Beirut Kaputt? Installation view. Courtesy of Mina Image Centre

The installation Beirut Kaputt? is a reflection on the representation of violence. It consists of two juxtaposed works: a video montage of social media clips of the Beirut Port explosion and the painting All That Remains by Lebanese artist Ayman Baalbaki.

The project allows us to reflect on the constant recycling of traumatic news, imagery, headlines and captions and how this can add to, rather than appease, our traumatic experiences. How, rather than engaging in nuanced reflection, fast media often exploits traumatic events by triggering a most basic human emotion: fear.

Beirut – Lebanon
August 2020

In front of the explosion in Beirut, Lebanon. Are we once again, according to you, with the ad nauseum repetition of images of the blast, in front of the same apotheosis of the passion for the Real as during the collapse of the World Trade Center’s towers? I don’t know, but what I do know for certain when I arrive there, is that it is shit again. 12 seconds: 204 dead, more than 6,500 injured, 9 missing. That is the raw and brutal data.

All That Remains by Lebanese artist Ayman Baalbaki
All That Remains by Lebanese artist Ayman Baalbaki
The below text is an excerpt of a text written by the curator Stephane Sisco

Beirut Kaputt?
There are events where the moment’s geographic situation is vital. And everyone asks the question in the past tense, without even naming the event. Where were you? There are also events where words, so well-known in Beirut, don’t reflect the reality at all: explosion, blast – but like Hiroshima! Because we can find nothing able to describe the violence despite such immense local experience of violence. And then, to understand it, the home videos circulating around the entire globe, but only for a short while in the perpetual war for attention, the time it take Donald Trump to come out with some bullshit: “Looks like a Terrible Attack.” which means absolutely nothing but offers a caption to a disconcerting and incomprehensible image.

POTUS (President of the United States) and social network algorithms will propose thousands of captions. This multiplication of interpretation kills methodical thinking, as if we are all pretending to “know everything” and end up “knowing nothing” at all. Jacques Lacan argued that humanity’s natural attitude is, “Idon’t want to know anything about it,” a fundamental resistance to the idea of knowing too much. Thus any actual progress in knowledge is only acquired through a painful struggle against this prospensity. But today, isn’t any actual progress in knowledge prevented by the overabundance of pretensions to know and possess the truth? The declaration by Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, on August 6, 2020, in which he “feels the people’s pain,”, and tells us that he already knows “calls for an international investigation into the post incident are intended to drown the truth”. For Michel Aoun, a kind of return to the old prosperity of “not wanting to know anything at all,” or else to let those who claim to know fight over their uncertainties? Which, in both cases, amounts to a significant relativity to the truth.

Trump, Aoun, and so many others, thousands and others incapable of rational evaluation, overestimating their competence, and making their own interpretation, Rumors only give sense to everyone’s anxiety (cognitive bias 1).
Extract from an article written by Stephane Sisco, curator of Beirut Kaputt?

They, and thousands of others, prefer information that confirms their preconceived ideas, and give no value to hypotheses that contradict their preconceptions (cognitive bias 2).

They, and thousands of others, isolate themselves with their cohorts in improbable conspiracies of followers comforting each other in their cognitive isolation (cognitive bias 3).

The term bias refers to a systematic deviation of analytical, logical, and rational thinking from reality. From my point of view: resisting is to not distort reality.

As the debris from the explosion in Beirut fell, as the shrapnel continued its deadly trajectories into metabolisms, on social networks the videos/rumors/conspiracies didn’t stop confronting/confirming/commenting each other. At the same time, the reflexive refusal of the absurd, of chance, and even of apathetic idleness, of banal negligence, of institutional indolence, of corruption of the spirit and of everything that makes for stupidity is systematised. Because no one wants to lose a loved one because of generalised stupidity – it is too stupid.

Courtesy of Mina Image Centre
Courtesy of Mina Image Centre

I share with the people of Beirut a long experience with violence, and I know that, when there in these extreme cases, the time required for methodical reflection seems too long, and besides, the distance becomes too great in front of the flat platitudes of the screens. I listened again to the message that Ayman Baalbaki left me while I was checking on him: “Life goes on, I’m working … I have to work, that’s for sure!” And I want to join him in Beirut.

How, when every individual in the world can presume to take part in a global simulacrum, can we return to the effective truth of the thing, that is to say, to the very thing that has no other truth than the effects that it produces. Crisis situations are fertile ground for the proliferation of the rumors, because the latter give meaning to anxiety, restore a certain comprehensibility to the future. The rumor is a possible version of the real that claims to be objective by those who transmit it. This version closely blends elements drawn from reality and elements drawn from the collective imagination. The rumor becomes true because it brings fears and anxieties to the surface, at once expressing and controlling them.

Follow the effective truth of the thing [la verita effettuale della cosa of Machiavelli] rather than the image that we have of it, because when faced with certain events, we become acquainted with what is unacceptable. So, it is a question of awakening the lived experience and of not taking one-self out of the game by taking refuge behind hypnotic hyperpresence of screens, nor behind biased idea of moral principles, or behind the context of the conflicts of the word capitalism.

I believe that since the abandonment of the old gnosis of Aristotelian truth the screen itself, as such, has replaced the phantasmatic screen of ideologies that you saw standing between the World Outside and the World of the Real. And as Stojan, whom I knew as editor in chief of the magazine Ekran, aptly reminded me, in cinema theory, there is a play on the words between “cadre” (frame) and “cache” (hide): every frame (which shows you = the world outside) also hides (everything else = the real world).

Si Flectere si nequeo Superos, Acheronta movebo (“If I cannot change the will of Heaven, I shall release Hell,” Virgil, The Aeneid, VII, 312). You cannot change the explicit system of ideological rules, you can try change the underlying system of the obscure unwritten rules. What systems are we talking about today, Slavoj?

Are the conspiracy theories expressed on social networks attempts to reveal and change the system of ideological rules? Or to reveal the underlying system of the unwritten obscure rules or to change nothing at all, or to create ever more obscure systems?

 

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