still from I Only Wish That I Could Weep
via Artnet Magazine, 2/15/06 [excerpt]:
by Jerry Saltz
[...] Walid Raad/The Atlas Group, "The Dead Weight of a Quarrel Hangs: Documents from the Atlas Group," Jan. 7-Mar. 11, 2006, at the Kitchen, 512 West 19th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
Walid Raad, founder of the semi-fictitious Atlas Group, a collective that archives ephemera from Lebanon's civil war, shares both Borges's proclivity for elaborate fiction laced with apparent fact and Dante's rhetoric of exile. Raad transforms his native Lebanon into a kind of Beatrice, or lost love.
For Raad, Lebanon is a Gordian knot of notaries, dentists, professors and mechanics -- a principality of would-be revolutionaries, marginal characters and heartbroken souls. Instead of the totality of war, Raad fixates on its parts. He lets us know that there were 3,641 car bombs detonated in Beirut between 1975 and 1991. In seven collages titled Notebook Volume 38: Already Been in a Lake of Fire, an invented character named Dr. Fadl Fakhouri presents pictures of cars and Arabic writing. One image reads, "Silver Volvo; August 20, 1985; 56 killed; 120 injured; 100 kg of TNT; 24 cars burned; 11 buildings burned." Raad-Fakhouri fetishizes the facts of violence in Beirut the way Henry Darger recorded the weather in Chicago. Elsewhere, he gives us the serial numbers of engines that were blown from car bombs, how far each motor flew and where it landed.
The Atlas Group / Walid Raad, Notebook Volume 38;
'Already Been in a Lake of Fire, plates 57 and 58', 1975-2002
In Hostage: The Bachar Tapes, Raad, 38, recounts what he calls the "captivity narrative" of five American hostages held in Lebanon in the 1980s, adding a fictitious Arab who describes nocturnal homoerotic encounters. In Miraculous Beginnings we see a hallucinogenic 52-second film made by Dr. Fakhouri in which he exposed a frame every time he thought the war had come to an end. It's an abstract image of lost hopes and wishful thinking. In I Only Wish That I Could Weep we see furtive views of sunsets filmed by a Lebanese army intelligence officer posted to monitor a boardwalk in Beirut.
Borges wrote about the "pleasure of useless and out-of-the-way erudition." Rather than taking pleasure in arcana, Raad's work exudes a mania for minutiae that turns melancholic and openly joyless. His art is like a detective report or a communiqué from a secret agent: Facts are related, occurrences indexed, detachment and delusion mingle with obsession.
Yet for all his pseudo-scientific esotericism and his ultra-educated post-structuralism, Raad (or at least his character) is a textbook romantic: a man in search of the miraculous, a knight-errant taken with political intrigue, social estrangement and emptiness -- someone preoccupied with connections and affinities, real or not. As with all romantics, Raad is homesick. Lebanon for him is a refuge and nightmare, a utopia and a cult. Raad's vision of his war-torn country is part apparition, part anxiety attack and part healing fantasy. You can almost feel the incubus of history squatting on his chest and reciting Lucian's description of the passage to the Isle of Dreams: "As we approach, it recedes, and seems to get further and further off." This is Raad's relationship to Lebanon's civil war. [read on...]
more on The Atlas Group / Walid Raad from AFC:
Friday, January 13, 2006
Raad Shows Facts to be Not So Factual
[...] So what is The Atlas Group? This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer without giving away the project, but a good beginning was provided by Raad in a talk I attended in 2001. He explained that it is a foundation established in 1976 by artist Mahia Traboulsi dedicated to the preservation of rare and unusual artifacts from the Lebanese civil war. Since there were no archives to speak of in the beginning stages of the project Traboulsi fabricated relics, and lectured about the group, until it gradually received enough notoriety that people began send the foundation their own materials for study and conservation. In 2001 Raad claimed replica's of the original archived were never sent out for exhibition, for fear that they would be damaged, (though obviously this is meant to be a clue that they don't exist in the first place). [SPOILER WARNING AHEAD] In light of this information, it seems rather obvious that [...]
The point that imagined histories, are often indistinguishable from the real and will effect our understanding of historical events can not be understated in this work. [emphasis mine; read on...]