The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary during Global Crisis 0822353407, 9780822353409

In The Migrant Image T. J. Demos examines the ways contemporary artists have reinvented documentary practices in their r

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The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary during Global Crisis
 0822353407, 9780822353409

Table of contents :
Check-In: A Prelude
Charting a Course: Exile, Diaspora, Nomads, Refugees: A Genealogy of Art and Migration
Departure A: Moving Images of Globalization
1 Indeterminacy and Bare Life in Steve McQueen’s Western Deep
2 “Sabotaging the Future”: The Essay Films of the Otolith Group
3 Hito Steyerl’s Traveling Images
Transit: Politicizing Aesthetics
Departure B: Life Full of Holes
4 The Art of Emily Jacir: Dislocation and Politicization
5 Recognizing the Unrecognized: The Photographs of Ahlam Shibli
6 The Right to Opacity: On the Otolith Group’s Nervus Rerum
Transit: Going Offshore
Departure C: Zones of Conflict
7 Out of Beirut: Mobile Histories and the Politics of Fiction
8 Video’s Migrant Geography: Ursula Biemann’s Sahara Chronicle
9 Means without End: Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s Camp Campaign
Destination: The Politics of Aesthetics during Global Crisis

Citation preview


Migrant Image


Migrant Image The Art and P olitics of D o cumentary during Global Crisis

T. J. Demos Duke University Press Durham & London 2013

© 2013 Duke University Press

All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America on acid-­free paper ♾ Cover design by Cherie Westmoreland, interior design by Courtney Leigh Baker. Typeset in Minion Pro by Tseng Information Systems, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging-­in-­Publication Data appear on the last printed page of this book. Duke University Press gratefully acknowledges the support of the Duke University Center for International Studies’ Globalization and the Artist Project, which provided funds toward the production of this book.

frontispiece: Baghdad Resistance Fighter (2008), Photograph by Ghaith Abdul-­Ahad.

Publication of this book has been aided by a grant from the Millard Meiss Publication Fund of the College Art Association.

Duke University Press gratefully acknowledges the support of the Globalization and the Artist Project of the Duke University Center for International Studies, which provided funds toward the production of this book.


Illustrations vii Check-­In: A Prelude xiii Charting a Course: Exile, Diaspora, Nomads, Refugees: A Genealogy of Art and Migration 1 Departure

A Moving Images of Globalization 21 1 Indeterminacy and Bare Life in Steve McQueen’s Western Deep 33 2 “Sabotaging the Future”: The Essay Films of the Otolith Group 54 3 Hito Steyerl’s Traveling Images 74 Transit: Politicizing Aesthetics 90 Departure

B Life Full of Holes 95 4 The Art of Emily Jacir: Dislocation and Politicization 103 5 Recognizing the Unrecognized: The Photographs of Ahlam Shibli 124 6 The Right to Opacity: On the Otolith Group’s Nervus Rerum 144 Transit: Going Offshore 160


C Zones of Conflict 169 7 Out of Beirut: Mobile Histories and the Politics of Fiction 177 8 Video’s Migrant Geography: Ursula Biemann’s Sahara Chronicle 201 9 Means without End: Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s Camp Campaign 221 Destination: The Politics of Aesthetics during Global Crisis 245

Acknowledgments 251 Notes 255 Bibliography 305 Index 323


Plates Plate 1. Christoph Schlingensief, still from Please Love Austria (Foreigners Out!) (2000) Plate 2. Ravi Agarwal, Slum Dwellers in Front of Skyscraper, Gujarat, India (1999) Plate 3. David Goldblatt, Braamfontein from Newtown, Johannesburg. November 1, 2001 Plate 4. Steve McQueen, still from Western Deep (2002) Plate 5. The Otolith Group, stills from Otolith II (2007) Plate 6. Hito Steyerl, still from Lovely Andrea (2007)

Plate 7. Yto Barrada, Le Détroit, avenue d’Espagne, Tangier (2000) Plates 8 and 9. Emily Jacir, Where We Come From (2001–3) Plate 10. Ghaith Abdul-­Ahad, Baghdad Resistance Fighter (2008) Plate 11. Goldin+Senneby, “Headless. From the Public Record” (2009–10) Plate 12. Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Wonder Beirut: The Story of a Pyromaniac Photographer, 1998–2006 Plates 13 and 14. Bernard Khoury, B018 (1998)

Plate 15. Rabih Mroué, Inhabitants of Images (2009)

Plate 16. Ursula Biemann, still from Sahara Chronicle (2006–7) Photographs

Figure 1. Lamia Joreige, still from A Journey (2008) 2 Figure 2. Mona Hatoum, Measures of Distance (1988) 7 Figure 3. Black Audio Film Collective, still from Signs of Empire (1984) 8

Figures 9, 10, and 11. Guy Tillim, images from the series Leopold and Mobutu (2004) 26–27 Figure 12. Steve McQueen, still from Gravesend (2007) 31 Figure 13. Steve McQueen, still from Western Deep (2002) 34

Figure 4. Christian Philipp Müller, Green Border (1993) 14

Figure 14. Steve McQueen, still from Western Deep (2002) 39

Figure 5. Multiplicity, still from Solid Sea 03 (2003) 16

Figure 15. Steve McQueen, still from Western Deep (2002) 44

Figures 6 and 7. Steve McQueen, still from Gravesend (2007) 22

Figure 16. Steve McQueen, still from Exodus (1992/97) 47

Figure 8. Steve McQueen, still from Gravesend (2007) 24

Figures 17, 18, and 19. Steve McQueen, stills from Catch (1997) 48

Figures 20 and 21. Steve McQueen, stills from Caribs’ Leap (2002) 49

Figure 34. The Otolith Group, still from Otolith III (2009) 70

Figure 22. Steve McQueen, still from Illuminer (2001) 51

Figure 35. Hito Steyerl, still from November (2004) 76

Figure 23. Steve McQueen, still from Western Deep (2002) 53

Figure 36. Hito Steyerl, still from November (2004) 77

Figures 24, 25, 26, and 27. The Otolith Group, stills from Otolith I (2003) 56–57

Figure 37. Hito Steyerl, still from November (2004) 80

Figure 28. The Otolith Group, stills from Otolith I (2003) 58

Figure 38. René Viénet, screen grab from Can Dialectics Break Bricks? (1973) 81

Figure 29. The Otolith Group, stills from Otolith I (2003) 59 Figure 30. Black Audio Film Collective, still from The Last Angel of History (1995) 61 Figures 31 and 32. The Otolith Group, stills from Otolith II (2007) 64 Figure 33. The Otolith Group, Preparations (Blemmyae) (2006) 67

Figure 39. Hito Steyerl, still from Die leere mitte (The empty center) (1998) 84 Figure 40. Hito Steyerl, still from Lovely Andrea (2007) 87 Figure 41. Yto Barrada, Advertisement Lightbox—Ferry Port Transit Area, Tangier (2003) 100

Figures 42 and 43. Emily Jacir, Where We Come From (2001–2003) 105

Figure 51. The Otolith Group, still from Nervus Rerum (2008) 146

Figure 44. Emily Jacir, Change/ Exchange (1998) 108

Figure 52. Mohamed Bakri, still from Jenin, Jenin (2002) 147

Figure 45. Emily Jacir, Sexy Semite (2000–2002) 110

Figure 53. The Otolith Group, still from Nervus Rerum (2008) 150

Figure 46. Ahlam Shibli, Untitled (Unrecognised no. 22), ‘Arab al-­N’aim, Palestine (2000) 125

Figure 54. The Otolith Group, still from Nervus Rerum (2008) 157

Figure 47. Ahlam Shibli, Untitled (Goter no. 10), al-­Naqab, Palestine (2002–3) 126 Figure 48. Ahlam Shibli, Untitled (Goter no. 25), al-­Naqab, Palestine (2002–3) 131 Figure 49. Ahlam Shibli, Untitled (Goter no. 6), al-­Naqab, Palestine (2002–3) 138 Figure 50. Ahlam Shibli, Untitled (Goter no. 42), Umm Mitnan, al-­Naqab, Palestine (2002–3) 139

Figure 55. Goldin + Senneby, “Headless. From the Public Record” 164 Figure 56. Goldin + Senneby, “Headless. From the Public Record” 166 Figure 57. Lamia Joreige, still from Here and Perhaps Elsewhere (2003) 179 Figure 58. Lamia Joreige, still from Objects of War (1999-­) 183 Figure 59. Akram Zaatari, Saida, June 6, 1982 (2003–2006) 189

Figure 60. Walid Raad, We Can Make Rain but No One Came to Ask (2007–8) 189 Figure 61. The Atlas Group, Walid Raad, stills from Hostage: The Bachar Tapes (#17 and #31, [cat.A]_ Hostage_Videotapes_017/031) (2001) 192 Figure 62. Rabih Mroué, still from Inhabitants of Images (2009) 199 Figure 63. Ursula Biemann, still from Sahara Chronicle (2006–7) 202 Figure 64. Ursula Biemann, still from Sahara Chronicle (2006–7) 204 Figure 65. Ursula Biemann, still from Sahara Chronicle (2006–7) 205 Figure 66. Ursula Biemann, Sahara Chronicle (2006–7) 207 Figure 67. Ursula Biemann, still from Sahara Chronicle (2006–7) 212

Figure 68. Ursula Biemann, still from Sahara Chronicle (2006–7) 218 Figure 69. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, Fear Is Somehow Our for Whom? For What? + Proximity to Everything Far Away, from Camp Campaign (2006) 222 Figure 70. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, screenshot of the Homeland Security Cultural Bureau home page, from RadioActive (2002) 224 Figure 71. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, detail from Fear Is Somehow Our for Whom? For What? + Proximity to Everything Far Away, from Camp Campaign (2006) 228 Figure 72. Bureau d’études, detail of World Government (2004) 230 Figure 73. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, photo of east Baltimore, from By Many Means Necessary—Baltimore (2006) 234

Figure 74. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, video still from Day 8: Building Vacancy Maps, from What Everybody Knows (2006–present) 235 Figure 75. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, video still from All Strayed and Were Incapable of Using, from Camp Campaign (2006) 239

Figures 76 and 77. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, video still from The Redeemed Night, from Camp Campaign (2006) 241

