March 23, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Seeing is not necessarily believing, and artist Joanne Green has fashioned a series of digital images that takes that to heart.
Green’s work is currently on display at Greylock Arts, 93 Summer St.
“CONtext” pulls from photographic journalism sources and twists them into a mind-bending — and eye-bending — digital collage.
The work began following an experience with knee surgery. Green’s surgeons took internal photographs of the entire process, and she was able to use these images to realize a series that would address several things she had in her mind, among them the vocabulary of the Iraq War. She had been reading about the jargon of war — particularly in regard to the conflict in Iraq — and began to devise ways to utilize the phrases through linked images of surgery.
Green took news photos and juxtaposed them to surgical ones, inserting not only the military language she had been introduced to but also technical language about her surgery to create a puzzle in which different forms of violence become harder to separate from each other.
“I started to mix them up together so that it becomes less and less clear as you go through the series which refers to fighting war and which refers to war on the body in the form of surgery,” she said.
Green’s ideas for the series had been brewing in her head for a time prior to the surgery — she had been developing
them through imagery with her earlier work, but they had never all come together in a perfect thematic moment before. Several circumstances and encounters collided to create a big bang for the work that would become “CONtext.”
“Because I have had physical pain for most of my life, it’s been something that I have been trying to come to terms with,” Green said. “That particular surgery was extremely high-tech surgery — they literally harvested tissue from one side of the joint and transplanted it into the other side of the joint, which was basically crumbling.
“When I read about the surgery and about how technologically sophisticated it was, and then had my physical therapist, the first time she looked at my knee, say that orthopedic surgery is the most violent of all surgeries, it all started to fall into place for me. This was the way that I was going to develop my thinking further. And then with the Iraq War, and coming across these dictionaries of war jargon that were developed just for the Iraq War, that’s where it all came together for me.”
As Green crafted the images, digital manipulations began to pile on in various forms. This created deeper abstractions that blurred the imagery and focused on her concepts about the commonality of violence and healing, both of which are meant to create wounds for different purposes. To craft this visual dialogue, she made patterns out of war images and used them to bleed one image into the next and the next and the next.
“As you move through them, they contain bits of each other,” she said. “That is a reference to my thinking about memories and how memories are formed in the brain, and how by repeating certain thoughts, memory becomes encoded in the brain. I’m thinking here about patterns of violence or patterns of thinking and how repetition engraves marks in the mind of individuals and of society about the other.
“I’m also thinking how it’s necessary in some respects to think about the Iraqis as the other or think of a part of my body as the other, because people have to distance themselves in order to do violent things to the body, both in war and in surgery.”
As the viewer moves through the images, the scenes of surgery Green uses begin to look less like medical imaging and more like planets, eyeballs, even eggs. The perception of what is being shown changes, just one aspect of the metamorphosis that she sets up with the series.
“They become more and more vibrant as well in terms of color,” Green said. “They go from a monochromatic tone to extremely vibrant contrasting colors and then towards the end become almost monochromatic again. I have predominantly purple, green, yellow in some of the last ones. That’s just from my years of working with difficult imagery.”
In creating this series, Green took aesthetic cues from some of her earlier work created while in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, where she learned of the strange cross-sections between beauty and horror.
“I spent years and years thinking about what being a political artist actually means and whether art that has a certain level of aesthetic beauty to it can be political,” she said, “because I use color in this particular series as a way to seduce people. You’re pulled in because of the beauty of the colors and the contrast of the colors and the patterns behind them, but the actual message that I’m trying to get across is much more brutal.”
Any one image in the series stands on its own, but the real power of the work is realized by viewing them sequentially, which presents the message as a whole. The sequence creates the metamorphosis that is crucial to Green’s intent. Even as it obscures the clarity of what the image actually is. It’s the muddle that’s the message.
