Red foliage

January 19, 2015 Comments off

Courtesy of Amnesty International, a pair of images has been published in various news platforms depicting the recent Boko Haram atrocities in two Nigerian towns. Amnesty website notes “provide indisputable and shocking evidence of the scale of last week’s attack on the towns of Baga and Doron Baga by Boko Haram militants.”

These images support the news story of large-scale destruction and slaughter of up to 2000 civilians according to various sources including the BBC, Guardian, NPR, etc, however Nigerian government disputes this figure. What is more or less agreed upon, is significant destruction and death and images (paired with witness/survivor testimony) that support this claim.

Doro Gowon Satellite view on 2 Jan 2015 and 7 Jan 2015

What is striking about these images, is a spread of red tinted spots of various sizes that cover the images. Due to the images’ context, one can immediately make associations between the color of the spots and blood of the victims. One can imagine that red spots in fact represent the position of the victims and their size represent the number of casualties at each different site, which could be houses in the village, etc.

A closer look at the caption however tells us that in fact the red spots do not represent carnage, but rather show the vegetation courtesy of the infrared technology used to produce the images. It is the claim to indexicality of a scientific image used as evidence in a news report that renders the foliage of the destroyed villages the color of bloodshed. Researchers, including Guy Deutscher note how the development of language affects our perception of the world, by looking at the Homeric eye and the ancient Greek’s inability to see the color of the sky before naming it. It was the medium of language that painted the sky blue. This is similar to how theorists such as Kittler relate the development of media to human’s understanding of the world. Similarly these images show how our eyes are being transformed by the technologies of seeing and conditions of visibility. Such images complicate the relationship between language and image where the word green could signify the color red and red could be described as green. How long before we look at an image of red foliage and see trees?

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Class politics of the Twitter revolution

August 15, 2013 Comments off

During the February revolution in 2011 in Egypt, social media platforms were among the major sources of news and information for the uprising. So much so that many analysts went as far as calling the events, that lead to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak and his thirty year rule as the Facebook or Twitter revolution and the citizen journalist became the protagonist of this new, 21st century form of activism. It was difficult to catch up with the Twitter and Facebook feeds and posts were shared and re-posted across the networks in an unprecedented rate. Buzzwords of this new media landscape were hashtags and push-notifications and many experts surmised the dawn of a new era for human rights where under the watchful gaze of digital cameras and cellphones that fed the networks in real time, concealing the atrocities became much more challenging for the perpetrators.

The coup that ousted Morsi was also vastly celebrated on Facebook, sympathizers questioned how news outlets such as Al Jazeera were not fully behind the military take over as much as they stood behind the February revolution.


Yet the recent massacre and the killings of Muslim Brotherhood members, supporters and sympathizers are not covered as fervently as the events of the past two years. While the beating and the killing of civilians during the revolution—that hardly came close to the body count of the recent days— was vastly covered by the social media, the events of the past few days did not share the same coverage, likes and shares on online platforms.

While these lines are definitely flawed with over generalizations, as they only rely on my personal social media network (which for the most part does not include Brotherhood sympathizers) one wonders if there is a class dimension to the notion of Facebook/Twitter revolution? Is there a certain liberal, left-leaning conception of what defined the social media framing of the revolution, which does not account for the body count and the universal rights of the Muslim leaning parties? Is there a relationship between a certain notion of freedom that is more in line with the individual freedoms of liberal democracy that does not account for the rights of others with conflicting and antagonistic positions? To repeat, does class play a role in the Twitter revolution?

(what comes above is solely based on my personal social media network and this piece remains ignorant of possible other online coverage of the recent events on other networks. Yet as I assume that for the most part my network could be probably described as middle class, educated class and such, the above-mentioned questions remain pertinent)

The Act of Killing

August 4, 2013 Comments off

The film is movie within a movie, showing a group of Indonesian former executioners and current members of the paramilitary group Pancasila Youth reenact the killing of communist, and socialist affiliated civilian population. The killings were carried out by direct support of western governments and US in particular and an estimated number of 500,000 to 2,500,000 people were killed between 1956-66 after the failed military coup that eventually lead to the fall of Sukarno and the commencement of Suharto’s thirty-year military dictatorship. The people responsible for these acts were never prosecuted, Pancasila runs strong with more than three million members and many of the killers enjoy political or economical positions in the military government and the governments that followed after the resignation of Suharto.

