War and the body

The papers for the special section of Critical Studies on Security addressing ‘Visual representations of war and violence’ and focusing on embodiment, expertly edited by Linda Roland Danil, are now online.

Linda provides an introductory essay, and the papers that follow are:

Derek Gregory, ‘Eyes in the sky – bodies on the ground’

Catherine Baker, ‘A different kind of power’? Identification, stardom and embodiments of the military in Wonder Woman

Helen Berents and Brendan Keogh, ‘Virtuous, virtual but not visceral: (dis)embodied viewing in military-themed video games

Kandida Purnell and Natasha Danilova, ‘Dancing at the frontline: Rosie Kay’s 5SOLDIERS de-realises and re-secures war’

Choreographies of 21st Century Wars

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As regular readers will know, I’m keenly interested in the intersections between performance works and the critique of military violence – using performance not only as a way of engaging audiences and creating publics but also as an intrinsic part of the research process itself.

Much of my own work has focussed on theatre, and I’ve commented on the multiple meanings of  ‘theatre of war’ on several occasions (see here, here and here, though I know there’s much more to say about that).

But I’ve also drawn attention to the role of dance – notably Rosie Kay‘s collaborative project with visual artist David Cotterrell, 5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline (see my post on ‘Bodies on the linehere; more on the production here and here).

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All of which will explain my interest in this new collection of essays (which includes a contribution from Rosie Kay), Choreographies of 21st Century Wars, edited by Gay Morris and Jens Richard Giersdorf:

Wars in this century are radically different from the major conflicts of the 20th century–more amorphous, asymmetrical, globally connected, and unending. Choreographies of 21st Century Wars is the first book to analyze the interface between choreography and wars in this century, a pertinent inquiry since choreography has long been linked to war and military training. The book draws on recent political theory that posits shifts in the kinds of wars occurring since the First and Second World Wars and the Cold War, all of which were wars between major world powers. Given the dominance of today’s more indeterminate, asymmetrical, less decisive wars, we ask if choreography, as an organizing structure and knowledge system, might not also need revision in order to reflect on, and intercede in, a globalized world of continuous warfare. In an introduction and sixteen chapters, authors from a number of disciplines investigate how choreography and war in this century impinge on each other. Choreographers write of how they have related to contemporary war in specific works, while other contributors investigate the interconnections between war and choreography through theatrical works, dances, military rituals and drills, the choreography of video war games and television shows. Issues investigated include torture and terror, the status of war refugees, concerns surrounding fighting and peacekeeping soldiers, national identity tied to military training, and more. The anthology is of interest to scholars in dance, performance, theater, and cultural studies, as well as the social sciences.

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Here is the Contents list:

Introduction: Contemporary Choreographies of Wars, Gay Morris and Jens Richard Giersdorf
Chapter 1: Access Denied and Sumud: Making a Dance of Asymmetric Warfare, Nicholas Rowe
Chapter 2: Questioning the Truth: Rachid Ouramdane’s Investigation of Torture in Des Témoins Ordinaires/Ordinary Witnesses, Alessandra Nicifero
Chapter 3: “There’s a Soldier in All of Us”: Choreographing Virtual Recruitment, Derek A. Burrill
Chapter 4: African Refugees Asunder in South Africa: Performing the Fallout of Violence in Every Day, Every Year, I am Walking, Sarah Davies Cordova
Chapter 5: From Temple to Battlefield: Bharata Natyam in the Sri Lankan Civil War, Janet O’Shea
Chapter 6: Choreographing Masculinity in Contemporary Israeli Culture, Yehuda Sharim
Chapter 7: Affective Temporalities: Dance, Media, and the War on Terror, Harmony Bench
Chapter 8: Specter of War, Spectacle of Peace: The Lowering of Flag Ceremony at Wagah and Hussainiwala Borders, Neelima Jeychandran
Chapter 9: A Choreographer’s Statement, Bill T. Jones
Chapter 10: Dancing in the Spring: Dance, Hegemony and Change, Rosemary Martin
Chapter 11: War and P.E.A.C.E, Maaike Bleeker & Janez Janša
Chapter 12: The Body is the Frontline, Rosie Kay and Dee Reynolds
Chapter 13: Geo-Choreography and Necropolitics: Faustin Linyekula’s Studios Kabako, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ariel Osterweis
Chapter 14: Re: moving bodies in the Mexico-USA drug, border, cold, and terror wars, Ruth Hellier-Tinoco
Chapter 15: After Cranach: War, Representation and the Body in William Forsythe’s Three Atmospheric Studies, Gerald Siegmund
Chapter 16: The Role of Choreography in Civil Society under Siege: William Forsythe’s Three Atmospheric Studies, Mark Franko

