Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Other Orange / Beirut-Amsterdam

‘‘There is nothing mysterious or natural about authority. It is formed, irradiated, disseminated; it is instrumental, it is persuasive; it has status, it establishes canons of taste and value; it is virtually indistinguishable from certain ideas it dignifies as true, and from traditions, perceptions, and judgments it forms, transmits, reproduces.''

Edward Said, “Orientalism”

Marc Auge defined non-places, as having no identity, and no urban relationships, non-places are transient spaces for traffic, communication and consumption defined by the logic of excess information. Non-places represent the fall of public man and the rise of self-observing man, private man lives a new form of ‘urban solitude’ defined by passwords, pin-numbers and card-numbers, one must avoid contact to escape the potential discharge of human contact, and ‘urban melancholy’ becomes a collective feeling for the inhabitant of the city experiencing ‘mutual loneliness’ and constantly trying to conceal behind a ‘façade’ in an attempt to reconstruct their image through deconstructing their corporeal existence.

For my project I worked in that stream as I was trying to survive an ‘urban solitude’ and civic nonchalance, feeling dizzy, numb, empty in a labyrinth of an overwhelming urban structure, feeling lonely among a crowd in my post-war home city of Beirut, and in a temporal situation of detachment in Amsterdam as a peregrine stranger. From that exact position of living between the two cities, I continuously tend to compare them; from the behavior of the inhabitants, to the urban structure and architecture, to the tempo of living and speed of time laps. I sometime find myself lost between the two cities, not knowing exactly where I am, mixing up aspects from both places while trying to reconstruct my memories, reconstruct my image, and even reconstruct my physical existence; my body becomes more of a burden to take care of, and maintain, hygienically, esthetically and culturally, to reconstruct a different image of myself according to the demands of the different entourage.

While I was still in the research phase one divisor led me to work on the specific aspect of duality between the two cities of Beirut and Amsterdam. I started filming some semi-fake interviews with people living in Beirut and talking about Amsterdam from their own perspective of living in one city and talking about it, and fantasizing about another city that they had never visited. The aim behind the manipulation process is to create a deceptive mixed ‘image’ for the two cities reflecting my relation to Amsterdam and how I feel living in it as a Lebanese and my relation to Beirut and how I feel looking at it from a new perspective now that I am partially at a distance. The process of researching and documenting Amsterdam was becoming more difficult the more I went into the social aspect of the city and the more I dig into social human behaviors. It always referred me back to my home city of Beirut. I discovered an impossibility to document the city or, more precisely, to do an anthropological study about Amsterdam as an Occidental city from my perspective as an inhabitant of an Oriental city. The impossibility of “Occidentalism” as opposed to “Orientalism”; Referring to Edward Said term “Orientalist”: it is “Anyone who teaches, writes about, or research the Orient-and this applies whether the person is an anthropologist, sociologist, historian, or philologist-either in its specific or its general aspects”. And thus derives from that; my reciprocal act of researching Amsterdam would be an “Occidentalist” act. This impossibility is due mainly to the lack of political and economical interest, the lack of “authority”, in opposition to the “Orientalist” position where “Orientalism is more particularly valuable as a sign of European-Atlantic power over the Orient than it is a verdict discourse about the Orient”. So my study was taking a new direction towards my origins, my home city, a kind of self-anthropology against the study of the other.

In his book “Orientalism” Edward Said wrote: “as much as the West itself, the Orient is an idea that has a history and a tradition of thought, imagery, and vocabulary that have given it reality and presence in and for the West. The two geographical entities thus support and to an extent reflect each other”. Amsterdam was, for me at that time, reflecting Beirut; it was its mirror image. My research was more of a study about Beirut as I discovered the impossibility of studying Amsterdam without referring back to it.

