The Institute for Economics and Peacehas issued its Global Peace Index for 2014. There are all sorts of problems in calculating indices like these – and interpreting them (as you can see if you read some of the press releases and reports surrounding the publication of the GPI) – and in this case:
The Global Peace Index is a composite index comprised of 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators that gauge the level of peace in 162 countries. These indicators can be grouped into three broad themes: the level of safety and security in a society, the number of international and domestic conflicts and the degree of militarisation.
Crunching the numbers, the Institute concludes that
Syria remains the world’s least peaceful country, followed by Iraq and Afghanistan. The country that suffered the most severe deterioration in peace was Libya, which now ranks 149th of 162 countries. Ukraine suffered the second largest deterioration…
Its President, Steve Killelea, explained that:
2014 was marked by contradictory trends: on the one hand many countries in the OECD achieved historically high levels of peace, while on the other, strife-torn nations, especially in the Middle East, became more violent.
What the Report doesn’t pursue are the close links between those two trends; and when you look at the map you will soon realise that being ‘peaceful’ is not the same thing as not being belligerent… But the Report does emphasise the absurdist cost of all this violence (while noting that much more is at stake than money): ‘The economic impact of violence reached a total of US$14.3 trillion or 13.4% of global GDP last year.’ You can download the full Report here or find the interactive map (screenshot at the head of this post) here. On the same day, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees published different maps in World at War that provide a radically different calculus of the cost of such violence. Writing in the New York TimesSomini Senguptareports:
Nearly 60 million people have been driven from their homes by war and persecution, an unprecedented global exodus that has burdened fragile countries with waves of newcomers and littered deserts and seas with the bodies of those who died trying to reach safety. The new figures, released Thursday by the United Nations refugee agency, paint a staggering picture of a world where new conflicts are erupting and old ones are refusing to subside, driving up the total number of displaced people to a record 59.5 million by the end of 2014, the most recent year tallied. Half of the displaced are children. Nearly 14 million people were newly displaced in 2014, according to the annual report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In other words, tens of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes every day and “seek protection elsewhere” last year, the report found. That included 11 million people who scattered within the borders of their own countries, the highest figure ever recorded in the agency’s 50-year history. Tens of millions of others fled in previous years and remain stuck, sometimes for decades, unable to go home or find a permanent new one, according to the refugee agency. They include the more than 2.5 million displaced in the Darfur region of Sudan, and the 1.5 million Afghans still living in Pakistan.
And the map reveals a starkly different bi-polar geography to the division highlighted by the GPI:
When refugees flee their own countries, most of them wind up in the world’s less-developed nations, with Turkey, Iran and Pakistan hosting the largest numbers. One in four refugees now finds shelter in the world’s poorest countries, with Ethiopia and Kenya taking many more refugees than, say, Britain and France. As the report states, “the global distribution of refugees remains heavily skewed away from wealthier nations and towards the less wealthy.”
News today from I.B. Tauris of a new collection edited by Fiona McConnell, Nick Megoran and Philippa Williams, Geographies of peace:
From handshakes on the White House lawn to Picasso’s iconic dove of peace, the images and stereotypes of peace are powerful, widespread and easily recognizable. Yet if we try to offer a concise definition of peace it is altogether a more complicated exercise. Not only is peace an emotive and value-laden concept, it is also abstract, ambiguous and seemingly inextricably tied to its antithesis: war. And it is war and violence that have been so compellingly studied within critical geography in recent years. This volume offers an attempt to redress that balance, and to think more expansively and critically about what peace means and what geographies of peace may entail. The editors begin with an examination of critical approaches to peace in other disciplines and a helpful genealogy of peace studies within geography. The book is thendivided into three sections. The opening section [Contesting narratives of peace] examines how the idea of peace may be variously constructed and interpreted according to different sites and scales. The chapters in the second section [Techniques of peacemaking] explore a remarkably wide range of techniques of peacemaking.