There’s obviously a lot more to say about choreographing war too…

War Stories

The video from our War Stories event in Vancouver last month – including Farah Nosh‘s narration of her wonderful photographs, a superb capsule genealogy of PTSD from Ann Jones, my discussion of casualty evacuation over the last hundred years, a drama staged by veterans from Afghanistan and directed by George Belliveau, Contact! Unload!, and a lively Q&A with the audience moderated by Peter Klein is now available here.

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My lecture, Precarious journeys, has also been carved out for the Peter Wall Institute website here. The idea behind the event was, in large measure, to think through the multiple ways in which modern war is narrated, which is why we had such a rich and diverse portfolio of performers and why I take the turns I do…  Regular readers will probably recognize that the arc of my presentation draws on my current research on evacuation from the Western Front in the First World War, on evacuation from Afghanistan today, and on my admiration for Harry Parker‘s Anatomy of a Soldier (see my ‘Object lessons’ here and the slides available under the DOWNLOADS tab).

More in an interview with Charlie Smith from the Georgia Straight here.

War Stories

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Thursday 15 September 7 – 9.30 p.m. on the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre – 162 West 1st Avenue, Vancouver:

War stories from Afghanistan, Iraq and other conflict zones told by foreign correspondents, combat veterans and scholars.

Award-winning Iraqi-Canadian photojournalist Farah Nosh and writer/photographer Ann Jones will share images and stories of the impact of war on civilians. Wall Distinguished Professor and geographer Derek Gregory will discuss changes in the evacuation of war casualties from battlefields over the past century. Contact! Unload, a play directed by Wall Scholar George Belliveau, will feature Canadian veterans depicting what it means to transition home after overseas service. The play highlights Marv Westwood’s Veteran’s Transition Program and artist Foster Eastman’s Lest We Forget Canada! mural. Moderated by Emmy Award winning journalist Peter Klein.

Following the presentations the performers will engage with the audience in a discussion about the different perspectives and approaches to sharing war stories, and the value of storytelling’s ability to chronicle, enlighten and heal.

Register here (free).  I’m really excited about this – I admire the work of Farah Nosh and Ann Jones enormously, I’m looking forward to the extracts from Contact! Unload – I’m still thinking about Rosie Kay‘s Bodies on the line and Owen Sheerswonderful work in a similar vein – and Peter Klein will be a wonderful interlocutor.  Do come if you can.

UPDATE:  We’re sold out, but there is a wait list.  And you can find more on WAR STORIES from the wonderful Charlie Smith at the Georgia Straight here.

Flying lessons

Reach from the Sky PERFORMANCE WORK

To complement the comparison implicit in my last post – between ‘manned’ and ‘unmanned’ military violence – I’ve added a presentation to those available under the DOWNLOADS tab.  I prepared it last month for an event at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, where I performed it with my good friend Toph Marshall.  It’s part of my performance-work on bombing, and stages two cross-cutting monologues between a veteran from RAF Bomber Command who flew missions over France and Germany in the Second World War and a pilot at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada operating a Predator over Afghanistan.  As the title implies, it dramatises many of the themes I discuss in more analytical terms in my Tanner Lectures, ‘Reach from the Sky’.

For the performance, each speech was complemented by back-projected images.  Virtually all of the words were taken from ‘found texts’ – memoirs, diaries, letters and interviews – and the only consciously fictional lines were lifted from Andrew Niccol‘s Good Kill (and I’m sure that they originated in an interview with a real pilot).

It’s imperfect in all sorts of ways, and it is still very much a work in progress, but I’m posting it because it might be helpful for anyone teaching about aerial violence and its history.  If it is – or even (especially) if it is isn’t – I hope you’ll let me know.

