The project is about art culture’s reaction to destruction in countries in conflict.
Following the research in the increasing art production in the Middle East and the political stigma and internalization of its museums, the projects aims to re-contextualize Lebanese art into a dispersed Meta Museum, that talks about the relationship between destruction and art production in rebuilding the identity of the city.
The Meta Museum is based on events of the “war of hotels” which took place during the civil war in Beirut. It is based on 4 main strategic views of the city seen from specific hotels that played a key role in the battle.
This comprises of the Murr Tower, The Holiday Inn, the St. George hotel, and the Phoenicia Intercontinental.
1: City as Fragments
“Pity the nation that … boasts not except among its ruins,”
by Kahlil Gibran
This view will talk about fragmentation from building to urban scale.
From the Murr Tower the Murabitoun soldiers (leftist) were able to control the Christian Achrafieh district. It was the major strategic base for Christian forces, and formed part of the Christian East Beirut. The leftist, would continuously throw bombs and rockets and wipe out a substantial portion of the districts’ architectural heritage and its common spaces. As a consequence, the inhabitants are disorientated, dislodged from familiar landmarked, and create more self-sufficient, isolated spaces within the city.
Prior the civil war, in the 1930’s, Achrafieh was largely composed of farmland owned and farmed by the several Greek Orthodox Christian families that had ruled in the country and the region for centuries. The area is divided into numerous smaller neighborhoods. Its most prominent ones include: Sassine Square, one of the most prominent political, commercial focal points and served as meeting points for common activities for Beiruties across a wide cross-section of society. However, urban destruction provoked the formation of separate, exclusive and self-sufficient spaces. Now the Christians of East Beirut need not frequent West Beirut for its cultural and popular entertainment. Likewise, Muslims have a reluctance and other residents of West Beirut to visit resorts and similar alluring spots of the Christian areas. The cities’ districts are separated into smaller and more compact enclosures. Marwan Reshmaoui’s installation of large rubber map of Beirut recalls how during the civil war the crossing from West to East was arduous and risky endeavors, and very distinct road lines carve up the city into separate each neighborhood. While the war has ended, spaces within which people circulate and interact shrink still further and the destruction of historic buildings continue.
Every day, demolition teams tear down old houses and bulldoze hundred-year-old gardens. Tall concrete towers replace the houses, overshadowing the few historical neighborhoods Achrafieh has left.
The locals have lost a sense of belonging and are disorientate into a global aesthetic of glass and steel. Historic buildings not only hold sentimental value, they are also economically viable, yet only few seem to care. Rayyane Tabet installation “Colosse au Pied”, recalls the destruction of historical buildings and reveals a lack of respect for cultural heritage. She set out a series of reclaimed columns from a building in Achrafieh (facing Sodeco) next to the new concrete column from the Sama Beirut tower, replacing it. Faced with dispute over the land, the owner injected acid into the property declaring it “inhabitable”. Thus, allowing for its demolition. The columns in Rayyane’s work were used to test out if the concrete of the the new Sama Beirut Tower would hold and be able to be built there.
Preserving historical buildings is not in the priority of the Lebanese government. Archeological remains are often found below new buildings or scattered on the streets, but developers ignored them. Heritage activists such as the Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA) or Save Beirut Heritage try their best to preserve the few old remaining ‘Lebanese houses’ still standing in Achrafieh. But their efforts are largely in vain, as there is no law to protect old homes and preservation is low on the list of priorities for the country’s politicians.
Instead the old French mandate homes are rotting, uncared for and waiting to be demolished.
The visual record is the city is minimized to fragments. It was recorded as such by Walid Raad’s, Atlas Group, ongoing project titled Sweet Talk. The foundation recruited dozens of men and women to photograph streets, storefronts, buildings, and other spaces of national, technological, architectural, cultural, political, and economic significance in Beirut and cut out anything from the image that was not part of the building. The city is composed of a series of fragments caused by traces of war, sectarian divide and demolition.
 a technical unit of the Ministry of Culture in charge of the promotion, protection and excavation of all heritage sites of Lebanon
2: Militarized Boundary
This view will talk about the increased military boundaries in the city.
From the Murr tower there was direct fire towards the Christian held Risk tower. Both buildings were positioned on either side of the boundary between east and west. This view over-looks the check-points found along the Beirut central district of the city. After 2008, new unrest sparked new physical and psychological boundaries in Beirut. The government shut down Hezbollah’s network and remove Beirut Airport’s security chief Wafic Shkeir over alleged ties to Hezbollah. For the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah the government’s decision to declare the group’s military telecommunications network illegal was a “declaration of war” and led opposition fighters to seize control of several West Beirut and nearly drove the city to another civil war. While war was avoided, it did bring back Beirut to militant mentality and a general attitude of being on-guard.