This widens the discussion from the archetypical image of top-down, diplomatic state-led initiatives to imperial boundary making practices, grassroots cultural identity assertion, boycotts, self-immolation, ex-paramilitary community activism, and ‘protective accompaniment’. The final section [Practices of coexistence] shifts the scale and focus to everyday personal relations and a range of practices around the concept of coexistence. In their concluding chapter the editors spell out some of the key questions that they believe a geography of peace must address: What spatial factors have facilitated the success or precipitated the failure of some peace movements or diplomatic negotiations? Why are some ideologies productive of violence in some places but co-operation in others? How have some communities been better able to deal with religious, racial, cultural and class conflict than others? How have creative approaches to sharing sovereignty mitigated or transformed territorial disputes that once seemed intractable? Geographies of Peace is the first book wholly devoted to exploring the geography of peace.
Drawing on both recent advances in social and political theory and detailed empirical research covering four continents, it makes a significant intervention into current debates about peace and violence.
Introduction: Geographical Approaches to Peace
PART I: CONTESTING NARRATIVES OF PEACE
2. Peace and Critical Geopolitics – Simon Dalby
3. Building Peaceful Geographies in and through Systems of Violence – Nicole Laliberte
4. Unearthing the Local: Hegemony and Peace Discourses in Central Africa – Patricia Daley
PART II: TECHNIQUES OF PEACEMAKING
5. Moving Away from the Edge: Rethinking International Boundary Practices – John Donaldson
6. Making Space for Peace: International Protective Accompaniment in Colombia – Sara Koopman
7. Contextualizing and Politicizing Peace: Geographies of Tibetan Satyagraha – Fiona McConnell
8. Transforming the Troubles: Cultural Geographies of Peacebuilding in Northern Ireland – Lia di Shimada
PART III: PRACTICES OF COEXISTENCE
9. A place of empathy in a fragile contentious landscape: environmental Peacebuilding in the Eastern Mediterranean – Stuart Schoenfeld, Asaf Zohar, Ilan Alleson, Osama Suleiman and Galya Sipos-Randor
10. Everyday Peace, Agency and Legitimacy in North India – Philippa Williams
11. Migration and Peace: the Transnational Activities of Bukharan Jews – Nick Megoran
12. Welcome to Sheffield: the Less than Violent Geographies of Urban Asylum – Jonathan Darling
Conclusion: Geographies of peace, geographies for peace
This is the ninth in a series of extended posts on Grégoire Chamayou‘s Théorie du drone and covers the fourth chapter in Part II, Ethos and psyche.
4 Psychopathologies of the drone
One of the most common media tropes in discussing ‘a day in the life’ of drone operators is their vulnerability to stress and, in particular, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Chamayou traces this to an Associated Press report by Scott Lindlaw in August 2008, which claimed that the crews who ‘operate Predator drones over Iraq via remote control, launching deadly missile attacks from the safety of Southern California 7,000 miles away, are suffering some of the same psychological stresses as their comrades on the battlefield.’ Similar stories have circulated in other media reports. The root claim is that, unlike pilots of conventional strike aircraft, drone crews see the results of their actions in close-up detail through their Full-Motion Video feeds and that they are required to remain on station to carry out a Battle Damage Assessment that often involves an inventory of body parts.
One recent study, ‘Killing in High Definition‘ by Scott Fitzsimmons and Karina Singha, presented at the International Studies Association in San Francisco earlier this year, makes the truly eye-popping suggestion that:
‘To reduce RPA operators’ exposure to the stress-inducing traumatic imagery associated with conducting airstrikes against human targets, the USAF should integrate graphical overlays into the visual sensor displays in the operators’ virtual cockpits. These overlays would, in real-time, mask the on-screen human victims of RPA airstrikes from the operators who carry them out with sprites or other simple graphics designed to dehumanize the victims’ appearance and, therefore, prevent the operators from seeing and developing haunting visual memories of the effects of their weapons.’
