Acies

dimasdimas

This publication accompanies the exhibition “Acies” by Alessandro Di Massimo. It includes texts by Anastasia Philimonos and Alessandro Di Massimo and images of the show.

A5, 18 pages, b/w, hand made cover made with sandpaper.

First published by the artist for the exhibition “Acies”, 17 – 24 November 2017, The Number Shop, Edinburgh.

All rights reserved.

Aciēs (/ˈa.ki.eːs/)

1 sharpness, sharp edge, point;

2 battle field, battle line, array;

3 sight, glance;

4 pupil of eye.


Did you see the war?

- Felix Guattari, 1996.

Acies is an exhibition that responds to the concept of war by investigating

its visual and iconographic aspects. The Latin word Aciēs , with its multiple

meanings, discloses the aim of this exhibition, that is to comment on the

correlation between spectacle and war.

This new body of work could be seen as a visual response to the fictional

representation of warfare given by the media, as well as an examination of

how contemporary society reacts to the way modern conflicts are portrayed.

Instead of focusing on images that are usually associated with the context

of war (e.g. bodies, blood, weapons), this new body of work investigates on

the peripheral imagery. Objects, images and motifs that are part of a warrelated

scenario but not usually a primary symbolisation of it (e.g. textures,

maps, songs, monuments).


Incipit

In the early 90’s, I was watching television with my mum. This

was the first time I saw images of a conflict. Must have been the

Gulf war or Bosnian war. This sight made me very uncomfortable

and so I asked my mum what exactly war was. Obviously, I knew

what war was from school, books, movies and so on, but this was

the first time it seemed real to me. So I asked for clarifications.

She caressed me and said to me that ‘war is just on the TV’.

16/17 January 1991 - Italian TV presenter Emilio Fede

announces the beginning of the Gulf war during the evening

edition of Studio Aperto. Studio Aperto was the first programme,

from a private network, that presented live coverage of news,

to broadcast nationally in Italy.

Alessandro Di Massimo


A story for war, a story about war

So, one way of posing the question of who

“we” are in these times of war is by asking

whose lives are considered valuable,

whose lives are mourned, and whose lives

are considered ungrievable.

Judith Butler 1

Walking through Acies, we will be thinking about war, representations of

war, and the politics that war sustains and is sustained by.

Opening Acies is Battlefield, a sculptural installation that borrows its visual

elements from two Roman objects: vexillum, a type of Roman standard,

used during war to mark a troop’s assembly point or the location of the

commander; and Vettweiss – Eroitzheim, a dice tower made in the 4th

century AD. The bronze dice tower was created to allow the trustworthy

throw of dice and was probably gifted to now unknown soldiers after

winning a battle; it consisted of a horizontal tower, open on the top so as

to allow the throw of one or more dice that would then exit from the below

steps to land on the surface underneath. For Battlefield, Alessandro has

reproduced the entire edifice of the vexillum, rendering it with wood and

a military camouflage patterned fabric banner that reads ‘HOSTIS DELETA

LUDITE SECURI’ [The enemy is defeated, play in safety] – part of the text

that is carved on the dice tower. Next to the vexillum, two dice, somewhat

resembling those that could have been used when playing with the tower,

are placed on a grey plinth, the typical structure for exhibiting sculptures/

valuable objects within a gallery/museum. Battlefield reenacts the original

purpose of the tower, inviting audiences to play with the dice, as the banner

emphatically announces, in safety. However, in the case of Battlefield, the

dice are plastic camouflage patterned; mass produced cheap objects, an

ironic interpretation of the original hand-crafted bronze roman artifact. Given

that an interaction occurs, spectators, who have now become participants,

partake into a celebratory activity, during which what is celebrated is the

1 Judith Butler, Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? (London; New York: Verso, 2009), p. 38


defeat of an enemy. Who is the enemy?

Following the World Trade Centre attacks on 11 September 2001, the

rhetoric of the dangerous Other, primarily the terrorist, replaced the rhetoric

of the uncivilised other and in tandem, fear began shaping the contemporary

subject. Capitalising on this fear, George W. Bush, on 16 September 2001,

officially announced the ‘war on terror’, marking a new era of warfare

which has materialised into various zones of conflict, fifteen years later

still unfolding. Fear, whose presence requires the existence of an enemy, is

well discussed in discourse pertaining to contemporary hegemonic politics.

