against war exhibition brings together recent activist video and poster
art, displaying the vitality of the oppositional stance that many artists
energetically took, before, during and after the recent shameful events
surrounding the invasion of Iraq. The exhibition consists of printed and
handmade posters, video and sound works. It was initially shown at two
Manhattan galleries, NY Arts 450 Broadway Gallery, Teachers College Macy
Gallery, later at Presbyterian College’s Stone Gallery in South
Carolina. It was also concurrent with three independent but connected
exhibitions on three separate websites.
, www.drinkink.org , http://retiform.ath.cx/index.php
The show now combines into an art
form that is anchored both in the virtual and real worlds. The idea of
the exhibition is that the net has the power to connect artists organizers,
and the public in a new way. Art is created with traditional materials
or directly on the computer. The image is transferred to a high resolution
digital file that rests in the memory of computers and can be sent to
any part of the world. The work can be printed on paper, canvas, projected
and displayed within a gallery or museum. Images in high resolution and
color can be printed easily. Such a show is like a rhizome, spread like
a root system and able to take root almost anywhere. Once on display the
large pictures of these works have power of scale, the ambition to grapple
with great events in a public forum. They can have both political and
high aesthetic value.
Sept 11th 2001 was a watershed event: The Bush reaction was the "War
on Terrorism.” of which the Iraqi war is a part. It has opened the
door to a new era in modern history. The Iraq War is a fait accompli in
the minds of many Americans, already over and done with. It is not over
to the Iraqis, the soldiers fighting on the ground, and to those of us
opposed to it. The energy and concern that ignited a maelstrom of questions,
reflection and protest, is still active in many people throughout the
world. The war is not over. Many of us believe the grief that was our
response to September 11th was manipulated and diverted into a jingoistic
fable. Artists and activists joined together to respond to this war-mongering
with actions like " Not in our name" and performances of "Our
grief is not a cry for war.”
This is an embattled period, with world views clashing. Possibly through
the settling dust of these conflicts will emerge a new postmodern era.
This exhibition is important on several levels. Aesthetically, it is important
as an examination of a neglected form of art. Historically, the oldest
printed works are posters, combinations of image and text. This show revives,
reexamines and celebrates the poster as art. The earliest dated pieces
of Gutenberg’s typography (1454) were little posters selling indulgences
to finance the rescue of Constantinople, captured by the Turks the year
before. Interestingly, the first posters prefigured our own conflicts
in the present time. The poster has been implicated with war from its
The poster as we know it appeared in Paris in the 1830s, when book illustrators
made large black and white lithographs to advertise their publications.
Color lithography appeared in the 1860's. Bonnard, Vuillard, Lautrec and
other talented artists were commissioned to create advertising campaigns
that were more daring than the works they exhibited in the Salon des Independents.
These painters altered the way the poster was seen and contributed to
its acceptance as an art form. The color poster became a fixture of urban
environments, seen whenever people traveled or gathered.
In today’s' world, with the internet and digitization, large files
can be sent and received almost instantaneously, making shows like the
one at World Social Forum possible. The posters in this exhibition were
sent from various parts of the world to me in New York, I sent them to
my colleague Jason Murphy, who operates the Retiform site in South Korea,
and they were downloaded by the WSF staff in Mumbai and printed.
The posters have become a part of a world wide dialogue, a conversation.
Shows like this can respond critically to recent events and their implications.
Providing moral balance and penetrating visualizations.
Although some artists contributed handmade art, most of the art was created
on the computer, sent online or via a CD. The original exhibition limited
the size for printing at 24X36 inches, seen as a good size for gallery
display, a size that has presence in relation to human scale and commands
attention within the space of the exhibition for the World Forum, the
size is increased for the greater scale of the Great Hall where they will
A major challenge encountered was presenting the relationship between
the content of the work and its outward form within the theme. The problem
often occurs because "theme exhibitions" are easier to mount
when the work is not ambiguous or abstract. Literal or narrative works
are less challenging to the viewer and can be "served-up in a tidy
package.” Nevertheless, in my opinion, some of the best art is often
rich with ambiguity. I hope those who do not agree with me will accept
my penchant for work that is complex and not easily categorized. My premise
is that political poster art can mirror the complexity of political thought
and does not have to reduce itself to dualistic thinking or half-digested
cartoons. It is a complex form of art and should not be easily categorized.
Art does not have to act as a didactic form of communication.
It appears bizarre to me that many of us felt like strangers in our own
country in the past two years. We saw the rage and vitriol focused on
nations who did not subscribe to the Bush Administrations view of uncritical
support for their war. France was severely rebuked, as were celebrities
who stood up, and dissented. Few voices in the mass media had the courage
to stand apart from lockstep support for this unjust war. The demonstrations
in February and April that I witnessed in New York were full of abuses
of the civil rights of protestors. We were only asking that America stand
by its principles and constitution. These violations underscored how fragile
the balance of our system can be, and the importance of dissent. America
has become a more suspicious, less open society since Sept 11th 2001,
and in that regard, the terrorists won.