Check-­In A Prelude

The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary during Global Crisis examines contemporary art in a world where globalization has become dominant, though hardly uncontested. According to its liberal— and now largely discredited—portrayal, globalization represents a worldwide interlinking of free markets and cultural institutions, facilitated by advances in communication technologies and deregulated travel. United by the conclusion of Cold War divisions between capitalism and communism, it identifies a new world order that promises democratization and egalitarian participation in society.1 Yet, since the events of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent wars and uprisings in the Middle East, together with the recent worldwide financial crisis and the continued destabilization of developing nations in the global south, globalization’s celebratory ring has ceded to the imperialist realities of “empire,” defined by the increasingly unequal command of resources by the privileged few occupying elite corporate multinational and governmental positions.2 The result is what I term crisis globalization, designating an era of growing economic inequality, one facing the increasing influx of migrants and refugees into the North as they seek decent standards of living and escape from repressive regimes, widespread poverty, and zones of conflict. Yet they do so only to be met by increased security at European borders that exacerbates political and social inequality at international and regional levels.3 It is this state of crisis globalization, one divided between the neoliberal claims of free markets and democratic participation, and the politics of economic inequality, statelessness, and military conflicts, that identifies this book’s pressing context. Organized around a series of case studies that focuses on the work of artists situated in Europe and North America, the Middle East, and North

Africa, this book investigates a series of key questions regarding the relation between politics and aesthetics, mediums and mobility, socioeconomic disparity and emancipatory artistic promise that sheds further light on globalization’s crises. Looking closely at the powerful films of the British artist Steve McQueen, the moving installations of Palestinian artist Emily Jacir, and the melancholy photographic cycles of the Moroccan artist Yto Barrada, among the work of others, these interrelated chapters trace the critical engagements of these practitioners that reveal the emergency conditions of our current world of militarized borders, xenophobic social relations, and the uneven geographies within and between North and South. In particular, this book grapples with the inspired aesthetic innovations responsive to such developments, according to which artists have invented critical documentary strategies and new modelings of affect, creative modes of mobile images and imaginative videos, with which to negotiate the increased movements of life across the globe. More specifically, this text examines how recent art explores the current global situation in which multitudes are reduced to the status of what Giorgio Agamben terms bare life—that is, life stripped of political identity and exposed to the state’s unmediated application of power.4 For Agamben, globalization represents an emerging paradigm of newly empowered sovereignty expanded worldwide, bringing with it corresponding zones of transmigration and statelessness. While this biopolitical system in which government comes to control life itself, as Foucault observed, reaches back historically into the middle of the twentieth century and even further (indeed, Agamben finds legal precedents in the Third Reich, as well as in classical Roman jurisprudence), it also issues from more recent technologies of immobility amid military occupation and security architectures in which the displaced and excluded are denied legal rights, social protections, and the freedom of movement.5 Whereas global mobility follows from the transition to a world of newly opened borders—with its most potent symbol being the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the construction of a borderless eu—it also results from the desperation of multitudes to overcome the increasingly militarized divisions of economic and political power between Europe and Africa, and North America and its southern neighbors. Globalization, according to this view, is less a smooth space of the free flow of people, as many utopian narratives of the 1990s wished to see it, than a fractured geography of borders and archipelagos that divides Check-­In: A Prelude xiv

the uninterrupted transmissions of goods and capital from the controlled movements of people.6 While the recent growth of migration is the underlying sociological concern of this project, this study brings together a constellation of related terms—including exile, statelessness, and nomadism—that are developed in their theoretical specificity in relation to singular artistic practices, particularly so in the book’s introduction, “Exile, Diaspora, Nomads, Refugees: A Genealogy of Art and Migration,” which examines the terminological aspects of contemporary mobility and offers a schematic overview of the conjunction of art and migration over the last few decades. Whereas “migration” denotes traveling abroad with the hopes of gaining citizenship or temporary legal residence, as documented by artists such as Ursula Biemann and Yto Barrada, “nomadism” denotes a condition of perpetual mobility and existential states of becoming as affirmed in the films of Steve McQueen and the videos of Hito Steyerl, and “statelessness” and “exile” suggest the socially vulnerable position of the involuntary refugee denied the rights of the citizen, as portrayed, for instance, in the art of Ahlam Shibli and mapped by the migrant-­rights group Migreurop. The theorization of these terms is meant to reveal the complex reality of travel and inequalities of social mobility during the advanced stage of globalization after 2001, as much as the emancipatory potential of movement according to a politics of social justice and equality. My research proceeds from three points of departure, which are developed over the course of this book’s three parts: (1) How have artists invented new artistic strategies—mobilizing the image as much as imaging mobility—with which to intervene in the cultural politics of globalization in critical and creative ways? (2) How is it possible to represent artistically life severed from representation politically, as when it comes to photographing the stateless who are denied the rights of citizenship and the legal protections of national identity? And (3) how has the creative reconfiguration of art’s connection to politics constituted an oppositional force directed against the disenfranchising division of human life from political identity, which defines the status of the refugee? These three areas of concern, addressed over three chapters each, are then each introduced by three “Departures” and divided by two “Transits.” Intended as short critical passages, these transitional sections elaborate on the theoretical and methodological underpinnings and implications of my analysis, rather Check-­In: A Prelude xv

than offering extensive readings of artworks. Finally, the text is concluded by a “Destination” that draws final observations about the book’s argument and offers an outlook for the future, based on its research concerns. If this book’s structure suggests a journey of sorts, then it is one that implies many possible trajectories rather than any single route, chronological development, or hierarchical ordering. The first question has led me to investigate globalization as a set of conflictual narratives, which I map out in the book’s first departure, “Moving Images of Globalization.”7 It includes accounts of how the innovative films and videos of Steve McQueen, the London-­based Otolith Group, and the Berlin-­based artist Hito Steyerl have challenged the unequal territorial divisions between North and South, and between East and West, by proposing a “contrapuntal” system of montage, which brings those divided areas into an insistent proximity.8 With these “moving images”—a term that I adopt to designate the growing convergence of the mediums of film and digital video as much as a new modeling of affect in relation to the image—artists confront geopolitical conflicts by also throwing documentary conventions into crisis. The resulting documentary-­fictions of diasporic identities interweave the factual and the imaginary registers of the image for critical and creative effect, as in, for instance, McQueen’s film Western Deep, taking South African migrant workers laboring in a gold mine as its subject, and the futuristic, dystopian worlds that offer startling views onto the nearly forgotten Indian socialist movements of the recent past, as conjured in the films of the Otolith Group. A quick word on the resurgence of documentary approaches in contemporary art is in order, for this development is a major subject of the present study. No doubt our time of disaster and emergency—including globalization’s uneven developments and the general failures of neoliberal capitalism, the pervasiveness of poverty and suffering, economic imperialism, endless wars and political crises, the predicaments of migration and refugees, terrorism and insecurity, and religious confrontations—has placed post-­Enlightenment paradigms of truth in crisis, and in turn brought new investments in the potential political use-­value of the documentary since the 1970s.9 But that is not to say that earlier periods were devoid of their own crises (and, certainly, since the invention of photography, documentary and catastrophe have long gone together). The situation of documentary’s recent appearance is still more complex, and owes also to the critical Check-­In: A Prelude xvi

mass of institutional investment (including documentary-­heavy exhibitions like the paradigm-­shifting Documenta 11) and critical discourse (for example, the many innovative studies of documentary that have emerged in the last decade) that have allowed and encouraged documentary engagement to emerge as a central aspect of artistic practice and theoretical debate. Yet another factor has been the recent digital reconfigurations of representation, which has meant that the older analog approaches to documentation are no longer secure and consequently the truth-­value of the image has been newly placed in doubt. However, that situation does not make documentaries any less valid or meaningful. As Michael Renov usefully points out, “If there is a consensus emerging among the newest generation of documentary scholars, it may just be that representations of the real have more rather than less power to shape our world than heretofore, that the production and control of the flow of historically based images is increasingly the arena of social power that matters most.”10 Owing to these circumstances of the conjunction of representation, power, and technology, socially concerned and politically active artists have taken up the ambition of intervening in the world, and have done so by reengaging and reinventing the documentary mode, which in the present context, therefore, has become an object of sustained inquiry. This book’s first chapter investigates Steve McQueen’s poetic representation of uneven geographies—conjoining the present-­day lawlessness surrounding African enclaves of protected resource extraction and Europe’s technological advancement and democratic governance. The chapter addresses how Western Deep (2002), with its brutal and visually stunning exposure of the atrocious conditions of migrant labor in a South African gold mine, introduces a critical interval in the otherwise mesmerizing capture of video’s electronic flow (and in the aestheticization of misery). In this regard the film builds on the diverse work of precursors such as the Black Audio Film Collective and the projects of earlier conceptual and structural filmmakers. By engaging the critical interval between frames, between geographies, between the subject of representation and the space of cinematic projection, McQueen’s films construct a perceptual caesura between viewer and image that engenders the potential for a flight both from earlier documentary standards that served to reify victimhood and toward a singular expression that offers a just distribution of ­appearance. The second chapter considers the essay films of the Otolith Group Check-­In: A Prelude xvii

