THE ATLAS GROUP AND WALID RAAD at the Art Gallery of York University (4700 Keele), to November 14. 416-736-5169. At Prefix ICA (401 Richmond West), to November 27. 416-591-0357. Videos programmed by the Atlas Group at Vtape (401 Richmond West), opening October 16 and running to November 26, and Kodak Lecture Series performance at Ryerson University, November 26 (www.ryersonlectures.ca). Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
Through the 1980s, hardly a day went by without another news story about chaos in Lebanon. In Beirut, cars were almost as likely to blow up as they were to start up.
Lebanese artist Walid Raad , through his organization the Atlas Group, documents the minutiae of daily life during the period of civil war that lasted from 1975 to 91.
However, neither the Atlas Group nor the people whose lives he documents are real. Raad uses fiction to impart an intimate experience of the war through a series of real and false documents. The result is enthralling, and it becomes impossible to speak of the Atlas Group files without making them sound authentic. The work includes files on two characters.
At the AGYU , we see Yussef Nassar's collection of 100 pictures of the aftermath of car bombs, featuring military and civilian bystanders hovering over mangled car engines in futile attempts to glean information about the bomber. In the next room, there's a page from Nassar's notebook showing his design for a sculpture representing each of the 13 bomb craters he photographed in 1986.
Meanwhile, Prefix displays notes and images of hapless historian Dr. Fadl Fakouri. There are records of regular trips with fellow historians to a racetrack where the races are fixed, a series of self-portraits and two poignant videos with rapid-fire sequences of stunning imagery. For one, he exposed a single frame of Super 8 film wherever he was each time he thought the war was over.
It could have become confusing wading through the layers of pseudo-reality, but the way Raad unravels a tangible experience of the war in the grey area between fact and fiction is brilliant.
Most beautiful is the humour he conveys in these characters, despite the endless carnage.