Re-Imagining the Lost Identity: Walid Raad’s Archive Project – The Atlas Group

    • Presentation speakers
      • Jong Chul Choi, Miyazaki International College, Japan


    The contemporary political disasters, such as global terrorism and wars in the Middle East, involve issues of symbolic terrorization (Jean Baudrillard), erosion of the other’s bio-political identity (Giorgio Agamben), and hysteric antagonism against cultural (visual) intervention (Judith Butler). While these issues bring about a plight of the visual, they also call for a radical reconsideration in the mode of visual communication. Recently, such rethinking has been made by documentary’s new transformation into a hybrid politico-aesthetic form, whose subtle use of pictoriality, theatricality and visual simulacra appear to maximize the communicability of the socio-political agenda without diminishing aesthetic potentiality. Creatively playing on the limits of objectivity and authenticity – the very cliché of documentary per se – this ‘post-documentary’ practice offers a new possibility of political art that can compromise between documentary’s ethical validity and aesthetic creativity. A Lebanese-American artist Walid Raad, best known for his one-man project, “the Atlas Group,” provides a useful illustration of this new documentary trend. The Atlas Group is a fictional foundation and an archive project founded in 1999 and it has been presented in several high-profile art venues including the Moscow Biennial of Contemporary art (2011), Seoul International Biennial of Media Art (2010), Sydney Biennial (2006), Venice Biennial (2003), Documenta 11 (2002), and Whitney Biennial (2002). Although all the images in Raad’s archive seem to be a truthful documentation of Lebanon’s painful history, they are in fact a fictional construction created by Raad himself. In the fictions of the Atlas Group which shake up our customary view of the Arab world, the conventional divisions between the subject and the other, between fact and fiction, and between intellectuality and sensibility, become dissipated. At this moment, the other’s disastrous political reality produces various sensible echoes in which the invisible identity of the other finds its sensible body, phantasmagoric yet recognizable. With this echo of the sensible, I will argue, the singularity of documentary expands towards the multiplicity of art, as a possibility for the emancipation of the invisible.