(composed of artists-­theorists Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar), which assemble footage from diverse sources, including archival material from Sagar’s family in India that documents the country’s past involvement in the Non-­Aligned Movement and the subcontinent’s feminist struggles, recordings of recent political protests in London against the recent war in Iraq, and futuristic scenes of space travel. Adding to that array of representational diversity, the footage is also overlaid with poetic and autobiographical voice-­overs. Finding inspiration in the filmmaking of Chris Marker and Jean-­Luc Godard, the group advances what they term past potential futures—designating former dreams of a possible time yet to come. By refusing to allow erstwhile moments of historical struggle to disappear, their films reanimate political solidarities that reveal the promise of a potential tomorrow. The third chapter of the book’s first part examines the films of Hito Steyerl. In her video essay November (2004) Steyerl charts the transformations of her childhood friend Andrea Wolf, who grew up in Germany before returning to her family roots in Turkey, where she was later martyred as a Kurdish freedom fighter. I examine how Steyerl’s fascinating tale reveals the emerging conditions of globalization’s image-­ regime to be one of virtual drift and endlessly shifting contexts, as much as geographical displacements and post-­Cold War political realignments. The chapter contends that by drawing on those circulatory flows Steyerl invents an innovative modeling of documentary on the basis of the uncertainty of meaning owing to the unstoppable mobility of images. My discussion proceeds to examine how Steyerl reconfigures the connection between aesthetics and politics via a montage using borrowed footage of displaced subjects, including pornographic images sourced from the Japanese bondage industry, media reports on Germany’s Kurdish population, and contested territories of post-­wall Berlin. The second question takes up the artistic representation of the politically unrepresented and has led me to investigate the fragmentary image conditions of statelessness, which, as the title of the book’s second point of departure, I term Life Full of Holes (after the project by Yto Barrada, of the same name). What, in other words, are the image conditions for those consigned to the realm of bare life? And how have artists invented empowering systems of imagery to analyze and challenge the potential existential reduction that state of exception entails? Here I look closely at the experimental documentary tactics of the Palestinian artist Emily Jacir and Check-­In: A Prelude xviii

the Palestinian Bedouin artist Ahlam Shibli, and I consider another film of the Otolith Group that investigates the conditions of opacity in relation to the representation of a Palestinian refugee camp. On the one hand, the photographic and video-­based exposure of statelessness (as in the circumstances of non-­Israeli Palestinians who effectively belong to no state, even if they have for many decades fashioned a national liberation movement for themselves) intends to be a political act, which is usefully conceptualized as a particular formulation of “the politics of aesthetics” in the work of Jacir and Shibli. According to Jacques Rancière’s well-­established formulation, art holds the potential to reorganize the realm of visibility so that, unlike governmental politics’ and mass media’s hierarchical channels of access, representation is rendered equitable, a reading I attempt to complicate, critically test, and develop further in relation to my case studies throughout the book.11 On the other hand, many of the artists under consideration in this book’s second part challenge traditional documentary conventions as developed in film and photography over the course of the twentieth century, in order to investigate what political value accrues from those innovative strategies that negotiate the limits of representation yet nevertheless bring visibility to those who exist in globalization’s shadows. Staying with this question, the fourth chapter considers the art of Emily Jacir, who has created a significant body of work that engages with the Palestinian diaspora brought about by the foundation of the State of Israel. Politically directed, her work challenges the long-­standing Israeli occupation by making a claim for social justice and human rights; yet, Jacir’s art also movingly reflects on the experiential conditions of exile that hover on the edges of visibility. Rather than reaffirm a relation of opposition between “us” and “them,” however, her work opens up the transformative potential of dislocation that decenters the very basis of national identity, as well as the legibility of its subjectivity. Resonating with recent political theories of “reciprocal extraterritoriality”—meaning the simultaneous dislocation of self and other, as articulated in the writings of Agamben— Jacir’s art, I argue, envisages a new political horizon for the subject and community beyond the nation-­state. Focusing on the photographs of Ahlam Shibli, the fifth chapter builds on this discussion by considering Shibli’s documentation of Bedouin villages that are “unrecognized” by the Israeli state, whose Palestinian inhabitants are thereby denied the right to build permanent architectural structures, construct electrical and sewage Check-­In: A Prelude xix

systems, or benefit from education and health care systems. My analysis assesses Shibli’s photographic strategy of correlating visual absence with political dispossession, according to which the artist paradoxically challenges the invisibility of her Bedouin subjects with images that show their very disappearance. Creatively negotiating this bind, Shibli refuses to turn her camera away from the evidence of state oppression even as she confronts the risks of producing an aesthetics of erasure. The Migrant Image’s second part concludes by returning to the work of the Otolith Group, looking particularly at their essay film Nervus Rerum, which was shot in the Jenin refugee camp. Choosing to avoid both the ethnographic gaze and the compassionate heart of conventional documentary practice, the group refuses to let its camera focus on the inhabitants of the camp. They opt instead to develop the significance of the “opacity” of the image, a term borrowed from Édouard Glissant, the late French-­Caribbean poet and literary critic, for whom opacity signals the image’s impossibility of capturing the “truth” of its subject. I examine how the film’s voice-­over draws connections with a complex history of literary engagements with Palestine, a key reference being Jean Genet’s journal of time spent with Palestinian revolutionaries presented in his book Prisoner of Love. Drawing on this and other similarly provocative accounts, the group joins—somewhat paradoxically, yet because of that, all the more suggestively—a refusal to represent with a provocative networking of literary allusions in order to forge a politics of the image that “turns its back on power” and retains the empowering capacity of subjects to exist beyond representation. The book’s third point of departure, “Zones of Conflict” (named after a research workshop series I directed in London during 2008 and 2009 and an exhibition of the same name that I curated in New York) addresses contemporary art’s strategic interlinking of aesthetics and politics when it comes to the geopolitical crises of borders and camps, as well as military crises and warfare. The diverse artistic engagements of Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, founders of the New York-­based collective 16Beaver, the Lebanese artists Walid Raad, Lamia Joreige, and Rabih Mroué, the Swiss artist Ursula Biemann, and others challenge the division between biological and political modes of life, which structures the lives of the refugee and the displaced person, via the creative recalibration of the relation between

Check-­In: A Prelude xx

aesthetics and politics. Whether in regard to the representation of detention centers operated by the United States, the Lebanese hostage crisis during the country’s civil wars, or North African transmigration, the singular projects of these artists variously reject the earlier “engaged” artistic solutions of activism and political art from the 1990s, where traditional documentary strategies yielded authoritative exposés based on now-­outdated regimes of truth. Inventing new paradigms of authenticity based upon the admission of subjective constructions, more recent artistic proposals tend to develop the psychological aspects of the image’s affective economy, as well as dislodge the conventional security of the representational categories of political art. Their creative projects reinvent the artistic possibilities of political engagement on the basis of an indeterminate connection between what is aesthetic (for example, sensory appearance) and what is political (for instance, the particular arrangement of the sensible realm), which must be questioned at every turn. The book’s third part begins with the exploration in chapter 7 of the real and fictitious archives of Lamia Joreige, Joana Hadjithomas, and Khalil Joreige, Rabih Mroué and Walid Raad’s invented organization. I take the exhibition Out of Beirut at Modern Art Oxford in 2006, as a useful pretext to investigate the innovative documentary poetics of this generation of Lebanese artists. Since 1999, they have variously collected testimonials and visual artifacts that provide a fascinating record, if fragmented and incomplete, of the history of the Lebanese civil wars (1975–91). Frequently placing factual civil-­war-­era documents within fictional scenarios, Raad’s images, which drift between epistemological registers of the political and the imaginary, are commonly understood to exemplify the dubious nature of photographic truth as fits the age of postmodernism. Taking issue with that reading, my analysis contends that this work, on the contrary, proves that the deepest understanding of reality, particularly a traumatic one, necessitates an engagement with the fictional and conflictual aspects of images. This realization allows me to situate this work on the cutting edge of globalization’s system of images, wherein the representational link between sign and referent has been severed and truth must be reinvented on the grounds of uncertainty. Chapter 8 looks closely at Ursula Biemann’s quasi-­ ethnographic approach to transmigration in North Africa. It considers in particular her video and research project Sahara Chronicle (2006), which

Check-­In: A Prelude xxi

charts the geographical patterns, locates the institutional and national players, and interviews the indigenous agents that have turned this region of Africa into a terrain of human mobility and social conflict, militarized control, and economic exploitation. The chapter considers Biemann’s well-­ articulated claim that video, given its capacity for hybrid montage and virtual imagery, is ideally suited as a medium to address the complex layers of such geographies of conflict as the Sahara’s, geographies torn between the demands for migrant rights and the increased European pressures and advanced technological and military means to control the movements of people in this area of Africa. My final chapter examines Camp Campaign (2006), the project of the artists and activists Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, which comprises a multifaceted investigation into the existence of the camp in the United States. Focusing on the Guantánamo Bay detention center and deepening that focus with a consideration of historical precedents of related modes of spatial control—such as earlier American examples of military camps, reservations, internment and relief centers—Anastas and Gabri undertake a fascinating and timely inquiry into the status of human rights in the age of the U.S. government’s post-­9/11 circumscription of civil liberties (depressingly upheld throughout the Obama administration’s first term). The chapter argues that by suspending the clear division between aesthetic and political registers, Camp Campaign provides a creative riposte to the separation of life from law, which is one fundamental function of the camp as biopolitical paradigm. Representing a series of analytical inquiries into these three interrelated categories—the cultural imaginary of globalization, the representation of statelessness, and the war of images that defines globalization today— The Migrant Image also emphasizes the creative ways contemporary artists have imagined forms of life capable of inspiring hope and belief in a better world to come. Such hope is not the utopian striving of an artistic imagination that must be seen as irrelevant; rather, it has led to ambitious constructions that are deployed against political regimes that otherwise admit no creative alternatives. In this regard, this book not only engages and draws on artistic practices that construct imaginative possibilities that await potential realization, but sees those works as having the power to mobilize the energy that will help bring about reinvented possibilities. This

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claim is not meant to privilege artistic practice over other forms of political construction; for today, what is needed more than ever are powerful and creative artistic expressions and interventions that join other social movements for positive change, social justice and equality, working together toward the progressive re-­creation of our common world.

