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  • Disasters of War, still playing in a theater near you: Pt. 2

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    Disasters of War, still playing in a theater near you: Part 2.  An ongoing series by Marcia Tanner

    War and militarism were preoccupations of many of the hundreds of artists participating in dOCUMENTA 13 last year in Kassel, Germany.(1) The city of Kassel was a major center for the manufacture of armored tanks during World War II, and was bombed to smithereens as a consequence. So artists commissioned to make new work for the 2012 exhibition, which took over the entire town, frequently chose to create pieces referring to that painful history.

    “Continuity” (2012), a video by the Israeli video artist Omer Fast, and the sound installation “Forest: For a Thousand Years” (2012) by the Canadian artist duo Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, were, for me, among the most compelling and memorable works in this genre. Both revolve around the theme of war, its immediate impact and its aftereffects. Both use contemporary media to create fictional narratives that involve and engage their audiences in ways that are specific to those media. And both were installed in Kassel’s beautiful Karlsaue Park, which appears, miraculously, to have been spared from aerial bombardment.

    Whether these artists would describe themselves as antiwar activists is moot. But their pieces expand and intensify whatever feelings and thoughts you might have about war as a seemingly inevitable default mechanism for resolving human conflicts.

    In Omer Fast’s Continuity, an upper middle class German couple appear to be enacting a strange, perverse ritual: a compensatory drama to cope with the death of their son in the Afghanistan War. They drive together to pick up a young soldier waiting for them at a tiny train station in the middle of nowhere.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    They have a tearful reunion with him as their son Daniel, bring him home (blindfolded), take away his cell phone, then lead him to a bedroom which the mother tells him is exactly the same as he left it. They have dinner and listen to Daniel’s stories about the war in Afghanistan. Daniel goes to bed and is never seen again. There are intimations of incest from the beginning, and the mother may have gone to bed with him. On what may be the morning after, the father loads a heavy bundle shrouded in a plastic bag into the trunk of his car.

    This scenario is re-enacted in two more iterations, each with bewildering variations, with three different men playing Daniel. One Daniel neglects to bring his rucksack with him to the station, causing distress to the couple; the rucksack is obviously an important prop in their drama. Points of view shift among son(s), mother and father. Although the young men seem to be call boys, they may be war veterans as well.

    The narrative, dreamlike from the beginning, becomes more and more enigmatic and surreal as the video unfolds. Its climactic scene is a direct reference to the artist Jeff Wall’s 1992 work “Dead Troops Talk (A Vision After an Ambush of a Red Army Patrol Near Moqor, Afghanistan, 1986)”. In Wall’s staged photograph, a dozen or so dead Soviet soldiers scattered on a desolate landscape talk among themselves, cheerfully enacting a macabre imitation of the realm of the living.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    In “Continuity,” Omer Fast uses cinematic conventions every contemporary audience is familiar with, and manipulates them to undermine our notions of cinematic continuity. The status of the narrative is continually in question. You are led to believe but cannot believe what you see and hear; each scene is improbable and contradictory yet somehow plausible, faithful to some sort of incredible truth.

    What you experience watching this film is derangement. Every character in it is deranged, the narrative is deranged, the world it depicts is deranged. If this is all a dream you have no idea whose dream it is, only that is it unbearable, cyclical, with no escape. Which is what I imagine war must be like, to those caught in it.

    Here is a link to a short video clip from “Continuity”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7jevcFXWPw

    Here’s a link to the full 40-minute-long video, in German without English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erWFf0T0Gpk&list=PLhNQSm6WmNZSBkXGki8Jw65vIGQCihokC&index=2

    In next week’s blog I’ll take you deep into the Forest, with musical accompaniment

    (1) Documenta, begun in 1956, is a city-wide international art exhibition that happens every five years, organized by a different curator. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev was the curator for dOCUMENTA 13.

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