But in his original report Lindlaw admitted that ‘in interviews with five of the dozens of pilots and sensor operators at the various bases, none said they had been particularly troubled by their mission’, and Chamayou contends that the same discursive strategy – a bold claim discretely followed by denials – is common to most media reports of the stresses supposedly suffered by drone crews. More: he juxtaposes the crews’ own denial of anything out of the ordinary with the scorn displayed towards their remote missions by pilots of conventional strike aircraft who, in online chatrooms and message boards, regard the very idea as an insult to those who daily risk their lives in combat.
The argument Chamayou develops closely follows William Saletan‘s commentary in Slate:
[The AP story] shows that operating a real hunter, killer, or spy aircraft from the faraway safety of a game-style console affects some operators in a way that video games don’t. But it doesn’t show that firing a missile from a console feels like being there — or that it haunts the triggerman the same way. Indeed, the paucity of evidence — despite the brutal work shifts, the superior video quality, and the additional burden of watching the target take the hit — suggests that it feels quite different.
Chamayou’s reading is more aggressive. In his eyes, the repeated claim of vulnerability to stress emerged as a concerted response to criticisms of the supposed ‘Playstation mentality’ that attends remote killing and its reduction of war to a videogame. He insists that it’s little more than an attempt to apply ‘a veneer of humanity to an instrument of mechanical murder’ – ‘crying crocodile tears’ before devouring the prey – and that it rests on absolutely no empirical foundation. This raises the stakes, of course, and it’s only fair to note that Lindlaw’s interviews with drone crews did not talk up combat-related stress and in fact a USAF white paper dismissed as ‘sensational’ the claim that PTSD rates among RPA crews were higher than those suffered by their forward-deployed counterparts.
Indeed, Chamayou himself relies on a public lecture given by Colonel Hernando Ortega, a senior medical officer attached to the USAF Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency in February 2012. Ortega reported USAF research that showed – conclusively – that drone crews are subject to often extraordinary stress. But this is primarily a matter of their conditions of work – the demands of paying close attention to a screen hour after hour – and the rapid shift alternations between work and home (‘telecommuting to the war zone’) that allow little or no time or space for decompression. Ortega explained that the symptoms rarely rise to the level of PTSD and are primarily the product of ‘operational stress’ rather than the result of combat-induced exposure to violence.
‘They don’t say [they are stressed] because we had to blow up a building. They don’t say because we saw people get blown up. That’s not what causes their stress — at least subjectively to them. It’s all the other quality of life things that everybody else would complain about too.’
Ortega could think of only one sensor operator who had been diagnosed with PTSD – a study by Wayne Chapelle, Amber Salinas and Lt Col Kent McDonald from the Department of Neurosurgery at the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine reported that 4 per cent of active duty RPA pilots and sensor operators were at ‘high risk for PTSD’ – but Ortega’s research questionnaires often revealed a sort of self-doubt over whether drone crews had made the right call when coming to the aid of troops in conflict rather than a direct response to a ‘physical threat event’:
‘Now it’s not to say that they don’t really feel about the physical threat to their brothers who are on the ground up there. The band of brothers … is not just in the unit. I believe it’s on the network, and I believe the communication tools that are out there has extended the band of brothers mentality to these crews who are in contact with guys on the ground. They know each other from the chat rooms. They know each other from the whatever, however they communicate. They do it every day, same thing all the time…. So that piece of the stress, I think, when something bad happens, that really is out there…’
This sounds to me like the situation I described in ‘From a view to a kill’ (DOWNLOADS tab): the networked nature of remote operations draws operators into the conflict (which is why they so often insist that they are only 18″ from the battlefield, the distance from eye to screen) but on highly unequal, techno-culturally mediated terms that predispose them to identify with troops on the ground rather than with any others (or Others) in the immediate vicinity. What Chamayou takes from all this is Ortega’s conclusion:
‘The major findings of the work so far has been that the popularized idea of watching the combat was really not what was producing the most just day to day stress for these guys. Now there are individual cases — like I said, particularly with, for instance, when something goes wrong — a friendly fire incident or other things like that. Those things produce a lot of stress and … more of an existential kind of guilt… could I have done better? Did I make the right choices? What could I have done more?’
