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Opening: February 10, 19H
Duration: February 11 – March 5, 2011
This exhibition does not contain art works. Rather, it is based on images and information, which come from research we have made and discussions we have had about images of war. With this exhibition, we want to stir up in the discussion about Germany and Europe’s participation in the enduring war in Afghanistan. With the so-called visual turn, which was a consequence of the attack on the World Trade Center, it has become clear which political importance the image can get, when politics become an increasingly important factor in the production of images and strategic wars also become image wars. The systematic dissemination of image, as well as the suppression of images, are part of these wars. How are images of wars constructed through (self)censorship at different levels? How do we remember wars through images? And even more important: how can we read images against the way they are read for us in the media, to see what they really stand for, and use them for the cultivation of resistance against the war?
Among many official history writers, military people, etc., the perception is that the Vietnam War was lost by the USA because the media showed too many images of it and thereby turned the ordinary citizen against it. Therefore subsequent wars have seen experiments in strict censorship of the press, ban on images, disinformation and regimentation. The most glaring example is the Golf War in 1991, which was so controlled that in spite of the fact that there have never been shown so many images from a war on television, as spectator (TV viewer, journalist, etc.), one has never seen so little of the actual war. That war has entered our memories as a mixture of high tech planes, green flashes in the black desert night and burning oil fields. In short, a clean war, of “surgical precision.” Death was not visible to the naked eye.
How will we remember the war in Afghanistan or the previous Iraq War? Images, and the stories that are written into them, have a large influence on how we perceive and remember a war. Susan Sontag writes in her book Regarding the Pain of Others that what we call collective memory is a collection of images that have been made to stand in for an event and thus become our "memory" of it. Further, images always come with a context; they are already interpreted when they are communicated in the media. Following Sontag it is possible to see two strategies:
1) The first is a simple control of images. This means that we do not see images of the true face of the war, of the death, suffering and destruction, which are inevitable parts of any war. There is an image deficit, which aims to ultimately make us experience the ongoing war as nothing. In the mass media there are hardly any images that show us what is actually going on in this war, that remind us that we are at war, and what exactly war is, which is misery. Without such experiences, resistance comes less easily. (In the Iraq War, for example, up to 90% of the victims were civilians, against 10% in the First World War.).
2) The other strategy has to do with how to read the images that are presented to us. To accept the context the mass media give us, or to try a different, critical reading.
Increasingly, the images of the war we are given in the media are militarised. The output is heavily controlled and censored and the desert of the image deficit is flooded by images produced by the military itself. Images of its machines and images produced by exactly these technological wonders. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are equipped with cameras and bombs, as if to reintegrate the two meanings of the verb to "shoot." They literally shoot an image and destroy the subject simultaneously.
This creates a very specific aesthetic. The images look like video games, they are pixellated, black-and-white, with no real contours, no reality in them. They are framed arbitrarily, dictated by the attempt to identify the target, not by the human eye’s aestheticising intervention. (Their function is first and foremost destruction not creation of images). The by-product, so to speak, is then recycled in the mass media, in order to determine the image of the war. This aesthetics points directly to the technology fascination, which shall convince us of our superiority in a war that is like surgery, precise and healing.
Further, the fascination of these images has generated its own scene in which they are consumed and exchanged on social media platforms – the so-called "drone porn." For these images, can be imagined a fate similar to the films made by soldier reporters during the Second World War, which today are so popular on Discovery and in the endless flow of History documentaries. Who would be surprised, would we in a few years tune in to BR-alpha and encounter, instead of the "Space-Night," the "Drone-Night"?
It is therefore important to learn how to read the images, to see that these images do not show unreal technological interventions in a desert landscape. They show real people who suffer and a war machine that has become the largest industry in the capitalist world. It ensures its own right to exist through its communication strategies and production of images that creates concepts of the enemy.
The video Collateral Murder, which was leaked by WikiLeaks, is an example of a rereading of such images. It gave names and families to the faceless shadows identified as enemies and shot by nervous US American soldiers in a helicopter. A simple and ancient strategy, and also a necessary correlate to the context we are served with these kinds of images on a daily basis. A small course in seeing images (not just looking at them), and read their hieroglyphs, as Bertold Brecht wrote in Kriegsfibel, his anti-war and anti-forgetting picture book published in 1955.