Possible Narrations – Artistic Practices in Lebanon brings together vivid examples of how Lebanese artists use images to redeem the identity and the memory of a nation disrupted by almost two decades of conflicts.
Philosophers, architects, journalists, painters and sculptors, sought out electronic support not only through paths of aesthetical experimentation, but in a search for an effective tool in which to approach and overcome existential, political and aesthetical issues.
With Akram Zaatari and Christine Tohme as curators, the show is composed of six installations, videos (see "Video Shows"), two essays on an image specially produced for the catalogue of the 14th Festival, and a performance-lecture with Walid Raad (see in "Debates").
Curator's text Christine Tohme, 2003
We have been taught that the property of an image, or more accurately of a representation, is to resist verbalization. After all, what is the purpose of making images if these images can be reduced to the words that account for them? This question is, of course, always put forth, but it does not and it cannot summarize the complexity of the relationship that exists between the image and its narrative. Maybe a way through this complex relation is to further its complexity, to radicalize it even more. We often talk of the relationship between the image and the narrative(s) that surrounds it as if they were two separate and absolute entities, defined finitely. And we often forget that these two entities are always contingent, that they always elude definitions and acquire new meanings as they evolve in time and space. And if so, in what terms should the relationship between images and texts be (re)defined? One can feel so puny when broaching such issues, especially after all that has been written about the subject. But the issue is pressing, almost urgent. We live in a part of the world where images, produced elsewhere, are consumed; and images produced by our region seem to be always marginalized, as if living in a space and time of their own. How to get past this ‘division of labor’ is a question that adds another layer of complexity to the relationship of images and narratives – and we should, at all costs, avoid simplistic answers and easy way-outs. In today’s globalized world it is not sufficient to simply go to the margins (where locally produced images lay), scream “Eureka!” and proclaim the sovereignty of a newly found identity that should be extracted from these images. Maybe it would be productive to try establishing an extra-territoriality, above and beyond the domain established by an intellectual provincialism that views the world as a dichotomy between the ‘local’ and the ‘global’.
ASSOCIAÇÃO CULTURAL VIDEOBRASIL, "Deslocamentos - 14º Festival Internacional de Arte Eletrônica Videobrasil", p. 81, São Paulo, SP, 2003.
Curator's text 2003
The Possible Narratives
A result of a long and intense exchange between Associação Cultural Videobrasil and curators Akram Zaatari and Christine Tohme, both key figures in the articulation of the new Lebanese electronic art, “Possible Narratives” is in a certain way the spot where all the curatorial longings of this historical edition of the Festival meet. With little less than ten years, the production revealed by it is a paradigm of consistence and contemporaneousness amidst the amazing panorama of the electronic art from the southern circuit — and, in this sense, the ideal complement to the map that the Competitive Show wants do outline. In addition there is the very specific way in which these artists use the image to redeem the identity and memory of a nation disrupted by almost two decades of sanguinary religious and political conflicts, in order to reveal and, at the same time, transcend the “collective post-traumatic amnesia” described by essayist Jalal Toufic, one of the names in the show. Recurrent in the works selected for the Competitive, this political use of the electronic image and of its appropriation, manipulation and overlaying was never so pungent as in the gesture of the artists gathered in “Possible Narratives”.
Philosophers, architects, journalists, painters and sculptors, they came to the video not by the regular path of the aesthetical experimentation, but by means of the pursuit of an agile, effective and powerful support which could work as a tool to surmount urgent and pungent existential and political issues. A combination of an often rough aesthetics with sophisticated intellectual resources, this singular production showed its contours for the first time in the Festival in 1996, with the experimental documentary “Teach Me”, by Akram Zaatari. To Associação Videobrasil, the discovery of a powerful focus of aesthetical and political resistance in a nation which we used to confuse with civil war was the corroboration of the plain potential of the southern circuit. To Zaatari, the participation in the Festival showed him the importance to become an active instigator of the Lebanese production.