Marwan Reachmouie’s Blazon Project reinforces the perspective of a militant city. Reacting to the increased alertness of its surroundings, Marwan redefined the city through the neighborhood’s social, political, and etymological history. He divides Beirut into shields, battalions and flags with the use of feudal war language.
New lines of fenced barbed wire, blocks of concrete bollards and sandbags, questionably, secure and reinforce downtown Beirut. However, the hostility they provide in the city act also as a reunification tool. Despite the many difference which divide the Lebanese, they are all in a sense homogenized by anxiety, grief and trauma. Fear, as it were, is the tie that binds and holds Beiruties together. Boundaries are not sustained by walls or artificial barriers, but rather, sustained by the psychology of fear.
Dread has pushed communities into self-contained, exclusive space and reinforced communal solidarity. Within urban areas, territorial solidarities provoke aggressive and defensive opposition to other quarters. The stronger the identification with one’s quarter, the deeper the enmity and rejection of the other.
In such a context, violence and polarization become inevitable and have rifted Beirut apart.
This view will talk about the cities contradiction between destruction and consumerism.
From the Saint George hotel, under the Phalange and later the Leftist party, had direct control of the Port area. This view shows the contradictory wealthy locals sunbathing in luxury pools along side remnants of destruction. The war has paradoxically unleashed appetites and inflamed people with desires for acquisitiveness and unearned privileges. Yet, economic growth and bourgeois values was always given a free reign in Lebanon and the outcome of such excessive commercialization was already painfully obvious in the pre-war years. However, with the absence of government authority, such excesses became more rampant. What had not been ravaged by war was eaten up by greedy developers and impetuous consumers. Hardly anything has spared.
Behind the sunbathers, is the fully restored Beirut Central District. It consists of glam boutiques and polished cafes but what it lacks is life. The expensive stores and restaurants are often empty, the streets can seem desolate and it has none of the buzz and mix of people of the neighboring Hamra district. Most Beirutis cannot afford the neighborhood and the lack of public amenities and transport links mean that they tend to go elsewhere for shopping and leisure. BCD represents the singular vision of Rafik Hariri, the murdered former prime minister. Downtown was rebuilt by Solidere, for the desires of Saudi vacationers, investors while undermining the public good. The project was also designed around exclusivity. Almost all the shops and restaurants in BCD are expensive. ‘Few people in a city with an average income below 1,000 USD a month can afford to spend time there’. Consequently, it is very susceptible to the global economic market and remains empty for most of the time.
the exclusiveness to the restore Downtown and poolside are ways to shut out the glooming images of destruction that are founds in close proximity.
4: Undefined territories
This view will talk about destruction blurring boundaries
From Holiday Inn towards the Murr tower and the Egg. Most fighters from the Phalange party, were located on the 29th Floor and would use the elevator to bring up heavy armery to send out towards the Murr tower.
The view looks through a fractured wall towards the Murr tower, where a new opening has been created.
Destruction has an interesting effect on architecture. The architecture is fractured and new forms are created that couldn’t have been predetermined. Yet, when boundaries are fractured they need redefining.
People in Beirut are relentlessly redefining territories and identities. Few Lebanese have been spared the anguish of up rootedness from their spatial roots. Many have had a change in residence, and a substantial number are in diaspora. The population are in temporary or permanent exile and the city is in a curious predicament of negotiating, constructing and reconfirming a fluid and yet unsettles pattern of territorial identities.
There is constant negotiations of spatial identity. People take refuge in their communities and are dislocated.
Saba Innab, part Palestinian part Jordanian in origin, is an artist/architect that investigated these transient spaces, and did a project called “Building without Land”.
Bereft of place, people become homeless in at least three existence sense. There is angsts by being detached from familiar location, then there is the suffering of being outcast in their neighborhoods and home. finally, when exiled they are urge to reassemble a damaged identity or born history. Where artist like Walid Raad has strongly developed in his “atlas Group”. He developed a respond of a new Lebanese history between fact and fiction to tell his version of history. There is a reimagining of old places, and attachment to the past.
Yet there is a dramatic turn over in land both in uses and perceptions…. to be continued…
DRAWING IN PROGRESS….