Artpool40Active Archives and Art Networks

International Conference of the Artpool Art Research Center

February 20–21, 2020 Museum of Fine Arts, Schickedanz Hall, Budapest

Agustina Andreoletti | Zdenka Badovinac | David Crowley | Katalin Cseh-Varga | Mela Dávila Freire | Lina Džuverović | Meghan Forbes | Daniel Grúň | Sarah Haylett | John Held | Roddy HunterJudit Bodor | Jasna JakšićTihana Puc | Klara Kemp-Welch | Kaja Kraner | Emese Kürti | Karolina Majewska-Güde | Lívia Páldi | Henar Rivière | Sven Spieker | Kristine Stiles | Katalin Timár | Tomasz Załuski | Elisabeth Zimmermann

Kaja Kraner [Biography]
Anti-Archive and Memory Politics in the Work of Walid Raad


The presence of the so-called archival impulse (Foster 2004) or archival fever (exhibition “Archive Fever” in 2008, New York) can be detected almost globally within contemporary visual arts since 1989. The fascination of artists with history, memory, collecting, archiving, that is, with various forms of dealing with the past throughout the 1990s, has generally been interpreted as a symptom of the “post-historical era,” and specifically in the art context as “post-historic art” (related to the proclamation of the end of art and art history during the 1980s). In contrast, some interpreters (such as Boris Buden and Svetla Kazalarska) argued that dealing with the past was particularly characteristic of the art of the former socialist countries, and closely linked to the change in the political and economic system after 1989 and the so-called phenomenology of transition. The thesis that the archival impulse within contemporary art has something to do with radical socio-political changes also seems adequate in relation to the specific context of contemporary art in Lebanon from the 1990s onwards, which is, after the end of the Lebanese Civil War, most often dated between 1975 and 1990. The 1990s, on the one hand, represented a period of reconstruction, privatization and “neoliberal optimism,” in the war-divided and demolished capital and on the other hand a period of re-establishing the contemporary art scene in Beirut. Precisely this (newly) established contemporary art scene during the 1990s that was generated mainly by the so-called war generation of contemporary artists from Lebanon (born between the 1960s and 1970s), became an important haven for critical discourses. Most notably, the generator of a “collective discourse on memory,” can be viewed as a counterpoint to the “state-sanctioned amnesia” that followed the end of the Lebanese Civil War, the General Amnesty Act, and the reconstruction project of Beirut.

The work of Lebanese artist, Walid Raad was during the 1990s highly connected to the Arab Image Foundation (initiated by artists in 1997). His most known project, The Atlas Group, can namely be understood as an anti-archive of AIF. AIF itself is most often interpreted as a reaction to the lack of existing history of visual culture in Lebanon and the wider region, the lack of public, cultural, and artistic institutions as established generators of collective memory, and a potential tool for building alternative historical narratives. The majority of Raad’s work uses historical documents but offers more conceptual considerations on their status and function. His typical interweaving of history, memory, and fiction can be understood as a research on how memory and history are being (re)produced in the specific socio-political context marked with the lack of strong homogenizing force of the historical narrative (due to Lebanese sectarian political system). It can also be interpreted as an effect of trauma and violence on memory. As the paper will try to show, Raad in his work challenges the prevailing memory model present in contemporary art that prefers the memory over classic history-making based on externalized documents.