The desire to exhibit this production in a comprehensive way in Brazil, without incurring an Orientalist naive view, has arisen at that point, as well as the collaboration between Associação Videobrasil and Zaatari — whose work will soon become the theme of a Retrospective (which will be part of the collection) and of a documentary of Videobrasil Authors Collection series. The formatting process of the show, which involved Brazilian poet Waly Salomão, had the essential collaboration of curator Christine Tohme, who, at the head of the Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts, is responsible for a large part of the recent stimulus to the contemporary art production in that nation. To Brazil, which shall send to Lebanon, at the end of the year, its first statesman since D. Pedro II, that is a unique chance to know one of the major richnesses of the nation: the intelligence of an art which uses images to heal its painful immemory.
ASSOCIAÇÃO CULTURAL VIDEOBRASIL, "Displacements - 14th International Eletronic Art Festival": 22nd September to 19th October 2003, pp. 244, São Paulo, Brazil, 2003.
Curator's text Akram Zaatari, 2003
Maybe it is to the artist’s advantage that some images are found detached from their narratives. Images without narratives, found images, anonymous documents, push us as readers to project our own concerns with an image, our own histories, and fantasies, thus provide us with many “possible narratives” for every image. However we do not wish that all images got separated from their stories, histories, from the people who took them or featured in them. On the contrary, we consider that unofficial narratives like rumors or stories often collected and presented to explain an image, and even captions, constitute a parallel history, indicative of how images are used by their makers and diffusers, and what relationships tie them to their respective environments and times of production. We live in a part of the world where history is a territory of disagreements that often led to wars. We live in a part of the world where images were often used as elements of evidence to the advantage of a version of this history and the disadvantage of another. Existing images have been a concern for many Lebanese artists who used archives, signs, personal photographs, and other existing visual documents, to reflect on and understand the mechanism with which images are made, or diffused, in order to question history and other complex phenomena that surround them. “The Possible Narratives” is concerned with all the links that may tie existing images, fossils or pieces of archeology that may or may not carry history within them, to narratives and space, using different media: performance, video, photography or writing.
ASSOCIAÇÃO CULTURAL VIDEOBRASIL, "Displacements - 14th International Eletronic Art Festival": 22nd September to 19th October 2003, pp. 246, São Paulo, Brazil, 2003.
Essay Jalal Toufic, 2000
If You Prick Us, Do We Not Bleed? No.
Dedicated to the living memory of Gilles Deleuze, a non-revengeful philosopher
Have we not eyes? No: “You have seen nothing in Hiroshima” (Duras); “but He charged them to tell no one what had happened” (Luke 8:56). Have we not hands [?] No - the man without hands in Bokanowski's “L'Ange”. Organs [?] No - Daniel Paul Schreber “lived for a long time without a stomach, without intestines… without a bladder”; and for Artaud, “the body is the body/ it is all by itself/ and has no need of organs.” Dimensions, senses [?] Not, if one is a yogi who has achieved pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses. Affections [?] No - returning from the battlefields of World War I, Virginia Woolf's Septimus “could not feel.” Passions [?] Not, if we have achieved Spinoza's third kind of knowledge. Fed with the same food [?] No: “there is no remedy for satisfying hunger other than a painted rice cake” (Dogen). Hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means [?] No, Judge Schreber is hurt and healed by divine rays. Warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? No: “Junkies always beef about The Cold as they call it, turning up their black coat collars and clutching their withered necks… pure junk con. A junky does not want to be warm, he wants to be cool-cooler-COLD. But he wants The Cold like he wants His Junk - NOT OUTSIDE, where it does him no good but inside so he can sit around with a spine like a frozen hydraulic jack… his metabolism approaching Absolute Zero” (Burroughs). - If you prick us, do we not bleed? No: during the fire-walking ceremonies of the South Indian community in Suva, Fiji, the participants pierce their cheeks, foreheads, tongues, and/or ears, without any blood coming out. Was my video “'Âshûrâ': This Blood Spilled in My Veins”, 1996, with its documentation of ritualistic bloodletting, a demonstration