Photography has traditionally represented a raw and inarguable truth, but Green maintains that is not necessarily the case. What a photograph actually depicts has a direct relationship with the context given to it. This has been played out perfectly in the U.S. government’s case for the Iraq War itself when Secretary of State Colin Powell famously gave a slide show to the United Nations that misrepresented the subjects of the images as bioweapons mounted on trucks.
“The truth can be manipulated and is every single day,” Green said. “It’s got to the point now that you can’t trust photographs at all because you never know, especially online, you never know how much anything has been edited.”
On one hand, this might seem like a paranoid view, but it’s really one in which our imaging technology merely reflects the restrictions of our biological mechanisms. Memory in eyewitness accounts have been shown to be unreliable — there is no ultimate truth to be found through our eyes and brains. The same goes with cameras and computers, through which we are creating a common human replication for our biological limitations in perception. Cameras and computers can now mirror our own fog rather than correct it.
“I worked on these images in Photoshop,” Green said. “I could change anything I wanted to change. The deal is now that supposedly something uploaded directly from the streets of Libya to YouTube, we still don’t know who’s shooting it, whether they’re giving us the full picture of that moment in time or if it’s just one person’s very specific point of view.”
In this way, the truth is still featured in the image, but it is at best a representative truth, a more dynamic heightened truth that stands in for the one that can’t be gleaned through clinical means. Sometimes this technique is reminiscent of propaganda, which might still be the most direct way to impart political information.
“There’s no ambiguity; it’s just they represent truth or nothing,” Green said. “When I was in the anti-apartheid movement, it seemed to me that the most effective art as far as that was concerned was art that really did serve the purpose of propaganda — poster art where the message was completely clear. There was no ambiguity to it; people were told how to think.”
In political terms, this is a way of keeping people’s neurology on message, not to get cluttered by the complicated considerations any one issue might deserve in your thought.
“In a political activism context like that, that’s really important,” Green said. “You don’t want people to start thinking about all of the gray shades. You want them to think in terms of black and white. In a place like South Africa, because it was a race issue, it really was literally about black and white.”
Green mixes up the jargon of aggression from several eras into a disturbingly playful poetry on some of her images. She links the phrases blue on blue and blue on red, which have to do with friendly and hostile fire, with more racially loaded juxtapositions like black on black and black on white.
“The phrase ‘blue on blue’ during the Iraq War was meant to replace the term friendly fire,” Green said. “It’s a throwback to the Cold War because the reds were the communists and the U.S. was the West and the blue. In those days, it was blue on blue versus red on red, and both referred to troops killing their own brothers.”
For Green, just as the images evoke violence across years, situations and disciplines, so do words. Together they create a propaganda that stands a process playing out the techniques they also criticize, while playing with the coded double and triple meanings implied by usage. Visual or verbal, Green manipulates the language of control in order to free those who view it by offering her imagery as a primer to understanding how propaganda works.
“In South Africa, black-on-black violence had a very, very specific negative meaning to it,” she said. “It was used by the apartheid regime to convince white South Africans that blacks were so uncivilized that they were literally killing each other because they really didn’t know the difference — or turning on one another because they just weren’t intelligent enough to realize that by turning on one another they were defeating themselves. So I’ve used words a lot within the series to bring out certain meanings in these specific contexts.”
July 1, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Another member of the Rockwell family has brought artwork to the Berkshires — this time it’s Daisy Rockwell, Norman’s granddaughter, whose show “Rasgulla: Rasa Paintings” is featured as part of this summer’s DownStreet Art in Galerìa Inqilab at 5 Holden St.
Rockwell’s paintings pull from the Indian tradition of Rasa, an ancient aesthetic theory that is best illustrated in her series “Rasa I,” which features panels of a woman performing a classical Indian dance, the type still taught today to depict nine Rasa gestures.
