Kan ya ma Kan / There was and there was not

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Jayce Salloum
Up to the South, This it not Beirut

(Talaeen a Junuub)/ Up to the South 60 minutes, 1993, A Videotape by Jayce Salloum + Walid Raad

Talaeen a Junuub (Up to the South) is ostensibly a documentary on the south of Lebanon exploring current conditions, the issues behind the conditions and their representation both in the West and in Lebanon itself. Within this we are trying to tackle two other concerns. One being the terms (and positions) inherent in the discourse surrounding the issues, i.e. terrorism, colonialism, occupation, resistance, collaboration, experts, spokespeople, leadership, the land, etc., and the other being the history and structure of the documentary genre specifically in regards to the representation of other cultures by the West in documentary, ethnography and anthropological practise and the problems/agenda involved from the perspective of the subjects viewed and the practitioners practising. "Up to the South" challenges traditional documentary formats by positing representation itself as a politicized practice.

The pathology of misinformation and misrepresentation when dealing with other cultures can be epitomized by the media's coverage of Lebanon in the West. Lebanon is described in fluctuating tones of nostalgia and regret, fear and loathing, e.g. "Lebanon's Final Assault on the West", "Death of a Nation". It is a country written off, its death proclaimed and sanctioned, Arabs are depicted as evil savages and money grabbing, xenophobic, Western hating fanatics with no morals, intent on self-destruction and deserving of such a state, living in an endless cycle of violence, corruption and blood, "establishing carnage as a Lebanese birthright". The Lebanese voice surfaces in the Western mind only in its most perverted forms of extremism. Produced by and for the West to fulfil its ambitions these voices are creations of Western self-interest and miscomprehension. In this well equipped bank of delusions the stereotype enters the image currency and fills the mainstream void allotted it. This absence enforced is appropriately symbolic as the actual culture is marginalized even further from our perceptions. Misperception being the guiding facility of the coverage and misunderstanding its inevitable by-product.

Lebanon has been used as a metaphor, as a 'site' serving the real and imaginary for various ‘visitors’ throughout its history. It has been a ground for a history of claims, discursive texts and acts of 're-construction'. It has become an adjective for the nostalgia of our past and the fears of the future. We have come to understand so very little in spite of the massive amounts of ‘information’ we have received regarding Lebanon, the war and especially the situation in the south of the country that for one to even mention the name all sorts of images come to our minds. What basis in which realities do these images have, where in Lebanon are these realities situated? Who are we really talking about, us or them, or some other construction in-between.

Talaeen a Junuub focuses specifically on South Lebanon, the current conditions, the people living there, the histories, politics & economics of the region and the Israeli occupation & the social, ideological, and popular resistance to this occupation. The tape also looks at notions of ‘the land’, the culture, and the identities at stake. It examines these terms in relationship to the situation on the ground and their currency in the West; terrorist/ism, occupation, colonization, the post-colonial, resistance, collaborator, truth and fiction, going into the myths and martyrs/sacrificial acts and actors, while engaging in a parallel critique of the ‘documentary’ genre and the West’s production of knowledge about the area.

The story told/accounted for and revealed, contains a particular subjecthood that one is at once close to but always kept distant from. From being about ‘naming’, the experiences recorded transgress this imposition. In an attempt to make evident the machinery, apparatus of ‘documentary’, the act of mediation is made obvious. Forefronting the cutting, the editing, the elimination and obsessions of the construction process, visual and audio segments are presented and received one after another. Basic blocks linked conceptually over broken spaces, gestures are cut off, their weight collapsing them forward into a spiral of consecutive accounts that slice up, or sever the ‘approach’ of ‘documentary’, the encroachment, the manipulation that is the inevitable by-product of this history of scientific and cultural imperialism. This is a mediating ‘language’ of transposed experience, a ‘reluctant documentary’.

In Lebanon we worked in collaboration with 6 local media producers, researchers, historians and journalists to research and gather material on the south of Lebanon; the figure of resistance, the ‘collaborator’, the occupation by the IDF/SLA and the residents of the ‘border’ region. Over 150 hours of footage was shot on location, between January and December 1992, and approximately 30 hours of archival video and film material collected. An extensive resource of documents and printed matter, images and texts were gathered for background information and inclusion. We have worked with this material and our experiences of living and working in Lebanon both through the expected means and other means such as collaborative script writing, developing histories, and the insistence of a visible resistance to the acts of aggression that documentary partakes in and the violence that is inherent in its means.

This tape was produced as the final part of the four part ‘Counterterror’ series organized by Annie Goldson and Chris Bratton in the U.S. dealing with the representation of communities + groups labeled as "terrorists". This series takes as its departure point how the term "terrorism" has been used to obscure the historical roots of political conflict.

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(This is Not Beirut)/There was and there was not

A videotape by Jayce Salloum, 49", 1994

This tape is at the most fundamental level, a personal project; i) examining the use and production of ../representations of Lebanon and Beirut both in the West and in Lebanon itself, ii) recording the interactions and experiences while working in Lebanon, focusing on the undertaking of this representational process as a Lebanese and a westernized, foreign-born mediator with cultural connections and baggage of both the West and Lebanon and some of the disparities and disjunctions arising in each, and iii) situating the work between genres looking from the inside out at each and engaging critically at the assumptions imposed and thus broken in this site of complexity one’s identity is found and constructed in.

Over 200 hours of Hi-8, VHS and found film material was recorded and collected in Lebanon, during the year of 1992. This project tries to make some sense out of that material and the acquisition of it, sometimes directly and at other times a sideways glance at our skewed attempts to produce works, framing the relationships, sites, subjects, and the practical and conceptual issues engaged in.

One cannot hope with this project to elucidate the terms of Lebanon's existence (narrowly if at all explicated in the West) but only to provide some countenance, inquiry and provocation and with this a chance for responses to them to be determined within a more problematized field.