that Shi'ites too can bleed? If indeed a demonstration, it would be one only for the benefit of the Israelis and the Americans, so that they would be able to ascertain that we too bleed without having to bombard us in Southern Lebanon. I, a Shi'ite, certainly do not need such a demonstration since I already feel even the blood in my veins to be spilled blood irrespective of any wounds suffered in my life; since I already feel that I am bleeding in my veins. But “'Âshûrâ': This Blood Spilled in My Veins” is not really a demonstration that if pricked, we do bleed: I am not a revengeful person. Already a certain disturbance is introduced in this formula by those who although they bleed, do so without being pricked or wounded: the stigmata of many saints and of many hysterics; the blood spilled in the veins of many Shi'ites. In Shakespeare's “The Merchant of Venice”, the lawyer informs the Jew Shylock that he is indeed permitted by the contract signed by his debtor Antonio to cut one pound of flesh from the latter's body, but that he has to do so without spilling one jot of blood, otherwise he would be persecuted for the attempted murder of a Christian. The lawyer's stipulation is a reminder to him that Antonio bleeds. This stipulation would imply that while specifying the contract, Shylock had become oblivious of the eventuality that if pricked, Antonio is going to bleed. Did I need to reach the latter part of the discourse of Portia-as-lawyer when she lists all the punishments that Shylock is to suffer to know that she is a revengeful person? Was it not enough her implying to Shylock during her defense of Antonio: “If you prick us [Christians], do we not bleed?”. Shylock's desistance from making an incision in Antonio's flesh to take one pound of it - in fear of spilling blood, and of possibly causing the death of a Christian - is still a revengeful gesture. Had Antonio started bleeding through stigmata, would that have stopped the revenge by reminding Shylock that Antonio too bleeds? Were the bleeding through stigmata to happen at places other than the contours of the area designated to suffer the incision, it would, on the contrary, be a revengeful gesture. Could revenge have truly been stopped? Had Shakespeare's play proceeded not with the lawyer's refusal of Shylock's belated proposal to settle for money, and the subsequent revengeful long list of punishments, ranging from religious - conversion - to financial, imposed on him by the lawyer; but, to everyone's surprise, including Antonio, with the latter's sudden bleeding through stigmata at the precise contours of the area specified in the contract - whether in the manner of saints or hysterically -revengefulness on both sides could possibly have been stopped. Antonio's bleeding through stigmata at the precise contours of the specified area for the incision would have provided Shylock with the opportunity to take revenge since he could then have cut the pound of flesh and nothing would have incontestably proven that the spilled blood is from the wounds inflicted by him rather than from the stigmata (in this play where a woman and her maid assume the role of a lawyer and his subordinate, where Shylock's daughter disguises herself as a man, etc., the blood from an externally inflicted wound would have disguised itself as blood seeping through the stigmata). The bleeding through stigmata at those precise areas would have made apparent to all those present, including Shylock and the lawyer, that Antonio does not bleed from the incision, that when pricked he does not bleed as a result of that. Such bleeding would have provided Shylock with the opportunity to take revenge, while taking away from him the revengeful logic of similarity. Would psychosomatic bleeding have stopped the Christian Phalangists, and their accomplice and overlord, the Israeli army, from massacring the Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila? I do not think so. If you tickle us, do we not laugh? I, for one, don't, and not because I am depressed, but because all in all I find this historical period so laughable that were I to start laughing I am afraid I would not be able to stop. I remember how when high on marijuana my ex-girlfriend would giggle virtually at everything on and on. I have never had this kind of extended laughter on the few instances I smoked pot. Yet I am sure that were I to start laughing in this, my normal state of consciousness, my laughter would certainly eclipse hers. As for her, there was no danger of her starting laughing and not managing to stop, dying of it: she did not find contemporary societies that laughable. All I ask of this world to which I have already given three books is that it become less laughable, so that I would be able to laugh again without dying of it. And that it does this soon, before my somberness becomes