Kan ya ma Kan / There was and there was not

by Jayce Salloum

© Jayce Salloum 1998 -2021
There was and there was not is a transposition of a working studio and found archive, presenting the 'resources' & artifacts necessary to re-construct an understanding of the mediated process inherent in the definition and perception of a culture. There are 3 central arenas the installation continually returns to:

i) examining the use of images and representations of Lebanon & Beirut both in the West and in Lebanon itself;
ii) focusing on specific points in the history of, & issues in the representation of Lebanon by various inhabitants (friends, family, cultural producers, commercial interests, politicians and official representatives), and visitors (orientalists, journalists, tourists, foreign military, refugees, diplomatic personnel etc), and;
iii) situating my own subjectivity in relationship to the issues at stake, the positions involved & the fixations and instability of identity existing within a diverse culture and the displacement between cultures.

The installation incorporates arrangements of objects collected in Lebanon, photographs, videotape loops, texts (mine and others'), documents, maps, other reproductions, light boxes, and archival materials, that call into question our notions of history & research methodology and their roles in the construction and effacement of histories and the layers involved in depiction/representation and understanding of another culture. Here the viewer is part of the process, being forced to make decisions and to take responsibility for re-constructing their own cultural perceptions. The installation is set up as a pseudo scientific research lab/studio paralleling, parodying and exposing my own productions/ projects in Lebanon while challenging and refiguring the investigations and immense history of the production of knowledge of Lebanon and the Middle East.

The reproductions are grouped in 'clusters' (images depicting the same physical or conceptual areas of specific historical and social importance), circulating and analyzing the process of identification and representation. These include 'sites' or events such as the various proposed redevelopment and reconstruction plans. The images are bracketed by texts calling into question the levels, variations, and selections of representations and 'histories'. A separate photographic piece is a small table 40" high, placed against a wall, on the table sits 2 plexiglass boxes, there are ca 4,000 - 4" x 6" photographs standing in the box placed into pseudo-anthropological categories, i.e. The Land, The Food, The People and other categories corresponding to my own idiosyncratic interests. Next to this is a pad of order forms on the table next to the file boxes making available for purchase once selected, edited and ordered by the viewer, photographs ranging in size from 4" x 6" to 30" x 40". The objects collected would be exhibited on shelves with #'s (corresponding to catalogue entries) identifying the nature of the object in relation to its finding, personal association and use i.e. tail fin of an Israeli bomb of the type fired regularly at villages in the South given to me by Abu Kaid when down in Abreekha from his back yard while conducting an interview with him about his son being held in an Israeli detention centre; A star from the marquee of Le Empire movie theatre in the 'Bourg' (old town centre), now relocated in Place Sofil/Aschrafieh (E. Beirut), found while rummaging through its ruins at the original location. Other objects would be placed on the floor such as newspapers, magazines, books, and freestanding maps. Three light boxes are used with out-takes of the 35mm found film footage, medical and commercial advertising footage and transparencies, each focusing on a particular series of themes arising within the films clips/photographs themselves and their associations. The SX-70 Polaroids are hung in two long strips, each picture next to the other, these were photographed from videotape which was recorded using the video camera as an image collecting device, oblique indicators of representation, highlighting the process(es) of mediation, and forming markers of position, distance, closeness, and nostalgia, [L f. Gk(nostos return home, algos pain)] etc. Another group of SX-70's are used in a grid of images made late in the day while looking out of my Beirut studio over the course of a year while other SX-70's are stacked on the shelves and strategically placed in some of the wall 'clusters'. The 5 videotape loops are shown on 5 - 3" LCD monitors protected in aluminum boxes, (the audio tracks are audible via the headphones hanging next to the monitors). Each monitor plays a different loop lasting between 2-10 minutes. The monitors are mounted onto the wall/post or from the ceiling, all wires are exposed. The five videotape loops consist of;

i) A sequence of pre-war (pre 1975) Lebanese postcards currently in circulation, with audio overlays from personal notes, texts, recorded radio and music followed by a second sequence of silent black & white film footage shot in Beirut in 1933 by tourists from Florida.

