MUNICH.- The exhibition presents artistic positions that focus on the critical analysis of violent conflicts in the media, beginning with the First Gulf War of 1991 to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and ending with the events of the Arab Spring of 2011.
Because pictures are never perceived in isolation but rather in the context of other, existing ones, the selected works also explore the pictorial tradition in which such images exist and the content they address beyond that of the individual image. The title Image Counter Image refers to the phenomenon of visual arms races, i.e. to the fact that media images compete with each other, simultaneously supplant each other, and "battle" other images.
Framework, Agenda, Selection
According to Susan Sontag, the "framing" of an event as an image has a "determining influence in shaping what catastrophes and crises we pay attention to, what we care about, and ultimately what evaluations are attached to these conflicts."
The fact that not every conflict is recorded in images is demonstrated by the collection of Newsweek covers from April to August 1994 compiled by Alfredo Jaar (Untitled [Newsweek], 1994). The magazine first dedicated a cover to the Hutu's massacre of the Tutsis in early August, after a million people had already been killed and nearly two million had fled from Rwanda. This series of covers demonstrates the hierarchy of news and indirectly questions the agendas and responsibilities of journalists.
Jasmila banic poses the same question with her film "Images from the Corner" (2003), intensifying it into a thesis. The filmmaker regards foreign journalists in war zones as one of the wounds that war inflicts on the civilian population. They come and go with the conflicts: "The war goes to other places, to other people. With it travel the cameras, the journalists, the photo reporters, and they make their news and their new images. We stay here with ours." Her film focuses on an event that took place in Sarajevo in 1992: A French photojournalist photographed a young woman who had been wounded by a grenade and who was lying in the street, crying for help. banic filmed the place where the wounded woman had lain and superimposed the footage with the sound of a camera whose shutter is being pressed and the film changed twice. The shot lasts as long as it took the journalist to shoot three rolls of film.
Image Production and the Sovereignty of Interpretation
Media coverage has changed significantly in the last two decades. Important milestones were the First Gulf War of 1990/91, the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, and images of the Arab Spring of 2011.
The First Gulf War was triggered by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. United States military attacks against Iraq began in January 1991. In order to channel the flow of information so it would promote the political aims of the military operation, a memorandum ("Annex Foxtrot") had already been sent to units of the United States military in August 1990. According to the information it contained, reporters had to be constantly escorted ("News media representatives will be escorted at all times. Repeat, at all times") and all reports were subject to the approval of the military ("Reports reviewed by military censors"). Because reporters were unable to gain an independent picture of the events, the media conveyed the image of a "clean" war whose actions and attacks were shown but not their consequences. The official image production consisted primarily of nocturnal views shot from a distance, monitor and crosshair images.
In "Waiting for War" (1998), Nin Brudermann uses video footage of the kind of live broadcasts as those created in December 1998 during Operation Desert Fox. The monochromatic green night images show Iraqi targets from various perspectives, which were provided by four major news agencies. As an analogy for the simultaneity of the images, Brudermann presents the events on four projections. The camera pans over the Iraqi targets, foretelling an attack and fraught with tension. Mediagenic staged explosions accompanied by corresponding sounds and quiet passages between the attacks alternate. Brudermann refers to this work as a "war work" that "is based on the same speculative spectacle effect of fireworks."
In contrast to the "clean" image of the First Gulf War, the pictures of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 were broadcast on numerous channels around the world. The events were thus immediately available for the whole world to see and demonstrated the vulnerability of the United States and the capitalist system. Hans-Peter Feldmann created a series out of 151 front pages of international newspapers published the day after the attacks. The work serves as a pertinent example of the worldwide network of news agencies, all of which make use of a similar pool of images. Variations result from the size of reproductions, the wording of the headlines and the assessment of the events, from a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions to a declaration of war against the United States or an attack on the economic structures represented by the United States.
Two days after the United States and Great Britain began bombing Afghanistan in 2001, John Smith saw the image on the television in his hotel room frozen for several minutes; the bombing of Afghanistan that the news reporter was describing was not visible. Smith came to regard the frozen image as a metaphor for the uncertainty triggered by the events at that time. "Half the world's a swanky hotel, the other half's a bomb site," is how he described the concept of his eight videos entitled "Hotel Diaries" (2001-07). Each film was shot in a hotel room. Based on found objects and situations, Smith developed his assertions on world affairs. The films give expression to the belief that each place is political and related to "outside" events.
The Lebanese artist Roy Samaha, who was once a reporter for ABC, processed his impressions in a personal narrative. In 2011, as part of the Leica competition "In the Footsteps of the Great Explorers", he explored the revolution in Egypt through photographs. Before going to the country, he followed the events there on YouTube and Twitter. When he arrived, there was no telephone or Internet connection. His photographs show the lives of the people living in this exceptional situation and tell a background story beyond those of news images.
Warfare on the Monitor
The artist duo Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell travelled to Afghanistan in 2002 to conduct investigations and photograph Osama bin Laden's former home near Jalalabad, where bin Laden lived in 1996-97 and allegedly planned the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. The film "The House of Osama Bin Laden" (2003) was designed to be interactive, without fulfilling the expectations placed on a computer game: The rooms of the simple country house remain deserted - nowhere is there a potential victim of a virtual attack. The animation lacks the typical stereotypes of the enemy and provides a counter-image to the ideologically overloaded representations that were common in the media at the time.
With his series "Serious Games" Harun Farocki demonstrates how much warfare itself is virtualized today. He documents the training of soldiers on military bases and combines this material with computer simulations. Based on satellite images of Afghanistan and Iraq, these simulations are used to prepare attacks and to help treat post-traumatic stress disorders. Faith in the technique remains obviously intact for both the producers and users of this software, as if the simulations really could help in planning and processing such experiences.
The Limits of Military Technology
The general assumption is that the American military possesses the most advanced techniques for enemy surveillance and is therefore superior. Whoever observes the observer, however, reverses the balance of power. In the photo series "Limit Telephotography" (begun in 2005) Trevor Paglen documents secret U.S. military installations. The photographs in this series were taken using techniques originally developed for astronomy and astrophotography. Yet even they do not allow precise images when taken from a distance of up to 60 miles and the subject matter remains blurry. Paglen thus formulates a paradox: Those who wish to make information accessible to a public, which is entitled to such from a democratic standpoint, fail due to limitations in technology.
Other artists presented in the exhibition approach the subject by way of systematic research. Sean Snyder explores the production and processing of images using technical equipment. In a space-within-a-space installation created expressly for the exhibition, the artist duo bureau d'études show how non-Iranian press organizations and political authorities depicted Iran in 2011.
Monika Huber, Wilhelm Sasnal and Radenko Milak use painting to express their ideas. All three employ popular media images as the basis of their works presented here (from news images photographed from television, to the image of a laid out Muammar al-Gaddafi published on the Internet and the photographed documentation of an attack on civilians in the former Yugoslavia).
The show exhibits works by bureau d'études, Nin Brudermann, Harun Farocki, Omer Fast, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Téo Hernandez, Monika Huber, Alfredo Jaar, Adela Juić, Radenko Milak, Langlands & Bell, Trevor Paglen, Thomas Ruff, Roy Samaha, Wilhelm Sasnal, Ahlam Shibli, John Smith, Sean Snyder, Thomson & Craighead and Jasmila banic. It was curated by Patrizia Dander, León Krempel, Julienne Lorz and Ulrich Wilmes. A catalogue published by Walther König includes texts by Georges Didi-Huberman, Tom Holert, David Levi Strauss, and Marion G. Müller, as well as short descriptions of all the artists in the exhibition.