second nature. This era has made me somber not only through all the barbarisms and genocides it has perpetuated, but also through being so laughable. Even in this period of the utmost sadness for an Arab in general, and an Iraqi in specific, I fear dying of laughter more than of melancholic suicide, and thus I am more prone to relinquish my guard when it comes to being sad than to laughing at laughable phenomena. The quite humorous thinker Nietzsche must have been living in a less laughable age than this one for him to still afford the sublimity of “To see tragic natures sink and to be able to laugh at them, despite the profound understanding, the emotion and the sympathy which one feels - that is divine.” In a laughable epoch, even the divinities are not immune to this death from laughter: wasn't this according to Nietzsche why and how the gods died on hearing one of them declare that he is the only God (“Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, “Of the Apostates”)? At this point in history, can one still laugh on reading Nietzsche, Beckett, Bernhard? Have this age not stolen from us a major facet of these works: their humor? Can contemporary humorous people still find Richard Foreman's work, or for that matter my early work, laughable -without dying of that? All funny people in laughable ages are not humorous enough; to find the most humorous people in such a period one has to look among the serious, who need this seriousness not to expire in laughter. In this respect, I reached a critical point on June 20, 1996. I was standing in a fairly long line at a counter at the Ralphs supermarket on Wilshire and Bundy, Los Angeles. The employee had just headed toward one of the far-off aisles to check the price of one of the items brought by a customer. Amidst the many magazines on the adjoining rack, I saw the current issue of “Time”. Its cover story was: “America's 25 Most Influential People.” Flipping through the pages to get to the section in question, I was suddenly seized by an apprehension verging on anxiety: that starting to laugh on reading some of the listed names I would not be able to stop, even my aroused seriousness proving this time inadequate to do the job as a defense mechanism. Four months later, I still do not know whether the intense apprehension I felt then was warranted. But from that day on an even more heightened vigilance against starting to laugh has become one of the salient features of my life.1 If you poison us, do we not die? No, we cannot die, whether because we have unfinished business (in a restrained perspective: old King Hamlet; or an extended one: the death and rebirth cycles of Hinayana Buddhism); or because we have become fundamentally liberated from any unfinished business, and now when in life are fully in life, when in death are fully in death, birth not leading to death, death not leading to life (Dogen's “Birth and Death” [“Shoji”]). Were we only the living, who at some future date biologically die and are no more, there would be only the revengeful morality of identification - don't we too cry, laugh, and biologically die, etc.? - to prevent us from murdering others and to prevent others from murdering us. What should persuade against murder is rather that we are mortal beings, hence already undead even as we live and that as undead we undergo every name in history is I. The revengeful rhetorical question “Don't we too bleed, laugh, and (biologically) die?” should be replaced by “They can make us cry, laugh, they can kill us - that's all.” The question that directly follows the preceding ones from “The Merchant of Venice” is: And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? How insightful of Shakespeare to detect and intimate that such a manner of thinking that dwells on similarity is a revengeful one. It is revengeful neither simply because one can take revenge only on what has affections, senses, etc., i.e., on one who can be affected by the revenge, nor just because revenge is one more similarity - if we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that (Act III, scene I, 53-62); but as such. Yes, ultimately, every discourse that invokes a fundamental similarity is a revengeful one, is a discourse of revenge. Nietzsche writes somewhere that it is human to take revenge, inhuman not to take it. Wouldn't that be also because humanism (don't we too laugh, bleed, [biologically] die…?) is revengeful, even outside any wrong suffered, even or especially when it invokes a tolerant coexistence based on a fundamental similarity? And aren't many of the aforementioned manners of saying No to such revengeful questions experiments in evading, undoing, the generalized revengefulness around? - unfortunately, in some instances failing and resulting in yet other kinds of revenge.
From “Forthcoming” (Berkeley, CA: Atelos, 2000), pp. 41-46.
