Abstract of the essay “Ruins and the Void in Post-War Beirut: Spaces of Contestation and Imagination.” in: kritische berichte 46, No. 3, 2018: p. 39-46.
The (re)construction of the Lebanese capital Beirut shortly after the civil war (1975–1990) has been hotly debated and contested among scholars, writers, architects, city planners, artists, and the public. Politicians, together with a few private interests, had a vision for development which would cut the city off from its past, replacing it with a sort of pastiche. This was advocated by political and economic interests, which aimed to integrate Lebanon into the flows of a global economy following the fall of the Iron Curtain and the proclaimed end of history. Following these developments, this essay investigates how outlooks and imaginations in Beirut’s public sphere have changed, starting from «the Age of Physical Reconstruction» (Rowe/Sarkis 1998) in the 1990s up to the present day.
The essay focuses on both artistic practices and scholarly accounts, which expose the power structures governing how ruins and empty spaces are organized, used, and mobilized. One motif in this analysis are posters. These were either put up in the city center to envision future developments or, as shown in contemporary artist Helene Kazan’s work, used to visually close off construction sites, displaying buildings yet-to-come and, at the same time, covering the ruins of destruction. Vacant and empty spaces, here in the form of politicized locales inscribed with both political and financial interests, have twofold meanings. Firstly, they connect to a sectarian past and, secondly, they are imagined spaces pointing towards the future and a future public. Inevitably, this leads us to the question, whose past, present, and future is at stake?
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