The Truth Doesn’t Have Versions: Artist Walid Raad at the Phillips

Walid Raad, “Notebook volume 38: Already been in a lake of fire,” 1991/2004. © Walid Raad. Courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

No photographs. No camera recording. A room of 75 people sitting in the dark listening to a man tell a story. Given the nature of the program – a Conversation with an artist – you trust what you hear is the truth. But that’s not Walid Raad’s style. What is fictional and what is factual weave together so intricately that, frankly, you’re left a little confused. Inspired, but confused. You realize you haven’t experienced a conversation per se, you’ve witnessed a performance.

All of us know that philosophical riddle about the tree falling in a forest with no one around and the question of whether or not it makes a sound. That’s what I keep returning to when I think of Walid’s stories – whether communicated in spoken word or implicit through his work. The investigation of what constitutes our reality – what is the truth – and the exploration of how we observe and react to our world is at the center of his practice.

Now, let’s not forget that we run the risk of assumption. What we tend to perceive as factual reality can turn out to be a constructed, fictional one (and vice versa). Of course, the lines can be blurred. What is fictional and what is factual can run so closely parallel to one another, or weave through each other, that your understanding of what comprises (your) reality is challenged (again and again). Moreover, our realities – I think we can venture here to use the plural – can exist with both irrefutably real and deliberately fabricated elements, often confused one for the other (as a resident of the nation’s capital with policy makers and international figures, I can think of a few examples). It’s the disillusionment that happens after the moment of realizing the truth that Walid does not concertedly, I think, try to avoid.

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