1 It is still unclear to me why it was that this anomalous apprehension happened in this case and not say in response to the news that following the massacre of tens of praying Palestinians in the mosque in Hebron by a Jewish extremist a curfew was imposed on the Palestinian population of 130,000 rather than on the 450 Jewish settlers in their midst (arguably to guard against potential reprisals by the Palestinians); or on reading in the US mainstream newspapers that Iraq is “invading” its north.
ASSOCIAÇÃO CULTURAL VIDEOBRASIL, "Displacements - 14th International Eletronic Art Festival": 22nd September to 19th October 2003, pp. 250-251, São Paulo, Brazil, 2003.
Essay Bilal Khbeiz, 2003
Images of Little Means
Eye witness reports from Palestine tell of events too difficult to believe were it not for the explanatory logic of violent daily confrontations between the occupying Israeli army and the Palestinian people. These reports recount situations where cities are severed and isolated, so that a pregnant woman is utterly unable to reach her doctor located somewhere behind an Israeli checkpoint, a no man's land or a battlefront. These situations are potentially replete with ideas for a scenario where a pregnant woman is examined by her doctor via the Internet or a mobile telephone. Such a scenario is very real and as such can constitute a sufficiently rich subject for a kind of cinema that can travel the world, collecting prizes at film festivals in Europe, Asia and Americas. The demand for the manufacture of such images is actually prevalent. It requires of the image-maker no more than a close inspection of the traces and consequences of Palestinian urban and social disintegration, and the documentation of the improvised - and often insufficient -techniques employed by individuals and the community in their attempts at scrimping and saving. And yet, we know that such a situation cannot persist for long. Social disintegration born of the severance of urban connectivity can quickly lead to a pre-urban mode of existence, which is in itself an anachronistic and deadly stage of attempted self-sufficiency. In this state, every elderly woman can become a midwife and every quinquagenarian man can assume the experience to advise the ill, prescribe herbal treatment and perform cauterization and cupping. A pre-urban stage of existence where the primary source for foods becomes the narrow strip of land around the house and not the neighboring super-market. Such a stage would eventually become irreversible and deadly, already witnessed in recent years in Sudan and Ethiopia, as the occupying Israeli army persists in expelling Palestinian inhabitants off their land. Then, the images of disintegration once solicited and exhibited around the world summarily degenerate into embarrassing and shameful images, as Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf noticed when viewing images from Afghanistan under Taliban rule. Makhmalbaf is certainly not a stranger to this dilemma. He is a producer of images from an Iran which he sees and portrays as a society struggling to remain within the stipulations of a civilized urbanity and toiling to maintain the necessary provisions for its endurance. Makhmalbaf's images are noticeably strange and stunning, yet they do not capitulate to the fantasy of whimsical imagination supported by an advanced cinematic technique. Makhmalbaf is, along with other Third World cinematographers, an activist striving to extend the possibilities of the camera without necessarily reiterating in film the astonishment feigned by French magazine “Paris Match” when commenting on a picture of Iranian youth dancing at a party: “Look, they dance as we do!” Yet, the images which issue from this part of the world, toiling to carry the dense traces of a complex and uncertain living, are generally of little, even impoverished, means when compared with the wealth of images produced in other nations in the world. As a start, let us state the rather obvious fact that Iranians do not have the luxury to produce films on inter-galactic wars. And that historical films and commercial television series produced in this region cannot imaginatively extrapolate as American Westerns do without having to rely on a vague, magical and bygone time. A time that is, by definition, that of fables and mythical biographies which preceded the rules and edicts of the modern novelistic narration. For us here, all imaginative extrapolation is costly, since it becomes necessary to neglect spatial and temporal specificities, and also to accommodate the more obvious signs of an anachronistic use of classical language, not to mention a resurrection of abandoned social structures. Such are the conditions of successful and popular historical films and series. As for hagiographies and heroic tales of such figures as Abi Obeida Ben Al Jarrah, these would most probably be better produced and distributed by Hollywood than by local studios such as Baalbek and Al Sham for production. One can venture to claim that the images that issue from this part of the world are