Walid Raad is a Lebanese artist who, under the name “The Atlas Group” exhibits a collection of documents related to the wars in Lebanon from 1975 to 1991. The documents range in format from photography to video, and each more or less addresses some aspect of effect of the wars. Each set of documents is also accompanied by a story. In the collection titled “The Thin Neck Files,” Raad produces a series of 50 photographs of engine blocks surrounded by a group of people. The story goes that when a car bomb explodes, the only piece remaining intact is the engine block, which is often thrown hunders of feet in any direction. With the more than 3,600 bombs detonated over the course of the wars, there developed a competition between reporters to be the first to photograph the scene when the engine was found.
Another file catalogs the notebooks of a Dr. Fakhouri, one of which is esplained as such:
“Each of the notebook pages includes a cutout photograph of a car that matches the make, model, and color of a car that was used as a car bomb, as well as text written in Arabic that details the place, time, and date of the explosion, the number of casualties, the perimeter of destruction, the exploded car’s engine and axle numbers, and the weight and type of the explosives used.”
While some of the documents are related directly to the war others are more tangential, such as another notebook of Dr. Fakhouri, which provides detailed accounts of a gambling scheme set up by historians of the Lebanese wars involving a racetrack. From the files:
“It is a little known fact that the major historians of the Lebanese wars were avid gamblers. It is said that they met every Sunday at the race track — Marxists and Islamists bet on races one through seven, Maronite nationalists and socialists on races eight through fifteen.
Race after race, the historians stood behind the track photographer, whose job was to image the winning horse as it crossed the finish line, to record the photo-finish. It is also said that they convinced (some say bribed) the photographer to snap only one picture as the winning horse arrived. Each historian wagered on precisely when — how many fractions of a second before or after the horse crossed the finish line — the photographer would expose his frame.”
The documents presented by Raad serve to show the different aspects of the wars, and how they affected the city of Beirut and the national psyche. Although not at first apparent, all the documents are completely fake. Raad’s explanation is that the wars, now 20 years past, are still completely denied by the government, and no official accounts exist of what actually happened. Thus, a fictional archive such as that of the Atlas Group is actually a more realistic portrayal of the wars than the official history.
This is very interesting for our project because it shows how fiction can serve to create a deeper understanding of a situation, especially when dealing with sensitive issues like war. It also uses formats typically reserved for factual accounts to create alternate scenarios of the past. We can use similar techniques of fictional documents, news reports, documentaries, etc., to produce a vision or representation of our scenarios for the future. It would also be interesting to use the same tools to critically examine the past and highlight those aspects that have an affect on our future scenarios.
I highly recommend checking out the complete archives online or checking out the show if it comes around.