Check-­In: A Prelude xxiii

Charting a Course Exile, Diaspora, Nomads, Refugees A Genealogy of Art and Migration

Modernity as Exile Viewed through the lens of exile, modernity resembles a catastrophe, a storm of wreckage that drives redemption out of reach with implacable violence. Or so Walter Benjamin wrote about “the storm blowing from paradise” that we call progress, as contemplated by the angel of history (he was thinking of Paul Klee’s watercolor Angelus Novus [1920]). “The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward,” Benjamin famously wrote, viewing his own present forlornly, in the midst of an exile that for the German-­Jewish philosopher-­critic ended in suicide while he attempted to escape the Nazis.1 If, in being perpetually displaced from the now, we are tragically banished from its pleasures and joys, then at least with the resulting distance we are better able to appreciate its distortions and injustices. Gazing at that catastrophic modernity nearly fifty years later, the exiled Palestinian literary critic Edward Said rendered a verdict on the twentieth century that confirmed Benjamin’s dark conclusion. “Our age,” Said declared, “with its modern warfare, imperialism and the quasi-­theological ambitions of totalitarian rulers—is indeed the age of the refugee, the displaced person, mass immigration.”2 Such is modernity-­as-­exile, a characterization defined by the dislocating ravages and alienating effects of capitalism and nationalism as much as by the psychic disequilibrium of traumatic unheimlichkeit, as it is comprehended in Marxist and Freudian thought. But modernity’s darkness also intimates something more than what its mere political, economic, and social circumstances suggest, which is clear in Benjamin’s account of historical time, a philosophy of complex temporality that in effect renders us all

Figure 1. Lamia Joreige, still from A Journey (2008). Courtesy of the artist.

perpetual refugees in the fleeting present. Other philosophical diagnoses corroborate Benjamin’s ontological account, defining modernism’s epoch as one of “transcendental homelessness,” according to György Lukács.3 Similarly Heidegger wrote that “homelessness is coming to be the destiny of the world.”4 But Said makes an insistently political point when he writes about “the age of the refugee, the displaced person, mass immigration”—as glimpsed, for instance, in Lamia Joreige’s recent film, A Journey (2008), which shows in one poignant scene an ominous and stormy, cloud-­ covered Palestinian refugee camp in 1948, the year of Israel’s founding and the year when Joreige’s grandmother’s family, and Said’s, were forced into exile (see figure 1). His notion of migration identifies a counternarrative and the repressed figure of the last century’s otherwise celebrated glorious nationalisms, utopian political projects, and vaunted technological achievements; for it reveals their failures, their human wreckage, and the costs of their obscene audacity.5 I would like to open up that counternarrative and that repressed figure in the pages that follow, yet, rather than focus on modernity, I will conCharting a Course 2

sider contemporary art through the lens of migration. With that shift of historical perspective comes a terminological distinction, moving away from “exile,” with its associations with empires, tragic banishments, and harsh penal sentences, and toward “migrant,” a more impartial term with allowances for voluntary movement and self-­willed acts of mutability and becoming (or so many would believe).6 It may be questionable whether even “migration” remains both capacious enough and the most accurate term to describe the multiple forms of movement and singular expressions of dislocation in contemporary experience; nonetheless the term offers the advantage of opening up the possibilities of conceptualizing a form of life that is politically and aesthetically committed to a certain mobility, a mobility this book will systematically explore. This sanguine view of migration also needs highlighting. Positioned adjacent to descriptors like “diaspora” (a geographical dispersal in the collective sense), and “refugee” (the victim of persecution or forced expulsion), “migration,” in designating the traveler who travels by choice, whether for economic necessity or, as more recently, for ecological reasons, joins a family of like terms that share commonalities in relation to the “double consciousness”—in Paul Gilroy’s phrasing that takes up W. E. B. Du Bois’s concept—that is bestowed upon those who experience living elsewhere. This “double perspective” (in Said’s words describing exile), or this “double frame” (in Homi Bhabha’s characterization of migration) results from the bicultural knowledge produced by living in a foreign environment, generating in its positive expression a sensitivity toward difference (that of cultures, places, and communities), and a newfound appreciation of the cultural character of one’s origins when looking back from the migrant’s awry vantage.7 In this regard, it is important to avoid reading dislocation, in any of its guises, exclusively in the negative, as solely melancholic or chaotic, as if its identity were metaphysically rooted. As a wealth of literature including personal and artistic testimonies demonstrates, travel also holds the capacity to unleash a creative flight into the experience of multiplicity beyond the fixed categories of identities, mediums, and conventions. In this sense, its transformative experience may inspire both critical and creative energies, complicating the existential vulnerability and material destitution it otherwise may bring. Hannah Arendt wrote of “refugees driven from country to country” in the midst of the unprecedented genocide of the Holocaust not as mere victims; rather, for her, they “represent[ed] the Exile, Diaspora, Nomads, Refugees: A Genealogy of Art and Migration 3

vanguard of their peoples.”8 The reason, she explained, was that henceforth these figures, shed of their national ties (at least in 1943, before the founding of Israel), would be the creators of their own destiny: “History is no longer a closed book to them and politics is no longer the privilege of Gentiles.” More recently, Giorgio Agamben has proposed that in the present circumstances of massive demographic shifts—owing to warfare and political repression as much as emancipatory desire—the refugee represents “the paradigm of a new historical consciousness,” particularly because with that figure we glimpse a future beyond the nation-­state and its destructive exclusion of noncitizens.9 Let us keep in mind, then, that mobility designates a ruptured psychogeography of fundamental ambivalence, calling up the longing for home and the embrace of elsewhere, and that in the last analysis migration is antithetical to any unified meaning and is therefore here defined in relation to the individual artistic circumstances in which it appears. As such, let us consider some of the recent intersections of the political circumstances and the aesthetic negotiations of geographical mobility. These intersections in recent years have served multiple functions in contemporary art, oscillating between the calamitous and the creative: to find forms adequate to express the ravaging spatial and experiential effects of displacement; to invent archives capable of unleashing the hidden potential of historical consciousness; to discover innovative means to forge social bonds within transnational conditions that avoid sinking into regressive atavism or xenophobic hostility; to advance forms of life that reject the restrictive categories of identity and conventional modes of belonging; to direct the forces of mobility against the capture of commodification; and to resist the fundamentalist oppositions to, and equally the homogenizing tendencies of, globalization—these are some of the various imperatives and discourses that have generated an aesthetics of migration over the last few decades. In what follows, I discuss the diasporic art of the 1980s, the nomadic practices of the 1990s, and more recent articulations of migrant artistic formations, examining the interconnections, limitations, and cultural and political contexts in which they gained—and in some cases lost—­momentum. The periodization implies less a strict decade-­by-­ decade chronology (for the practices are far from punctual and frequently overlap) and more of a genealogical consideration of the aesthetics and

Charting a Course 4

politics of the various developments, even while each is far from homogeneous or without anomalies. The Diasporic Consider Mona Hatoum’s Measures of Distance (1988), a video that relates the impossible intimacy of the London-­based artist’s long-­distance relationship with her Palestinian mother living in Beirut; Isaac Julien’s film Territories (1984), which mediates postcolonial subjectivity (that of British African-­Caribbean-­ness, in the context of London’s Notting Hill Carnival) by opening up its fissures and fluctuating contours through the disjunctive textures of cinematic palimpsests; and Black Audio Film Collective’s Handsworth Songs (1986), a film that deploys hybrid representations, both documentary and poetic, to reveal the diversity of local perspectives on the race riots against Thatcher’s repressive measures in a working-­class area of Birmingham—these works demonstrate a powerful intertwining of the social and political facts of dislocation with the aesthetics of exile, which distinguishes British practices in the 1980s. Of course, there have been earlier artistic engagements with exile, such as that of the historical avant-­garde in New York and Zurich Dada, and in the later displacements of European artists during World War II. In these cases, modernist forms—­decontextualized ready-­mades, disjunctive montages, visual and textual fragmentations, and disorienting spaces—expressed the experiential terms of geopolitical dislocation.10 One could also cite the important artistic dealings with travel, whether owing to the politicoaesthetic critiques of capitalist economy, the commitments to internationalism, or the political necessities of escaping repressive military regimes, encountered in the formations of CoBrA, the Situationist International, and Fluxus, as well as in the global developments of abstraction and conceptualism, which also placed images and objects in motion by traveling artists (the disparate works of Gego, Bas Jan Ader, Hans Haacke, Hélio Oiticica, Cildo Meireles, On Kawara, Yoko Ono, Yayoi Kusama, and Tehching Hsieh come to mind).11 However, as a case study I will focus on the British context during the 1980s, where exile was poignantly and uniquely negotiated both thematically and formally, materially and structurally, correlating with decolonization struggles, the experience of diaspora in the wake of the crum-

Exile, Diaspora, Nomads, Refugees: A Genealogy of Art and Migration 5

bling of empire, and engaging with the discourses of identity politics and multiculturalism, which were being energetically theorized at that moment. Considering the way Hatoum has directed her experience of geopolitical displacement into a postminimalist sculptural phenomenology of disjointed everyday spaces and uncanny domestic objects, Edward Said wrote how in her work “exile [is] figured and plotted,” indicating a useful approach. Born into a displaced Palestinian family in Beirut, Hatoum was stranded in London when the Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975, and then decided to stay and study art. By enacting “the paradox of dispossession as it takes possession of its place in the world,” Said continues, Hatoum’s projects draw out the “irreconcilability” of strangeness and familiarity that defines the experience of living away from one’s homeland.12 Although he did not explicitly discuss her video, Said’s reading bears directly on Measures of Distance, which shows the artist’s mother close-­up in the intimacy of her shower, while Arabic fragments of their handwritten correspondence form a visual barrier over the image, expressing simultaneously the painful distance of displacement and the longings for closeness that mark the artist’s experience (see figure 2). Kobena Mercer focuses similarly on the subversive aspects of related disjunctions in Isaac Julien’s film Territories, which mounts a “cultural struggle to decolonize and deterritorialize cinema as a site of political intervention.” By provoking a carnivalizing of cinema as much as a cinema of carnival, Julien unleashes a “dialogical tendency” appropriate to a “diasporic people.” For Mercer, artists such as Julien and the Black Audio Film Collective developed the techniques of montage, which, drawing on Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of “multi-­accentuality” and the “inner dialectical quality” of the ideological sign, were critically posed against what Frantz Fanon called the “ideological fixity of the signs of colonial authority.”13 These readings are crucial for pointing to the aesthetic dimensions of exile, as much as to its geopolitical circumstances, and as such provide a valuable model for the consideration of subsequent contemporary art. “If the exile was the figure of early modernity,” write Jean Fisher and Gerardo Mosquera, then “the diasporean or immigrant was the figure of postmodernity with its decentered and deterritorialised subject.”14 Yet while such a historical distinction accurately situates the diasporic within the context of postcolonial uprooting, the projects of artists such Charting a Course 6

Figure 2. Mona Hatoum, Measures of Distance (1988). Color video, sound, 15 minutes. A Western Front Video Production, Vancouver. © the artist. Courtesy of White Cube.

as Hatoum, Julien, and the Black Audio Film Collective (as well as the Ceddo and Sankofa collectives, in Britain) acted more as oppositional forces against the postmodern than as affirmative and uncritical expressions of it. According to Fredric Jameson’s now classic formulation, postmodernism—as both a periodizing term and a cultural logic—designates the schizophrenic disorientation and debilitating amnesia of the subject in the state of advanced multinational capitalism.15 The geographical homogeneity of built space and the ahistorical imagery of the culture industry were seen by him to compromise one’s ability to situate oneself in time and space. Jameson’s is surely a still relevant account for an expanded history of the migratory (one that views it as a signifier for a variety of forms of displacement in recent history), particularly in view of the forces of dislocation in the now global capitalist economy.16 But rather than viewing the diasporic position within critical art practices as an expression of that immobilization, a work like Signs of Empire (1984), produced by the Black Audio Film Collective, precisely resists that culture of simulacral vacuity, Exile, Diaspora, Nomads, Refugees: A Genealogy of Art and Migration 7