“They’re very set: To show fear, you do a certain thing with your hands and a certain thing with your feet and a certain thing with your eyes. It’s a very strict dance form,” Rockwell said during an interview this week. “You see this to this day in these modern Bollywood movies, and I think a lot of people are aware that they’re showing Rasa. It’s just instinctual, culturally, that you have a certain scene — night and day, fall and spring — and automatically everyone knows what the mood is going to be.” « Read the rest of this entry »
April 16, 2010 § Leave a Comment
In a new book from photographer Barry Goldstein, the Iraq experience unfolds through the eyes and minds of the armored battalion of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team
As the end result of a project that has taken five years, Goldstein’s book, “Gray Land,” was recently published by W.W. Norton. It is more than a photography book. Combining Goldstein’s portraiture work with his journalistic efforts on location in Iraq, the book also allows the soldiers to speak for themselves. When all the parts are brought together, it stands as a documentary in book form that captures the real lives of the troops in Iraq with dignity and compassion.
Goldstein visited Iraq with the platoon in the summers of 2007 and 2008 for a month at a time. Part of his mission was to rise above the politics — obviously as a human being and an American citizen, he has his own opinions of the war, but the point of the project was not to express those, but to present the stories and experiences of the people who fight it. Goldstein felt that was important information to know — it turns out the soldiers he became involved with did also. He found that one thing the soldiers had in common was the desire to be understood.
“They don’t get a choice in where they are sent or what war they get to fight in,” he said in an interview this week. “The points I think that they would often try to convey is that, regardless of where they were sent, they were just trying to do the best they could, both for their colleagues in terms of protecting them and very often the people in the area where they were working. There was a really genuine sense of wanting to improve their lives, both in terms of providing security as well as civil improvements.”
In getting to know the members of the battalion, Goldstein had worked documenting their training at Fort Benning, Ga., taking portraits and interviewing them about their backgrounds — it was never in the plan to go to Iraq. It was during a training session in California that he had accompanied the battalion on that he realized going to Iraq was a crucial part of the project. The training involved simulations of Iraqi villages, with people playing the parts of insurgents and villagers the soldiers had to deal with.
“I realized how different it was hearing all these stories and experiences involving people and activities and equipment, and actually seeing it,” Goldstein said. “At that point I realized that I probably should go and see them do what they spent all this time training to do. I made that decision, and of course training is very different from being in Iraq because nobody’s shooting at you.”
He went ready for the danger — he took a course designed to prepare journalists for conflict areas as part of his preparation — and was confident he was in good hands. If he was well prepared for the actual physical threats, though, he had not anticipated the toll they take on a person psychologically, without even ever happening.
“What I was unprepared for was the level of constant stress that exists in the war zone,” he said. “Of course this exists if you’re out on patrol or in a vehicle riding around, but it even exists if you’re in a relatively safe place like a base, because the base would be subject to mortar fire, random harassment fire. While you eat and sleep and wash and do all the things you would normally do on a day-to-day basis, there’s this constant stress. That was a new experience for me.”
Goldstein went out on a number of patrols, both in vehicles and on foot, and spent some nights in combat outposts. He also attended District Action Council meetings — liaisons between local neighborhood organizers and military representatives that tackle the job of the day-to-day running of the neighborhoods. The meetings covered everything from hygiene to security to budgets, and gave Goldstein a chance to meet with some of the locals.
“You get to see this whole other side of the Iraqi people and the sense of dedication of the people who would come to these, because obviously they’re at great risk from the people who didn’t want this to happen, and yet they’re quite passionate,” he said.
His mission was to capture the more routine elements of war that would usually not be the interest of war photographers — the grind of war. He would be less apt to seek out combat shots and more likely to spend a day with vehicle maintenance workers, capturing their role in the process and how they deal with that.
“I got a real appreciation for the idea that while some jobs are more dangerous than others, none of them are going to be easy,” Goldstein said, “and if you’re a clerk working in a hardened building, you’re away from your family for a year and you’re working seven days a week. We talk about 24/7 in the civilian work, but on deployment, that’s reality. People are working around the clock on generally very little sleep and have a lot to do. When you add on top of that the physical demands and then the dangers, you get to see how difficult this job really is.”
