Gisele Amantea, Aleppo, Syria, December 17, 2016 — An interview by Jacques Doyon

[Winter 2020]

An interview by Jacques Doyon

Jacques Doyon: What is the origin of the work Aleppo, Syria December 17, 2016? How did the idea emerge? Why Syria? And what prompted you to work from an existing image of a disaster?

Gisele Amantea: I was invited by curator Emily Falvey to participate in the group exhibition Here Be Dragons. The theme of the exhibition, which took place at Carleton University Art Gallery in Ottawa in the fall of 2018, was to present the work of artists who “explore a range of contemporary art practices engaged in social critique and strategies of political resistance that deploy ambiguous, symbolic images to summon active interpretation on the part of the viewer.”1 Emily was interested in having me create a site-specific work for a particularly large, challenging space in the gallery. The invitation appealed to me for two reasons. First, I have made many ephemeral, large-scale site installations in which I sought to transform the viewer’s experience by altering what I came to think of as the “skin” of the architecture. These works were immersive – made directly on the surfaces of specific spaces in galleries and museums. Second, these works have been intended to provoke viewers, physically and psychologically, to consider pertinent social and political issues.

I had visited Aleppo in 2010, and in developing a work for Here Be Dragons I initially thought of an environment that reflected upon the civil war in Syria and the migrant crisis that had resulted from it. At the time, I began to look at what seemed like a never-ending circulation of images of death and destruction, primarily of those who had drowned at sea or were affected when large areas of Syrian cities had been bombed to near-complete ruin. In my research I came across a critique of war photography in the New York Times by Michael Kimmelman, who argued that the flood of these images risks “normalizing indifference” to the tragedy that they are intended to convey.2 At the same time, photojournalists in Syria were questioning whether daily posting of their images made any difference, and the art collective Abounaddara asserted that the images denied Syrian people their diversity…

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