Representation of conflict

[Spring 2010]

by Jacques Doyon

This issue looks at the representation of conflicts and wars. Whether they are distant battles, terrorist attacks, or riots taking place in the heart of our cities, their communication to the public is often dominated by spectacularization and slanted views. The artists whose works brought together here address situations that regularly make the headlines nowadays: bomb explosions, military operations in Afghanistan, riot-squad actions during social conflicts. Their intention in broaching these issues is to make palpable the constructed and fictional aspect of the image and to modify our perceptions by multiplying points of view, exposing opposed visions, taking account of the lived experience of war, and drawing on the past.

In Eleven Blowups, Sophie Ristelhueber uses elements from her own photographs to re-create images of bomb craters broadcast in the media. In showing the traces of destruction, these images, true and false at once, portray not the specificity of a single story and place but the experience of collapse, the devastating effect of a gaping hole opening up at one’s feet. “The idea of a terrain loaded with history that is swallowed up is a concept that inspires me,” says Ristelhueber. The fact that these images were first presented in the former residence of the Governor of the Bank of France in Arles says that this abyss is also ours.

Emanuel Licha’s R for Real and Bagdads also attempt to untangle the threads of the fictional from the real, this time by evoking a fully operational fiction that takes the form of constructed sets of urban areas used to train soldiers and police officers. Playing on ambiguities, Licha’s works underline the role of fiction in the reality of conflicts and in the composition of our representations of the foreign. The figure of a “disaster tourist,” present in R for Real, sheds additional light on the phantasmal and disturbing dimension of our perceptions.

The exhibition War at a Distance, presented at the TPW Gallery in Toronto, looks at media representations of war in the context of debates over the Canadian presence in Afghanistan. Juxtaposing artworks, reports and documentaries, radio dramas, personal videos, and documents disseminated on social media platforms, this project aimed to decompartmentalize discourses and broaden perceptions of the conflict in Afghanistan in order to stimulate public debate. This debate was actually undertaken in a colloquium on “documentary practices, visual culture, and the public debate on military conflicts”

Abbott & Cordova, 7 August, 1971, the first public artwork by Stan Douglas, adds a complementary voice to these issues related to the perception of conflicts and public debate. Located at the entrance to a commercial building in Gastown, a long-neglected historic Vancouver neighbourhood, the work is presented in the context of an urban renewal plan based on mixed functions and populations. Douglas chose to look back at a 1971 riot that saw the forces of order opposing young people of the neighbourhood; the work exposes issues involved in redevelopment by recalling the need to integrate all inhabitants of the neighbourhood.
Translated by Käthe Roth

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