interviewed by Predrag Pajdic, February 2007

You made a project called 'Beirut Metro Map'. Could you please explain what it is about?

I created a fictional Metro map for an underground network in Beirut to add another virtual layer to the psychological and physical labyrinth of the city, focusing on the ever-present demarcation lines that were splitting Beirut during the long period of the civil war, and its relation to the social environment in post-war Beirut.

The circulation flow is illogical and irrelevant to the geographical urban structure of the city, in a way that all the metro lines will stop at the old demarcation lines, and passengers will have to change to another line in order for them to cross to the other side. Even now, people taking a 'service' cab have to take another cab at the old 'crossings' to continue to the other side. The driver on the west side of Beirut will not go to the east side and vice versa, even the buses have their major stops on the old crossing points of the old green zone.

Beirut is passing through a situation of ending a phase and waiting on the steps of another, while still passing through a reconstruction period, living a utopian dream of prosperity that is yet to come. The post-war Beirut is marked by a feeling of emptiness, uncertainties and insecurities, and has undergone some abrupt changes. It is becoming a new urban space where the spatial intersects with the social and where flexibility and mobility become key qualities. New spatial orders with a transnational range are being superimposed on the familiar territorial lines. When the city itself becomes a transit place, in a transitional phase waiting in the void, on the edge of another era, it becomes a non-place.

The new architecture of non-places consist of spatial flows, movement and transitional zones, where the physical body fails to cope with the new urban vernacular, as Bilal Khbeiz wrote in his book 'Globalization and the Manufacture of Transient Events', “…absenting the physical body, effacing the face to dissimilate in a virtual existence behind a reconstructed image (...). With globalization the body fails to cope with the imagination, and is quickly expelled and replaced by another body made of the imagined and the fantasized”, as such the non-place imposes itself on the inhabitant of the city leading to a collective behavior of abrupt mobility.

When we talked last time in Beirut you also told me about a cartographic project, a work in progress, where you are trying to figure out the relation between the diverse city center of Beirut and the suburbs, which are still mainly sectarian. Could you explain?

Well, this crippled mobility that I was talking about, in addition to the ever-present civil-war memories, have manifested themselves in many social behaviors. The demography of the city and suburbs is moving more and more towards cleansed social subgroups resulting in closed, sect-pure, geographic entities around a diverse 'center/s' of the city, and public spaces are becoming hard to find. A new power oasis has emerged around the city and signs of clashes are rising to the surface.

This situation had manifested itself in several violent incidents. First a demonstration against the Danish embassy (Feb 5th 2006) which is situated in Ashrafieh; a Christian area of Beirut. This incident was an indicator of the level of congestion that lays beneath the surface especially when the extremist Sunnis were violently destroying public and private properties. Another incident came three months later (May 3rd 2006) when a Shiees group manifested, in the same area, against the so called humiliation of Hezbollah leader Nasrallah on a local TV station. And recently two incidents, on Jan 23rd and 25th 2007, encounters between opposition supporters, among them Shiees’ and Maronaite Christians and advocates that are mainly Sunnis and another political power of the Maronites. These violent incidents were almost in all the suburbs (Christian and Muslim) and around the country, but then escalated to the fringes of the city and then into the center.

Karen Piper wrote in 'Cartographic Fictions':

“The history of cartography has been a history of coding the enemy, making a 'them' and 'us' that can be defined with a clear border. It has been a history of pushing 'them' out of territory that is considered 'ours' denying their existence, deleting their maps, drawing lines in the sand. But the enemy has always been us, and so the project has been destined to fail, forced to reinvent itself again and again in search of better and more elaborate methods of detection.”

From such an understanding I will try to re-map Beirut city, a social cartographic process to understand the complexity of the city, a trial to dominate part of the public sphere.

I am currently collecting directional maps that are usually found on brochures and flyers for the purpose of re-constructing the city from fragments. I will mainly work on the gaps that remain between the fragments, as a way to fit the incidents I talked about previously, into those gaps, with other fictional stories that can narrate the city from within blank areas like those of a lost public space. I try not to represent the city as such, but to stress the impossibility of representation or as my friend Tony Chakar wrote:

“A representation of Beirut that takes into account the complexity of the city and, hopefully, that would point out the impossibility of taking a 'snapshot' of it, or of dwelling in it. Beirut- or at least some of it- transforms its citizens into permanent tourists, into urban nomadic masses that are always ready to perform in a spectacle that is yet to see the light. The status of performing tourists makes dwelling impossible.” The inhabitants of Beirut are floating instead of dwelling in the city. “Why did they choose to float (…)? The answer might seem simple, but it isn't: it was the war. But not the violence of the war, rather the war as a symbol of a world coming to an end and the beginning of a new era.”

Beirut Metro Map
, 2005

By creating a map for a series of virtual metro lines, 'Beirut Metro Map' adds another implicit layer to the psychological and physical labyrinth of Beirut. It focuses on the ever-present demarcation lines that split the city during the long period of the civil war and explores the relationship between those demarcation lines and the city's post-war social environment. The circulation flow seems totally irrelevant to the city's current geographical urban structure yet it reflects a sudden and abrupt mobility due to the mass behavioural patterns of Beirut's inhabitants.