In fact for Chamayou the very idea of drone crews experiencing PTSD is an absurdity. According to the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM -5, 2013; revised from the previous version cited by Chamayou, this incorporates major changes from DSM-IV, but these do not materially alter his main point), PTSD is a trauma and stressor-related disorder brought about by exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. The American Psychiatric Association explains:
The exposure must result from one or more of the following scenarios, in which the individual:
• directly experiences the traumatic event;
• witnesses the traumatic event in person;
• learns that the traumatic event occurred to a close family member or close friend (with the actual or threatened death being either violent or accidental); or
• experiences first-hand repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event (not through media, pictures, television or movies unless work-related).
Drone crews do not ‘directly experience’ any traumatic event, Chamayou insists, and far from being ‘witnesses’ they are the perpetrators of trauma. Those last three words in the extract I’ve just quoted do open up a third scenario – which would leave open the possibility of being affected by high-definition exposure through the FMV feeds and the Battle Damage Assessments performed by drone crews – but Chamayou hones the role of the perpetrator to explore a different though not unrelated scenario.
He takes his cue from Karl Abraham‘s discussion of neuroses in the First World War:
‘It is not only demanded of these men in the field that they must tolerate dangerous situations — a purely “passive performance — but there is a second demand which has been much too little considered, I allude to the aggressive acts for which the soldier must be hourly prepared, for besides the readiness to die, the readiness to kill is demanded of him…. [In our patients the anxiety as regards killing is of a similar significance to that of dying.’
Chamayou is most interested in the development of this line of thought by psychologist/sociologist Rachel MacNair, who widens the field of PTSD to incorporate what she calls Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress (PITS): you can find a quick summary here. (McNair is a long-time peace activist and in accordance with the ‘consistent life ethic’ she has used her work on PITS to intervene in what she calls ‘the abortion wars’; she is also associated with the Center for Global Nonkilling: see here).
Her book was written too early to address the use of drones for remote killing, but Chamayou suggests that this would be an appropriate means of putting their ‘psychopathologies’ to the test. He thinks that individual operators lie somewhere between two poles: either they are indifferent to killing at a distance (the screen as barrier) or they feel culpable for the violence they have inflicted (the screen forcing them to confront the consequences of their actions). It is, he concludes, an open question: though his next chapter on ‘Killing at a distance’ proposes a series of answers.
In fact, the USAF recognises the distinct possibility of PITS affecting drone crews, as this slide from a presentation by Chappelle and McDonald shows:
This year MacNair became President of Division 48 (Peace Psychology) of the American Psychological Association and instituted three Presidential Task Forces, the first of which specifically addresses drones. She writes:
‘Task Force 1 is examining “The Psychological Issues of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Weaponized drones).” This will focus on the flying robots that kill, not the ones doing surveillance, nor the consumer drones that loom on the horizon. this is a very new field, with very little literature. We’ll look at what the psychological impact is on operators of the systems, the bureaucracy, surviving victims, and special therapeutic needs. The task force email for any feed-back or good literature citations or to request the full list of questions is dronetF@ peacepsych.org.’
The newsletter also includes a short statement from the next President of the Division, Brad Olson, setting out ‘Some thoughts for the Drone Task Force’ and an article by Marc Pilisuk on ‘The new face of war’.
Let me add three other comments.
(1) To limit the discussion to PTSD is to set the bar very high indeed, and the evidence of lower-level combat-induced stress on drone crews is less straightforward than Chamayou makes out. In March 2013 Jean Otto and Bryant Webberreported the results of a study of ‘mental health outcomes’ covering the period 1 October 2003 to 31 December 2011 for 709 drone (RPA) pilots and 5, 526 pilots of manned aircraft (MA); they found that the crude incidence of adjustment, anxiety, depressive and other disorders among RPA pilots was considerably higher than for MA pilots, but once the samples were adjusted for age, number of deployments and other factors the ‘incidence rates among the cohorts did not significantly differ’ (my emphasis).