Goldstein was careful about the places he chose to go with patrols. He wasn’t tailgating the horrors of war and so consciously chose not to capture the evidence of them. His concern was with the inner life of these troops — the outer life figures into the work only in regard to how it affects the psychology of the people who live it. Besides, Goldstein never felt the amount of time he spent there really justified deep analysis of the actual situation of war.
“I’m always clear to point out that I was just a tourist there,” he said. “A couple months doesn’t begin to educate you about the complexities of this.”
One thing he did talk about with soldiers was conduct overseas — specifically how their approach toward Iraqis affected the job they were there to do. One young platoon leader expressed the maxim of “be professional, be polite, be prepared to kill” explaining the correlation between courtesy, the ease of their job and the probability of getting it done correctly and safely. Courtesy might be the area most difficult and crucial for a soldier.
“The most important thing where you need to use your head is to be polite, because not only is this the right thing to do, it’s also tactically valuable,” Goldstein said he was told. “They replaced a unit in this neighborhood that was very ‘kick butt and take names,’ and the people just didn’t trust them. When there were people outside the neighborhood who came in, the unit never heard about it, and their casualties were high.”
The platoon leader explained to Goldstein that his unit make it a policy to be as open with the Iraqis as possible. For instance, if a situation demanded a door being knocked down, the platoon would return the next day to explain and compensate — the idea was to promote trust and cooperation as a way of avoiding violence.
“That really had a big effect on me,” Goldstein said. “This was coming from someone in his mid 20s, and for someone at that age to have that attitude was pretty impressive, and it was representative of the attitude that I generally saw in all my interactions.”
With the project behind him, Goldstein has been busy with some promotional work in conjunction with the book and reflecting on his experience privately. After devoting so much time to the experience, he is now in the position of looking toward his next thing — and what that might be is currently a complete mystery to him.
“After an experience like this, some things that were interesting before are not interesting now, but I know that something will come up — and when it does, I’ll know it,” he said.
April 27, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Japanese society is a continual mystery to Westerners, with any possible aspect that is brought to light only adding to the curiosity. The film “Bashing” continues this tradition with its alternately affecting and alien premise.
Yuko (Fusako Urabe) has returned to Japan following a stint as a volunteer worker in Iraq, where she was taken hostage and subsequently freed. Her homeland is far less inviting than the war-torn country of her calling, though — somehow Yuko’s course in life has offended other Japanese, and the insults that run rampant tear apart her life and her family’s.
It’s a strange notion that offering your service to a county other than your own would create the urge to make foul-mouthed threats to a stranger, but this is Japan as presented in “Bashing.” A country built on polite decorum with an underbelly of rage, Japan as an entity resents Yuko for opening up to foreigners and eschewing her own, as well as for returning alive. One crank caller points out that, if she had died, she would have been proclaimed a heroine, but instead, she lived to rub her country’s face in her betrayal.
The underside of this premise is the extreme nationalism of Japan, as well as a protectionism, and perhaps even a subtle racism. In fact, the shunning of hostages in Iraq who returned to Japan was a part of a national uproar in 2004 — citizens were angry that volunteer workers had defied government advisories not to travel in Iraq. The overtures that the government had to make in order to get the hostages freed spoke against some cultural idea of personal responsibility and decades of convoluted Japanese views toward their foreign ministry.
Director Masahiro Kobayashi captures the psychology of that moment in time with a slow and somber style. With very little dialogue, the depression of Yuko’s plight hangs in the film like a mist that wraps itself around her family and defines the audience mood as well. It’s a revealing portrait of not just Japanese society but also the individuals within it who are not acknowledged as conformity goes into a rage.
As Kobayashi shows, remaining an individual in the face of that fury is the only real way to escape it, and “Bashing” stands as a silent, stern paean to societies moving forward in the world despite their historical urges to stand back.
