FRAGMENTS FOR A SILENT FILM

Presented at the American University of Beirut in 2004

Fragments For A silent Film is an immersive installation consisting of hundreds of meters of drawings made on rolls of paper that were then suspended into a space to form a large maze. The installation is built around the fictional encounter of a calligrapher and a sniper in the context of the Lebanese Civil War.

 

I was born in Beirut in 1980. The Lebanese Civil War would eventually end in 1991. As a child I have therefore lived through a decade of war. In the nineties, now a teenager, I turned to the world of adults to provide me with answers relating to the many interrogations I had about the war. But I soon realized that adults around me had no answers. The war had happened and that was that. They would speak about conspiracy theories detailing the various agendas that clashed but all these tales would lead to inconclusive answers. When the war ended in 1991 the tanks suddenly gave way to the bulldozers and another brutal reality imposed itself. It was time to rebuild and soon enough the fabric of the city that had sheltered my childhood began to vanish. I thus turned to books published in the course of the war and searched in their monotone images for the mysteries of my youth. These images fascinated me for they presented another realty happening in the very country where I grew up protected in the bubble of my family. The images of militiamen fighting, of ruins and corpses presented another reality, familiar yet strenuous to claim. One way to do so would be to build a narrative around them. If I could write a story about the war then it would be mine and I would have understood it in some way. But what narrative could sum up a conflict as complex as the Civil War? What characters could speak unequivocally about it? My best chances of succeeding would be through an allegory. Here characters are mythical and understood as expressions of archetypal meaning. Through them I would rescue from oblivion the memories of the war that threaten to disappear. Allegory, constantly attracted to the fragmentary, the imperfect and the incomplete would find in the ruins of Beirut its most comprehensive expression. Fragments For A Silent Film fictionalized two real characters of the Lebanese Civil War, their encounter being the main point of fiction. Snipers represented one of the most sinister ways of dying as someone that could never be seen was purposely pulling a trigger to kill innocent civilians. Calligraphers on the other hand were still busy at work especially in newspapers, as they were still needed to write the headlines, digital Arabic typesetting being not yet available to take over their jobs. Built around the encounter of a sniper and a calligrapher, Fragments thus functioned as a metaphor about writing and remembrance.