The study was experimental in all sorts of ways and it does not – could not – provide a fine-grained analysis of the nature of the pilots’ exposure to violence. We should bear in mind, too, that the study was inevitably limited by inhibitions, both formal and informal, on admitting to any form of stress within the military. But the report does suggest that it is a mistake to separate drone crews from the wider matrix of military violence and its effects in which they are embedded.
(2) If Chamayou is right in his suspicion that all this talk of drone crews being affected by what they see on their screens was a concerted strategy designed to disarm claims that remote operations reduce war to a videogame – in which case, not everybody in the Air Force was singing the same tune – the fact that most of them turn out to conduct their missions with equanimity does not prove the critics right: it does not follow that they take their responsibilities less seriously or more casually than the pilots of conventional strike aircraft. Pilots and sensor operators undoubtedly have recourse to gallows humour (Chamayou would no doubt say that this befits their role as ‘executioners’), and there are too many reported instances of language that I too find repugnant, though I see no reason not to expect the same amongst military personnel of all stripes. But there is also anecdotal evidence of situations in which pilots and their crews have been deeply affected by what they saw (and, yes, did). The testimony of at least one former operator, Brandon Bryant (above, left), who has been diagnosed with PTSD, suggests that those involved probably move between these extremes – between the two poles proposed by Chamayou – dis/connecting as their actions and reactions entangle with events on the screen/ground.
(3) The most careful review I know of what is a complicated and contentious field is Peter Asaro, ‘The labor of surveillance and bureaucratized killing: new subjectivities of military drone operators, Social semiotics 23 (2) (2013) 196-22. This combines medico-military studies, media reports and an artful reading of Omer Fast‘s film, 5,000 Feet is the Best. as Peter says, there are many jobs that involve surveillance and many jobs that involve killing, but
‘What makes drone operators particularly interesting as subjects is not only that their work combines surveillance and killing, but also that it sits at an intersection of multiple networks of power and technology and visibility and invisibility, and their work is a focal point for debates about the ethics of killing, the effectiveness of military strategies for achieving political goals, the cultural and political significance of lethal robotics, and public concerns over the further automation of surveillance and killing.’
It’s a tour de force that navigates a careful passage between the ‘heroic’ and ‘anti-heroic’ myth of drones. Here is what I take to be the key passage from his conclusion:
‘On the one hand, drone operators do not treat their job in the cavalier manner of a video game, but they do recognize the strong resemblance between the two. Many drone operators are often also videogame players in their free time, and readily acknowledge certain similarities in the technological interfaces of each. Yet the drone operators are very much aware of the reality of their actions, and the consequences it has on the lives and deaths of the people they watch via video streams from half a world away, as they bear witness to the violence of their own lethal decisions. What they are less aware of … is that their work involves the active construction of interpretations. The bodies and actions in the video streams are not simply ‘‘given’’ as soldiers, civilians, and possible insurgents – they are actively constructed as such. And in the process of this construction the technology plays both an enabling and mediating role. I use the term ‘‘mediating’’ here to indicate that it is a role of translation, not of truth or falsity directly, but of transformation and filtering. On the one hand there is the thermal imaging that provides a view into a mysterious and hidden world of relative temperatures. And thus these drone technologies offer a vision that contains more than the human alone could ever see. On the other hand we can see that the lived world of human experience, material practices, social interactions, and cultural meanings that they are observing are difficult to properly interpret and fully understand, and that even the highest resolution camera cannot resolve the uncertainties and misinterpretations. There is a limit to the fidelity that mediation itself can provide, insofar as it cannot provide genuine social participation and direct engagement. This applies not only to both surveillance and visuality, which is necessarily incomplete, but also to the limited forms of action and engagement that mediating technologies permit. While a soldier on the ground can use his or her hands to administer medical aid, or push a stalled car, as easily as they can hold a weapon, the drone operator can only observe and choose to kill or not to kill. Within this limited range of action, meaningful social interaction is fundamentally reduced to sorting the world into friends, enemies, and potential enemies, as no other categories can be meaningfully acted upon.’
