By Gabriela Emilova Encheva
Upon entering the room that holds the last artwork from the Young Masters exhibition, ‘Lunacy’, you are being welcomed into darkness. You are being emerged into a confronting space of madness and illusion. The literal darkness in space allows the only light source to come from what is being transformed into an artificial moon to the night in which you are now in.
In the corner furthest from you upon entering, you are presented with three split panels onto which one video is being projected. It begins with a white timer on a black background that is counting back to thirty seconds, marking the very beginning of the work. As the video begins, light cinematic music begins to play. The first sequence of the video that you are confronted with is black and white and consists of clips portraying a material flowing in liquid (Fig. 1). An abstract interpretation could be that the moon has been liquified and minimized to the hypnotic movement of the flowing liquid. On the other hand, a more figurative one would be that it looks like soap dissolved in water. It is almost as if you see foam in the bathtub. This sequence has a slow and steady flow that allows you to be gradually drawn into the installation. It is the calm before the storm. Further, the music intensifies and becomes louder; with it, the sequences change. What you see next is the moon (Fig. 2). However, it is not a static image like the way you see the moon yourself or a simple photograph, nor is it black and white as in the previous sequence. The moon here is bright with tints of yellow and red. It is dynamic, moving and constantly intensifying. The movement of the moon seems to somehow reflect and match the energy and rhythm of the sound which is now rather sinister. The sound is now transformed to a rather abstract and aggressive rhythm, contrasting the collected and even sound that was present during the first sequence of the visualization. The chaotic movement of the moon and the intense music in the background create a space that alludes to madness. Rapidly blinking images and pauses of darkness fill the space – an everlasting play of hide and seek with the moon.
At a certain point, an overexposed image of the moon appears on the screen, so bright that you can confuse it with the Sun. This specific image could perhaps be an attempt to create a connection between the Sun and the Moon in a more contemporary setting. While they are so different, they are also alike in many ways – one of which is exactly the fact that sometimes the moon looks exactly like the sun when we look at it but the fact that we see it only at night is enough of a mark to let us know we are not looking at the Sun. Furthermore, at the very end of the video, you are suddenly struck by blinking bright colours. The screen blinks in blue, green and red which comes as a surprise after you have just observed a visualization based primarily on whites and blacks. Next, the moon gets smaller and smaller, disappearing into the darkness.
You stay in the space for a couple more seconds, processing your thoughts and emotions. Afterwards, you leave the room.
Experiencing this artwork is different to everybody as it pushes on different limits within people. As I found the combination of intense visuals and sinister soundscape quite intriguing in its mystery, some of my colleagues for example were quite overwhelmed by it. Of importance here is how sensitive you are to rapidly blinking images and loud sounds.
As a person who is rather fascinated by challenging artworks and installations, I found myself feeling curiosity towards ‘Lunacy’. I felt the instinct to observe and take in as many emotions as I could. To me, the connection and transition between the different sequences were quite interesting – how in the beginning you feel almost hypnotised by the material that is flowing in water and then you are suddenly taken by surprise by the rapidly moving image of the moon. Both images confront you in different ways. One lures you in without you realising and the other makes you overwhelmed to the point that you want to leave but you are already in this state of intense hypnosis so you feel obligated to continue watching. You cannot escape. Or you don’t want to. To me, the experience came close to the one of watching a horror movie – you may not want to know what happens next but you are so deep into the storyline that you stay and watch anyways. Furthermore, it was the whole structure of the installation that reminded me of one of a movie. It begins slowly, letting you get to know the characters and the storyline, then it gets eventful and you are suddenly overwhelmed by all the actions that are being played on the screen, and at the end, everything calms down and the end credits begin.
‘Lunacy’ felt like an artwork that tested and even pushed my limits. It made me go through all sorts of feelings and emotions. Feelings of curiosity and fascination, and emotions such as mental and even physical exhaustion. As previously said, this is not an installation that will be an enjoyable experience for everybody but personally, I found it quite intriguing as it helped me understand something about myself which is that I find mysterious artworks most fascinating. It made me want to know and explore more.
Rabee Kanafani (he/him) is a 27-year-old artist from Syria, currently based in the Netherlands. For a couple of years, Kanafani has been interested in playing different instruments, a passion his father encouraged, and eventually picked up the electric guitar, which stood out the most to him. His music eventually inspired him to create visuals to accompany the sound, as is the case in this particular installation. Furthermore, coming from a spiritual family opened him up to exploring the natural, such as the moon and its supernatural and spiritual effects on humans and animals.
After graduating from the Academy of Pop Culture in Leeuwarden, he created his production company Moonary, part of which is this artwork. Its first debut was during Kanafani’s graduation show in 2022.
THE ARTIST + THE ARTWORK
With his artwork, ‘Lunacy’, Rabee Kanafani aimed to create a space of confrontation for humans. Once you are inside the room, you are inevitably immersed into something darker that almost feels supernatural. It even makes you feel rather intimidated by the images of the moon that you see. How can something that is part of your life, something that you have seen so many times change its influence on you in just a couple of seconds?
In an interview I had with the artist, he provided some insight into the process of creating the installation. The first sequence is made out of acrylic paints dissolved in water and filmed with a microlens. With it, he aimed to portray the surface of the moon as moon lava. Furthermore, something particularly interesting to me was that it was the music that was created first and not the visuals, as I had originally assumed. Therefore, it is the visuals that are complimenting the sound, not the other way around. The artist explained that he wanted the visuals, the movement of the moon, to follow the rhythm of the sound. This technique allowed the artist to choreograph the moon to dance to the sound. Therefore, achieving the effect of chaotic and intense visuals in a rhythm that reflects the madness the moon is said to evoke in humans and animals, according to many myths and legends.
The artist also discussed that the footage was edited in a rather raw way, which to me creates a conflicting feeling of familiarity – in a way, you know the subject, you have seen the moon many times before but in ‘Lunacy’ you see it presented in a completely different manner. As for me, the Full Moon has always been a rather peaceful occurrence, I was surprised to see it from this intense and sinister point of view.
During our conversation, the artist also mentions that he was inspired by the ancient Egyptian god of the sun, Ra. Therefore, it is quite interesting to observe how the previously discussed overexposed image of the moon resembling the Sun in one of the clips, fits into this narrative. Furthermore, the bright colours at the end – the blue and the red, aim to represent the Blue and Red moons which are rare occurrences and are said to have an even bigger influence on humans and animals than the Full moon we see each month.
With ‘Lunacy’, Kanafani aimed to shed a new light on how sound and image can influence and even play with your perception.
Photos by Tom Meixner