Indicatively, Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek in his book Violence acutely

describes how contemporary politics is ‘post-political bio-politics’, a mode

of politics that allegedly leaves behind the traditional ideological struggles

to focus on citizens’ safety and well-being. In the realm of this politics, one

succumbs to dominant apparatuses as long as her bios [life] is permeated by

the need to be saved from the dangerous Other who, in one way or another,

threatens her safety. As Žižek puts it, [...] at the zero level of politics, the

only way to introduce passion into this field, to actively mobilise people,

is through fear, a basic constituent of today’s subjectivity. [...] [F]ear of

immigrants, fear of crime, fear of godless sexual depravity, fear of excessive

state itself, with its burden of high taxation, fear of ecological catastrophe,

fear of harassment’. 2

The enactment of the above dice-rolling celebrations within a gallery compels

thinking on the difference and distance between, for instance, a battlefield

in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or the battered borders between Syria and Turkey

and an art context – and, therefore, the Western context – within which we

are invited to celebrate our safety, namely, the distance between the West

and the East. This distance is the one that underpins the ethical demand of a

western intervention in the name of humanity’s comfort and prosperity, in the

sense that dwelling on this distance can lead to a sense of insurmountable

difference between the West and the East, and when this difference is taken

with the added implication that the West is more favourable, we reach the

conclusion is that the West must be protected. But isn’t this an ‘’ethical

illusion’’, which is underlined by religious distance and the great narratives of

modernity whose subject believed that he was universal and consequently

compelled to level anything different to him, as anything different would

be deemed wrong? Hence, Žižek wonders ‘why should Kissinger, when he

2 Slavoj Žižek, Violence: Six Sideways Reflections (New York: Profile, 2008), pp. 34-35


ordered the carpet bombing of Cambodia that led to the death of tens of

thousands, be less of a criminal than those responsible for the Twin Towers’

collapse? Is it not because we are victims of an ‘’ethical illusion’’’? 3

Opposite from Battlefield, Cold War Camouflage is a devised map perforated

by spike studs that depicts, at least once, all the country members of the

NATO – North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – and the former Warsaw Pact,

formally known as Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance.

The Warsaw Pact was a military alliance signed in 1955 between the

Soviet Union and the seven Soviet satellite states of Central and Eastern

Europe: Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland

and Romania. The Warsaw Pact was formed to counter the NATO treaty

signed in 1949 between the countries of the West due to fear of further

communist expansion. This plotted map is rather confusing, disclosing no

factual information whatsoever regarding the members of the treaties and

their involvement with the ideological conflicts of the Cold War. The depicted

countries are hardly identifiable; as Alessandro explains, ‘[t]he countries

deprived of their position are now “downgraded” to shapes. The land masses

pictured here are not anymore parts of a map, they are the elements of a

pattern’. 4 Cold War Camouflage and its pattern of war discloses war as a

primary means of organising society – a notion supported by the fact that

the Cold War has been replaced by the ‘war on terror’, a subject pondered

above and within War Map that follows.

Just to the left of Cold War Camouflage, War Map, a subversion of

conventional political world map, is mounted on the wall, both folded and

unfolded. All countries of War Map are printed in a military camouflage motif

that at once separates them into nation-states and unites them through the

various hues of the military pattern. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the

dissolution of the Soviet Union, namely in the terrain of de-centralised global

capitalism, the Cold War was consigned to the past and war in general was

considered, at least for a while, to be a means of obsolete nation-stateorientated

politics and economy. 5 Nevertheless, after the attacks of 9/11

and the subsequent invasion in Iraq and Afghanistan, war (on terror) and its

affect became, in Marxist sociologists and political theorists Michael Hardt

3 Ibid., p. 38

4 Alessandro Di Massimo, unpublished working notes, 2017

5 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argued this in their influential book about globalisation, see

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000).


and Antonio Negri’s words, a ‘permanent social relation’. 6 This global war, of

which ‘war on terror’ is just an aspect, is consistent with the new globalised

environment; in the regime of globalisation the limits of war, namely its

spatial location and temporal extension, are indeterminable in the sense

that there is not a specific target – a physical base, an enemy – that needs

to be destroyed in order for war to come to an end. 7 War Map, a pun on

conventional World Maps, depicting all countries using a camouflage pattern

of four colours, functions as a symbol of a war that has acquired planetary

dimensions.

