Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

Child taping what remains of his house

May 8, 2012 Comments off

In the youtube video Child taping what remains of his house, we see a boy filming a pile of rubble which used to be a house. It is of course difficult to confirm if the house belongs to the child and his family, but nevertheless, that is what the title suggests. The man who is filming the child first approaches him as a news reporter approaches a subject of interview in a war zone, and as he gets closer he apparently asks: can you tell me what you see? Which also could be read as “can you tell me what you are filming?” The child responds to the question and other questions posed by the man. Both of them are clearly acting a scenario and the footage also implies a spoof on official/traditional television reportage (they even laugh at some point to a joke that the child makes).

Child taping what remains of his house, youtube still frame

The same video a few years ago would show the child in front of the rubble talking to the camera, now both the child and the other camera are filming. The child delegates the task of experiencing the destruction of his house to the camera, similar to a tourist in front of an ancient a ruin. He does not want to be the represented, but rather the one who represents. Here, in the words of Adorno, one can witness the triumph of representation over what is represented. Not unlike the journalist, the child is also interested in dissecting the site of destruction with a camera, to describe what he can see and highlight the economy of access, but this time to his own rubble. Friedrich Kittler mentions a 1902 German Reich law that gave every man and woman the “right to one’s own image,” here the camera gives the child the right to his own rubble. This gives rise to a new figure of victim, one that is detached from his own destruction by a digital camera. A victim who removes himself from the ruin and whose “rejection of experience can provisionally embody a legitimate defense,” in words of Agamben. A generation that grew up looking at monitors from the point of view of first-person shooter games can now experience its own habitat as the game zone.

The formation of Syrian battalion is a meme?

May 7, 2012 Comments off

There are few dozens of videos of Syrian army defectors and civilians joining the opposition or forming various parallel independent battalions. A great number of these videos show a group of Syrian men, standing in front of a camera, while the leader or a representative, reads the group’s declaration of constitution from a laptop computer. These videos also share a very low viewership, that in most cases is equivalent or less than the number of insurgents in the video.  The text is read in a loud, assertive and forceful voice, addressed, not to those present, but to the camera (or whatever recording device), or rather, to the internet.

The video announces to the internet that these group of people have decided to part with the leading military regime, and join the opposition. However, given the low number of viewers, it becomes unclear if the video is directed to an online audience, who do not know these people, and cannot anticipate their success, influence and their position vis a vis the multiplicity of forces within the country. As mentioned in a pervious post, the video—if we can call it video as its physical existence is in question— makes it clear that the group is constituted as an online entity as well as a physical one and possibly in spite of it. The declaration of the formation of the group is inseparable from the meme that its contributing to, one might suggest that it is prompted by it.

Thus, the internet here is not only an idea of a possible audience, it is not simply a means to an end (to send a message); rather the internet here is the very affirmation of the group’s existence, without which it will cease to be. The group substitutes the act of signing, with that of posing in front of the camera, one gesture is replaced by the other. Those present in the video are also signatories of the declaration. They stand before a computer screen and unite in front of a computer screen and will remain there until the video is removed from the internet. But if a subject’s offline existence is contingent upon its online presence, then one needs to transcode oneself into an avatar and contribute to the meme’s development and possible mutation.

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April 18, 2012 Comments off

New York based artist Artie Vierkant’s Image Objects address this online mutation of the exhibition object although in a more roundabout and complex manner. The images are first produced digitally, then rendered into UV prints on sintra and eventually the (official) documentation of the pieces is again altered digitally, not accurately presenting the physical object. Vierkant highlights the ambiguous location of the work between the physical space of the gallery and the web. Already in his essay Dispersion, Seth Price points to a similar ambiguity with regards to the “Daniel Pearl Video” noting that since it does not exist outside of the internet, it may not be correct to call it “video.” Vierkat takes this a step further by putting forth a work that questions the ontological distinctions of the work’s location.

