AMSTERDAM.- Truth, facts, memories, reality: are they all constructions? Artists Broomberg & Chanarin, Omer Fast, Chia-Wei Hsu and Meiro Koizumi show how film, video, but also slide projection, photos and sound can be used to study and 'unmask' the past. Reportage, re-enactment, documentary and cinematic techniques are some of the strategies used by these artists to expose the subjectivity of historical sources and the limitations of memory. In tales set in different parts of the world they examine the construction of stories and how stories change when they are told and retold from different perspectives.
The works presented expose the history in conflict areas; those parts in the world where the focus on truth and fiction is sharpened. And where the small-scale histories of individuals are often exemplary of a larger socio-political reality. Broomberg & Chanarin, Omer Fast, Chia-Wei Hsu and Meiro Koizumi tackle the question of the representation of war. Can a war be retold? Is it possible to depict a war? And which is the artist's role in this? These questions are the catalyst of the different, often unknown or forgotten stories of events from the Second World War, the Cold War, and more recently from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The artists share an inquisitive and reflective attitude towards history. They expose historical stories, not necessarily to reveal the truth. The procedure they follow is essentially different from, for instance, a journalistic, judicial or scholarly approach. They demonstrate that perspectives can be different and that imagination plays a major part in constructing a common and collective cultural memory. Their works raise questions about pressing issues from history rather than provide answers.
Broomberg & Chanarin
The artists Adam Broomberg (1970) and Oliver Chanarin (1971), born and bred in South Africa and England respectively, were trained as photographers but nowadays use various media. In their work they provocatively raise matters from history, politics and religion, always pointing out the power and the many possible interpretations of images, and struggling with the role of representation. The work Dodo (2014) was based on the representation of a war. The combination of record research, archaeological excavations and unused film fragments from the movie Catch 22 resulted in a striking work about the representation of war and the impact of the American Hollywood industry on the Mexican landscape. The work The Day Nobody Died (2008) originated from the time both artists were embedded with the British army in Afghanistan.
Present-day trauma and war are major ingredients of Omer Fast's politically charged films. Fast (Israel, 1972) is interested in the tension between reality and fiction and explores the construction of stories, in particular how stories change when told from different perspectives. In Continuity (2012) a married couple is reunited with their son after his military mission in Afghanistan. The uncomfortable story rapidly gets more and more complicated. Her Face Was Covered (2011) was prompted by a drone pilot's statement describing the bombing of a truck convoy at an unspecified location.
With his confronting videos and performances Meiro Koizumi (Japan, 1976) unearths numerous deep-rooted taboos and sensitive issues of Japanese society. He is building a consistent oeuvre based on recurring subjects, such as the individual and collective memory, Japan's attitude towards the past, the Japanese media culture and the image of ultimate Japanese heroes such as the samurai and the kamikazes. Defect in Vision (2011) and Portrait of a Young Samurai (2009) give a disturbing picture of these warriors. The traumas and memories of American veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the subject of Koizumis recent work Battlelands (2018).
The Taiwanese artist Chia-Wei Hsu (1983) immerses himself in the cultural history and geopolitics of Asia. By telling forgotten stories he explores Asian history, giving a prominent part to myths and legends from these areas. In Huai Mo Village (2012) a priest tells about the time he worked for the CIA as a spy and resisted the Chinese communists. In Drones, Frosted Bats and the Testimony of the Deceased (2017) former factory workers reminisce about the Second World War in shots of a deserted fuel factory in Taiwan, filmed from a drone.