Noises off

Good Kill

Matt Gallagher has an excellent double review of George Brant‘s play Grounded and Andrew Niccol‘s film Good Kill at The Intercept here:

‘[B]oth leave viewers with only keyhole snippets, stories of American homefront trauma with little reckoning of life on the receiving end of the unmanned aerial campaigns…

As Americans funding the largest war machine the world has ever known, it’s not just about us, even when we’re the ones pulling the trigger on the ground or pressing the joystick in Nevada. It’s also about them, because they are the ones living with the consequences of what our post-9/11 wars have wrought. Perhaps ironically, perhaps not, recent creative work produced by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, such as Maurice DeCaul’s play Dijla Wal Furat and Elliot Ackerman’s novel Green on Blue, recognize this. We’re well past time the rest of America recognizes it, too.’

As I’ve noted before, ‘popular culture continues to be preoccupied with what happens in Nevada – and what happens on the ground is left shrouded in so many shades of grey.’

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If you’re wondering about Matt’s recommendations (he is the author of Kaboom: embracing the suck in a savage little war, incidentally), then you can find discussion and reviews of Dijla Wal Furat: between the Tigris and the Euphrates (which had its premiere in February) here, here and here, and Green on Blue here and (especially) here.

Bodies on the line

The more I think about corpography (see also ‘Corpographies under the DOWNLOADS tab) – especially as part of my project on casualty evacuation from war zones – the more I wonder about Grégoire Chamayou‘s otherwise artful claim that with the advent of armed drones the ‘body becomes the battlefield’.  He means something very particular by this, of course, as I’ve explained before (see also here).

But let me describe the journey I’ve been taking in the last week or so that has prompted this post. Later this month I’m speaking on ‘Wounds of war, 1914-2014‘, where I plan to sketch a series of comparisons between casualty evacuation on the Western Front (1914-18) and casualty evacuation from Afghanistan.  I’ve already put in a lot of work on the first of these, which will appear on these pages in the weeks and months ahead, but it was time to find out more about the second.

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En route I belatedly discovered the truly brilliant work of David Cotterrell who is, among many other things, an installation artist and Professor of Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University.  He became interested in documenting the British military casualty evacuation chain from Afghanistan, and in 2007 secured access to the Joint Medical Forces’ operations at Camp Bastion in Helmand.  He underwent basic training, a course in even more basic battlefield first-aid, and then found himself on an RAF transport plane to Bastion.  The Role 3 Hospital was, as he notes, a staging-ground. ‘Field hospitals are islands between contrasting environments,’ he wrote in his diary, ‘between the danger and dirt of the Forward Operating Bases and the order and convention of civilian healthcare.’  You can read a long, illustrated extract from the diary (3 – 26 November 2007) here, follow the photo-essay as a slideshow here, and explore David’s many other projects on his own website here.

THEY-WERE-SOLDIERS_by-Ann-Jones_72The diary is immensely interesting and informative in its own right, not least about the exceptional personal and professional difficulties involved in documenting the evacuation process.  Here there’s a helpful comparison to be made with journalist Ann Jones‘s no less brilliant They were soldiers: how the wounded return from America’s wars (more on this in a later post), which starts at the US military’s own Level III Trauma Center, the Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram, and moves via Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the largest US hospital outside the United States, to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC.

David’s visual record is even more compelling, as you would expect from a visual artist, not only in its documentary dimension but also in the installations that have been derived from it.  In Serial Loop, for example, we are confronted with a looped film showing the endless arrival of casualties at Bastion: ‘The sound of a continuously arriving and departing Chinook helicopter accompanies images of a bleak and wasted landscape; the banality of the film’s fixed perspective masks the dramas that unfold within the ambulances as they travel to triage.’

9-liner explores what David calls ‘the abstraction of experience within conflict’:

9-Liner explores the dislocation between the parallel experiences of casualties within theatre. It is a quiet study of a dramatic event: the attempt to bring an injured soldier to the tented entrance of the desert field hospital. The screens show apparently unrelated information. JCHAT – a silent scrolling codified message – runs on a central screen. Our interpretation of it is enabled through its relationship between one of two radically different but equally accurate views of the same event. To the left we see the Watchkeeper – a soldier manning phones and reading computer screens in a crowded office. On the right we view the MERT flight – the journey of the Medical Emergency Response Team in a Chinook helicopter.