There’s a discussion of these various issues, including many of the people mentioned in this post, at HuffPost Live here.
News this morning from Roger Stahl of a wonderful new resource and site, The vision machine: media, war, peace. I’ve admired Roger’s work for an age, and his Militainment Inc.: war, media and popular culture has been an indispensable source for my own work on military violence in its various forms; you can find his blog here.
But the new, collective project (for which Roger is a co-director) is even more ambitious; the subject obviously speaks directly to my own concerns, but so too does the format – see the last paragraph below.
TheVisionMachine is a scholarly platform for critically engaging the intersection of war, peace, and media. Using a multimedia approach, the site incorporates pod/vodcasts, media analysis, documentary clips, and links to larger bodies of work. The site is operated by a global group of scholars in the fields of International Relations, Media Production, and Communication Studies.
Thematically, TheVisionMachine is comprised of three components. The first is historical, focusing on the dual development of colonial and media empires from early days of the panorama, photography, print media, radio, TV, to today’s Internet (web 2.0), and social media – thus covering the history of and evolution from old to new digital media. The second is theoretical, using classical and critical theory to examine media as the product and instrument of cultural, economic and political struggles, resistance and revolt. The third is practical, using media production such a micro-documentaries, regular pod/vodcasts, and interactive social media to disseminate research, generate interactive debate, and raise public awareness. As one might guess, The Vision Machine takes direct inspiration from Paul Virilio’s book by the same name, though the site is certainly not limited to his style of thought.
1. A Multimedia Journal. TheVisionMachine seeks contributions from a range of prominent thinkers, from academics to activists, media producers, military professionals, journalists, public intellectuals, and more. These contributions range from audio/video profile interviews to short-form original pieces of criticism, theory, observational essays, and documentary work. The driving impulse of the site is to provide a venue for airing cutting-edge ideas and exposing work to larger audiences. If you are interested in becoming involved, please contact us here.
2. A Discussion Platform. TheVisionMachine operates as a hub for an ongoing community conversation. The site hosts a social networking function, discussion boards geared around specific topics, and comment clouds for individual exhibits. Subscribers are encouraged not only to partake of the various articles and micro-documentaries featured on the site, but also to contribute to an expanding range of expertise and perspectives.
3. A Media Production Clearing House. One of the ultimate goals of TheVisionMachine is to operate as a media center, a place for creative collaboration and media production. The structure of the site provides opportunities to “crowdsource” material for larger projects. These could range from academic endeavors to the production of documentary films on relevant subjects. TheVisionMachine is partner with the University of Queensland Media Lab, a $180,000 media monitoring and recording facility, one of the first of its kind housed in a non-corporate, non-military institution.
TheVisionMachine is driven by an explicit attempt to rethink and revamp archaic academic practices of knowledge creation and dissemination. The site aims to move from the average global readership of academic articles in the social sciences (which currently stands at 4.5 readers per published journal article!) to actively engaging a wider public through digital new media. TheVisionMachine is designed as a truly interactive multiplatform space where those with an interest in the infotech/war/peace complex can participate in debates through discussion threads, audio/video postings, and micro-documentary production. Thereby, TheVisionMachine aspires to be a rosetta stone to the complex contemporary global media environment, a tool for interfacing a world where satellite, Internet, cell phone, and other recent technologies directly affect questions of war and peace, control and resistance.
