Friday, April 17, 2009

A Trip to the Niland: Part Two

What am I talking about? Maybe you should read Part One

Upstairs the exhibition had a sudden attack of non-video art – a couple of posters and models depicting crazy conspiracy theory stuff. I like the mysteriously true end of conspiracy theories (you know, Bohemian Grove, Gladio, that kind of thing). This promiscuously mixed in all that kind of thing with more outlandish stuff about secret rulers of the world and so on. That is maybe the problem with reading about this kind of stuff in an art gallery rather than a book – artworks typically do not feature footnotes.

They did have some video pieces upstairs. One that I liked was people in Baghdad making the noise that Tomahawk cruise missiles make when they fly by and then explode in the distance. They should have sold CDs of this, it was great. There was also a conceptually interesting piece in which separate interviews of an Israeli tank crews were shown in screens laid out to show where they would be relative to each other in a tank. It was conceptually interesting, but once you got the idea it was too difficult to really engage with what they were saying, so I left them to it.

The last piece I looked at was again more like a film than an artwork, but it was pretty interesting. It dealt with Auschwitz, and told the story first of all of the first people to break the story of the death camp. They were two inmates who had something to do with the gas chambers (I missed the intro, but they might have been the guys who checked the bodies for valuables; the Nazis disposed of these people every couple of months to keep word of the gas chambers to as few people as possible). They escaped from the camp, and after an arduous journey they were able to get word to the allies, who then basically did nothing about it. Various prominent Jewish figures begged the allied leaders to have the gas chambers or railways into Auschwitz bombed, but Churchill et al. took the line that the best way to help the Jews was to end the war as fast as possible. The film implies that not bombing the camps was Wrong; I believe that this is a more morally ambiguous question. Whatever about that, the aerial photos of the camp (taken by a reconnaissance plane that had no idea what it was flying over) showing the gas chambers with a line of people about to be murdered marching to them was rather affecting.

The lay out of the exhibition is such that it was only by chance that I ended up with Auschwitz, but it works well as an end-point. It maybe also works well that (for me) the exhibition ended with a fairly straight film on this awful subject. It got me thinking also about the whole business of visiting Auschwitz, a place that is now a major tourist attraction in Poland. I am interested in history, even bad history, and I could imagine the camp being a fascinating place to see. But I could imagine two possible downsides to going there. First of all, the place could be so depressingly awful that a trip there would feel like immersion in the pornography of horror – a place you visit not to learn more about the past, but to get a vicarious thrill from contemplating the terrible things that people can do. Or, contrariwise, it could turn out to be a case of Holocaust kitsch, a packaged experience so tacky that it becomes a theme-park of death, distancing the visitor from any understanding of the events that took place there. Has anyone reading this ever been to Auschwitz? What did you make of it?

One final thing - I did not take notes on which artists produced which pieces in the exhibition. The exhibition's website gives the following names of the artists:

Maja Bajevic (Bosnia)
Bureau d'etudes (France)
Paul Chan (USA)
Köken Ergun (Turkey)
Harun Farocki (Germany)
Omer Fast (Israel/USA)
Kendell Geers (South Africa)
Johan Grimonprez (Belgium)
Jamelie Hassan (Canada)
Kristan Horton (Canada)
Abdel-Karim Khalil (Iraq) 
Anri Sala (Albania)
Sonja Savic (Serbia)
Sean Snyder (USA/Germany)
Ron Terada (Canada)

See if you can match them to the described artworks.

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