How do we recognize a photograph of war? Is it possible to make an image of the trauma that lingers in its wake? “Frames of War” proposes that picturing war’s reverberations, and not only its sensational moments of acute crisis, is crucial. This exhibition takes its title and its premise from Judith Butler’s eponymous book, in which she argues for the need to widen our range of recognition both of war and of the vulnerable bodies, populations, and histories that war produces. We need to see more, not less. This does not mean that we need to see the violence of war in more graphic detail. It means we need to understand the breadth of violence more clearly, to acknowledge it even in its most excruciatingly banal manifestations.
The artists in “Frames of War” suggest that this violence marks urban life far beyond the moment when actual explosives and shelling have ceased to be part of the everyday. Helene Kazan presents two short videos that investigate the impact war has on our ability to imagine coherent domesticity. Lina Selander’s silent film was shot in Hebron, in the West Bank, as a record of war’s architectonics: a military checkpoint trying to adapt to its historic (Islamic) architectural surroundings, a chain link fence above a busy commercial street. Jeewi Lee’s performative drawing of soldiers on the walls of an abandoned building in what was Berlin’s Jewish Ghetto is meant as an analogue to the Stolpersteine, individual cobblestones marking the place of Jewish residents persecuted by the Nazis. Both are insufficient to the task of memory, and necessarily so, yet both testify to how the past persists in the space of the city. Babylon is the filmic portrait of an informal city, one constituted almost overnight in the border zone between Libya and Tunisia. Ala Eddine Slim, ismaël, and Youssef Chebbi capture the informal economies and violent language games of a place forcibly suspended from time, a humanitarian zone.
If war today is inescapably urban, it is also obsessed with the flow of information. The debate about contemporary media coverage and the almost instantaneous global distribution of violent images focuses on one aspect of this flow, but its importance is also—more subtly, perhaps—constituted by the distinction between stories that are told and stories that are erased, withheld, and obscured. Mariam Ghani and Chitra Ganesh photocopy heavily censored national security documents that have been “released” to the public. They make images of war’s conspicuous absence from it’s own documentation. Chelsea Knight juxtaposes scenes of military interrogation with domestic negotiation, drawing parallels between the ambiguous forms of (rhetorical) power deployed in each instance. Her film seems to asks, ‘what do you need to do/say to get the story you want?’ Brad Samuels from SITU Research will speak about the Left to Die Report, which includes trajectory visualizations of a boat that was allowed to drift in the Mediterranean without rescue for days and on which 63 migrants eventually died. The report also reconstructs the paths of various French and UN vessels that claim not have encountered the stranded ship. In all three projects, the underlying motivation is in part to remind the viewer of the body that information describes, controls, makes invisible.
Natasha Marie Llorens is an independent curator and writer based in New York. In 2014, she curated “Prove It To Me,” at REVERSE Gallery in Williamsburg, and co-curated “Failing to Levitate” with Kerry Downey at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Project Space in Manhattan. Her next will be “Threshing Floor,” at the Cuchifritos Gallery in May 2015. She teaches art history and theory at The Cooper Union and curating at Eugene Lang. She is a graduate of the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College and a Ph.D. candidate in art history at Columbia University. Her academic research is focused on violence and representation in the 1970s and 1980s.
Image: Helene Kazan, Masking Tape Intervention: Lebanon 1989.