If you need to find the site without using the link above, you should note that there are several ‘vision machines’ on the web – but only one is ‘thevisionmachine.com‘. Note, too, that the site takes its title from Paul Virilio‘s book (which is available here) but isn’t limited to his style of thought…
I’ve had a message from Laila Shawa, whose work I noted earlier, enclosing one of her latest projects (and generously allowing me to show her work here). Where Souls Dwell (above) is from her Gun series and speaks directly to one of my very first posts (on the arms trade); it shows the AK-47, and Leila explains it like this:
Next to Drones, this gun is the biggest killing machine in the World. Due to its cheap production by everyone, it is in the hands of everyone, including children!! The Butterflies (in World mythology) represent the souls killed by this gun, and their return to the place (or cause) of their death.
I provided a brief bibliography of work on the AK-47 and the trade in ‘small arms’ in my original post, but I wasn’t aware of the way in which artists had engaged with this deadly weapon. Last September Laila’s work was featured as part of the AKA Peace Exhibition at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London.
The exhibition was conceived by an ex-soldier who challenged 23 contemporary artists to incorporate decommissioned AK-47 assault rifles into their work. You can see some of the results, including those by Antony Gormleyand Damien Hirst, here, here and here. Laila adds:
“The challenge of altering and removing the raison d’êtres of an AK-47is irresistible. I turned my guns into jewelledobjects that can only be useless!!! In no way was I trying to glorify lethal weapons that are responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of people.
I feel that artists must speak out against the arms race, wars, and the Arms Industry,which drives countries to create unnecessary wars.
According to mythology, the souls of people killed return as butterflies to the place where they were killed. The butterflies in this work represent those souls.
My first AK-47, was commissioned by Peace One Day, a peace organization under the patronage of the United Nations, and was exhibited at the ICA London in October 2012 under the title ‘AKA Peace.’ Later it was sold in a public auction to raise money forPeace One Day. 20 British artists participated in this show amongst which were Damien Hirst, Anthony Gormley, Gavin Turk and the Chapman Brothers. The AK-47 (Kalashnikov) is the most produced gun in the world, in various versions. There are over 200 million AK-47sin circulation, quite often, and most irresponsibly, in the hands of children.”
There are many implications arising from all this – the most direct, of course, about these killing machines. But these interventions also underscore the need for those of us working in the humanities and social sciences to engage with the work of creative artists, not only as critics and commentators but also as interlocutors interested in exploring other media in which to develop our arguments.
Last weekend Media@McGill, in collaboration with DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art, hosted a screening and conference on representations of war and conflict in art and art history (I’m grateful to Max Ritts for drawing my attention to it). Here is the original summary:
Imaging War, Mediating Conflict: Recent Aesthetic Investigations addresses the politics, aesthetics and ethics of art and media practices relating to war from the 18th century until today, and assesses how such representations help to shape the experience of current conflicts, as well as their place in history.
There were two conference sessions (click on the title links for the abstracts). The first, on Media, war and the state in the long eighteenth century, featured:
Video of the presentations has now been uploaded and can be accessed here. Two in particular caught my attention.
In an enviably polished and psychoanalytically informed presentation, Rosalyn Deutschereturns to an artist whose work she has considered several times in the past, Krzysztof Wodiczko (whose Homeless Vehicle Project will be familiar to many geographers; others might know his more recent War Veteran Vehicle). Here she addresses, in a critically constructive fashion, his recent Arc de Triomphe: World Institute for the Abolition of War (though in fact he prefers the term “un-war” to “peace” for reasons Rosalyn explains at 09:51) and his extraordinary re-imagining and re-purposing of the iconic monument (see 11.13 on): what Rosalyn calls ‘disarming the Arc’. More here and in Wodiczko’s book, The abolition of war, published last summer by Black Dog. The same press has also published a lively volume of essays devoted to his work, Krzysztof Wodickzo (2011), which includes contributions from Rosalyn and Dick Hebdige, Dennis Hollier and Sanford Kwinter.
Martha Rosler‘s House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home has always been a favourite of mine, and in her presentation at the McGill meeting, even as she battles with the recording system (haven’t we all?), she manages to say – and show – a great deal with a compelling economy.