Artie Vierkant, Image Objects (left) Monday 25 April 2011 8:01PM (right) Monday 25 April 2011 11:01PM, (altered) Wednesday 20 September 2011 3:25PM

In Phil Chang’s Cache, Active at LAXART, a series of photographs some contact prints of negatives, some photograms were printed on unfixed expired photographic paper. The photographs encompassed various pictorial traditions of portraiture , still life, landscape, abstraction, and appropriated imagery, all faded to a monochrome with the light required to view them in the gallery. They were printed on expired photo paper and were not chemically fixed to last the exhibition lights. Contrary to the work of the 17th century dramatists, these pictures faded, over-exposed to the light that made them visible but similar to them their lifespan was defined by light. Regardless of the particular significance of the work in the canon of photographic theory, or its being an iconoclastic commentary on the move from mere representation pictures to [abstract] art, they provide a [rather metaphoric] take on the relationship between [media] exposure and visual meaning production. It is images’ “exposure” as “public exhibition” and sense of “situation with regard to sun or weather,” that ultimately makes them invisible. The images are the “spam of the earth,” the visual excess, by-product of the universal dominance of exchange value that make representation invisible through over production. What makes the work visible/consumable is what eventually erases the works’ features. It is the exchange value that eventually undermines the works’ use value and makes it useless, the commodity renders insignificance all features of a thing as long as it is sold, to paraphrase one critic’s commentary on the exhibition.

Phil Chang, (left) Two Sheets of Thick Paper on Top of Two Sheets of Thin Paper, Unfixed Silver Gelatin Print, 2010; (right) Monochrome Exposed, Unfixed Silver Gelatin Print, 2012

But while such critical assumptions could be valid considering the work’s presence in the gallery, they are immediately dismantled in the works’ representation on the internet. Ironically, in an article that argues the works’ significance as a critique of capitalism, the un-faded picture is featured at its most clarity together with the monochrome and it is the process that is absent but described in the text. While the images fade out in the gallery space, they preside on the web and after the exhibition is dismantled (if not even while it’s on view) they become the work even though its destination was not the web initially. However, this is not unique to these works, (and this text is not a critique of these particular works) even if it particularly affects their reception, and thus their meaning significantly. The life of Chang’s images on the web point to the problematic of identifying the location, and destination of the work in the age of global connectivity. The work’s assumed contingency upon the spatial presence of the observer within a defined pocket of time is dependent on the availability of its digital rendering online.

Youtube still frame, Formation of Sham Al-Yasmeen battalion - FSA, Published on Apr 18, 2012 by SyrianDaysOfRage

In a video posted on youtube, a group of Syrian insurgents declare the formation of their group. What stands out is not necessarily the formation of a new revolutionary battalion in the midst of what is bordering a civil war, but rather the laptop placed in front of the groups leader making the announcement. The video—if we can call it video as its physical existence is in question— makes it clear that the group is constituted as an online entity as well as a physical one and possibly in spite of it. The leader (or representative) of the group while reads the text directly from a word processor, could also be addressing another group of viewers via videochat. The declaration of the formation of the group is inseparable from the meme that its contributing to, one might suggest that it is prompted by it.

from the wave to the gunshot

April 16, 2012 Comments off

In Mobilizing Shame, Thomas Keenan recounts how in the presence of news cameras of BBC and ITN (Independent Television Network), Serbian policemen looted and destroyed the Albanian village of Mijalic. Keenan further closely analyzes a line in the ITN video log: “looters out of house waving to cameras.” Keenan writes: “The wave announces—it performs, it enacts—that there’s no hiding here, nothing in the dark, nothing to be ashamed of. And it demonstrates this for the very instruments that are known for their revelatory abilities—the wave says, ‘expose this, this that I am exposing for you.’” The article looks at a how shaming is used as a humanitarian instrument through revealing to the global community the atrocities of the perpetrators. There is a belief (still prevalent) that exposing the deeds that are done in the dark would put an end to them. That  ‘wave’ questions this argument notes Keenan, not by arguing against exposure all together, but that shame is a social contract that hinges on acceptance of certain conventions and will not function beyond the radius of those principles. But at the same time, the ‘wave’ needs to acknowledge the very same principles to function beyond them. If those [universally accepted] social conventions are completely dismantled, then the ‘wave’ will lose its significance entirely. Thus the wave does not function outside of the shaming principle, but rather within it, it further underlines it to reach out for an exterior space of shamelessness.