Between War Map and Cold War Camouflage stands 21 July 2001, a

sculptural installation that combines two of the most recognizable symbols

of struggle. In the corner of the room, to the right of the War Map, on a

small plinth stands the sculpture of Michelangelo’s David (1501-1504), a

reproduction significantly smaller than the original, just 45*20 cm, looking

delicate and vulnerable but also confident and revoltful – for this small

David wears a black balaclava and stands next to a red fire extinguisher. On

the floor next to the plinth lies a printed article, published by BBC on 23 July

2001 that titles ‘Arrest at G8 Death Protest’; the article tersely describes a

demonstration outside the Italian Embassy in London that started due to

‘the death of 23-year-old Italian anti-capitalist protester Carlo Giuliani, shot

dead by paramilitary police in Genoa on Friday’. 8

On 21 July 2001 – the title of this installation – Carlo Giuliani was shot

dead by riot police at anti-globalisation protests that occurred during the

27 th G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy. This Summit is commemorated within neo-

Marxist discourse as the apogee and violent suppress of an active antiglobalisation

movement that began with protests during the 1988 Annual

Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, that

took place in West Berlin and culminated and became well known to a wider

public after the so-called ‘Battle of Seattle’, demonstrations in occasion

6 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York:

Penguin Press, 2004), p. 12

7 For an analysis about the status quo of the ‘war on terror’, see Ibid. and specifically pp. 3 – 32.

For a discussion exclusively about the impossible task of the ‘war on terror’, namely to eliminate

every terrorist, see Itty Abraham, “Torture and ‘War on Terror’”, Economic and Political Weekly, vol.

41, no. 39, 2006, pp. 4102–4102.

8 ‘Arrests at G8 death protest’, BBC, 23 July 2001, available at http: /news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/

uk/1451973.stm

‘Paramilitary’ is mistakenly used in this BBC article as the Carabinieri to which it refers is a military

–and not paramilitary – force that is afforded police duties.


of World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference of 1999. 9 The picture

of Giuliani’s dead body with the balaclava and the red fire extinguisher

has been circulated widely and become a symbol of the anti-globalisation

movement. To compose 21 July 2001, Alessandro borrowed from the fatal

scene, the fire extinguisher and Giuliani’s balaclava to dress David, one of the

emblematic objects of Western culture and so-called humanitarian axioms

of Renaissance, a reference that stands in incongruous juxtaposition to the

days of the anti-globalisation protests in Genoa during which occurred ‘[...] a

plethora of documented cases of human rights violations against protesters

[...]’. 10

On the right of Cold War Camouflage, Big Hits is a colour video that consists

of footage entirely found on the World Wide Web. In 15 minutes, Big Hits

displays in chronological order footage of 33 wars that happened between

1983 – the year Alessandro was born – and 2016. Each year signals the

beginning of a different war, which hasn’t necessarily ended. Each footage is

accompanied by a different soundtrack, the song that was the best-selling

song in the UK during the year that the war began, sung as in a karaoke

by Alessandro himself; for instance, the video starts with the Invasion of

Granada and the song Karma Chameleon by Culture Club; 1984 follows with

the Siachen Conflict and the song Do They Know It’s Christmas? by Band

Aid. For Big Hits, Alessandro sourced 30 seconds of footage for each war.

For wars that took place closest to 1983, footage was hard to find, whilst

when found was not long enough and therefore different clips had to be

edited together. On the contrary, for wars closest to today, representations

were found in abundance and great variation. Alessandro tried to remain

as peripheral as possible, to avoid guns, battlefields and bodies in action,

but for the earliest wars, this was not always possible due to the limited

selection of footage available, at least publicly.

From the first year, 1983, to the last, there is a remarkable divergence

in how war is captured. For instance, the Second Chechen War, 1999,

starts with Britney Spear’s Baby One More Time and a long procession of

soldiers walking over what looks like a bridge; some of the soldiers directly

9 For a thorough discussion about the demonstrations and police brutalities surrounding the

27 th G8 Summit and their ramifications to the antiglobalisation movement that also takes into

consideration the attacks on 9/11 and how they have impacted the movement, see Heather

Gautney, Protest and Organization in the Alternative Globalization Era: NGOs, Social Movements, and

Political Parties (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) and specifically, ‘The Alternative Globalization

Movement and the World Social Forum’, pp. 13-42.

10 Ibid., p. 46


acknowledge the camera by waving to it; while still streaming footage from

the same war, the shot suddenly changes and now we see two soldiers in

an unrecognisable outdoor location, one of them lying down holding his

gun and the other’s hand holding a cigarette; the shot changes again and

we are taken to an outdoor location packed with a mass of soldiers with a

soldier standing out in the front of the scene staring at a hand that holds

a cigarette; then abruptly, a jump cut to the smoking cigarette and thus

the footage of 1999 comes to an end. Alessandro has assembled quite a

different representation for the Syrian Civil War, 2011, using a video that

was broadly circulated online. This extremely low resolution video is taken

by a mobile phone whose owner was killed during the filming of this very

video by the man whom he was filming standing on the roof of the opposite

building. As Big Hits moves towards 2017, lo-fi clips taken using mobile

phones, speak for the now innumerable available representations of war

and thus for the so-called democratisation of the pictorial archive as digital

media has allowed the documentation and subsequent circulation of events

that were impossible with older analogue technology.