Figure 3. Black Audio Film Collective, still from Signs of Empire (1984). Courtesy of the artists.

amnesia and mindless consumerism by resuscitating the archive of colonial visual culture (see figure 3). It did so by determinedly recovering the historical conditions and examining the alienating effects of the legacy of imperial dominance, as found in popular, ethnographic, and commercial images of exoticized and colonized peoples, juxtaposing them with views of London’s now-­worn public monuments to an earlier era of Britain’s colonial grandeur, and superimposing onto them deconstructive and poetic texts (such as “Where is God? said the black girl”). Given its plural sensitivities, the diasporic was well situated to address the politics of difference, connecting with civil rights, feminist and anti-­imperialist struggles, and resurrecting historical, political, and cultural figures, such as Langston Hughes, in Julien’s Looking for Langston (1988), in order to animate and empower current political engagements, thereby defying postmodernism’s debilitating image regime and cultural amnesia.17 If the practices of Julien and the Black Audio Film Collective—and one could add those of Hatoum, as well—propose a “critical dialogism,” then it is, according to Mercer, one that challenges “the monologic exclusivity on which dominant versions of national identity and collective belonging are based.”18 They do so by eliciting the “disjunctive time” and “internal Charting a Course 8

liminality” of the marginal and the migrant, as Homi Bhabha noted at the time.19 At stake in such readings is not only the defiant retort that diasporic practices made to postmodernist amnesia and spatial perplexity, but also the critical vantage point they established on earlier and even contemporary, competing modes of art defined within or against the multicultural and feminist formations of the time—particularly those that attempted to assert a branding of identity (whether in terms of race, gender, sexuality, or nationality) as a ground from which to counteract the forces of political and social exclusion. (One such formation was the yba phenomenon, inaugurated in 1988 with the notorious Freeze exhibition organized by Damien Hirst, the reception of which made claims for a resurgence of British identity.)20 As is now well established, because diasporic experience “is defined, not by essence or purity, but by the recognition of a necessary heterogeneity and diversity,” it models “a conception of identity which lives in and through, not despite, difference.”21 Black Audio Film Collective’s Signs of Empire proposes just this hybridity in terms of its complex tapestry of still images, texts, and sounds, as does Hatoum’s Measures of Distance, modeling structures that disrupt the purity of film and language alike. As a result, the categories of the visual, the auditory, and the scriptural are rendered insufficient on their own, as necessarily dialogical and stranded in their incompleteness and therefore contingent on contextual determinations for their meanings. In other words, this work defeats essentialism through its very structure, even while it commits to the particularities of ethnicity, race, and gender that define the lived circumstances of the subject within a heterogeneous cultural frame. As Jean Fisher has argued in relation to this work’s important antiessentialism, “black” is “a sign of political affiliation, not of racialized typology.”22 Still, despite these highly nuanced artistic treatments of the effects of displacement on subjectivity, by the mid-­1990s the gradual institutionalization of multiculturalism in Europe and North America became apparent. The emergence of the pervasive administration of identity-­based and minority-­directed policies within dominant governmental, civil, and educational institutions contributed to a veritable “race industry” of managerial practices.23 As Chandra Mahonty presciently wrote, “In a post-­ Communist, post-­national era, multiculturalism has been theorized as a paternalistic, top-­down solution to the ‘problem’ of minorities, a dangerous reification of ‘culture,’ or a new way forward to a politics of ‘recogniExile, Diaspora, Nomads, Refugees: A Genealogy of Art and Migration 9

tion’ and ‘authenticity.’” Contesting its instrumentalization and attempting to rescue its critical potential, she went on to ask: “But is multiculturalism simply a novel project of social engineering, devised for the twenty-­first century by well-­meaning liberals or communitarians?”24 Yet despite challenges such as Mahonty’s to these developments, the result has been the fixing of cultural, racial, and sexual signs within the discourse of political correctness, which correlated in the 1990s both to the social divisiveness of identity politics and to the commodification of ethnic and racial difference within neoliberal globalization. For theorists like Slavoj Žižek, as well as Michael Hardt and Tony Negri, “multiculturalism” has been instrumentalized as “the cultural logic of multinational capitalism.”25 For others, such as Paul Gilroy, author of the key postcolonial text of 1993, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-­Consciousness, the imperative for critical intellectuals has subsequently become one of writing “against race.”26 In other words, against the institutionalization of multiculturalism and the instrumentalization of cultural identity as a marketable form of racial and sexual difference, we must continue to challenge static categories of subjectivity, even if the original aims of multiculturalism, social justice, and political and economic equality, remain globally imperative more than ever today.27 The Nomadic Imperatives such as these contributed to the development of nomadic commitments in the 1990s, a development that presents us with a second formation in this genealogy of contemporary art and mobility that would also prove problematic. Think of Rirkrit Tiravanija’s installation of nomad kitchens in which the NY-­, Berlin-­, and Thailand-­based artist would cook free Thai food for guests, as in Untitled (free) at New York’s 303 Gallery in 1992; Gabriel Orozco’s Yielding Stone 1992, a ball equal to the Mexican artist’s weight in plasticine that he rolled around New York City; and Francis Alys’s Paradox of Praxis 1997, for which the Belgian artist pushed a block of ice down the streets of his adopted Mexico City for nine hours until it melted away—these projects exemplify the poetic lyricism and romantic sensibility of the nomadic. Freed from the constraints of fixed identity and detached from the postcolonial burdens of the struggle for minority recognition that sometimes reinforced static conceptions of race, ethnicity, and nationality, “artistic nomadism” represented a new model of “cosmopoliCharting a Course 10

tanism,” according to critic Jean-­Pierre Criqui. While the nomad is “always carrying along . . . a part of [his or her] native country,” he or she would remain “a mobile and polymorphous entity, . . . independent of the melancholy one ordinarily associates with uprooting.”28 Unlike exile, then, whose “essential sadness,” for Said, “can never be surmounted,” nomadism embraced dislocation as a permanent home with lightness and joy, rejecting the postcolonial political commitments of the diasporic.29 Indeed, positioned by Hardt and Negri as precisely a “resistance to bondage,” the nomadic represented a “struggle against the slavery of belonging to a nation, an identity, and a people,” and a “desertion from sovereignty and the limits it places on subjectivity,” a desertion they saw as “entirely positive.”30 In this regard, nomadism advanced a critical strategy for resisting the double tendencies of globalization: on the one hand, its creative mobility would challenge the homogenizing aspect of capitalism that renders all places and things alike; on the other, nomadism would defy the regressive returns to localism, tribalization, and essentialist identities that the backlash against cultural and economic globalization sometimes inspires.31 But above all, nomadism was about freedom, as Achille Bonito Oliva puts it: “Nomadic artists exercise their right to diaspora, their freedom to wander across the boundaries of various cultures, nations and media forms . . . They adopt a tactic marked by cultural nomadism to escape the perverse consequence of tribal identity and, at the same time, claim the creation of what is symbol[ic] against the commoditization of global economy.”32 Yet how critical or emancipatory is this strategy? What means of social commonality or solidarity is available to this class of itinerant travelers? And, how does the nomadic avoid collapsing into the same debilitating loss of collective solidarity, the splintering of which plagued identity politics? For instance, even postcolonial critic Gayatri Spivak has proposed— contra nomadism’s anti-­identitarian posture—the “strategic” use of an opportunistic and temporary “essentialism” to unite people in order to achieve specific political goals.33 Critics have also pointed out that nomadism’s lyrical and romantic tendency is a noncritical one, wherein the poetic flight of fancy, which tends to dramatize first and foremost the artist’s own privileged, peripatetic existence, fails to reflexively consider the institutional, historical, and geographical parameters in which the nomadic exists and ends up, as James Meyer observes, typically “veiling the speExile, Diaspora, Nomads, Refugees: A Genealogy of Art and Migration 11

cific material circumstances of the gallery.”34 Meyer differentiates between “lyrical nomads” (such as Tiravanija and Orozco), who practice “a mobility thematized as a random and poetic interaction with the objects and spaces of everyday life,” from those who are “critical nomads” (including Andrea Fraser, Christian Philipp Müller, Renée Green, and Mark Dion), designating those who work out of the tradition of institutional critique. The latter model “does not so much enact and record a discrete action or movement as locate the structures of mobility within specific historical, geographical, and institutional frameworks.”35 In addition, despite the nomad’s purported escape from identity, the art market’s star system tends to reward individuals with widespread name recognition; consequently, when the practitioners of discursive sites, relational scenarios, and lyrical nomadism are marketed as exemplary artistic personalities, we encounter what Miwon Kwon has described as “a hermetic implosion of (auto)biographical and subjectivist indulgences,” which may be “misrepresented as self-­reflexivity.”36 These tensions become particularly apparent when midcareer retrospectives are organized for the likes of Tiravanija or Pierre Huyghe, exhibitions that deploy a monographic format that reaffirms authorial identity despite the artist’s attempts to variously problematize that logic via collaborative procedures, the elimination of art objects, or nonautobiographical projects.37 Still, one could argue that these dangers are more the results of the institutionalization of the nomadic as art (and mainstream cultural fashion) rather than the intentions, let alone the unavoidable outcomes, of artistic practices. Moreover, the nomadic—especially as originally theorized by Deleuze and Guattari—may nevertheless retain its radical potential when it comes to the critique of identity and belonging in a period marked by the troubling reassertion of nationalism, ethnicity, and religious fundamentalism. As such, it holds within itself a similar resistance to traditionalism, a resistance that one encounters in the expatriate avant-­garde, the critical necessity of which may once again present itself. In this regard, the shifts of emphases in the cultural expressions of exile over the course of modernity—from antinationalist exile to postcolonial diaspora to global nomadism—are not so clear cut. Nor is their periodization punctual or definitive. It is not surprising that Edward Said and Homi Bhabha, for instance, return to Theodor Adorno and Benjamin in their discussions of the cultural and political effects of displacement; similarly Kobena Mercer, in his own Charting a Course 12

