In 2016, Spike Island worked with artist London and Beirut based artist Maeve Brennan on her film The Drift, and later presented this major film commission in the artist’s solo exhibition in 2017.
The film was produced by Spike Island, Bristol and Chisenhale Gallery, London, and commissioned by Spike Island; Chisenhale Gallery; The Whitworth, The University of Manchester; and Lismore Castle Arts, Lismore.
In The Drift, Brennan traces the shifting economies of objects in contemporary Lebanon. The film moves between three main characters: the gatekeeper of the Roman temples of Niha in the Beqaa Valley; a young mechanic from Britel, a village known for trading automobile parts; and an archaeological conservator working at the American University of Beirut.
Combining documentary footage, gathered through fieldwork, with staged scenes, the work depicts layered histories and communities. The Drift follows Brennan’s encounters with the gatekeeper as he recounts his life’s work restoring and guarding the temple ruins, while the mechanic crosses the Beqaa landscape, searching scrap yards for used automobile parts to transform his BMW car. Inside his workshop, the conservator slowly pieces together fragments of clay artefacts.
Forms of maintenance and repair are central to The Drift – with a focus on the desire to reassemble and rebuild. Quietly underpinning the film is the urgency of archaeology in the Middle East today, particularly with reference to the destruction and preservation of heritage sites across Syria and Lebanon. Brennan’s film maps converging lines between the protected relics of ancient temples, smuggled antiquities and exchanged car parts, exploring the care, circulation and shifting value of objects.
Informed by long term investigative research, Brennan’s practice examines the historical and political resonance of materials and places. Creating intimacy through proximity with her subjects, she gathers anecdotal evidence to animate sites and narratives. The Drift builds on Brennan’s previous works, such as Jerusalem Pink (2015), which looks at the role of stone in Palestine in relation to her great-grandfather’s work on the architectural restoration of the Dome of the Rock (1917-37), and Core Sample (2012), which surveys the political and geological strata latent within contested materials.
Through observing the intertwined identities, unregulated economies and shared resistance felt across the densely layered archaeological and urban sites of Lebanon, The Drift explores the politics of conflict through its material – and immaterial – residue.
Maeve Brennan’s film The Drift was produced by Chisenhale Gallery, London and Spike Island, Bristol and commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery; Spike Island; The Whitworth, The University of Manchester; and Lismore Castle Arts, Lismore.
The Drift is supported by The Arab Fund For Arts and Culture – AFAC and Arts Council England Grants for the Arts.