W.G.T. Mitchell points out in Picture Theory. (1994), That " The
conviction that tensions between visual and verbal representations are
inseparable from struggles in cultural politics and political culture.
Most political issues converge on issues of representation and changing
modes or representation is altering human experience . . . Posters often
have word and image, or at least two types of representation." The
dynamic between these two forms conveys impressions in an emotional as
well as intellectual level.
Many of the pieces in the show do not have words. These posters are signs.
Language is implied through substitution for those without words. Certain
messages, impulses, perceptions, or narratives can be appreciated without
the use of language. I hope the ambiguity of the work will be evocative
as well as mysterious. Although we like to believe that we occupy the
moral high ground and the other( the shadow) is devious, evil or debased,
that kind of simplification will not work anymore. Morality and justification
are a continuum, and though not relative, are vibrating scales that span
octaves and many tones. There is no innocence anymore, there is no purity,
we are all tarnished by what happens on the earth.
In a recently published essay entitled "La Procedure Silence"
translated as "Art and Fear,” Paul Virillio questions the strains
of modern art that have aligned themselves with dehumanized science and
related forces that seem bent on destroying humanity. Virillio seems to
believe that the distortion of the figure in modern art reflects the mind
set of acquiescence that has allowed these events to happen time and time
again. He refers to the Futurist Manifesto of 1909. The Manifesto, in
an approving voice, calls war "the worlds only hygiene.” The
history of modern art, as well as popular culture and literature is rife
with images and language of casual violence and the worship of rampant
power. Virillios treatise makes the connection between the psychic violence
of modern art and the real violence that has permeated our history in
great and small ways. He sums up his premise by writing "a brutal
logic rules the shattering of representation: our ways of seeing are now
fully shaped by an unprecedented "scientific mode of destruction"
Members of the western art community might object to the implied conservatism
of this view, but throughout the modern world, in many cultures, we have
accepted the status quo of violence, of destruction, and not stood up
and demand that it stop. We must state emphatically that we will not participate
in it. Art stands opposed to war. The opposite of war is not peace, which
seems to be a negation of activity, but creation, enterprise, building,
or action within the realm of art.
It is an interesting exercise to view visual representation and images
in our society and contemplate on which side they will reveal themselves
to be. Life affirming or life destroying? Will they side with Eros or
Thanatos? Be progressive or nihilistic? In both popular and high culture
within western society there is a surprisingly prevalent cult of death
worship. Tattoos and video games boast the dark imagery of weapons, bones
and death. The plots of films and television are filled with grim and
gratuitous cruelty. The language of violence permeates conversation.
Consequently the souls of sensitive and receptive individuals must be
deadened, hardened, and hidden to accept the constant barrage of violence.
Wilhelm Reich called it the “emotional plague.” We psychically
disinhabit areas and close off parts of our bodies in order to accept
the violence in everyday life. We learn to deaden ourselves and teach
our children as well. Artist Andy Warhol said that " reason that
I am painting is that I want to be a machine.” As children we are
alarmed and appalled at violence. As adults we learn to find violence
I agree with Virillio who scorns artists’ acceptance of the status
quo, and that we have allowed these events to occur. We have collaborated
with murderers and oppressors. However I disagree with his idea that the
representation and breakdown of the body through abstraction reflects
a causal relationship. If that were the case, an executive order for classical
figures and harmonic compositions would be all that it would take to create
a peaceful world.
Over half a century ago, cultural critic Walter Benjamin was preoccupied
the problematic relationship between technology and culture. In his landmark
essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"
(1936), Benjamin explored the impact of modern technologies of reproduction
on cultural and political life, and analyzed the role of the cultural
Left in the struggle against fascism. Benjamin discerned that the only
way to counter fascism's aestheticization of politics--whose inevitable
culmination is war-- was the conscious politicization of art. To Benjamin,
the question was not one of binarism--a choice between "political
art" or "non-political art.” He understood all art to
be political, the creation of social actors. The choice was whether to
continue to produce aesthetic products which concealed their political
nature allowing them to fit smoothly into the functioning of the dominant
order; or whether to render apparent the interrelationships which made
up that order, and thus, to oppose it.
Marshall McLuhan saw that the media shapes us, extends our senses, and
is creating a new world of shared community and a vastly different sensory
experience for us as we move into the new electronic age. We are moving
from the age of the book to the new age of multi sensory reality. Pierre
Levy, a French theorist, believes that we are inhabiting a new geographical
space, creating new identities that will supplant the old. Previous identities,
according to Levy, are our name ( the tribal identity) our address ( the
geophysical identity), the commodity space ( our profession and economic
roles) and now the “knowledge space”, a product of our interaction
with the internet and occupation of that space ( emails, websites, IMs,
avatars). If this new space gives us tools to deal with anachronistic
vestiges of power, feudalism and violence, then we are moving to the right