theorization of dialogism, revisits the Russian formalist Mikhail Bakhtin, and one can trace the nomadic back to Deleuze’s and Guattari’s “nomadology,” and from there to Kafka and Duchamp. As competing articulations and schematic descriptions, these formations sometimes overlap, at other times operate in tandem. But what of the fate of the nomadic today, in a context where globalization more than ever threatens the erasure of difference and particularity, and where the market’s voracious appetite for mobility, flux, and expansion makes the nomad a role model for the transnational capitalist? Given the resurgence of the security state in our post­9/11 environment, with the current governmental obsession with the threat of terrorism, what is the status of the nomadic in this new political environment animated by the fear of refugees and migrants? In view of this now pervasive geopolitical framework, a further risk of the nomadic is to naively romanticize the privileges of borderless travel while overlooking how the less privileged are excluded from that same freedom. In 1993, for example, Christian Philipp Müller performed Green Border, a project included in the Venice Biennale’s Austrian pavilion, curated by Peter Weibel, for which the Swiss artist had himself photographed crossing Austria’s eight national borders, including those of the former Eastern-­bloc countries of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Slovenia, as well as the others shared with the western states of Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Germany (see figure 4). The diminutive scale of his figure crossing the various borders humorously contradicts the apparent hubris of his making such a transgressive avant-­gardist gesture. Along with his installation at the Austrian pavilion, which interrogated the architecture’s historical relation to spatial partitioning and territorial divisions, Müller’s was a complex symbolic act: it not only retrieved the historical connections between Austria and Nazi Germany (in 1938 the former country had been annexed and its newly built Venice pavilion was formally associated with Germany), but also contested the remaining forms of geographical exclusion in the post-­wall era by transgressing Austria’s borders in the fictional persona of that nation’s representative artist.38 Yet against Müller’s implication that Europe was becoming a free, borderless zone, the reality in the eu, conversely, was shifting toward the political imperative to stem the tide of migration from beyond its borders, in North Africa and Eastern Europe. The Schengen Agreement, instituted in 1990 and fortified with further accords during the 1990s, is key to this Exile, Diaspora, Nomads, Refugees: A Genealogy of Art and Migration 13

Figure 4. Christian Philipp Müller, Green Border (1993). Courtesy of the artist.

history, for it created an open region within Europe but simultaneously acted to reinforce Europe’s borders, forming part of a larger trend toward “walled states” protected from terrorism, “illegal” immigration, and hostile neighbors, even as globalization promised a world of inclusivity and openness.39 It did so, moreover, by exacerbating the impoverishment and oppressive political circumstances of nearby African countries by conditioning economic aid upon strict population control achieved through militarized border security and cutting off those areas from the eu labor market.40 As refugee camps and detainment centers for illegal immigrants have since proliferated across the European continent, as shown in various maps by migrant-­rights groups such as Migreurop, it seems increasingly problematic to celebrate the nomadic today within Europe.41 Doing so once expressed the radical hope of global citizenship, situated in the period of the waning of the nation-­state and its social-­political hierarchies, particularly in the jubilant years immediately following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which was the historical context for Müller’s project. This hope may survive in current struggles; for instance, one reads in the pages of Empire that “circulation must become freedom . . . the mobile multitude must achieve a global citizenship.”42 But singing the praises of nomadism Charting a Course 14

today within the narrow scope of the European framework, without the radical political demands for equality (as is so often done in contemporary art discourse), appears self-­congratulatory, even narcissistic. In such cases, nomadism suggests a contemporary neoprimitivism, one that subscribes to a fantasy of freedom from all attachments, but which cruelly operates in a system that denies that freedom to the very itinerant peoples from whom it borrows its name.43 Foreigners Out ! The imperative to repair the separation between citizen and refugee, and to redress the withdrawal of political rights from the migrant, has led to further modelings of mobility within contemporary art, which build on the above-­mentioned critical antecedents and yet are still in the process of emergence today. Consider Christoph Schlingensief ’s sardonic reality-­ tv event Please Love Austria (also called Foreigners Out! ) (2000), which offers a compelling dramatization of the current limits of nomadism (see plate 1). For that project, the late German theater director and provocateur invited a group of immigrants to live in a shipping container in Vienna’s main square for a week. During that time, Austrians could monitor their existence online in real time and vote out, Big Brother-­style, two asylum seekers per day for deportation. The longest to survive was designated the winner, and he or she could “look forward to a cash prize and the prospect, depending on the availability of volunteers, of Austrian citizenship through marriage.”44 Meanwhile, Schlingensief performed the role of circus ringmaster, speechifying through his bullhorn to maintain the spectacle’s energy, and appearing in heated discussions with the sometimes patriotically attired local audience. The biting sarcasm of the event was that in manifesting the ideological truth of the late Jorg Haider’s recently elected extreme-­right party (the Austrian Freedom Party, or fpö), the event pitted the spectacle of xenophobia against itself, inviting Austrians—in Schlingensief ’s words—to get in touch with their “inner Nazi.” A related response to Europe’s geopolitics of exclusion has been to relinquish the false universality of the nomadic and turn instead to ethnographic procedures and documentary tactics to expose the living conditions, which are often far from romantic, of actual refugees and the economic and political structures that produce those conditions. MultiExile, Diaspora, Nomads, Refugees: A Genealogy of Art and Migration 15

Figure 5. Multiplicity, still from Solid Sea 03 (2003). Courtesy of the artists.

plicity’s Solid Sea 03 (2003), for instance, compares two parallel voyages of the same seventy-­kilometer distance through the West Bank, one travelled by a Palestinian, from Hebron to Nablus via checkpoints and winding gravel roads, and another travelled by an Israeli, from Kryat Arba to Kdumin on special Israeli-­built and exclusively Israeli-­Jewish highways. The work contrasts the details of the two very different topographies, which are clearly visible in the video’s documentation of the trip (see figure 5). Whereas the distance is roughly identical, the Palestinian’s trip took five hours, the Israeli’s journey an hour. The divergence dramatizes the significant disparities of mobility today, which often depend on the identity of the traveler. Or take Ursula Biemann’s video essay Sahara Chronicle (2006– 7), which investigates northward transmigration in North Africa, including footage of interviews with people desperately and daringly making their way from Niger to Libya or Algeria, with hopes of eventually gaining access to Europe (discussed at length in chapter 8). Her critical investigation has also been the goal of various recent exhibitions on migration, such as Port City: On Mobility and Exchange, at Bristol’s Arnolfini (2007); and No Place—Like Home: Perspectives on Migration in Europe, at Argos in Brussels (2008), which organizers described as an investigation into the status of “illegal refugees who are today’s modern nomads.”45 Both exhibitions explored the “variegated tale of migration networks and refugee trafficking, cartography and geographical military data, migration management and border infiltrations, international rights, lack of rights and lawlessness.”46 These shows and others like them are salutary in that they reject the superficial romance of the nomadic in favor of exposing the Charting a Course 16

circumstances of those excluded from its privileged realm; as well, they contest media stereotypes and governmental spin regarding migrants as so many criminals and terrorists, which tend to polarize camps, drawing citizens and refugees ever apart. The challenge of the documentary treatments found commonly in such shows is therefore to avoid reaffirming the excluded as victimized objects of representation, which ironically tend to reiterate the relations of inequality they are otherwise trying to contest. It is not surprising that these problems have inspired the creative reinvention of documentary strategies of representation in order to avoid such objectifications, leading to the disavowal of truth claims in favor of subjectively reflexive narrative approaches, and to the installation of multiple screens and projections that construct a participatory physical mobility on behalf of the viewer, as in Multiplicity’s and Biemann’s work. Inevitably, these artists employ deracinating presentations to renounce the objectifying portrayals found commonly in the corporate media. As such, these artists suggest a correspondence with nomadic tendencies, even while they would disavow the fashionable and naive celebration of mobility as a simple form of artistic emancipation. These models not only bear witness to the deeply complex, even contradictory experiences of displacement, relaying both the hardships and pleasures, the pathetic indigence and the productive possibility. They also generate powerful aesthetic constructions that dislocate the viewer’s space, time of perception, and self-­positioning. In doing so, mobility becomes a shared experience between artist and viewer, suggesting the basis of an emergent political construction. Consider Emily Jacir’s performative, installation-­based investigations into the everyday lives of those caught in the Palestinian diaspora, such as her Material for a Film (2007); Yto Barrada’s A Life Full of Holes—The Strait Project (1998–2004), comprising a photographic cycle depicting Moroccan migrants on the Strait of Gibraltar; Steve McQueen’s cinematic treatments of migrant laborers that liberate them from the bondage of representation, as in Gravesend (2007); and the Otolith Group’s films that destabilize the temporality of nationality and empower the potentiality of historical oppositional struggles, as in Otolith (2003) (all discussed at length in subsequent chapters). In these pieces, the viewer is placed in proximity to what Edward Said has called “permanent exile,” a term that draws on exile’s metaphorical sense to describe a protean state of being, rather than a local reality defined by specific social Exile, Diaspora, Nomads, Refugees: A Genealogy of Art and Migration 17

and political circumstances. Said’s notion, despite its terminological difference, comes close to what Agamben calls “being in exodus,” by which he means a perpetual state of revolution.47 This positioning declines an ultimate redemption, a deferred homecoming, or a naturalization or national independence; instead, the deconstructive force of this conceptualization of mobility suggests, finally, a form of “singularity” that is more about infinite becoming than static existence, and which is posed against citizen and nation-­state alike—an existential exile without state, nation or identity.48 While this articulation reaffirms the nomadic surpassing of identity, it nevertheless insistently invents new criteria for the specificity of lived reality and collective association, whether it be territorially based (for instance, using urban space as a site of connection and transit for ephemeral communities of displaced persons), a matter of transnational political affiliations (as in global movements for social justice and environmental sustainability) or of communities of sense (as in the building of social connections through artistic participation and discourse), or what Okwui Enwezor calls the “diasporic public sphere” of international biennial exhibitions (where participants reflexively problematize their economic and social position, as well as the exclusions of the location, even while they create the terms of cross-­cultural interactions).49 Most important, these models represent forms of sociability that remain open to foreignness, mobility, and flux—in distinction both to the potentially generic nomadic set, and to the biological and ethnic particularities of familial and regional bonds. We Refugees Agamben has suggested that only when “the citizen has been able to recognize the refugee that he or she is—only in such a world is the political survival of humankind today thinkable.”50 The emancipatory nature of this proposal is that the recognition of one’s fundamentally dislocated self dissolves the division between citizen and refugee, proposing a space “where exterior and interior in-­determine each other,” where one is placed in “a relation of reciprocal extraterritoriality” to the other.51 In opposition to the regime of social and political separation that constitutes what Étienne Balibar has identified as a “virtual European apartheid,” by which he means the undemocratic and exclusionary policies of the eu in regard Charting a Course 18

