Funny, How Thin The Line Is

Walid Raad/The Atlas Group
FACT Centre, Wood Street
11th November 2005 – 8th January 2006

Reviewed by Adam Ford

It’s quickly becoming a cliché, but the atrocities we see on the news each night seem almost routine these days. A car bomb here, a hostage-taking there – it’s all very sad and everything, but unless you’re unfortunate enough to be personally involved then you may well feel detached from what are – or used to be – shocking events. It’s almost as if there’s a set pattern: charred remains, relatives howling their anguish, people standing around with bemused expressions. These are exactly the kind of things that Lebanese artist Walid Raad shows us in this exhibition, but with the simple twist that they mostly made up. People of Liverpool, get ready to be thrilled!

As an idea, this is tiresome and unoriginal enough. However, the insult is compounded by the incredibly dull selection of ‘evidence’ from Raad’s imaginary research group. In ‘My Neck Is Thinner Than A Hair’, we are treated to photos of engines from cars that actually weren’t blown up during the 1975-90 Lebanese Civil War. Soldiers, businessmen and children are depicted in various states of confusion. Be still my beating heart!

‘I Was Overcome By A Momentary Panic At The Thought That They Might Be Right’ is even more pointless than its name is long, consisting of a large white disk in which there are some differently sized holes. It’s supposed to represent the sites of explosions, except…that’s right…it doesn’t! I was devastated to consider that it is someone’s job to guard this non-entity from vandalism. Many would probably consider any vandalism to be a vast improvement.

‘We Can Make Rain But No One Came To Ask’ is an incredibly dull video, which presents some calm images of Beirut, some droning noises, and some pictures of ‘dead people’ who are probably still drawing breath. Set your face to stunned!
Upstairs it’s more of the same, unfortunately. We get to see some fast motion sunsets and a video of a pretend Lebanese hostage who wasn’t - in all truthfulness - held at the time of Iran-Contra. The tape is shaky and grainy, just like with more recent images of hostages such as Kenneth Bigley. It looks real, but it isn’t. This is ‘art’, not a documentary.

Who owns the truth? How is the truth manipulated? What is this ‘truth’ thing anyway? Yes, it’s easy to intellectualise works like this, and indeed Raad has won many awards for his craft. But at the end of the day I only sat through it because I had to, having got the ‘joke’ from the first sentence of the blurb. The line between fact and fiction is indeed incredibly thin, but it’s not funny or even interesting come to that. Whatever you do, don’t pay a visit unless there’s a while before your film or you want to keep the staff company. Get Barry Levinson’s Wag The Dog out from the video shop instead. It’s the same basic idea, but it really is funny.

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