Saturday, November 10, 2007

Art Papers Live

(Above: photographs and collaborations by Walid Raad)

I've experienced a range of emotions towards Art Papers magazine in the past. At first, I was ecstatic to see a nationally recognized arts publication based right here in Atlanta. That initial elation, however, subsided when it became clear that the magazine maintains very little interest in artists operating in its home city. Things have certainly changed since the 1970s and the Atlanta Art Workers Coalition Newsletter.

At the same time, I can't deny that Art Papers provides a very important service to the area. I've only attended three Art Papers lectures, but I would say that Walid Raad's presentation on Wednesday was one of the most pleasant so far. The man is talented storyteller, and he has a real sense for history and how it affects our perceptions of the world.

Raad's collaborative project, Already Been in a Lake of Fire, dynamically examines the history of the Lebanese Civil War through an exhaustive account of wartime car bombings. After months of relentless investigation into nearly 250 detonations, The Atlas Group produced a number of mixed media images, presented collectively as the first volume of a fictional encyclopedia about the conflict.

The goal of the project was not a precise, scientific assessment of facts, nor was the intention about fabricating information. I believe the phrase that was used was "an aesthetic history," an account that could really deconstruct the invisible connections between violence, political power, and the journalistic establishment. By carefully following in the footsteps of the journalists, career photographers, and primary investigators surrounding the bombings, Raad was able to deliver narratives hidden behind the headlines.

I think that was the most striking aspect of the presentation. In a world dominated by commercial media, I sometimes wonder if we have really started to perceive the world in terms of a sequence of disconnected "news" events. Although it would be foolish to reconstruct history as a single, uniform continuity, I can see a lot of value in exploring the past in terms of multiple converging narratives. Artists stand in an excellent position as storytellers, and I think there is a great need for radically reevaluating the transmission of world events today.


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