to its noncitizen residents, this “relation of reciprocal extraterritoriality” breaks the seemingly inextricable bonds between nation, state, and territory, and severs the ostensibly natural links between citizen, nationality, and human rights.52 What opens up, according to Agamben, is the possibility of a “refuge of the singular,” where rights are reinvented on the basis of residency rather than citizenship, and where nationality can no longer operate as the logic of segregation and discriminatory justice. From this abstract theoretical speculation, it is hard to grasp what such a “refuge of the singular” would actually be or look like in reality today. What postnational institutions, political infrastructure, and administrative mechanisms would guarantee its protection? Who would assure the rights of those within it? What would it mean to transvalue statelessness and universalize it as a condition of political equality and radical democracy? These questions have yet to be answered. As such, the migrant—­ designating the force of dislocation without a center—promises a future redemption that seems out of reach, just as it did in Benjamin’s apocalyptic time. Still, the proposal remains compelling, especially against the stark alternatives governing present society. That future redemption might designate, following Žižek, a “universality to come”—specifically an age of the universality of the singular. In this vein, recognizing oneself as the refugee would invite the shadowy figure of the migrant to define the way one relates to oneself; in other words, this recognition would demand, paradoxically, “identifying universality with the point of exclusion.”53 For Žižek, this maneuver is the converse of the standard one of deconstructing universality as false, by revealing, for instance, the hidden interests behind some abstract universal idea, such as the “his” of history that exposes the traditional patriarchal construction of the past as presented in supposedly “objective” accounts. Similarly, it is easy to show how the segregation of citizens and migrants creates the terms of social and political inequality. But merely criticizing that system remains a reactive response, which fails to provide alternatives other than further reforms that potentially leave the structures of division intact. Far more radical is universalizing the migrant as the condition of being human, and determining a politics of equality on that basis. According to this conceptualization of migration, one that the artists discussed in this book creatively explore and develop further, migration identifies something uncapturable and unmeasurable, something ever mobile and unfamiliar. Far from designating Exile, Diaspora, Nomads, Refugees: A Genealogy of Art and Migration 19

a completely disempowered status, this approach sees migration taking on a certain agency, an autonomy, and a potentiality. Those qualities, moreover, can redefine the basis of citizenship in turn, as not opposed to the noncitizen, but rather reimagining a form of citizenship that acknowledges the fundamental condition of migration within itself.54 Conceiving of this eventuality may be unlikely in today’s political environment. But this unlikelihood is exactly where artistic practice may assume its most radical role: to imagine alternatives otherwise impossible to contemplate, unleashing an imagination that may yet produce material effects. Let us turn, then, to an examination of those practices that do just that.

Charting a Course 20



Moving Images of Globaliz ation

What would it mean to confront the contradictory reality of globalization rather than live in denial of its savage effects? Steve McQueen’s film Gravesend (2007) both poses the question and offers a response. The film opens with shots in the warm, golden hues of the technoscientific refinement of columbite-­tantalite in a British laboratory where faceless technicians melt down and purify the metallic ore and automated machines process the material in an antiseptic environment (see figure 6). Filmed with precision camerawork that mimics the efficient movements of the lab’s pneumatic devices, this footage is soon intercut with recordings of manual labor in the Congo jungle, where men are seen prospecting for the valuable mineral, digging deep holes in the earth, and using their hands to hammer the mineral from the rocks (see figure 7). Used commonly in consumer-­ electronics products such as cell phones, dvd players, and computers, and found primarily in Sub-­Saharan West Africa, coltan, as columbite-­tantalite is more commonly called, has inspired an international demand that has fueled the violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, leaving more than five million dead over the last twenty years, making Congo’s the deadliest conflict worldwide since World War II.1 Assembling a geopolitical montage that offers a critical picture of globalization, Gravesend connects technology and war, glimpsing by metonymic reference the un-

Figures 6 and 7. Steve McQueen, still from Gravesend (2007). Courtesy of the artist and the Marian Goodman Gallery.

even geographies of Europe’s advanced state of economic and scientific development and the Congo’s lag in a lawless void of preindustrial toil. As is well known, the term globalization calls up notorious ambiguity, representing an empty signifier nearly meaningless today, much like the word freedom, if used without further qualification. With its institutional roots in the Bretton Woods accords of 1944, which brought into existence the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and its popularization in the late 1970s as a concept to describe the unification of commercial markets worldwide, globalization has since been celebrated with unalloyed optimism by the cheerleaders of capitalism—from the philosopher and Reaganite policymaker Francis Fukuyama to the New York Times columnist and free-­market ideologue Thomas Friedman—as defining our present era of planetary integration achieved through sociocultural, political, technological, and economic forces.2 For these and other neoDeparture A 22

conservative commentators, globalization holds the promise of postpolitical, democratic consensus, international economic equality, and postnational freedom of mobility. Yet corporate globalization is the more apt term for recent developments of transnational capitalism (which in fact stretch back to policies theorized by such economists as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman), because it indicates the private sector’s profit-­led motivation—supporting programs of denationalization, structural adjustment, and privatization—that stands behind the grand social claims of its proponents.3 Rather than engendering economic equality and political inclusivity, those policies have led to massive unemployment, pauperization, defunded states, zones of conflict, and military repression.4 Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union, a contrary enthusiasm regarding globalization, but enthusiasm nonetheless, mounted in left-­wing circles as well. Consider the postcolonial anthropologist Arjun Appadurai’s positive emphasis on the egalitarian potential of “diasporic public spheres” achieved via new technologies and systems of “mass mobility and mass mediation,” or the hopefulness that Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s popular book Empire places on global resistance movements in the age of postnational sovereignty.5 Despite such expectations, however, the heightened visibility of today’s worldwide, post-­9/11 crises—including the violent blowback to the imposition of Western political and economic policies overseas, particularly in the Middle East where the rhetoric of “freedom” cloaks domination and means merely free enterprise—has made globalization’s darker nature undeniably evident. Whether theorized as a “new imperialism” by David Harvey or as “military neo-­liberalism” by the San Francisco–based collective Retort, globalization after 2001 presents us with an image that is ambivalent at best and cataclysmic at worst.6 McQueen’s work gives powerful expression to this ambiguity, adding historical nuance to globalization’s complex cultural imaginary. By referring to and including images of the industrial port of Gravesend in southeast England, the film traces the lopsided relations between present-­day Europe and Africa back to nineteenth-­century colonialism, specifically via the representation of colonialism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; for Conrad’s protagonist Marlow sits in a sailboat on the Thames estuary in Gravesend while he tells his notorious tale of journeying up the Congo River. McQueen’s film commemorates that literary moment through an Moving Images of Globalization 23

Figure 8. Steve McQueen, still from Gravesend (2007). Courtesy of the artist and the Marian Goodman Gallery.

extended passage of the sun’s setting over the port’s factories and smokestacks (mirroring the crepuscular time of Marlow’s narration), a sequence that ever so slowly dissolves and gives way to images of African laborers in open mining pits (see figure 8). The resulting palimpsest of geographies joins the normally separated regions, a segregation that otherwise conveniently dissociates advanced technological procedures from the faraway exploitation of natural resources amid conditions of brutal lawlessness.7 Meditative and melancholy, the sunset’s elegiac tones suggest not only the twilight of both industrialization and Britain’s imperial reign but also a funereal resignation in the face of the continuation of their deathly effects under a different name. In his novella, Conrad uses the old colonial slogan “the sun never sets on the British empire”—for empire’s global span, so goes the logic, ensures perpetual daytime.8 Marlow’s tale of humanity’s “heart of darkness,” lying within Europe as it is revealed in its treatment of the Congolese, belies that trumpeted imperial confidence, as does McQueen’s film. Relaying the violence of ivory extraction from the colony, abetted by the Belgian king Leopold II’s cruel policies, Marlow leaves readers with a “choice of nightmares.”9 We can either honestly confront the savagery of the human condition or continue to live hypocritically beneath the bogus veneer of European civilization.10 In posing this dilemma anew amid the conditions of neocolonialism, McQueen makes the only ethical choice: to acknowledge the price paid for the developed world’s technologically ad-

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vanced way of life, rejecting the alternative of naively and falsely adhering to the delusion that globalization brings progress, democracy, and freedom to all. Yet while Gravesend lays waste to the myths of corporate globalization by alluding to its dark underside—the fact that foreign-­controlled resource extraction has led to little or no local improvements of the standard of living or to political stability, but has actually encouraged the opposite— the film is remarkable for its oblique approach, obviously distant from the seemingly more immediate routes of political contestation embodied, for instance, in the documentation of the street activism of the global justice movement’s demonstrations.11 Similarly, the film disavows the clarity of the photojournalistic exposure of the horror of the Congo’s conflict, as in, for example, Guy Tillim’s photographic cycle Leopold and Mobutu (2004). Tillim’s images show, among other things, the horror of the conscription of children by Congolese militias, images that are juxtaposed with shots of the historical dioramas portraying Congolese soldiers from the old colony, as seen in the still-­unreconstructed royal ethnographic museum in Tervuren, Belgium (see figures 9, 10, and 11).12 The work reveals a trajectory of servitude for Congolese people, from the colonial era to today’s anomic zone of neocolonial violence. Instead of depicting the country’s violence directly, Gravesend alludes to it metaphorically, and thus tentatively, as in its recurring shots of a vice’s steel blade slowly cutting through a hunk of rock with cringing aural effect, which translates the pressure of the Congo’s sociopolitical situation into visceral distress. Here, geopoetics allegorizes geopolitics.13 Breaking the spell of the viewer’s contemplative distance, these jolting passages bring about an experiential displacement from the complacency of perceptual habit and visual pleasure that might otherwise transform zones of conflict into objects of aesthetic enjoyment. But even while the film traces commercial technology back to its roots in present-­day primitive accumulation, which appears to be reengaged by the forces of global capital, no explanatory comment or contextual information supplements McQueen’s images.14 The film’s allusions thus remain ever precarious, its conclusions always uncertain. Like the quasidocumentary approach to brutal mining conditions in South Africa presented in McQueen’s earlier film Western Deep (2002), Gravesend ’s filmic construction blurs the referential and the allegorical, the documentary and the fic-

