Cosmo-Clinical Interiors of Beirut examines the constructed space, interior finishes and designed protocols of the plastic surgery clinic to make perceptible its role in shaping subjects, virginity culture, and an ideal body. Here, architecture is understood as the confluence of the technological, social, and economic—not a built fact, but an organizing force in a constellation of produced and productive objects.
In 2018, we won VI PER Gallery's open call to produce our research project Cosmo-Clinical Interiors of Beirut as an exhibition. We conceived the show as physical installation and virtual reconstruction of the clinics we documented in our field research in Beirut. There, the construction of virginity and its bodily artifacts transpires in non-descript office towers in Al-Hamra and in purpose-built boutique-hotel-hospitals on the outer reaches of Beirut. In the gallery, reproduced interior environments and "critical hymen objects" pose other possible relationships to the desire and urgency felt for hymenoplastic procedures
The clinic lobby is a space that caters to desire and anticipates the business of modification. You wait there while Lebanese fashion TV plays. It's a site of intense display, furnished accordingly; a social space where women gather but do not speak to each other.
In our own entrance to this imaged waiting room, patients are greeted with a scent, something applied to simulate an atmosphere of womanliness. A glass eye dropper penetrates medical grade plastic, saline with essential oils mixed in the women's bazaar in Amman (the scents of a history of improvised virginity). Read a magazine while you wait; tear out its perfumed pages
The exam room is a site of intense scrutiny, but where you are also asked to recline: lay back, relax, shift your hips to the edge of the cushioned table, please.
Our furniture-scale hymen object turns that view back to the seen body: a surface for relaxation, reflection, but not absorption. Drawing from a history of women situated between cushions and hand mirrors, we leave odalisque to her own devices. What escapes her pools there, for her own uses.
The space of the self-examination room is extended by adorning yourself with the VR headset: a device that makes contiguous the atmosphere of the clinic and its common elements, and the body.
In lieu of attending medical instruments, an OculusGo sits atop a surgical tray. It's by wearing the headset that you, the visitor of the clinic in the gallery, can enter the OR. There, your already-seated body is transposed via another layer of the clinic simulation: presented on the two screens playing in front of each eye is a dream-image of the operation room. You anticipate the surgery that will not happen to you. Surgical instruments dance overhead. Voices speak and expand the room where they weren't before. Ham al-Banat lal Mamat. "Girls cause worry until death," she whispers the phrase she heard all her life.
Overnight stays are accommodated in the hospital-cum-boutique hotel.* Medical tourism necessitates a temporary domestic state, a bedroom that receives visitors, service, breakfast in bed.
At this threshold, a sheet, a rug, a blood-patterned plastic membrane is laid out to be ruined, hung on the wall, and replenished with a few turns of the hand. Pop pop pop. Hang the card on the door for service, these sheets are soiled.
*Practicing in central Beirut, Dr. Nader Saab is currently building a state-of-the-art plastic surgery clinic outside of the city with an adjoining boutique hotel for long-traveling patients to recover in comfort