April 17, 2009 § Leave a Comment
There are many unusual aspects to the Iraq War, and most of them are well discussed in public, but one that is not dealt with so commonly is the conflict’s importance to the changing role of women in combat. Tackling that issue head-on is “Lioness,” a documentary by Meg McLagen and Daria Sommers that originally aired as a segment of the “POV” series on PBS.
“Lioness” follows the post-deployment lives of five women who constituted “Team Lioness,” a group of female support soldiers who found themselves thrust into actual combat situations. This reality of battle showed in real-life terms a woman’s mettle in war, although it also caused their superior officers to consciously break military regulation as part of the normal improvisation of war. Iraq is different from any other war in that it requires female soldiers be up front with the men because of cultural requirements. Foremost is the issue of searching civilian women — within a Muslim society, male soldiers could do no such thing without adding immense insult to injury. Female support teams for raids and interrogations are mandatory. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 27, 2008 § Leave a Comment
There was little chance that the book “After 9/11″ could be anything other than a depressing affair and that’s pretty much what we have here, though it’s at least incredibly informative even as it creates a thud in your soul. It’s a wonderfully researched and extremely well-realized piece of graphic non-fiction, but its topic — a seemingly never-ending war that amounts to a list of atrocities and missteps — can overtake the most vibrant creative energy through the reality of its current hold on our future history.
Think of it this way — what began as a president’s attempt to carve out a place in history for himself has extended far beyond the confines of the original plan. The next president will likely be victim to the dismal field of slaughter — even as he promises “victory,” John McCain can’t actually express what that means. You can’t blame him — not one person in the Bush administration has seemed to have any realistic idea of what victory means either.
“After 9/11″ begins on September 12, 2001, with the presidential response to the destruction of the World Trade Center. For a moment, it seems as if President Bush will, as he so often likes to say, “stay the course” — “the course” being the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and justice for the victims of the attack. It’s seven years later and we still haven’t gotten Bin Laden and that’s largely because rather than “stay the course,” the Bush administration ended up creating a completely different course to stay on. “After 9/11″ captures that moment of bait and switch and documents that, as with any successful swindle, what seems spontaneous is the result of meticulous pre-planning.
The book doesn’t indulge in its own editorial proclamations, leaving that to the talking heads of the era. What results is a strange sort of history. On one hand, the book is a numbing, relentless tally of the violence and deaths that have become a daily truth in Iraq — through statistics and illustration, Jacobson and Colon present the devastating cost in human life amongst the Iraqi population and drive home the point that there is no good side to such a massive loss of human life.
On the other is a litany of excuses from the various players of the Bush administration, assurances that the images we are looking at are not what we are actually looking at. The Bush tactic seems to have been that we can’t trust our own eyes.
If nothing else, “After 9/11″ documents how much we’ve managed to pack into a two-term presidency. If it feels like Bush has been in office for decades that’s because there’s been at least 20 years worth of controversy and horror. As such, there are some aspects to the Bush years that aren’t given the attention they deserve, for instance Judith Knight’s clinging to Chalabi’s lies and the failure of the press to become fact checkers in the lead-up to the war, as well as the use of patriotism as a weapon to silence opponents of the war. It would also be nice if there was an index, it’s desperately needed — and the dates covered on the top of every page, a helpful time line for thumbing through.
But these are minor quibbles when balanced against the massive achievement of providing context and order to the events in Iraq. It’s a globby mess of information for best-informed citizenry and “After 9/11″ is a great attempt to organize the information into a clear chronology. It’s a solid resource for anyone attempting to wrap their brains around the quagmire of activity that begs for structure, especially students who might seek clarity about the events of the last seven years of their lives.
February 27, 2008 § Leave a Comment
Writer Markos Moulitsas could certainly be considered the Cinderella of bloggers, but midnight has not yet appeared for him — and the glass slipper is his talent. Moulitsas is the creator and head blogger behind the successful political blog Daily Kos, which he began in 2002 as a personal way to blow some steam off about the Bush administration — steam supported with facts, research and expertise. He assumed it would be read by a minority of people, but six years later it is one of the most read blogs in the world, with up to a million hits a day.
