I’ve agreed to speak at the Max and Iris Stern International Symposium on Topographies of Mass Violence to be held at the wonderful Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC) (above) 31 March 31/1 April 2017.
We’re still figuring out what I might do, but here is the general description of the symposium. More details when I have them.
The 11th annual Max and Iris Stern International Symposium, Topographies of Mass Violence, will be held at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal on March 31 and April 1, 2017, accompanying the shows Mundos by Mexican artist Teresa Margolles and Now Have a Look at this Machine, by Quebec artist Emanuel Licha. The symposium will address the phenomena of mass violence and the ways in which it is intimately linked to the territories and spaces in which it is perpetrated, but also the spatial and architectural arrangements through which it is mediated.
Mass violence is defined as violence by a government or organized group against certain members of a community or an entire population (members of an ethnic, religious or sexual community, inhabitants of a country). It encompasses violence against a few individuals to several hundred thousand victims: shootings, terrorist acts, feminicides, armed conflict, genocide. While there has always been mass violence, with war being one of the most common manifestations, since the early 1990s the nature of such violence as well as its modes of appearance and representation have changed. Far from making the world a peaceful place, the end of the Cold War and the opening of political, cultural and commercial borders has resulted in ongoing war, even in the heart of Europe, and a resurgence of the oldest forms of mass violence (such as genocide and ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and the Balkans). Recent decades have also been marked by an increase in certain types of mass violence: against women (the Polytechnique massacre, killing of First Nations women), against sexual communities (the shooting in Orlando, murders of transgender people), against Blacks (police violence) and even against certain social and occupational categories (Charlie Hebdo journalists, Mexican students). Climate change—which has its roots in political decisions about territorial management and is often closely intertwined with conflict—is also a source of broad-scale violence against civilian populations, provoking major movements of people which has in turn resulted in government attempts to impose spatial management on individuals (border walls, refugee camps, apartheids).
The ways in which these phenomena are represented has also undergone major transformations since the early 1990s. The first Gulf War marked the start of an intensive production of images of conflict, leading to tight governmental controls on their dissemination. Later, the advent of the Internet and social media allowed new actors to get involved in producing and disseminating such images, including amateur reporters and victims, but also perpetrators, in a trend toward the spectacularization of group killings: the September 11 attacks, the macabre scenes staged by Mexican drug cartels and the executions filmed by the Islamic State.
In this symposium, an international group of specialists in a variety of disciplines (historians of art, architecture and urban planning, of film and media, as well as architects, artists, activists and curators) will address these phenomena and suggest ways to think about them that go beyond their traditional representations in the media. Their contributions will help us imagine how the investigation of certain spatial artefacts inherent to architecture, city planning or military tactics can lead to a better understanding of these forms of violence.
Mapping, forensic architecture and visual cultures provide tools for conducting such spatial investigations, and certain artistic practices associated with these inquiries seek to offer alternative modes of representation. To escape the media polarization of unrepresentability/spectacularization, but also to counter government erasure and denial of mass violence, many artists take on the role of topographer by recording and representing the traces of this violence in the places where it has been directly or indirectly inscribed. Whether this involves territories where the violence has occurred (such as the Syrian, Iraqi and Libyan deserts; the Highway of Tears in British Columbia and Downtown Eastside in Vancouver;Ciudad Juárez and adjacent neighbourhoods), the evidence that remains (mass graves, destroyed cities, abandoned houses …) or the architectural structures which have made the representation and mediatization possible (war hotels …), mass violence is inseparable from topos.
Margolles’s Mundos brings together multiple works addressing violence in Mexico:
For over 30 years, Margolles has developed her practice in response to the endemic violence that ravages her country (violent deaths from the drug trade, marginalities and exclusions, feminicides and social injustice). The exhibition, Mundos, brings together works mainly created in this decade, along with pieces that have never been shown before. It includes sculptural and photographic installations, performative interventions and videos. Spare, yet powerfully moving, the work by Margolles reaches out and brings us into the world of those whose lives have been made invisible.
Licha’s Now Have a Look at this Machine is an installation version of a documentary, Hotel Machine:
Licha filmed in five cities—Beirut, Sarajevo, Gaza, Kiev and Belgrade—in five hotels that house war correspondents covering conflicts. The film is presented in a central space surrounded by five adjacent archive stations, which through texts, images and other documents explore aspects of the concept of the “war hotel.”