SHU’s REF submission includes this summary of David’s work (one of the very few useful things to come out of that otherwise absurdist exercise):

The research made clear that soldiers recovering from life-changing injuries had limited means of reconstructing the narrative of their transformative experiences. From the time of wounding through to secondary operations in the UK, many soldiers remained sedated or unconscious for a period of up to five days. The radical physical transformation that had occurred during this period was not adequately reconciled through medical notes, and the embargo on photographic documentation of incident and subsequent medical procedures served further to obscure this period of lost memory.

A culture of secrecy meant that medical professionals were unable to access documentation of the expanded care pathway with which they, and their colleagues, were engaged. This fragmentation of experience and understanding within the process of evacuation, treatment and rehabilitation meant that the assessment of the contradictions and disorientation experienced by casualties and medical practitioners was denied to front-line staff.

Family members, colleagues and members of the public outside the immediate environment of the military were unable to visualise or understand the transformative effects of conflict on directly affected civilians and soldiers. Partly as a result, the scope for public debate to engage meaningfully with the longer term societal cost of contemporary conflict was limited.

The submission goes on to list an impressive series of debriefings, presentations to military and medical professionals, major exhibitions, and follow-through research in Birmingham.

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And it’s one of those follow-throughs that prompted me to think some more about corpographies.  I’d noted the connection between corpography and choreography in my original post, but David’s extraordinary collaboration with choreographer Rosie Kay and her dance company gives that a much sharper edge.  Again, there’s a comparison to be drawn – this time with Owen Sheers‘s impressively researched and executed body of work, not only the astonishing Pink Mist but also The Two Worlds of Charlie F (2012)which was a stage play based on the experiences of wounded soldiers who also made up the majority of the cast (see my discussion of these two projects here).

5 Soldiers started life as a stage presentation in 2010 (watch some extracts here):

A dance theatre work with 5 dancers, it looks at how the human body is essential to, and used in, warfare. 5 SOLDIERS explores the physical training that prepares you for war, as well as the possible effects on the body, and the injury caused by warfare.

Featuring Kay’s trademark intense physicality and athleticism, 5 SOLDIERS weaves a journey of physical transformation, helping us understand how soldiers are made and how war affects them.

5 SOLDIERS is a unique collaboration between award-winning choreographer Rosie Kay, visual artist David Cotterrell and theatre director Walter Meierjohann. It follows an intense period of research, where Rosie learnt battle training with The 4th Battalion The Rifles and David spent time in Helmand Province with the Joint Forces Medical Group.

Rosie explained her commitment to the project (and her training with The Rifles) like this:

“I wanted to look at how the physicality of a soldier’s job defines them –like a dancer, the soldier is drilled, trained, their responses becoming automatic, but can anything prepare you for the realities of war? It is young soldiers and their bodies that are the ultimate weapon in war – their strength and weaknesses may win or lose a battle, their ability to harm or injure others is key to victory. While war is surrounded with weaponry, uniforms, history and ceremony, the real business is human, dirty, messy, painful and happening right now.”

(She is, not coincidentally, an affiliate of the School of Anthropology at Oxford).

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And now there’s a film version that works as a multi-screen installation (screen shot above).

Instead of just creating a short film, the team wanted the web user to get a truly interactive way to watch dance, and actually feel that they can go inside the minds and the body of the work. The 80-minute work was cut to just 10 minutes long, and the company spent one week filming in a huge aircraft hangar at Coventry Airport…

Using a variety of cutting edge filming techniques, the collaborative team have created a 13 angle edit that takes you into the heart of the work, follows each of the dancers, and zooms out so that the performers appear to be like ants in a huge empty landscape.

You can see the interactive, multi-perspectival version here.  This relied on helmetcams, and there’s a fine, more general commentary on this in Kevin McSorley‘s ‘Helmetcams, militarized sensation and “somatic war”‘ here.  But here’s the short, ‘director’s cut’ version:

And look at the tag-line: ‘The body is the frontline’.  It’s not only drones that make it so.