interviewed by Predrag Pajdic, February 2007

When we met in Beirut last December just before Christmas 2006, a certain atmosphere of unease was in the air, I felt. Hezbollah supporters were demonstrating against the government in the main square, but at the same time just 100 meters from there, people were sitting in bars, looking relatively relaxed as if nothing was going on just across the street. What is the situation like right now in Beirut? How do you deal with it?

For the past two months since the 'opposition' decided to squat the downtown area of Beirut, this cleavage that you felt has been accelerating dramatically. Last week we had, for the first time since the end of the war, a curfew after a bloody day of confrontation: snipers on the rooftops, cars burning, civilian checkpoints asking people about their religion. I think we have never been so close to civil war.

At the beginning of the war in 1975, people went onto the streets to fight under the slogans of "war against imperialism", "against nationalism", "against liberalism" and many other "isms". It took us many years before we realized that it was only a sectarian civil war. At least this time, from day one, everyone is aware what we will be getting into.

How do you cope with situations like this? Do you wish you could just go away?

In this situation, I attempt to protect myself, mentally, from what is happening. It is hard not to be reactionary when you are frustrated by everything that is happening around you. I try to collect traces, document, and stay informed without analyzing or making sense. I find the events are too fast and too close to be able to understand them.

I had lived in Beirut for all my life and I have always thought that it is where I want to be. But now, I am more and more convinced that it is Beirut that no longer wants me.

During the last war in July one could see on the streets clothing, furniture, and people's belongings thrown out on the streets from the pressure of the bombs. It was as if the city had spilled out its guts, leaving no places that can veil us.

During that war in summer 2006 you made a short film "Untitled". There are images of large vessels in a summer gaze juxtaposed by, what sounds like noise coming from a radio. Could you tell me what the work is about?

I consider "Untitled" a document from the last July war. During that summer I was stuck in my apartment, trying to grasp what was happening around me. I wanted to keep traces of what was going on, but not by going out on the streets, running after the "events". I wanted to record from my own private space how this war was altering things around me. From my window, I was watching warships evacuating the foreigners and the double-nationality Lebanese who wanted to flee the country. In the meantime, the State of Israel was intercepting the broadcast of a radio station, "Voice of the People", to broadcast an audio message threatening the Lebanese. With a digital camera and a mobile phone, I wanted to capture this moment of slippage.

You also made the film ‘Un Cercle Autour Du Soleil’ (‘A Circle Round The Sun’), with a synopsis reading:
"I was disappointed the day they announced the war had ended. I used to be elated by the idea of living in a city that was eating itself, like excess stomach fluid that digests and gradually eats away the stomach. How to live in Beirut, a city that is always already in ruins?”

Did you find the answer to that question?

Beyond the myth of the city that constantly leads itself to its destruction in order to proclaim its rebirth, (Beirut is said to have been destroyed and rebuilt seven times), I find Beirut a city that is built in ruins. In ‘Un Cercle Autour Du Soleil’ I evoke the corrosive character of the sun that precipitates the ruin of things, to denunciate that myth.
But then, can anyone proclaim to dwell in a city of ruins? I think after 15 years of war, and another 15 years of no-war, we have managed to loose any sense of belonging to Beirut. We have lost the notion of a place called home.

During the war many people, mainly those living on the demarcation line, had to leave their houses and move into new apartments in safer areas in Beirut. During each round of fighting, transfer of population would take place. Emptying areas or filling up others. People occupied office buildings or hotels and turned them into housing. When the residents of Beirut moved out of their homes to live in a no-place, Beirut was no longer inhabited, and therefore no longer a city. It even lost its name; it was either ‘West Beirut’ or ‘East Beirut’. When the war ended in 1991, the Beirutis were certain they could find their forsaken home, as if after a day's absence. But many came back to houses that were ruins, or even squatted by other occupants.

The Lebanese war has left an estimated of 150,000 dead people. Maybe today, only the dead have a home to go back to in Beirut, and we Beirutis can only hope to be admitted among the dead so we can inhabit our city again.