-scale work. The first image in the chronologically organized grid of photos is a robust remnant of Turkish coffee on a saucer still fresh, the rich, dark, pungent coffee leaves a remarkably potent residue that creates an abstract form. The second image documents Baladi's inclusion in the ritual as her name is prominently placed in front of the lens with the date of her participation. …

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