In Syria, the situation is a bit different: the cameraman and the victim have merged into one single entity, in the absence of international newscasters. The ‘wave’ is for an outsider viewer, for spectators of the global news media who receive the message in form of a ‘wave’, a gesture directed towards them, in recognition of them, catered to them. The same message to the Bosnians themselves was more than a mere gesture of the hand. In the youtube video Man Films His Own Death, a soldier shoots the cameraman down as he is filming the shelling of a neighborhood in the besieged Syrian city of Homs. There are similar incidents, including the death of citizen journalist Basil al Sayed captured on his own videocam. Arguably the social contracts of journalism are not held to be credible when it comes to citizen journalism. The professional journalists are mediators of a message that citizen journalists are the bearer of. The presence of the camera has no effect on the actions of the Syrian army, as it does not prompt them to ‘wave’ instead of shooting. Here the exposure functions outside of the category of shame (from kem “to cover”). The Syrian army is shameless, but not in the sense that the Serb soldiers were, as it is not reliant on that particular social contract at all. If the gesture hinged on the contract for it to perform, the shooting of the cameraman is unburdened by it.

to and from abstraction

April 10, 2012 Comments off

Indigenous reporting has profoundly transformed the landscape of journalism. Transmitted directly from site of production, the images have inundated all possible venues of distribution and reception, from television to social media to even radio (it is not uncommon to hear the sound of videos on radio). This phenomenon has effected the traditional methods of framing, selection, inclusion and exclusion, dissemination and positioning of images and has opened up the possibilities of representation to unprecedented extent. The formerly excluded from frames of representatbility, ‘technically’ have now the means of representation previously unavailable to them.  Other than the larger social/political implications of this visual tsunami, and consequent theoretical battles, the production and reception of the image itself has fundamentally changed. This is due to the fact that the move to and from abstraction and the various aesthetic categories and genre distinctions it entailed are rendered untenable.

youtube still frame, (04-09-12) Killis Camp | Turkey | Assad Forces Shoot Across Border, Turkish Soldiers Take Cover

Documentary, journalism and all modes of representation that relied on the technical images’ claim to truth, generally refrained from formal abstraction (unless the footage was produced under particular circumstances, and was usually highly edited or left out of the final cut). Sharp pans and tilts, rapid zoom in/out, swinging the camera around, running with camera running, instant cuts, etc, in various combinations all belonged to the experimental realm or formal investigations.

youtube still frame, (04-09-12) Killis Camp | Turkey | Assad Forces Shoot Across Border, Turkish Soldiers Take Cover

In the new images, digital zoom inserts pixels into reality.  Rapid zooms can turn buildings and landscapes into lines and plains, zoom out into buildings and landscapes again. War zone pans into the picturesque tilts into monochrome. Pixels could suddenly turn into rubble, and cobble stones and gravel can at once turn into pixels. Interview turns into conversation to commentary to narrative, into rambling, murmurs and shouts, into jokes, into orders. The camera makes no distinctions between the stretcher and the barbed-wire, the sniper and the runaway sneakers, crying babies and the food dispensers. These instantaneous moves from representation to abstraction and vice versa are now commonplace in big and small media and the viewers have easily accepted this type of imagery. By exposing the pixels, [digital] abstraction moves to data and back, the person working the camera and the camera at work.

youtube still frame, (04-09-12) Killis Camp | Turkey | Assad Forces Shoot Across Border, Turkish Soldiers Take Cover


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violence as quotation

March 26, 2012 Comments off

Watching the videos coming out of Syria is to say the least, extremely disturbing. It is not that the regime is only wiping out the opposition, but rather it is wiping out the opposition in forms of most gruesome imagery of violence. Rather than images creating a “ghastly distanciation”, these images block any possibility of reflection, they are messages that the perpetrators are sending out to the world, both the local audience and those who watch these videos online. One cannot dispute these images on the basis of the violent acts that were conducted, there is no discretion, no concern for accusations of human rights violations by the international community.