Moulitsas also frequently writes for publications such as the British newspaper The Guardian and Newsweek, has authored books, worked as a political adviser for Howard Dean and co-founded the sports blogging network SB Nation.
His rise to media prominence was entirely unexpected. Moulitsas was attending Boston University Law School after graduating college and doing a stint in the Army. In 2002, he was living in Berkeley, Ca., working and living.
“It was just a cubicle job, nothing too exciting,” said Moulitsas. “I started Daily Kos just as a therapeutic way to get this off my chest, never thinking that it was ever going to be anything more than my own little sounding pad for my family and friends.”
The Afghanistan War and the build-up to Iraq prompted Moulitsas to begin blogging — he was dissatisfied by the lack of an anti-war perspective in the media.
“If you wanted to get an anti-war perspective, the only one you could get on TV who would be taking that line would be someone like Janeane Garafolo,” said Moulitsas. “They would purposefully marginalize by putting a comedian as the voice of the anti-war left. There were a lot of people like me who were looking at the facts, looking at the rhetoric, looking at what was happening in Iraq and feeling that it simply did not add up. What the Bush administration claimed Iraq was doing did not match reality, but these were voices and points that were completely absent in the daily media.” « Read the rest of this entry »
September 13, 2007 § Leave a Comment
At times, the phrase “hindsight is 20/20″ seems as if it were created for articles and commentaries regarding the war in Iraq — except for the fact that hindsight is only sometimes 20/20 in that case. The topic is still populate by a small but very vocal group who still cling to the desperate belief that it’s all okay and to the ever-dwindling cult of personality that served George W. Bush so well for so long. The new documentary “No End in Sight” does its part in providing some hindsight by providing a analytically sober but stylistically visceral history of the mistakes that were made in the execution of the invasion of Iraq and the aftermath of the occupation.
Director Charles Ferguson does so by gathering interviews with people who were there and who saw that the reality of Iraq was far different than what the administration was reporting: former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; Ambassador Barbara Bodine, who helmed the occupation; Gerald Burke, the U.S. occupation’s advisor to the Iraq Ministry of the Interior; Major Paul Easton, who was in charge of training the new Iraq Army; General Jay Garner, head administrator in Iraq; Colonel Paul Hughes, director of strategic policy for the occupation; Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s chief of staff; and many others who worked within the U.S. or Iraqi governments, the military or covered the war for publications like the Wall Street Journal or Time.
In other words, this film is not Michael Moore pulling hijinks on unsuspecting civil servants and lackeys.
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October 26, 2006 § Leave a Comment
The old chestnut states that hindsight is 20/20, but in the case of the current war in Iraq, the wealth of information is such that we don’t need to wait a decade or two to see things clearly. Much of the clarity that is available has been made so through an astonishing number of documentary films.
With “Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers” director Robert Greenwald adds to his already impressive arsenal of editorial-style documentaries — he took on Fox in “Outfoxed” and Wal-Mart in “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices,” among other Bush-era targets. Off the radar of the mainstream American viewer, Greenwald has been diligently documenting the sorry state of modern America with a battery of connect-the-dots informational segments and first-person accounts by the people affected most by the corruption that Greenwald documents — ordinary, working Americans.
He repeats his formula with the same level of success with “Iraq For Sale” — as always, informative and energetic, not to mention dire. The film opens with some simple facts that portray the conflict as a business opportunity for some large corporations. It’s certainly common knowledge that this is the first war where the bulk of the work is being done by temps — that is, 100,000 contracted workers providing everything from food service for the military to repairs and shipping. In the case of places like Abu Ghraib, interrogation also is among the outsourced services.
It’s a lucrative business — Halliburton has managed to pack away $18.5 billion, a goliath when compared to the other corporations that profit, such as Parsons to the tune of $5.3 billion and DynoCorp’s paltry sum of $1.9 billion. At this point, 40 cents of every dollar spent on the war goes to private contractors.
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