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Jun 24 2011

Book Blog: Walid Raad

by Sahar Baharloo

Lebanese-born, New York-based artist Walid Raad is hard to figure out and I think he likes it that way. At first his book, with its deceptively bland yet melodramatic title, Scratching on Things I Could Disavow: A History of Modern and Contemporary Art in the Arab World: Part 1_ Volume 1_ Chapter 1_ (Beirut:1992-2005), might just seem like a box of random objects. It is actually a fictional history and archive put together by Raad under the guise of an organization he created called the Atlas Group. The goal of the Atlas Group is to record the recent history of Lebanon. In this book (the name is just too long to retype), Raad gives us the first chapters of each volume of this book. These chapters all take different forms.

The box.

Its insides.

The introduction consists of a single, double-sided page. I love the simple type- driven design (it’s not unlike the current interior of ArtAsiaPacific). The way it’s layed out makes it feel more like an old text book than an artbook. This book wasn’t made to display artworks, but it serves as an artwork itself. Because of the book’s unique form, the consumer  becomes an active participant—flipping, unfolding and switching between booklets.

My favorite chapter is entitled 1./ The Atlas Group (1989-2004), which displays the archival documents that the Atlas Group is compiling. The mythology that Raad created claims that the group began in the late 1980s, but really Raad didn’t start this project until the late 1990s.

This chapter entitled, 4./ Appendix XVII_Plates 88-109 has the most folds and flaps. It is downright labyrinthine. While Raad is a fan of obstructing his message, it is especially evident here— muddling it down with illegibly small and obscured type and layouts featuring blank pages. He ends the chapter by naming all the plates “Untitled.”

Caption text

This might not be something that Johannes Gutenburg would have recognized as a book, but it was something I thoroughly enjoyed exploring and unpacking. If you’d like to learn more about Walid Raad and The Atlas Group, check out his site. Or you could just apply to Cooper Union, where he is currently a professor.

Book Blog is a weekly showcase of book design from ArtAsiaPacific’s areas of coverage and is written by AAP’s designer Sahar Baharloo. All images were taken by our photo editor Alis Atwell.

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