26 Oct – 18 Dec 2016 |
Wed & Fri: 12.00 – 18.00, Thurs: 12.00 – 20.00, Sat & Sun: 10.00 – 18.00
Exhibition: Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing
The exhibition is free of charge. #TracesOfWar
King’s College London’s final exhibition of 2016, Traces of War, explores the relationships between war and the everyday, tracing the imprints it leaves on bodies, memories, landscapes and in places we least expect. The exhibition includes new works from three international artists, Jananne Al-Ani, Baptist Coelho and Shaun Gladwell. It is co-curated by Vivienne Jabri, Department of War Studies and Cécile Bourne Farrell.
We see war in all kinds of spaces and locations, some predictable and others less so. The elements of war, its violence, antagonisms, discourses of exclusion, displacements, populations on the move, people killed and tortured, have a presence in our everyday lives, in our daily routine.
Artists throughout history have sought to capture the agony of war, its impact on combatants and civilians, on landscapes, and on the most hidden spaces: our memories, identities, and lived experience.
At the same time, the phenomenon of war is not confined to moments of crisis or battlefield locations. It somehow disrupts the normality of everyday life. There is a certain resonance in Michel Foucault’s observation that the ‘roar of battle’ travels silently in our modes of being and interactions, our discourses and institutions, the practices that we take for granted. We wish, in this exhibition, to place the lens on this ‘everydayness’, this quotidian aspect of war, not only far away, but also ever-present viscerally and emotionally.
Our exhibition, titled Traces of War, reimagines war beyond its exceptionality, locating it in spaces where it would be least expected. At the same time, the art works reveal the sheer power of the everyday, as life itself and in its most ordinary makes its presence felt in the most dangerous locations of war. Artists from Goya to Dix variously and differently reveal the horrors of war and its imprint upon the body and the body politic, as if we might easily contrast the peace of the everyday with the destructive exceptionalism of war. However, the everyday also has a capacity to make its imprint on war, and this is shown most strongly in, for example, Mona Hatoum’s steel installation, Grater Divide (2002), where an everyday object, such as a kitchen utensil, acquires a menacing, frightening presence.
Working with three outstanding and internationally renowned artists, Jananne Al-Ani, Baptist Coelho and Shaun Gladwell, our aim is to explore this most enduring and, some would argue, most dangerous aspect of war, namely its presence and intersection with the everyday. We wish to bring the paradoxical silent roar of battle to the gallery space so that we might understand its dynamic and its imprint upon the body politic and upon the subject of (international) politics. Working primarily with photography, film and multi-media installations, all three artists have direct experience of the zones of conflict and war, from Iraq, to India, to Bangladesh, to Afghanistan, and then ‘back home’ where the traces of war are revealed again, as if there is no such thing as leaving war behind. The intention of all three artists is to present works responding to our theme.
Born in Kirkuk, Iraq, London based artist, Jananne Al-Ani, reveals war’s presence in seemingly unexpected places while at the same time depicting the historicity of war. In her films, Shadow Sites I (2010) and Shadow Sites II (2011), aerial views of archaeological sites suggest war’s imprint upon a surface that is itself only comprehensible in terms of what lies underneath. For Al-Ani, aerial imagery might be used in archaeology and in intelligence gathering in times of war. However, it is at the intersection of the two that we see the archaeology of our knowledge of war in the present. History reveals itself in the present so that we can never again think of drone warfare and its reliance on aerial imagery of the terrain underneath without at the same time having full awareness that what lies underneath the targeted terrain can re-emerge with full force.
The silent roar of battle is differently seen in Indian artist, Baptist Coelho’s multi-media installations. Just as Al-Ani travels sites of conflict and warfare, so too Coelho realises the everydayness of war by making use of what has referred to as the ‘fabrics’ of war; literally the materials of a life lived in battle zones where no battle as such takes place; where there is much waiting in the lives of soldiers mobilised in India’s farthest mountain reaches. Here we see objects such as jars of food, bandages, soldiers’ uniforms, and backpacks sent to unlikely spaces so that the audience is never quite sure of the measure of distance between home and the war front.
The echoes of war are interpreted differently in Baptist Coelho’s multi-media works. Just as Al-Ani travels to the sites of conflict and warfare, likewise, Coelho realises the everyday-ness of war by making use of what is referred to as the ‘fabrics’ of war; literally the materials that have lived in battle zones where more lives are lost due to the extreme cold temperatures than the army bullet. His research based projects attempts to reveal and understand conflict and war through observations and conversations that have been woven into the fabric of the lives of people, whether directly or indirectly affected. These works reveal their challenges and valour, but also the paradox of heroism, confronted by extreme geographical conditions of the Siachen Glacier the highest battlefields in the world. Here we see objects such as jars of food, bandages, soldiers’ uniforms, and backpacks experience unlikely spaces where the audience is never quite sure of the measure of distance between home and the war front.
Australian-born artist Shaun Gladwell, who has served as Australia’s official war artist in the first Gulf War and later in Afghanistan, uses his camera work to destabilise the time and space of war. The materials of war are here revealed in the landscape, in soldiers’ helmets, and in their corporeal movements. In a single shot of the everyday on a military base, we see soldiers filming each other in the heat of the day just as a drone lands safely having shed its deadly load on an other’s terrain.
The project will enable these artists to develop new works as well as exhibiting a selection of their existing work.
Our aim is to create a space for an exploratory dialogue between academic research into the subject of war and its intersection with the everyday, as well as artists’ encounters with war and the conceptual schema that render it both comprehensible and strange. We hope this collaboration can enable such a dialogue with students and researchers, as well as members of the general public, who will be able to experience the exhibition in the Inigo Rooms and other spaces at King’s College London. Public events and colloquia will take place during the course of the exhibition. There will, in addition, be an exhibition catalogue, to incorporate selected essays and commentary.
- Vivienne Jabri, Professor of International Politics, Department of War Studies and Director of King’s ESRC Doctoral Training Centre, King’s College London.
- Cécile Bourne-Farrell, independent curator, based in London