In the Ground of the Image, Jean-Luc Nancy describes how the image is the battle ground between the violence of truth and the truth of violence. Violence wants to leave a mark, wants to erupt into the field of vision and reveal itself in form of an image. Similarly, truth also wants to become visible, it also wants to display itself on the picture plane, it wants to unfold into an image. “The difference is that the true truth is violent because it is true, whereas the other type, its thick double, is ‘‘true’’ only insofar as it is violent. In the second case, truth is reduced to the mode of violence and exhausted in that mode, whereas in the first case, violence is unleashed in truth itself, and thus contained in it.”

Following this description what if we consider violence as a quotation, as a direct enactment of language where the message needs no further translation, the closure of all possibilities for interpretation. Violence as the “ground zero of language, the complete erasure of misunderstanding in form of total domination. That is in order to fully and completely make ourselves understood, for there to be no more “in other words” but “no words” or rather “one word”, no need for translation, no delay or postponement of meaning into the future we wipe out the addressee. Here we reach out for the other pure language, where there is only us and no more of them and all the avenues of misunderstanding are blocked and there’s nothing left to talk about. Silent. Dead. Kaput (SM, That’s The Way We Do It exhibition catalogue, Kunsthaus Bregenz).”

After Reformation, in some Catholic churches, the “image” became a quotation. The church found the need to reinterpret the role of images in the faith, thus in some instances, instead of commissioning new images, painters were called to ornament around images that were considered holy by the believers throughout centuries. The image carried its meaning with itself, while its presentation changed shape. Similarly in Syria the images are true only insofar as they are violent, as visual quotations of a message that does not carry the burden of [mis]understanding. Here violence becomes the form of the photographic index.

man films his own death

February 27, 2012 Comments off

Already today there is hardly an event of human significance toward which the artificial eye of civilization, the photographic lens is not directed. Ernst Junger

In a video posted on June 4, 2011 on youtube from the ongoing violence in Syria, a man films his own death. The video shows jittery P.O.V footage, shot from a balcony looking at the opposite buildings, overlooking what appears to be a back alley. The camera jumps rapidly, scans the surfaces of the buildings, the parapet, the sky, satellite dishes etc. We can hear the man panting through the microphone and describes what he is win. A translation of his commentary is provided on the youtube by netspanner: “The armed services are shooting at my country men for no reason on 1/7/2011, there is no protest or anything.” At 0:37 we see the boots of a soldier behind a wall, his head not visible. A few second later we see the soldier as he lifts his gun, points and shoots. At 0:47 the camera man is shot and he falls, we hear the camera drop and the picture goes blank. Later we hear a voice saying: “the bullet entered your head?… what you were filming?”

A man films his own death, youtube still image

Ernst Junger notes that among the most obvious characteristics of the type of human evolving in our times is the possession of a second consciousness. “This second, colder consciousness” Ernst writes, “shows itself in the ever more sharply developed ability to see oneself as an object . . . the second consciousness is focused on the person who stands outside the sphere of pain.” Junger wrote about the increasing incursion on danger into everyday life triggered by technological advancements of weaponry, and cameras. Is this video the absolute instance of Junger’s second consciousness? While the camera man is obviously feeling the threat, documenting the soldier’s movements capturing him on gun point, what prevents him from dropping the camera and running for his life. Does he find the image the only remaining possibility for life? Is the direct encounter with danger normalized through the camera eye in such way that one becomes the object of the situation that ultimately results in one’s annihilation?

A man films his own death, youtube still image

Here the camera/body entity becomes the subject of the event in a kind of phenomenological displacement. The moment of death is captured through the spatial relations defined by the camera and not the representation of the deceased subject captured on the image. The picture of one’s own death is empty from the representational drive of the image of the death of the other. As opposed to similar videos capturing the death of others in similar situations, this video is devoid of the kind of sadomasochistic aspect of disaster spectatorship that Foster writes about. The subject is split in relation to the disaster Foster writes, “even as he or she may mourn the victims, even identify with them masochistically, he or she may also be thrilled sadistically by the victims of whom he or she is not one.” The thrill in this video, is not of witnessing the death of the other, but is the thrill of witnessing one’s own death through the camera viewfinder.

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