cunning, but of little means. They are cunning because they expose the stunning discrepancies of countries constantly living under a martial law that is at times imposed by a dictatorial rule, as in many Middle Eastern nations, and at other times by societies spent by social and political unrest, as in many Third World countries. The two causes, pretexts rather, can often be found to overlap. Thus, these images are cunning but they are also of little means. Their first attribute is that they mark the last stage of a social system before it is indelibly lost, or rather decays, into another regressive stage. Their second attribute in consequence is that they can never be produced again. Certainly, regional filmmakers can find the means to shoot and produce more images. But they are always final images. For the moment captured on film, although temporally preceding the film, is paradoxically the future of the real present. The image documented is the coveted and wished-for future, virtual in our sense, and for which one can only be nostalgic. Consider, for example, the constant demand for that series of images of pre-war Beirut. Colorful postcards, which live on nostalgia for a bygone era and feed a pressing desire to retrieve it. Similarly, images of a disintegrating Palestinian society struggling on the edge of a forced nomadism are also images of a wished-for future. In the least, they are the hoped-for beginnings of a future that begins with these images and gradually develops into a state where normalcy in human relations and social co-existence are again possible and visible, not only pictorially intelligible. In other words, and to give an example, a Palestinian would not wait long and humiliating hours at an Israeli checkpoint to reach his new-born baby with the precious milk of his wife's breast collected in a plastic bottle had he not been fully cognizant of the vital importance of modern medicine. Otherwise, he would have been content with a mid-wife delivering the baby at home, as he would have been also content with treating his ailing child with local medicinal herbs and other concocted mixtures. But, he does know. And so, he struggles for that knowledge and, because of it, to remain as close as possible to a recognizable civilized and enlightened mode of living. The images of this man and others like him are bitter and laughable. The bitterness is understandable, but laughter is what puzzles the learned viewer who finds no other way but to wholeheartedly praise and uncritically agree with these complex and difficult images. To Palestinians, these images are the last visible and understandable images of what they used to be and of what they will never manage to be again. These images may be documents of a past, but they also tell of a dire need to return to it. This man, of whose example we speak, asks simply for open roads and a basic mobility so that he can reach his wife and new-born child as any man can obviously expect to do in New York, London or Paris. He wants to be what he used to be, no more no less. He wants to remain visible, even if only on the edges of civilization. At least, standing on that edge, he can be recorded and so remain visible. How beautiful is the future when its image is so present in the past and so realized in our senses. Such a complex situation also marked Beirut after the war. One can recollect for example, how a horde of photographers flocked to capture the destruction of the Beirut souks after the civil war. In one instance, they all waited, fingers tensed, to take pictures of the eradication of the famous Rivoli building (which did not fit into the plans drawn up by the private company in charge of reconstructing the Capital's central district, Solidere). The collapse and demise of the building were photographed with a passionate, even obsessive, nostalgia. Tangentially, such strong emotions told us once again that other buildings could have been saved had we been a little more considerate about this past of ours that is also our hope for a future. Once the building had been eradicated and razed, other photographers documented the now-empty location. Those pictures were certainly not invitations to contemplate the spirit of the desert, in the manner of Libyan novelist Ibrahim Al Kawni. Rather, their voices, simply and naively, invited us to contemplate this vacuity. Here the Rivoli building had stood, and here it was buried. Those pictures remained mute, and divulged their purpose only with added commentaries. Even when garrulous, talk is often salutary, for, in this part of the world, it may give places a history. But only that. The two attributes of images mentioned above, that of little means and cunning, are a decidedly explosive combination. Images usually say that a situation is merely temporary, as in the case of the bullet-ridden Rivoli building. The invitation to leave it as is, marked by the war, was hard to accept, since it lacked a convincing logic. Everyone knew that the Rivoli building would inevitably be altered. Its renovation would have deflected, even corrupted, its