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Fundamentalisms of the New Order

Coppenhagen
2002
Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige

By JEAN CHARLES MASSERA
(A face-to-face then e-interview)

For a very long time we explored the dif- ferent ways of representing the city. Le cede de confusion (The Circle of Confusion) is the epilogue to a project entitled L ‘Archeologie de notre regard (The archaeology of our gaze). What interested us was [how to represent the city after a catastrophe, after a war that lasted over 15 years. How could we rediscover the materiality and the power of the image?]

The “circle of confusion” is a technical term that defines the ability of a camera made to a partrcular specification to distinguish two points.

[The photo we are showing here is an aerial view taken in 1997, seven years after the war offically ended. It is in no way a reference to the east-west conflict that split the country, it is a different, less usual, take on the war]. The photograph was cut into 3000 pieces stuck to a mirror. Each of these 3000 fragments was numbered. The photo could never disappear completely because it is three metres high, although some people did try, just for fun, to reconfigure the picture. Ideally, I would like to know which bits people arc most likely to choose. The elements of the picture that are chosen first or re- moved most ofien are the sea, the green spaces and the cars.. . Each time we put this work on show, people have reacted differently. You could make an interesting study of the reactions of different audi- ences in different places.

[When a person takes a piece, it means something to that person, but when they show it to someone else, the fragment is out of context, it is something singular, something abstract, just a piece of a photograph. There is something fetishistic in the choice of image, but that fetishism only has meaning for the person making the choice be- cause often it is just a grainy bit of the photo. By removing a piece, the spectator destroys the picture but at the same time uncovers the mirror. There is kind of an attempt to appropriate the picture as it IS dismantled]. Bchind each fragment are written the words “Beirut does not exist”, which recall tacan’s phrase “woman does not exist”. The more the mirror is uncovered the greater the reflection of the context in which the installation is being shown. This means that the reflection becomes part of the picture, which is brought to life by the physical presence of the spectators as they pass by and are them- selves reflected. The use of the mirror creates yet another Lacanian reference – the mirror stage.

The political aspect is also very important. [We all have a certain idea of what Beirut is – a huge building site with all those reconstruction projects. You can draw a parallel between the idea of this area of a land being torn apart, and the break up of the land that happened when the private company Soldere Issued shares and bonds in exchange for apartments and plots of land in Beirut city centre. The territorial questions are crucial, as are those about perception and about our own situation, like when we ask ourselves “what am I doing here?” or “how can I get involved?” It is essential to construct a way of seeing. In writing “Beirut does not exist” we could also say “Beirut makes us exist” so creating a stage in the formation of a point of view]. In reclaiming a tiny piece we are imbuing it with significance. Wherever and whenever that happens there is some form of selectivity and creation of meaning.

Destroying the picture iS an iconoclastic gesture, but at the same time the fetishistic aspect carries with it an affection for the icon. It demonstrates all thc problems raised by the issue of representation, especially in this part of the world. [For us, there is first of all the re- action to the Orientalist attitude that treats us Arabs with disdain. At the same time there is the problem of getting caught between that attitude and the forms of our own representations. ..I Above all [the political authorities that govern us don’t recognise us and sometimes place us in positions in which we don’t even recognise ourselves. These authorities don’t encourage imagery, apart from the official imagery of the powers that be]. Hence it is difficult to create common ground. You find yourself in the position of a solitary individual in search of a community.

Le cercle de confusion is also an attempt to reflect the present.  We are caught between a mythologized past and a future that we  cannot yet connect with, the promised future with which they try to  delude us. As for the present, there is a need to take a stand, whatever  the problems, and a need to escape disaster. As I see it, this is  the scenario in Beirut, played out against a specific history and in a  specific context. [Here we long to believe that we aren’t just something  exotic, always on the margins, but that we are at the centre of  things].

?can this model, this difficulty in representing reality, apply to  3 cases other than Lebanon… ?

I think it applies whenever we are presented with a superficial image  behind which all the rest remains hidden. Representation is difficult,  not impossible. The search goes on. We are trying to say that,despite the way things are, there is something that transcends everything  and continues to move forward. The search for something  “playful” is also very important: [with this representation, this act, we  introduce a certain frivolity, a sense of fun that refuses to be stifled by  the weight of history. It isn’t a case of wanting to be freed from history,  but to “be”, to be in the sense of acting, doing, enjoying, of simply  being there].