Bullet Hole, Beirut thematically began my exploration of homely places that had been violated by history. My site of investigation was the prestigious yellow house in Beirut, Lebanon, a damaged set of Art Deco apartments that had withstood the onslaught of war. The yellow house was a site where the camera obscura became the perfect medium and place in order for me to do the things that I wanted Located on the former ‘green line’, it became a sniper base during the civil war of 1975-1990 and is littered with thousands and thousands of bullet holes. I was granted access into this site to create a camera obscura installation using one of the bullet holes which had pierced the outside wall. The yellow house, reflected Hauntology and the cross over of time, is poignantly now the first memorial of its kind: a Museum of Memory to commemorate the civil war.
I wanted to make political the bright projections of the camera obscura using specifically a bullet hole within a historically violated architectural space, to shed light, to expose, on the otherwise hidden, obscured, darkened, imminently destroyed history and ideology of family. The bullet puncturing a stone wall, is synonymous of Roland Barthes’ punctum, described in his book, Camera Lucida (1980) as the accident in a photograph that disturbs and bruises, “a detail, a partial object” (Barthes 1980, p.43) 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.” (Barthes 1980, p. 45). The deeper meaning triggered by the penetration of a bullet becoming the source of a photographic image transforms and expands thought. The notion of the strength and speed of the violence through stone, opens your mind as does light pouring through the bullet hole and transforming itself into the live photographic image projected onto a site that is already layered with its own history. Here the punctum is the source for the image filling the interior space of the camera obscura. There is a superimposition of the present and the past echoing Hauntology and the transformation of the space making it Heterotopic.
Standing in the rooms of the building was reminiscent of Maurice Blanchot’s The Writing of the Disaster (1995), where disaster is unreachable as it never comes. Imminence is full of unknowing and pain and as soon as the disaster comes there is a palpable manageable structural way of managing it. The future comes towards us, but it is never known as once we know it, it is the past. The threat of disaster is impactful, it is not something that happens in one moment but something that continues to approach, triggering or accessing elements of the past as it comes forward.
Nilu January 20th, 2010