historical program, as it did with other buildings, and would have dragged it into the present, so feared by images in general. On the other hand, destroying the building would inevitably produce a painful lacuna in the middle of a city and deprive its future of a remarkable landmark. In other words, and no matter what the course of action had been, the situation would have inevitably worsened, keeping in mind that the constant pressures of martial law promises always an increased general social decay and disintegration. The Palestinian situation is perhaps more obvious in this sense. There, almost no one hopes for better days any more. And, although they are certain that logic is on their side and that they are undoubtedly the victims of a mad and murderous political and military might, they nevertheless are painfully aware that no logic can save them from the destruction that besieges them. Nor can it spare them from forcibly becoming a nomad people in a literal desert as Norman Solomon noticed when observing the systematic changes effectuated by the Israeli bulldozers on the Palestinian ecology. Such is the violence of the situation that even the dubious benefit of becoming nomads is also seriously threatened with extinction. The future for Palestinians is bitter and gloomy. For that matter, all attempts at maintaining the wounds of war indefinitely is as desired as it is impossible. And so, images strive and strain to document, even exalt, this painful present in a clearly disturbing and sadistic fashion. Those who look at images from this part of the world recognize that the subject matter is transient while the images are sadly eternal. Every image in these places carries the cumbersome fragrance of its moment, and moves in the opposite direction to its subject matter. The former moves forward into the future, while the latter regresses unto an invisible past. Such is the contradiction that images attempt to visibly maintain. It is precisely this aversion that makes the image readable to the public. In such cases, the image-maker has the eye and the spirit of a historian and the timing of a prophet. But mind you, making images of history is different from making images for history. The former, in our case, is impossible. History has occurred and images are impotent in proving anything, even if they are dutifully accepted as a witness, a “Machine de la Vision”, to quote Paul Virilio, that should never be contradicted as in all modern and technologically advanced societies. An image of a building in the Beirut central district cannot tell us much about history. For, unless it is preceded by actual historical events, it may simply appear as a well-manufactured visual commodity from one of Hollywood's studios. To have history precede the image means that the viewer of Elia Suleiman's film “Divine Intervention” cannot watch with unaffected innocence. Quite on the contrary, this viewer must have a minimum amount of knowledge to be capable of looking on with the attention of a historian and a politician and with solidarity and empathy. The viewer definitely cannot watch with the cursory and casual look of a man who reads of the collapse of a shelter in Baghdad, finishes his morning coffee and then heads to work. That is why Suleiman cannot make images of the past but can certainly film the future. That is why he can prophesize the coming future and invent its images with impunity. It is perhaps unimportant to linger on the kinds of images that dominate the work of Lebanese, Iraqi and Palestinian filmmakers. The images that could not have been born were it not for a profound death that prevails in these parts of the world. These images tell of the future, and seem - to me - to rely on an insufferable amount of opportunism. And so it is perhaps better to speak of more intelligent images. Images with depth and wider horizons. Many names come to mind, such as Kiarostami, Suleiman and Makhmalbaf. These filmmakers are remarkable for their images, which seem to breathe as deeply as trees do. Living and pulsating images, which nevertheless are noticeably incapable of maneuvering in the open air, so to speak. Images with the precision of faces, which even when simply scanning the skies, fields and stretches of wilderness, seem to humbly complain and implore the heavens. When journalists dutifully interview Palestinians who have just witnessed the razing of their home by the Israeli war-machine, they ask them what they plan to do next. The answers are often: “We have God.” For God is all that is left once a man has been denuded and exposed. God is the only one who can accept without stipulations their apparent demotion from the ranks of the housed and the living. The homeless Palestinians look at the sky and seem to remember its breathtaking beauty, as if it had been hidden for years by their own built roofs. The sky is all that can be spoken of with familiarity and safety. Remember, if you will, those magical views of Iran's mountains in Makhmalbaf's films and perhaps then you will realize how close God is to the expelled. It is