ii) A long shot from the 'Bourg/Place des Martyrs', of the Rivoli bldg 'ORIENT' watch sign in a slow zoom out showing the square and people out on a sunny afternoon. Superimposed over this is a text roll (similar to a credit roll) of metaphors/descriptions of Lebanon and Beirut taken from western headlines and journalistic accounts, sequenced in a chronological gradation, i.e. 'Paris of the Orient, Switzerland of the Middle East, Jewel of the Levant, The Last Sanctuary, City of Eternity, City of Bliss, Crossroads of Civilization' .--- 'A Polyglot World, A City of Middlemen, The Suckling Child, A Trojan Horse, Improbable City' --- 'City of Regrets, City of Fear, Forbidden City, Hell by the Sea, Lebanam, Land Beyond Redemption'--- 'Neither Victors Nor Vanquished, Une Ville Qui Refuse de Mourir, Mille fois Morte/Mille Fois Revcue'. This is followed by a 'Chicken and the Bean' story told during an interview with by Abu Bischara followed by a murky image of Beirut seen in the distance from the sea.

iii) Video and audio clips from film archives, tourism films, western movies, interviews, news reports and documentaries on Lebanon, journalists in Lebanon and the 'hostage crisis'. This is followed by footage of Bob Hope giving an impromptu performance for the US marines in Beirut. Subsequent to this is a news report on the marines lack of televised football during their thanksgiving dinner; and 'live' uncut footage of an American journalist reporting from a downed Israeli jet while he was being shot at by snipers.

iv) A collection of 1975-85 testimonial interviews with participants in the Lebanese national resistance movement/'sacrificial martyrs' (their label), before they committed 'suicide' (the West's label) operations against the occupying Israeli (IDF)/SLA (South Lebanese Army) forces; followed by LNRM (Lebanese National Resistance Movement) militia/PPS (Partie Populaire Syrian) party archives of historical reenactments of operations and attacks. (in Arabic)

v) A series of tracking shots from an automobile taken while driving through Lebanon with Walid Ra'ad, with voice over conversation/discursive struggles about the nature of working our media projects in Lebanon, and our positions in relationship to this construction of 'knowledge'/information as westerners and people from the region.

Several other areas I hope the work will probe & extend a type of visual & textual discourse into, are:

  • Lebanon as a metaphor, as a 'site' serving the real and imaginary of both 'native' and 'other',
  • the boundaries and transgressions of local and imported popular culture, where mimicry, appropriation, and recontextualization collapse and merge into cultural forms relating to but deviating and expanding unpredictably from previous norms,
  • how and where difference is inscribed by a viewer of one's culture from within and from positions marginal and in opposition to each other,
  • the act of representation as 'spectacle', as a textual process belying it's form of entertainment and,
  • the yielding of the repressed in the representation of memory, history and landscape.


As well I will consider/critique the use of Lebanon as a product/subject and as a laboratory (both actual and metaphorical), used by the West in the testing of new and banned warfare technology, the 'coverage' by writers, journalists, travelers & 'experts' and as a case study for social/cultural studies. This discussion/inquiry would be situated within the contested and complex terrain of notions of 'post-colonial' conditions, but outside of it at the same time, or beside it, the sides collapsed in the middle, where subjectivity is at stake, and where one is always aware of this at one level and oblivious to it or consumed by it in the confusion of a 'hybridized' or composite culture on another (level).

(Kan ya ma Kan) / There was and there was not, was exhibited at American Fine Arts-New York, New Langton Arts-San Francisco, Western Front-Vancouver, Kunstlerhaus Bethanien-Berlin, The Shedhalle-Zurich, Update '96-Copenhagen, Optica Gallery-Montréal, YYZ Artists' Outlet-Toronto and most recently at The National Gallery of Canada in the spring of 1998.

Jayce Salloum

top of page