Co-directors Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and an anonymous Indonesian director, interviewed a few dozen of executioners who boasted about the killings and most offered to take the directorial team to the locations where these acts were carried out. The movie follows the acts of one of the most prominent killers and a forefathers of Pancasila Youth, Anwar Congo who was also a member of the movie house gangsters, a group of thugs that gathered around movie theaters, scalping tickets as a side-gig – their main gigs being illegal gambling, running prostitution rings, smuggling, etc.

Oppenheimer mentions that his initial intention was to tell the stories of the victims which was faced with restrictions, arrests and compensation of tapes by the military and secret police. Given the boastfulness of the perpetrates, he was suggested by one [or relative of] of the survivors to let the killers explain what happened.

The movie theater gangsters, or preman in Indonesian, where recruited by the army to carry out the killings in the northern region of Sumatra. They were doubly motivated by the ban of American movies by the Sukarno government as it caused “dinner to miss the belly,” as explained by one of the thugs in the movie.

Anwar, inspired by American movies that he related to, comes up with elaborate sets and costumes to recreate and reenact the acts of killing carried out by him and his fellow preman. The movie shows the production of Anwar’s movie, with documentary footage interspersed with clips from the movie and behind the scene footage. [the movie is released and plot and descriptions are available online]

The Act of Killing

1- Act of killing, the deed, the taking of another human beings life, murder. The act of killing, acting and performing of the taking of another human being, acting as in theater and in film; the image of murder.

2- The American movie hero, the outlaw, the fugitive, the rebel. The image of freedom. Preman comes from the Dutch word for “free man.” The movie theater gangsters are/were free man, wanted to do whatever they wanted, similar to their film stars, “Al Pacino, Brando, Wayne” who portrayed the image of the free subject of neo-liberalism.

3- Image wars—the ban of American movies, motivated the movie theater thugs to join the killing squads. They walked across the street from the theater, intoxicated by the silver screen and carried out their deeds on the upper level of the newspaper office, they killed “happily.” The image of freedom against the image of equality, the image of capitalism against the image of socialism—In one of the interrogation scenes Anwar ironically tries to stuff a “neo-colonial” cigar between the lips of the victim.

4- The image of the perpetrator—In one of the scenes a fellow executioner, following the scene of interrogation and killing of a communist notes how this movie, if successful is bad for our “image,” meaning the image of those in power with direct links to the purge. While it is true that “we were the cruel ones,” if the movie is a success, it will contradict the claims of likes of Anwar that the communists were cruel. Image and counter image.

5- The spectator— the movie, does not deliver the victim testimony, the images of the victim reliving the horror of genocide, the new media footage, the image that re-victimizes the survivors. The survivors, who in fact solicited the documentation of the perpetrators, remove themselves from the field of representation and let the killers speak of their deeds. It is the labor of the spectator that imagines, and goes through the horror, not the survivor, not the victim, the viewer is required to participate in imagining what went on in the torture and execution chambers, the spectator is invited to suffer.

6- Executioner as artist? What about the notion that the movie posits the killer as a filmmaker, as an artist. To this, I will end with Thierry de Duve’s conclusion in Art in the Face of Radical Evil. To call Anwar an artist, “testifies to the impossibility of claiming to speak on behalf of all of us without speaking for the evil part of humankind as well s for the peaceful and civilized.” Anwar speaks for the evil, while it is up to the spectator to address the victims.

On Photography People and Modern Times

July 15, 2013 Comments off

Akram Zaatari’s two channel installation On Photography People and Modern Times presents a “subjective story of the Arab Image Foundation” in Beirut. Co-founded by Zaatari, the foundation is a non-profit organization established in Beirut in 1997 with the mission “to collect, preserve and study photographs from the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora.” The foundation is an expanding archive with over 600,000 photographs.

A lo-fi version of the piece is available at:

On Photography… features a two-channel installation of interviews with a number of image donors to the AIF, conducted by Zaatari. One screen shows a plot image of a table that includes tapes of interviews, a video camera with the display facing up, a fraction of a monitor display, and images of the photographs donated to AIF by the interviewee. The screen on the right features an eye level image of the same table, where we can now see the monitor, the interviewee, the video camera from the side (but not the display) and the torso of the archivist, whose gloved hands we can also see in the left side image.

