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Discourse 24.1 (2002) 85-98
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Tayyib Rah Farjîk Shighlî (OK, I'll Show You My Work)
Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige
Translated by Jalal Toufic
In 1997, during the months of July and August, we presented at the Arab World Institute in Paris an exhibition of photographic installations, Beirut: Urban Fictions. In July 2000, we were asked by Jalal Toufic to write an article on our installation works, in specific Wonder Beirut, 1998. But three years have already passed since Beirut: Urban Fictions. We have tried to write this text in various forms: analysis, inquiry, documents, the visitors' book of the exhibition, false documents, review of the press, retroactive analysis of our work . . . After a month of attempts—it's a failure: the text is either too descriptive, or too analytical, or too abstract, or too removed from our current preoccupations or by all means interesting but incapable of implicating the audience who had not seen the exhibition. The deadline is approaching; the writer's bloc is intensifying. It is then that we remembered Pierre Menard. Pierre is a writer, a fan of Cervantes' Don Quixote, of which he wrote anew, in a version absolutely respectful of the original, chapters IX and XXXVIII of the first part, as well as a fragment of chapter XXII. He did not want to compose another Quixote—which is easy—but the Quixote itself.
We have met this amateur of cinema and photography at the exhibition Beirut: Urban Fictions, where he was photographing the last installation, "The Circle of Confusion": a large, 4m x 3m photograph representing an aerial view of Beirut that we had cut into 3800 fragments and stuck to a mirror. The visitors were invited to [End Page 85] [Begin Page 87] choose a fragment and to take it with them. As the photograph disappeared, the mirror appeared, sending each visitor back to his or her own image. Each visitor spent a long time in front of this photo, carefully choosing a fragment representing his or her ancient house, a section of his or her school, the sport club, the seaside promenade, or a section of the sea, of the downtown, of the Green Line 1 . . . to finally find himself or herself with a tiny green fragment evoking the sea and that had a significance only to himself or herself—for by itself, the fragment did not represent much, a grain, a simple abstraction.
During the exhibition, we noticed this man who returned all the afternoons and photographed the evolving image, trying to retrace the "losses of the day," the vanished fragments. Moreover we have surprised him a number of times photographing only the fragments of images—"before they disappear," he once confessed to us. He did statistical work to establish the most coveted fragments. Thus he noted that the sectors of the city that disappeared the quickest were a) the green spaces, b) the sea; c) the old houses; and d) the seaside promenade . . . This installation titillated his obsessional side, his collector's soul. He thus came back every day, tirelessly photographing the image. He often talks of doing something with these images . . . 2 But as he says to justify himself: "There is no exercise of the intellect which is not, in the final analysis, useless."
Since then we've become friends, virtually inseparable—or let's say that he follows our work from elaboration to concretization. The ideal critic? No comment! It is to him that we turned for the writing of this article, thinking that an interview would be easier to read. And despite the great resistance of Pierre to being translated—he believes neither in translation, nor in cultural links, nor in globalization, nor in universalism—he accepted that this interview be translated into English, and we thank him for that. Here then is the partial transcription of an interview that lasted two hours and ten minutes.
— You are aware that I refuse generally the oral form, which is often comfortable and repetitive . . . but I have resigned myself to...