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'Generation: 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland' opens at Stills
Owen Logan, The National Anthem Band, from the series Masquerade: Michael Jackson Alive in Nigeria (2001-2005).
EDINBURGH.- Bringing together archival material, award winning documentary films, new commissions and world-changing photobooks, Stills’ new exhibition offers an alternative perspective on warfare and the civil peace. In place of tortured bodies and decimated landscapes, The King’s Peace presents the work of photographers who have looked beyond the immediate horror of conflict to instead focus on the underlying systems that drive it. In this exhibition, war and peace are presented not as opposites but as deeply connected.

The work of the Edinburgh-born photographer and writer Owen Logan is the starting point for The King’s Peace | Realism and War. As well presenting his photo-essay Masquerade: Michael Jackson Alive in Nigeria (2001-2005) for the first time in Scotland, Stills invited him to expand upon its themes using curatorial strategies. Below is a brief description of some of the works included in the show.

Martha Rosler’s ‘House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, New Series’ (2004-2008) encapsulates the exhibition’s argument. Using photomontage she cuts familiar news images of the Iraq conflict into ‘lifestyle’ spreads from popular magazines to create shocking juxtapositions where dead children lie on designer chairs and troops of male models stride away from burning cities. Her striking images make plain the connections between violence abroad and consumer culture at home.

Going back in time, the Magnum photographer Philip Jones Griffiths’ incendiary photobook Vietnam Inc. continues the interrogation of imperialism. His searing captions turn first impressions of his images on their head, forcing readers to look – and think – again. Originally published in 1971, the book was credited with changing public attitudes in the US and has been described as ‘one of the most excoriating indictments of US involvement in the Vietnam War ever published’.

Owen Logan’s photo-essay uses satire and humour to consider the realities of postcolonial Nigera after the civil war of 1967 to 1970. The late Michael Jackson takes up the starring role, moving through the rungs of Nigerian society from colonial master to elite playboy to born-again Christian to fatherly patron, with many other incarnations in between. Alongside Logan’s photographs, the author Uzor Maxim Uzoatu’s lively story goes deeper into the country’s history and present troubles. This re-presentation of Masquerade: Michael Jackson Alive in Nigeria has been supported by GENERATION: 25 years of contemporary art in Scotland.

Tucumán Burns is the title of a fascinating collective intervention into the domestic politics of 1968 Argentina. Following the military coup staged by General Onganía, many artists left the artworld to use their skills in direct action. One artist stated at the time: ‘If you take the questioning of the traditional criteria for the work of art to its ultimate consequences, wouldn’t it be legitimate to say that the best work that can be created today is a riot?’ Instead of a riot, Tucumán Burns took the form of an information campaign to counter the propaganda disseminated through the state-sanctioned media. After the failure of the project most of the artists involved stopped producing art altogether and some took up political militancy.

Back on home ground Stuart Platt’s documentary revisits the community art project Hi Ho Giro, produced in 1994 by the photography group Snapcorps. Re-imagining Wester Hailes as ‘Fairy Hailes’ their hilarious slide-to-tape video followed the escapades of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as they negotiated their way through Department of Social Security bureaucracy. The picture of the ‘civil peace’ they created wove together the machinations of local politics, taxation and benefits systems, the introduction of the National Lottery, and protests against the Major government’s ‘Criminal Justice and Public Order Act’.

‘Why are we doing what we are doing? What is it doing to others? And what is it doing to us?’ These are the central questions asked by the US filmmaker Eugene Jarecki in his searing documentary Why We Fight (2005). Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, his film looks beyond the heroes and villains of the news headlines. It knits together archive footage with victims’ personal stories and commentary from military personnel, political insiders, journalists and arms industry workers in an overarching analysis of the drivers behind war in the 21st century.

These artworks and more are presented alongside archival material from the early 20th century. Together they show how realist strategies have evolved since the end of the First World War. Recognising the crucial role that images play in how societies communicate and comprehend conflict, they have articulated the need for a genuine and democratic peace.

Artists participating in The Kings Peace | Realism and War include: Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin (South Africa/England), Grupo de Artistas de Vanguardia (Argentina), Nermine Hammam (Egypt), Eugene Jarecki (USA), Philip Jones Griffiths (USA), Owen Logan, (Scotland), Fred Lonidier, (USA), Martha Rosler (USA), Snapcorps with Stuart Platt, (Scotland) Paul Strand & Cesare Zavattini (USA & Italy). Curated by Owen Logan and Kirsten Lloyd.

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