On Photography People and Modern Times, still frame

On Photography People and Modern Times, still frame

The image in the monitor and the display unit of the video camera is a moving image, a video of the interview. The archivist however is rendered as a time-lapse video, where the archivist presents photographs in split frames, a different temporal logic that the image that occupies the same surface. At times we can even see the interviewee sitting behind the archive table. A subtitle appears above the image, overlapping the two split screens. The end result is a video, that includes three different temporal logic of the photograph, video and time-lapse video. The piece further includes the linguistic dimension, both oral and textual—in form of subtitles.

The piece analyzes a combination of visual and archival temporalities simultaneously and within a single split screen. It examines the archival apparatus of conservation (note the gloved hands of the archivist), presentation, narration and also the desire of the archivist him/herself. Why to collect, “we lived in a country in which everything was being destroyed and falling apart, and photographed presented a totally different reality,” an interviewee notes and says how in the face of destruction, by collecting photographs “he could reconstruct the past and the present.

The piece concerns how we respond to different modes of engagement with archival material—splinters of historical time’s inscription on technologies of representation and narration. At the heart of the work lies the photograph, and the institution (AIF), the story (the donor’s account), the work (On Photography People and Modern Times), all present various modes of approaching and interpreting  the photographic image, which itself points to a particular moment in time. Zaatari points to the slit between these various modes of engagement, starting from splitting the work itself into two screens. The split between the image—both moving and still—and word, the photograph and video, the still frame and natural frame rate (which itself now varies depending on the technology). The slit between the camera and the display, between the narrator and the narrated. The construction of memory via, archival modes of conservation and presentation, by technologies of memory and recollection. This presents the then of now, the recognition of the past in the present moment, as Benjamin suggests. The image, in Nancy’s formulation, gives presence to an absence. The archive in turn, makes the absence visible.

Posing in the future

February 23, 2013 Comments off

In the afternoon hours of May 1, 2011, president Obama and his national security team were watching the livestream of operation Neptune Spear. The Situation Room, a photograph of the group of insiders who had direct, immediate access to this footage, shows the VIPs gathered around a table covered with laptops, paper cups and files staring at some kind of display unit, as football fans would be watching the super bowl. Instead they are watching the live broadcast of the execution of the top most wanted man in the world. At the time of this elite group’s gathering in one of the conference rooms of the Situation Room of the White House, the rest of the world is unaware of the hunt of the top most wanted man in the world in the city of Abbottabad in Pakistan. In other words, at the moment that this highly mediated event of near future was livestreamed and documented, outside of a certain security clearance, the present had not yet arrived. The people in this photograph were posing for the future, they were living in the near future.


The total fragmentation of presence, provided/facilitated by the mediatization of life and distributed according accessibility creates a new temporal topography. As such the presence can be managed and future designed. Bin Laden was executed in the future and dumped on the present and thus its not surprising that his body was never recovered. Its recovery requires an archeology of the future. Had the operation failed, the event had never taken place.

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The State as Art

January 26, 2013 Comments off

In Fate of Art in the Age of Terror, Boris Groys notes how the contemporary terrorist/warrior exhausts the media possibilities at hand and produces images—of shock and awe— that have “an uncanny aesthetic similarity with alternative, subversive European and American art and filmmaking of the 60-and 70s.” In particular Groys compares the gory photographs of Abu Ghraib for instance to Viennese Actionism, Pasolini etc. Yet, he notes that although there might be a similar subversive underpinnings to both types of imagery they follow two complete different trajectories: while the modern art tendencies to “be radical, daring, taboobreaking, going beyond all the limitations and borders,” is iconoclastic at large, terrorists in contrary want to produce icons. While the former is concerned with critique of the representational qualities of the image and its relationship to the real, the later in turn desires to show the real and to be taken as representation of the real. Groys opens the article by noting how before the age of mechanical reproduction, the warrior was dependent on the artist to be mounumentalized and for his heroic actions to be narrativized and depicted. But now, the fighter is free from this dependency and has full control over the documentation and dissemination of his actions.

Still, these acts of terror, from the most common depictions of atrocities to the most choreographed examples are carried out in battlefields, public urban or rural spaces or terrorist hideouts. As such, while the visual strategies of these actions might share some attributes with the avant-garde, the venues of presentation is essentially different from that of designated space of art. Even public executions, however meticulously planned are—rather strategically—staged in busy public squares and intersections.

