Art: Glanade

The installation can be seen in the foyer of the Royal Geographical Society in London during the 2013 annual conference. It was created by Rupert Griffiths, a PhD candidate in the Department of  Geography at Royal Holloway University of London (RHUL). Both his academic and artistic works deal with the understanding and representation of marginal urban landscapes.

Glanades1

“Glanades” installation. Royal Geographical Society, London, 27-29 August 2013. Copyright: Sara Fregonese 2013.

Glanades

“Glanades” exhibition, Royal Geographical Society, London, 27-29 August 2013. Copyright: Sara Fregonese 2013.

Beirut’s former international seafront hotels were considered a hub of international mobility and leisure in a cosmopolitan Mediterranean metropolis throughout the 1960s and 1970s. But from 1975, the hotel district became one of the bloodiest front lines of the Lebanese civil war. The hotels provided a three-dimensional urban battleground onto and through which several armed militias projected and contended their geopolitical views for the future of Lebanon. At once strategic and ideological targets, the high-rise hotels became the fluid frontier where Beirut’s privileged cosmopolitanism of businessmen, celebrities, tourists, and travelled political personalities encountered its discrepant others: a sectarian political system, periodic conflict, striking urban inequalities and the forced and even violent mobilities of the refugees from Palestine and the Lebanese fleeing a forgotten countryside.

Beirut's former Saint Charles center and Holiday Inn hotel, seen from its northeastern side on Fakhreddine Street. ©Sara Fregonese 2012.

Beirut’s former Saint Charles center and Holiday Inn hotel, seen from its northeastern side on Fakhreddine Street. ©Sara Fregonese 2012.

Glanades interprets the 1976 battle for Beirut’s Holiday Inn hotel during Lebanon’s civil war, from the point of view of the militias stationed on the building. The vertical spatialities of urban warfare inspired these unique artifacts. Glanades addresses the fine line between cosmopolitanism and sectarianism, hospitality and hostility, peace and war that Beirut’s international hotels came to embody.

M26 grenade grey

What we have termed Glanades were first used in March 1976 by a fighter of the Lebanese Front militias barricaded on the rooftop of the Holiday Inn – until then a fashionable revolving bar. These devices resolved a technical issue due also to the vertical urban environment of the hotels battle. High-rise buildings are sought after by armed elements and snipers – as it also happened in Sarajevo and more recently in Cairo during the uprising – as advantageous points. But the distance from the top floors of the hotel and the ground meant that once the lever is released, the grenade would explode in mid-air. For those barricaded in the rooftop bar of the Holiday Inn who aimed to retain the building from the advancing rival militias numerous floors below, Glanades solved the problem:

We were inside, they wanted to enter […] we did a smart trick, which tells you how we were thinking. We put the grenades inside one of the glasses there and we threw them from above. And so [they] reached below, keeping [themselves] instead of exploding in the air. We were on the 24th floor and we were able to make it. It was, down below, completely scattered with dead and wounded because we had prepared the whole bar! There were from 24 to 36 grenades, we put them on the balcony and then tac-tac-tac, we threw them and they fell. It was nearly a massacre.
(Anonymous former Lebanese Front fighter, 22 November 2005, Beirut).

Sketch of glanade, based on militiaman’s description. ©Sara Fregonese 2011

Once the glass broke on impact with the ground, the lever would be released and the grenade ignited to explode. The ultimate tool of denial of the Other, the grenade, meets the artifact allowing of everyday conviviality and encounter of the Other: a drinking glass. The Glanade is the device where cosmopolitanism and its opposite destructively merge, but also where the fine line between peace and violence can be discussed, unpacked, and renegotiated.

The installation brings the visual and material language of the luxury hotel into coincidence with the instruments of war and the strategic value of elevation and location to the urban militia.

Below are a few images of the design and fabrication processes involved in making the work.

Replica grenades and bar glasses were vacuum plated in this pressure vessel.

Replica grenades and bar glasses vacuum being plated in a pressure vessel.

Bespoke bar coasters being laser cut and etched.

Bar coasters being laser cut and etched.

Grenades in glasses, pins pulled and primed, ready to drop to the street.

Grenades in glasses, pins pulled and primed, ready to drop to the street.