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Bullet Hole, Beirut

The yellow house has seen Beirut through her grandest and bloodiest turns. Commissioned in 1924 by the Barakat family, the building designed by Youssef Aftimos, in the picturesque French Mandate style is a work of genius, affording a view onto the street from every room in the building with views through windows, verandahs, doorways into windows beyond and onto the city. At the time of its construction, the building was situated in the outskirts of Beirut, with urban planning the city soon built up and by the time the war started in 1982, the yellow house found itself positioned exactly on the demarkation line which divided East and West. Due to its strategic positioning, facing their enemy to the West, the Christian militia reappropriated the interior spaces and views through to build bunkers and snipers nests.

Representing a valuable step in Beirut’s architectural heritage, this building took on a very different value during the war. The worlds of the architect and sniper were intertwined, the latter taking the building’s exceptional layered vistas as a source for voyeurism, protection and mass murder. The gunmen could nest in the bunker’s dark recesses while commanding the street corner from virtual obscurity. The remaining scars of war left by the billions of bullet marks on the walls are a chilling reminder of the terror of conflict.

Using one of the bullet holes, which pierced through a stone wall, is synonymous of Roland Barthes’ punctum, “a detail, a partial object” the light emanating into the darkened room. “However lightening-like it may be, the punctum has, the power or less potentially, a power of expansion.” The idea of the piercing of a bullet hole is one element, but when it becomes the source of a photographic image your thinking becomes transformed and expanded. The notion of the strength and speed of the violence through stone, opens up your mind to expand. The projection through which light pours through the aperture has depth and a loaded history. The site is layered with its own history. Here the punctum is the source for the image filling the interior space of the camera obscura, it is the referent. There is a superimposition of the present and the past.

By creating a camera obscura inside the Yellow House I was able to bring in the present and dressing the walls with time. Reminding the viewer of the present in contrast with the beaten and ravaged walls of devastation. The same aperture which was caused as a result of war is now turning back on itself. Projections of people walk across the mass bullet ridden walls, clouds move silently over the rubble and devastation left by war, the outside is now looking in. Bullet Hole, Beirut, a heterotopic site is a material space within which is also a microcosm of different environments are present.

Nilu January 20th, 2010