Walid Raad: Walkthrough

*Index XXXVI: Red*

Walid Raad. Index XXXVI: Red. 2010 291000

Walid Raad. Index XXXVI: Red. 2010. Vinyl, pencil, inkjet prints, spray paint, sheetrock, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Walid Raad: If you look here, look at the white lines on this wall—can you see it? And those of you who can read Arabic, you can tell that these lines, they're actually letters, they're actually names. You see, these are the names of men and women who have lived and worked in Lebanon in the past century. They've worked as painters, as sculptors. They're also the names that I've been receiving telepathically from artists from the future over the past nine years.

Now, if like me, you've often experienced telepathic reception, then you know you can never trust telepathic signals, because telepathic signals always come with something else. Telepathic signals always come with telepathic noise. You need confirmation that in fact the signals are telepathic and they're coming to you from artists from the future. So what I usually do is, I need confirmation. And for telepathic signals, I only trust two kinds of people to confirm this to me. I trust good dancers and good cooks. So what I did, is I wrote these names in white vinyl letters, and I put them on these white walls—you see, this wall wasn't here, we transported it from Beirut to here—and I waited for confirmation. What I did not expect was that this confirmation would come to me from the least-expected figure, would come to me from the least-sympathetic person I could think of—a local cook who considers himself a guardian of Lebanese modern and contemporary art.

The cook walks into my space, and the first thing he does, he disregards my telepathic claims as some kind of fanciful contemporary conceptual conceit, and then he proceeds to confirm to me that indeed, the names on the walls are those of artists who had lived and worked in Lebanon in the past century. But he says, “Many of the names are misspelled.”

“Of course,” I say, “telepathic noise.”

He's unwilling to attribute my orthographic errors to telepathic noise. He says, “This is typical of your generation of artists. This young generation, you not only can't even spell the name of anyone who came before, but you constantly overlook their contributions.” And what upset him the most is of all the names I could've misspelled, I somehow managed to misspell the name of the man who deserved it the least, Johnny Tehan, a man who's spent the majority of his adult life in a wheelchair.

“Hasn't this man suffered enough in life? Must he suffer again at your hands?” And then, with red paint, and on my beautiful white walls, the cook took it upon himself to correct the misspelled name.

This shattered me, it destroyed me—not because I care about the cook and his opinions, but because I did not want to contribute to the suffering of Johnny Tehan. So I spent the next two years finding out everything I can about Johnny Tehan. Who was he, where did he live, what kind of drawings did he make?

And I find out that Johnny Tehan was born in Egypt in 1930, he died in Beirut in 1989. I find copies of his drawings, of his paintings. I find reproductions of his works, his slides. I even find reviews of his exhibitions in Lebanese newspapers. And in one of the reviews, there's even a photograph, and in the photograph, he's in a wheelchair. Yes, the cook was right, Tehan did spend the majority of his adult life in a wheelchair. I find price lists, I find correspondence with collectors. In other words, after two years of research, I find enough documents to be able to say that Johnny Tehan was—well, let's not call him an artist—let's say he's someone who drew and painted, he exhibited his works, he sold them. He lived in the second half of the 20th century in Beirut, he's a historical figure—his name certainly deserves to be spelled correctly.

But still, there was something that seemed to me deceptive about the cook's indignation and his call for compassion. And over time, I came to view this indignation, it's a ruse. It's a ruse distracting me from a more insidious scenario than merely misspelling this man's name and overlooking his contributions.

Today, I'm convinced that artists from the future, they did it on purpose. You see, they on purpose misspelled Tehan's name when they sent it to me via telepathy. Because artists from the future are not interested in Tehan, they're not intent on sending me on some corrective historical missions. Artists from the future want or need something else. And today I know that artists from the future want or need a color. More precisely, they want or need this particular shade of red that's going to appear in the cook's sprayed corrections. But why would future artists want or need this color? It’s because it's no longer available to them, of course. But why is it no longer available to them? Has there been some major nuclear disaster, and the pigments that compose this color have been depleted or destroyed?

No, the color is not available to the artists of the future because the color has been affected, but it has not been affected physically, it has not been affected materially. The color has been affected in a more subtle way, it's been affected immaterially.

Now, this sudden realization brings me face to face with something I had never ever considered about the Lebanese civil wars.

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