My Neck is Thinner than a Hair: Engines looks at the aftermath of car bombs in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war (1975–91). It consists of one hundred framed inkjet prints, each featuring a black and white photo on the left and an equal-sized piece of paper with handwritten notes and date stamps on the right, placed one next to the other. These are scanned and printed renditions of the front and back of journalistic photos of car engines found scattered around the city of Beirut following bomb explosions during the war. The artist found the photos in the Lebanese press, such as the daily newspapers Annahar and As-Safir. The date of the explosion, the name of the photographer when known, and an English translation of the notes found at the back of the pictures are included at the bottom of each print. On the right hand edge of each of the prints, running vertically, is the name of the artist, the Atlas Group file that the work belongs to, the title of the file, and the date of production of the work. These framed prints, which the artist terms ‘dossiers’, are shown arranged in a rectangular grid on the wall. The work was produced in an edition of five, of which Tate owns the fourth. There is also one artist’s proof.
My Neck is Thinner than a Hair: Engines is an integral part of a larger, ongoing series by The Atlas Group, a project established by the artist Walid Raad in 1999. The Atlas Group has concentrated on researching and recording the contemporary history of Lebanon. To this end it locates, preserves, studies and produces audio, visual, literary and other artefacts that relate to that era. It has built up archives of notebooks, films, videotapes, and photographs and other objects, which are kept in New York City and Beirut. When presented to the public, these archives take the form of mixed media installations, single channel screenings, lectures and performances, and visual and literary essays.
The Atlas Group archives are organised in three categories of files: Type A (authored), Type FD (found), and Type AGP (Atlas Group Productions), reflecting the character of the project, which oscillates between fiction and non-fiction. The documents, stories and individuals that Raad presents with his project are a mix of facts and histories that he has invented. They are all, however, the product of the artist’s research in Lebanon and other countries. My Neck is Thinner than a Hair: Engines falls under the Type AGP and is part of The Thin Neck File – one of two files so far making up this category, The Sweet Talk File being the second one. The Thin Neck File explores the events and experiences surrounding the use of car bombs in the 1975–91 Lebanese war. It consists of three portfolios: My Neck is Thinner than a Hair: A History of Car Bombs in the Lebanese Wars (1975–1991), Volumes 1–245 (photographs); I Was Overcome With a Momentary Panic at the Thought That They May Be Right (mixed media); and We Can Make Rain But No One Came To Ask (video).
In the sixteen years of the Lebanese war, 245 car bombs exploded in Lebanon and killed thousands, injured tens of thousands and caused extensive damage in the neighbourhoods of Lebanon’s main cities Beirut, Tripoli, Saida and Sidon. The car bombs were detonated with a remote control, and were used to kill, destroy and terrorise. My Neck is Thinner than a Hair: Engines documents car engines that were discovered after the explosions around the city, and the military and civilian investigators and witnesses of the engines. The engine is the only part of a car that remains intact after a bomb has exploded. The force of explosion causes the engine to soar tens and sometimes hundreds of meters away from the site where the bomb was detonated. As a result of this, car engines were found all around the city of Beirut, in such locations as balconies, roofs and nearby streets. Photographs of these engines were a common feature in newspaper reports at the time of the war. The repetitive presentation of these pictures can be seen as a comment on the banality of violence during war. Raad also explores the relationship between the details of the cars and the bombs used to explode them. The work may be understood as operating between research, archiving and ironic interpretation of a historic reality. Furthermore, it can be said to examine issues such as authorship, authority and authenticity, as well as the ways in which the history of Lebanon is documented and remembered.
As the artist notes, the Atlas Group,
examines multiple dimensions of the wars – social, political, economic, military, technological, psychological and epistemic – as expressed in what is believed and articulated with regards to the 245 car bombs that were detonated in Lebanon during this period. The project is not an attempt to place blame or generalize suffering. Not all of the Lebanese people sustained physical or psychological harm from car bomb explosions, nor did all militias and armies use car bombs to terrorize, destroy, or kill. What our work demonstrates is that the detonation of a car bomb is not only an act of violence, but also produces a discourse that directly and indirectly affects individuals, families, and communities. We have found that the car bomb is both a cause and a consequence of the ongoing political, military, economic, and criminal conflicts that have defined most aspects of life in Lebanon for the past thirty years. The history of these car bomb explosions doubles as a history of how the wars were physically and psychically experienced, and how those who lived through such events speak about and assimilate their experiences.
(Quoted in Walid Raad: Scratching on Things I could Disavow: Some Essays From the Atlas Group Project, p.91.)
Eva Respini, ‘Walid Raad’, Greater New York, exhibition catalogue, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Centre, New York 2005, pp.58–9.
Walid Raad, My Neck Is Thinner Than A Hair: Engines, Cologne 2006.
Walid Raad: Scratching On Things I Could Disavow: Some Essays From the Atlas Group Project, exhibition catalogue, Culturgest, Lisbon 2007.