with such images, images that breathe even when quarantined, that the world needs to acquaint itself. The irony of this situation requires a few words. Catastrophes and wars precipitate an acquaintance with these parts of the world. Furthermore, the wars here are more violent, thus more memorable, than others. Some are privileged with attention, international partialities and televised debates while others continue on, unheard of, beneath the airwaves. A war-torn people may become jealous of another whose war receives such coveted attention. It is therefore not an exaggeration to say that the Sudanese envy the Iraqis for the media coverage of their recent war. The Sudanese succumb to a silent war and only appear on TV when starving and mute, with bulging eyes. The realities of a Sudanese war cannot be privileged with an image unless it is drenched in blood. Such an image, although capable of producing a minimal shudder in the minds of distant TV viewers, is nevertheless painfully naive and of little means when shown near its own pool of blood. Equally naive and of little means were the defenders of the Rivoli building. Following the official end of the Lebanese civil war, we witnessed the popular transaction of postcards showing lively and busy scenes of pre-war Beirut. These vociferous and vibrant images presumed that the present destruction had a past. But it quickly became clear that these images, and the attention they aroused in the buying public, stated a different logic. They said that images linger longer than cities do. Cities die while the living grieve over their images. Generally, one can be content with considering that images are of the past. Yet, these postcards increasingly appeared as our future. Lebaneses did not have any other pictures of their city living and vibrant. They wanted to resurrect it, as it appeared to have been. These postcards quickly became a future, which Lebaneses were willing to defend. The city, its buildings and streets, died but their images were there to inspect and contemplate. And so, we looked for a Beirut that is as vibrant and living as the one in the pictures. As part of an installation entitled “Wonderful Beirut”, artists and filmmakers Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas, exhibited a series of these pre-war Beirut postcards, which they marked and scarred with burns. Their work seemed to say that if these postcards are what remain intact from a destroyed city then why not also mutilate the images in an act of revenge. For, how can a city die while its images are allowed to survive? And why do images resist degradation and death? How do we produce and rear these photographic creatures which will inevitably outlive us and will certainly not bemoan our death? What can one do in front of eternal creatures? Let us then destroy images and so prove, even if only once, that an image is destructible. Of course, in the act itself all we are doing is making another image. Yet at least the destruction has taken place. A little operation which posits that an image can be destroyed, but more importantly, that an image is begotten by another. In such a case, we can perhaps withstand images completely, but, then again, only if they beget themselves and are not born out of lived experience. It is possible then to coexist with them, quite unlike the situation where images seem of a present death that does not end and cannot be relegated to a past. For there we were when the image was taken and we know that as its subject matter we are most probably no longer alive. Facing the mutilated postcards of Joreige and Hadjithomas there stands a horde of other images, which are of this place as well. Images of actresses and singers and models, beautiful, alluring and frivolous. These images seem, increasingly, to emanate from a time that is not the time of day-jobs, household chores or that of watching a son grow up while one is slowly collapsing from fatigue. These images are indelibly those of youth and so we will never be able to run along with them. They look upon our tedious and toilsome daily living from their eternal positions. How can we actually remember an image of a fashion model? For do they not look upon us from the height of their eternal youth and ask how long we have been toiling here? The model says that she was just born and here we are slowly getting older. That may explain some of the anger we feel when viewing these images, and may also explain our anger when watching aging entertainers striving to seem young again. These images, although various and abundant, cannot assist us in claiming our present. For there are images, locked emblems such as the civil war, which hold our present hostage and frame it. In a way, this situation of ours is similar to that of the Iraqi prisoner who came out of imprisonment thirty years later to ask whether the leader Abdel Karim Kasem was still the governor of Iraq.
ASSOCIAÇÃO CULTURAL VIDEOBRASIL, "Displacements - 14th International Eletronic Art Festival": 22nd September to 19th October 2003, pp. 254-255, São Paulo, Brazil, 2003.