Big Hits’ overtly edited footage, its concealed online source and the singing

voice of the artist comment on the inability of representation to speak an

unequivocal truth, as every representation is ideologically constructed, in this

instance by the artist, in the sense that is framed, selected or entirely omitted.

The unconventional combination of war footage and hit songs, mostly

cheerful ones, alludes to the mass-media construct of excessive amounts of

images under the weight of which underlying realities of representations are

reduced into an easily-consumed spectacle, or others are simply suppressed.

Indeed, immediately after the 9/11 attacks, images of the collapse of the

Twin Towers circulated widely and rapidly, becoming the archetypal symbol

of the ‘war on terror’. On the other hand, Žižek, in his Violence, recalls that

while the atrocity of the events of 9/11 was constantly presented in the

mainstream media, al- Jazeera TV was condemned for allying with the

‘terrorists’ when it streamed the bombardment of Fallujah by the US. 11 This

was the beginning of an ongoing war of images as all the parties involved in

the conflict were very well aware of the power of spectacle, especially with

its ability to diffuse into innumerable screens across the globe. For, as art

11 Violence: Six Sideways Reflections, p. 38

For a thorough analysis of how ‘frames of war’ shape the decision, to borrow Judith Butler’s

words, ‘to defend the lives of certain communities, and to defend them against the live of others’,

see Frames of War: When is Life Grievable?; for the quote, see p. 38; for a discussion specifically

about ‘war on terror’, see pp. 33-102.


historian T. J. Demos put it, ‘there is no conflict without war of images’. 12

In light of this, there is, on the one hand, a rampant proliferation of images

that undermines our apprehension and shapes our fears and desires;

and on the other, due to the increasing so-called democratisation of the

pictorial archive, an opportunity to intervene in hegemonic representations,

the knowledge they produce and legitimise, and the ethics and politics of

fear they sustain. In a short essay title ‘Documentary Uncertainty’, artist

and theorist Hito Steyerl, discussing the affects of an uncertainty resulting

from mainstream broadcasting, called artists to organise the inundation of

images and disclose the politics that inform their imagery and circulation.

She posited, ‘[f]inding a critical position with respect to these images [...]

means replacing the set of affects which is connected to this uncertainty –

namely stress, exposure, threat and a general sense of loss and confusion

– with another one’. 13 Alessandro’s decision to use peripheral imagery to

refer to war, such us the camouflage pattern that appears predominantly

within the exhibition, not only adds to the abundance of different images

that can be created or chosen to speak about warfare but also partakes

into the history of various artists whose work negates the fear and paranoia

resulting by the ubiquitous representations of blood, bodies, battlefields,

guns, coffins etc. Artists like Thomson & Craighead have chosen to reveal

the ideologies that underline representations. Some like Thomas Hirschhorn

have chosen to show the sheer brutality of war – bodies entirely shattered,

both black and white – and thus shake the ethical illusion that excuses socalled

western intervention and the death of the Other.

Acies tells us a story about war, a story about representations of war and

a story about how representations tell us the story that we tell about war.

Anastasia Philimonos

12 T. J. Demos, Zones of Conflict (New York: Pratt Manhattan Galley, 2009), p.3

For a succinct discussion about ‘the war of images’ that uses examples such as the photographs

of Sadam’s dental examination, the leaked Abu Ghraib photos and the Fallujah photographs, see

W. J. T. Mitchell, ‘Cloning: The War of Image 2001-2004’ in Diarmuid Costello and Dominic Willsdon

(eds), The Life and Death of Images (London: Tate Publishing, 2008), 179-207.

13 Hito Steyerl, ‘Documentary Uncertainty’, 2007, available online at journal Re-visiones, http: /

www.re-visiones.net/spip.php%3Farticle37.html


This publication accompanies:

ACIES

an exhibition by Alessandro Di Massimo

17 - 24 November 2017

The Number Shop Studios and Gallery

Edinburgh

Published by Alessandro Di Massimo, 2017

All the images © of the artist

Texts © by Anastasia Philimonos, Alessandro Di Massimo

More magazines by this user
Similar magazines