Ideas, cultures, and histories cannot seriously be understood or studied without their force, or more precisely their configuration of power. “To believe that the Orient was created or “Orientalized”, and to believe that such things happen simply as a necessity of the imagination, is to be disingenuous. The relationship between Occident and Orient is a relationship of power, of domination, of varying degrees of a complex hegemony. The Orient was Orientalized not only because it was discovered to be “Oriental” in all those ways considered common-place by an average European, but also because it could be made Oriental” a process that would be impossible in a reciprocal way, in other words the “Occident” would not be “Occidentalized” because of the lack of power, and negation of domination motivations.

The choice of video as a medium was decisive for my project, as I am trying to document ‘reality’ with ‘fiction’, to simulate real history out of its context, to build a mixed image for both cities; it is in a way, a tool to turn inside out the displayed images of those two cities. Video can be the perfect tool to do that, as it has the ability to frame reality and to manipulate its transcendences; it has the power to exclude and fragment, to virtualize. In that sense I wanted to deconstruct documentary techniques and dissect it to use it and then destroy it, I wanted to show the collapse of the technique to say the impossibility of documentary, the impossibility of anthropology.

Baudrillard’s theories of “simulacrum” are questioning the notion of “reality” which he categorized as a problem of semiology, a “reality” disguised by appearance, Where “appearances create their illusion of reality”, where “images invent reality”, in that case “the real is not only what can be reproduced but that which is always being reproduced”: the “hyper-real”.

I remember the TV broadcast of Colin Powell’s speech in the United Nations just before the invasion of Iraq, trying to convince the world about the necessity of the war and that Iraq is a major international threat, using multimedia imaging devices, showing satellite photos and video simulations, and doing a performance on the UN stage, holding, what is supposed to be, ‘Anthrax’ in his hand and warning about it’s danger. Now we realize that this was all a deception. From this exact position I dealt with ‘video’, video as a tool of deception, Where “appearances create their illusion of reality”, where “images invent reality” as I am going to invent a parallel reality, a dual mixed real image for two cities, To simulate a new city using dual memory, dual history and dual existence.

In a lecture in Beirut untitled “Anthropology in a planetary era” Marc Auge talked about our present status under globalization; he stated that the “world of information and image that submerges us today is locking us toward a situation of a global entity”; we are eventually oriented in the direction of more gigantesque norms. The renewal of a totalitarian globalization movement that is much heterogenic by its nature is considered as a symptom of a global “taking in charge”. This global ‘taking in charge’ remains for the time fragmented or undulant, “there is a feeling of fascinating surprise that dominates over the observers of the contemporary world facing an overwhelming and sudden change in scale, change of the entourage”. A change of scale that is putting us in a period of transition where our ground is not more than a reference or a starting point.

We find ourselves in a moment of transit where space and time cross to produce complex figures of differences and identities, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion. We find ourselves lost in the ‘au- delà’ as Homi Bhabha likes to call it, or in the ‘non-place’ for there is a sense of disorientation, a disturbance of direction. We are living in the ‘beyond’, in the ‘in between’ interval, experiencing an exploratory, restless movement of discovering this void of nothingness. Under such condition of non-space one would have the illusion of wellbeing until some tremendous event/s breaks this illusion and reality reveals itself. The 9/11 ‘event’ had revealed an ever hidden situation of implosion that had started to accumulate after the end of the cold war and the rise of the “empire”. Similar ‘events’, but on smaller scales, had raised in Amsterdam after the assassination of Theo Van Gogh and in Beirut after the assassination of the PM Rafik Hariri and had revealed in both cities the problem of coexistence, racism and sectarianism. And thus was the building of a linear storyline in my video documentary where I continuously tried to build-up and destroy the facade image of the two cities, where I continuously wanted to say the collapse of “hyper-reality” and the collapse of the medium of documentation itself.

A 20 min video by Hassan Choubassi /

Editing: Vartan Avakian

Actors: Tony Chakar, Amira Solh, Mona Abou Rayan, Maya Chami, Philip Karkafi, Nora Mourad and Walid Fakherddine.


-DasArts /


-The Lebanese Assosiation fro plastic arts Ashkal Alwan /

-de Balie /

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