Spectators watching the execution in front of Khaneh Honarmandan. Fars News Agency

Spectators watching the execution in front of Khaneh Honarmandan. Photo: Fars News Agency

Yet recently on January 20th 2013, a group of “thugs” or “outlaws,” were executed in front of “Khaneh Honarmandan,” (Artist’s House), an arts and cultural center in downtown Tehran with exhibition and performance spaces. It created an uproar in social media spaces and also the news media. The highly choreographed event was widely documented and photographs of the event from the start to conclusion were distributed over the internet and beyond. To go back to Groy’s analogy, what makes this event significant (not in an ethical and moral point of view, which is obvious and widely discussed on the net) is again this intersection of art and terror or bare power of state in this instance. Here, the exhibition space is appropriated by the state to display its force and as such the state also displays the desire to become art. As such, government and judiciary also become components of the art of the state as performances, exhibitions, and events. If the forces of power, terror and war have the capability to utilize media similar to the artist, they also share the desire to exhibit their aesthetic productions. While of course the spaces of art—for the most part—have far less capacity than mass media, internet, public squares, parks or stadiums, but they do present certain aesthetic and symbolic possibilities that such venues cannot offer. The state as icon finds its last resort in the exhibition space, which nevertheless follows certain ontology and a historical movement as Groys also notes in his essay. By inhabiting the space of art, the state opens itself to critique.

The image of the dead, the voice of the living

November 17, 2012 Comments off

We did what many others were doing. We made images and we turned the volume up too high. With any image: Vietnam. Always the same sound, always too loud, Prague, Montevideo, May ’68 in France, Italy, Chinese Cultural Revolution, strikes in Poland, torture in Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Chile, Palestine, the sound so loud that it ended up drowning out the voice that it wanted to get out of the image. Here and Elsewhere, 1976, Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville

Eyal Weizman differentiates between pedagogical violence and total or absolute violence. While the former functions linguistically where in addition to eliminating the intended targets it communicates with the  survivors, the latter is exercised to wipe out the subject completely, and/or to produce a new subject—and as such introduce a new language. Yet, the pedagogical violence functions as long as a gap between the actual and possible violence is maintained and thus it is a discursive form that manages this space that it first defines and then opens it for negotiations. The form of violence exercised by the Israeli military in Gaza belongs to the first order of violence but it is to achieve the results of the second order (one can of course imagine any form of pedagogical violence an absolute form if it is exercised systematically in a large-scale to produce new subjects. As for instance penal violence is expected to transform the subject).

The total elimination of the subject, in this case the Palestinians, is not solely a military job, but rather it is a media operation that manages and supports the military to achieve its goals. It functions on two separate layers: the image and the voice. The media simultaneously presents and distributes the mute images of Palestinian dead and wounded and the voice of Israeli officials and pundits who frame the invasion as retaliation, a response to a rocket strike by Hamas militants. The Palestinians, the victims of the mortars are revictimized in the image—the mute dead, traumatized or severely injured subject. We see dead Palestinians and hear living Israelis. The words belong to the living and the images to the dead, and as we know the dead cannot talk unless summoned from the underworld.

Post-historical now

October 1, 2012 Comments off

Instagram filters make digital images look like photographs from the past. It casts a shroud of forged historicity on the ahistorical immediate digital image with an after life of a few seconds, before buried under more recent posts, tweets, etc. It is the passage of time that bestows authenticity to the photographic image, makes it appear as a relic, gives it the aura that it took away from art in the first place (a la Benjamin). Time obscures the facts, referents become unclear, people forgotten, places varnished with ruinous visage. Descriptions of some of the available filters include:


Effect: Gloria Gaynor-level ’70s flair

Use for: Photos that call for in-your-face nostalgia (particularly useful now that Facebook is Timelined)

Lord Kelvin

Effect: Super-saturated, supremely retro photos with a distinctive scratchy border

Use for: Photos that call for actual nostalgia


Instant digital historization devaluates history, brandizes it, turns it into something attainable, reproducible, available at the touch of a finger. The over abundance of snapshots, the over documentation of life shrinks history between the immediate past and the instant future and thus filters are made available to account for the nostalgia of the immediate past, the remembrance of the day before.

