Posts Tagged ‘The Spam of the Earth’

They Shoot Horses?

February 16, 2012 Comments off

Since the mid-1990s, artist Phil Collins has traveled zones of conflict and oppression, in order to “get closer to the event.” What initially began as a response to a mistrust of news media outlets’ coverage of the conflict in Kosovo, became a working methodology and an artistic concern for Collins. In How to Make a Refugee (1999), the artist follows the photojournalists around Kosovo, covering them covering the war. The video documents how a group of journalists choreographed a family displaced and wounded by the war. Collins meticulously documents how the journalists examined a wound on the boy’s stomach, made him take off his shirt (but put his cap back on) and covered him with flashes. All along, the boy was hiding his injured leg from the cameras, as he is obviously troubled by the process and wants it to be over with.

Phil Collins, How to Make a Refugee, 1999

The humanitarian technique of mobilization of shame is based on the belief that the perpetrators, in fear of public opinion awakened by the exposure of acts of human rights violation to the international community, will ultimately stop their violent actions. Shaming becomes a humanitarian tool based on the conviction that ‘‘if mass violations become known, the world reacts.” But doesn’t destruction ask for visibility or is it done to go unnoticed? : The destroyer must be constantly surrounded by people, witnesses to his efficacy (Benjamin, The Destructive Character). 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 camera reveals and exposes, but it is also a call for action, it instigates performance. It is not a passive witness, it is an active participant. The camera commands: dance for me, kill for me, cry for me. Technologies of exposure have become opportunities for performance, exhibition, self-exposure. While the boy in Collins’ video wants to hide from the camera, the soldiers wave at it, the soldiers want to be him, want to take his place before the camera.

Phil Collins, They Shoot Horses, 2004

A decade later, Collins travels to Palestine, another conflict zone that has occupied decades of air time and prime visual real estate. There he stages a disco dance marathon in Ramallah for the making of the piece They Shoot Horses. After a series of auditions, Collins chose nine dancers and divided them into two groups, filmed them separately in two days. Both groups danced to the same soundtrack for eight hours without breaks, from 10am to 6pm, and received a day’s wage per hour. The camera, for the most part, is a full frame shot that holds all of the dancers, who dance against a pink wall. About it Collins writes: “In the finished film they do aerobics, they do folk dancing to Gina X. Someone starts dry-retching at Aretha Franklin. They do belly dancing to The Smiths. Later on, they fall asleep to ‘Fame’. They’ve almost had it, stumbling about like drunks, bags under their eyes as Irene Cara rattles on in the background.” In a place 24/7/365 under the gaze of cameras, from news media to aerial surveillance to citizen journalists, the piece exhausts the possibilities of human motions before a camera. For the dancers, the presence of the camera is part of living under the limelight of the occupation. In the age of live televised war, the victims are those who cannot choose not to be on camera, while the perpetrators, invite it in, wave at it, and expel it as they see fit. The victims have to keep dancing until the music is over.

In The Spam of the Earth, Hito Steyerl writes how the immaculate, horny anorexic omnipresent beauties of hyper-capitalism, are bearing the cross of representation for the rest of us, so we can live a life camera free. This visual tabloid-lumpenproletariat divide lens-attention with the other over-represented but invisible crowd who are condemned to dance for the cameras until they stop rolling. Together they divide our emotion spam between pity and envy, empathy and stimulation, charity and over-consumption.