Beirut Caoutchouc, 2004-2008
Cities are my hometown. Cities accept everything. Cities provide everything.
Inspired from the cities I lived in, my work questions their urban space. In 1993, I moved from New York to Beirut. The Lebanese civil war had ended and Beirut was waiting to be re-built. I used to wander, get lost, discover new areas, find my way around every street, every neighborhood and tell stories about Beirut every day.
In the early 2000s, there was a debate about the reconstruction. The expressways that were proposed could bring someone from point A to B, without seeing the city. A disconnection would happen between the traveler and the neighborhoods, the people and the streets. At the same time, the expressways would divide the city and turn the neighborhoods into clusters. Instead of having a busy street as a meeting point between two neighborhoods, there would only be empty borders, which neighborhoods turn their back to, looking inwards towards their centers instead of outwards towards different cultures.
The idea behind Beirut Caoutchouc is to have a map somewhere in-between the paper map that we look at as spectators, and the real city that swallows us when we walk inside it. I wanted to make a city that one can see as a whole and participate in. In 2003 when I worked on the project, I knew the city very well but all the maps I could find at that time about Beirut never showed the actual zoning of the sectors.
The Electricity of Lebanon divided Beirut into fifty-nine sectors marked by a blue sign on each street. I walked all around the city, following the blue signs, and marking the lines that divided one sector from the other, starting from number 11 (Nejmeh). Basically, I would see a sector name on a blue sign, then cross the street and find out another sector name. This would mean that this street is the border between two sectors. Sometimes, at intersections, there would be three different sector names, like in Sassine for example, which is divided between Sioufi, Mar Mitr, and Achrafieh.
I imagined Beirut Caoutchouc before starting to make it, the size and the material I would use. Working with materials from the city, I was looking at something similar to gymnasium mats, and used black rubber. I wanted Beirut on the floor so people could get a sense of intimacy, so they could get on their knees and search for a specific location. I also wanted them to learn about it, understanding each neighborhood and its borders – making connections.