Source: theglobalmovements, Instagram

In Photographer as Sage, Boris Gorys discusses the photographic work of Alexandre Kojève, Russian born French philosopher, statesman and one of the founders of the EU, and photographer. According to Groys, Kojève believed we are living in a post-historical condition. His theory of end of history differed from most other similar concepts, as for Kojève end of history was not located in the future, but rather we have already been living in post-historical conditions since the French Revolution, only “we are not fully aware of this condition yet.” According to this concept of history, photography then is not fixating a moment in the constant flow of time, rather it represents an immobilized, arrested time (thus Kojève only photographed monuments of the past). It is an already historisized condition that is represented via photography. As such, the fascination with instant historisication of the everyday, for the immediate past to look like a distant moment in time, is a symptom of this post-historical condition.

Still, while the everyday post-history begs for appearance of obsolescence, other situations demand an unhistorical urgency in face of humanitarian conditions. The question is how the contemporary visual condition accounts for this post-historical moment and the demands of images that ask for immediate response. How can we respond to a contemporary event, located in the past?

Violence as message

September 24, 2012 Comments off

The opposition in Syria is documenting the war from all angles and sides, creating an immense online repository of images of destruction, updated by the hour on the internet. A survey of the images from the start of the uprising in March 2011 to date show the changes in the landscape of violence and its intensification. Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizman (see Weizman, The Least of All Possible Evils)note about the communicative, or pedagogical dimension of violence, sustained by the gap between the actual destruction inflicted by an army and the possible destruction that an army is able to apply. “It is through the constant demonstration of the existence and size of this gap that the military communicates with the people it fights and occupies,” writes Weizman, “restraint is what allows for the possibility of further escalation.” Now with this in mind, the question is how much the documentary apparatus that is capturing the violence in Syria can define and act as a measure of the aforementioned gap, and whether the production and consumption of the visual material can also develop a capacity for resistance and a threshold for intensification of violence. That is, in each phase of this conflict, the visual material have surpassed what was considered or believed as tolerable, and yet the receivers of the violence have managed to document and distribute the atrocities. It is important to note that unlike many previous contemporary conflicts, it is the receivers of the violence who are also acting as documentarians instead of the professional journalist. Thus an analysis of the visual material can help the military to adjust the forces of destruction according to the degree of tolerance exercised in the act of documentation. But yet, there is another dimension to the war and that is total destruction, and here the gap between possible and actual violence is closed, and war becomes a “total war… stripped from semiotics.” At this level, war is not about conviction of the subjects of violence, but rather about the reconstruction of the desired subject or the total annihilation of the surplus.

The visualization of violence, on the one hand creates a public arena that acts as a vessel that communicates the representation of the actual inflicted violence and thus also opens the possibility of further violence by defining a degree of tolerance in production and viewership. The image constantly reconstitutes the subject that the violence attempts to erase. But yet through this dialectical relationship between violence and the image, a different subject is created. This subject is different from one of representational politics where the constitution or existence of the subject is contingent upon its representation. This visualized [undefined] subject is no longer completely the subject that it used to be (before reception of violence), and neither is the new subject that the inflictors of violence intend to construct. This subject is an a-historical one, existing as an image that defines the limits of representation.

Aspiring reality

September 4, 2012 Comments off

In artist Mark Leckey’s Pearl Vision, the drum stick penetrates the snare drum’s vent whole, the player’s crouch reflects onto the silver side of the drum, the beats in sync with the music that defines all the movements of the image, an image that is so pristine that only the digital depth of the beats match the density of its pixel rates. In the piece desire, image and reality infuse, the image defies the desired reality, desire is soaked in the high density of the pixels.

HD is the retinal critique of the real, it is what the real attains to be. It proclaims that unless you (or the event) have the condition to be represented high-def then your reality will remain limited to the pixels of your phone camera. The lo-fi image is a mere representation without transcendence to the ultra-real. Here the conditions of the image define the reality on display. The pop icon whose drop of sweat sliding down her skin is more water like than the river running down the creek. The commodity that is transcended to the image of the represented commodity, applying living beings to attain to its image, while always countering them with their incapability.

The indigenous journalists’ videos interspersed in the newscast showing the atrocities of the army shelling civilian quarters or of a hurricane hitting land, show the immediate real, the poor image, while the newscast’s high-definition is that which reality aspires to be. The pixel rates of the image correspond to the quality of the event, that if only could be produced under certain circumstances posing before the hi-def camera, it could then transcend into the ultra-real.

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