Moving Images of Globalization 25

Figures 9 (above, top), 10 (right), 11 (above). Guy Tillim, images from the series Leopold and Mobutu (2004). Courtesy of the Stevenson Gallery.

tional, in order to convey savagery through phenomenological estrangement. Yet it does so without directing interpretation, neither including authoritative information nor voicing explicit condemnation. By depicting laboring bodies in the Congo, Gravesend nevertheless mounts a political challenge by rendering visible those typically excluded from globalization’s imaginary. But the film’s “documentation” is far from traditional; rather, McQueen’s figures are unidentified, mere shadows and fragmented shapes, a depiction that dismantles the epistemological presumptions of traditional modes of exposure and journalistic reportage, just as the artist’s preference for a black-­box installation further distinguishes Gravesend ’s phenomenological sensitivity and its open-­plan space of reception from the conditions of the theater environment. How can we define the political stakes at the heart of such an experimental aesthetic construction? With Jacques Rancière, I would argue that rather than functioning to mystify the political realm—as in Walter Benjamin’s famous condemnation of fascist aestheticization—aesthetics defines a mode of appearance that constitutes the political by partitioning the sensible, defining who can say and hear what, where, and when: aesthetics “is a delimitation of spaces and times, of the visible and the invisible, or speech and noise, that simultaneously determines the place and the stakes of politics as a form of experience.”15 Aesthetics constructs the scene of politics as much as it defines and legitimates or delegitimates the discourses and competences within it. And while aesthetics signifies a mode of appearance that extends beyond artistic practice—in terms of its “distribution of the sensible” within everyday life, regulated by institutionalized and policed systems of power—it also defines the force of the political in art, which is capable of proposing alternatives to conventional politics from outside its system. One reservation this argument might incite concerns art’s limited visibility compared to the mass publics of governmental representation and media discourse, a limitation that would ostensibly mitigate the effectiveness of its opposition. But while this concern is undoubtedly credible, such political effectiveness may also never have been the goal of artists in the first place (it is certainly not placed above aesthetic priorities in McQueen’s case); nor does this acknowledgment mean that a politics is not still at the core of McQueen’s aesthetics. The relation of contemporary art to political life may be uncertain, but this may be art’s irresolvable condition at present, one that when taken to heart may generate its most Departure A 28

compelling works. This is indeed the case for Rancière, who argues that in its negotiation of the simultaneous pulls between autonomy (art’s allegiance to its own laws of form) and heteronomy (its bearing on life), “art promises a political accomplishment that it cannot satisfy, and thrives on that ambiguity.”16 That very ambiguity enters intriguingly into Gravesend ’s formal condition, particularly in terms of the film’s provocative interweaving of its documentary mode and its imaginative expression when it comes to figuration. As if depicting weightless beings made of shadows and movement, Gravesend portrays its miners as the ghostly absences of light, as voids in the visual field. While fixing on the indexical marks characteristic of documentary imagery, Gravesend paradoxically depletes their substance, merely intimating the depiction of real bodies, deploying a strategy that recalls the artist’s similar approach to miners in Western Deep (which I discuss in the following chapter). This precariousness of the image can be read imaginatively in two ways. First, the derealization of representation translates into visual form the political conditions on the ground; that is, it mirrors the zone of nonrepresentation that is the disenfranchised status of Congolese laborers (although this mirroring connecting image and referent via interpretation remains ever insecure). Second, the depiction of emergent figures materializes the film’s political force in relation to conventional regimes of documentary practice. By refusing to portray its subjects as victimized objects, hopelessly stuck in the irrevocable reality of their situation and reaffirmed as such by their representation, Gravesend shows those people to be undetermined and thus sites where the unknowable and the potential coincide. Conrad’s characters, as creatures of their time, may have been unable “to recognize that what they saw, disablingly and disparagingly, as a non-­European ‘darkness’ was in fact a non-­ European world resisting imperialism so as one day to regain sovereignty and independence,” as Said observes.17 Conversely, McQueen’s film deploys darkness strategically to define a field of possibility resistant to the very forms of representation that would keep those figures in their traditional place of oppression. By drawing out the representational ambiguity of sensible experience, Gravesend elicits the political force of appearance, which takes on added relevance in relation to Giorgio Agamben’s notion of the fraught status of bare life—that is, life stripped of political being, as in the case of the Moving Images of Globalization 29

refugee or migrant laborer. For Agamben, today’s “task and enigma” is precisely to transform such seemingly powerless existence—the kind we glimpse in Gravesend ’s imagery—into the horizon of a coming politics, one that exists beyond the system of sovereignty and its oppressive states of exception from legal identity that today threaten to become the norm. “This biopolitical body that is bare life,” writes Agamben, “must itself instead be transformed into the site for the constitution and installation of a form of life that is wholly exhausted in bare life and a bios that is only its own zoe.”18 In other words, bare life, deprived of political representation by the forces of sovereignty (invoking the complex authority of executive power, not simply one man’s decision-­making power), must be transformed into the site of its own political constitution outside conventional politics. But how can zoe (mere biological existence) and bios (the qualified life of political being) be made to converge, thus engendering a so-­called form-­of-­life, a category that joins the biological and the political into an irreducible existence? Elsewhere Agamben suggests the answer lies in what he terms general intellect, the creative power of thought inherent in community, which resists the division of biological and political life: “In the face of state sovereignty, which can affirm itself only by separating in every context naked life from its form, [intellectuality and thought] are the power that incessantly reunites life to its form or prevents it from being dissociated from its form.”19 Similarly posed against that dissociation, Gravesend clearly reveals bare life not as a natural condition, but as a political effect of globalization. Near its end, the film introduces a short animated sequence that traces a snaking black form set against a grey background, suggesting both the Congo River’s geographical profile and a tortuous fiber-­optic cable (see figure 12). Presented alongside a soundtrack of voices speaking as if on a thousand cell phones, the passage connects Congo’s geography to the telecommunications industry that depends on the country’s resources, joining a circuit of causality that refuses the separation between political power and the zone of exclusion it produces. Yet that causal link is neither totalized nor explained; the film’s figures remain invested with an undetermined excess precisely by the rejection of representation’s realism, a resistance that the use of animation also exemplifies, intimating a visual field beyond the transparent documentary. In that space of potentiality, Gravesend discovers a form of life that, while shrouded in ambiguity, nonetheless escapes Departure A 30

Figure 12. Steve McQueen, still from Gravesend (2007). Courtesy of the artist and the Marian Goodman Gallery.

its entrapment by political systems of representation and exclusion. One risk of McQueen’s portrayal may be that the film’s impressions merely reaffirm its figures’ invisible status, reiterating their nonrepresentability in the register of the image. However, Gravesend ’s gambit is to draw out the very ambiguity of being so that life’s separation from politics cannot disclose a simple ontological truth but is viewed as a political effect, one with an undisclosed autonomy. Even if a single film cannot solve Agamben’s “task and enigma,” or redress the conditions of violence on the ground, McQueen’s film does transform the visual field of politics—specifically its current distribution of life into zones of legality and exception—by extending visibility to those existing in globalization’s shadows. As such, the insistence on bare life’s political constitution (and thus contestable nature) may well be a move that artists are uniquely equipped to make, that is, those artists who creatively recalibrate representational conditions and challenge dominant orders of visibility and invisibility. As such, Gravesend opens up a space of contestation where aesthetics challenges the conventional organization of appearance—specifically, the unjust distribution of the sensible that is neoliberal globalization—that constitutes politics today. In this regard, Gravesend builds on what has become a significant convergence in the art of the moving image over the last decade, one that is remarkable for advancing political investment by means of subtle aesthetic construction, doing so by joining documentary and fictional modes into uncertain relationship. Moving Images of Globalization 31

McQueen’s film is not alone. In the three following chapters, I will extend my analysis to the Otolith Group’s Otolith Trilogy, 2003–9, an enchanting series of science fiction–cum-­documentary essay films, Hito Steyerl’s November (2004), a video essay that investigates the current political economy of the documentary image via a personal story at once subjective and political, and McQueen’s earlier film Western Deep, a powerful revelation of the brutal labor conditions in a South African gold mine. Like McQueen’s Gravesend, these various projects also challenge the myths of globalization by representing exceptions to its triumphalist narratives. Whereas the ethical and political exigencies of present crises would seem to demand eyewitness exposés—to show what corporate mass media ignores, to correct the mystifications of governmental falsehoods—their work moves by other means. Like McQueen’s films, they too are distinguished by the intertwining of the real and the imaginary, which mobilizes a form of address at once aesthetic and affective, visual and somatic, beyond the strictly information-­based correctives of familiar documentary modes of exposure. What are the advantages and risks of such moving images, and how can we define their political significance?20 Moreover, how might the moving image critically engage globalization today, inflecting its meanings, contesting its objectionable formulations, advancing its positive potential from within an artistic context? How can it lay claim to an ambition often discounted by those skeptical of art’s effectiveness and relevance to collective struggle and political opposition?

Departure A 32



Indeterminacy and Bare Life in Steve McQueen’s Western Deep

Steve McQueen’s Western Deep (2002), like his later film Gravesend, is striking for what it does not show. Documenting the labor conditions of miners in the TauTona mine near Johannesburg, the deepest gold mine in the world (also called Western Deep N0. 3 Shaft), the film begins unexpectedly, with a long sequence of utter darkness. At first, the shocking soundtrack dominates: piercing mechanical screeches and metallic low-­pitch knockings, delivered at an extreme volume, vibrate the exhibition space. These sounds reverberate immediately throughout the visitor’s body, as if striking it with unseen force. It is as if we, the viewers, have suddenly found ourselves blind, within the grinding internal organs of some industrial machinery, our bodies turned into drums. This clamor lasts for several minutes, accompanied by flashes of colored lights, which remain ambiguous and disorienting. As estranging as the soundtrack, these fugitive sensations emerge at a low threshold of visibility. By the time we realize that the camera has been positioned in an elevator loaded with a group of miners descending to an infernal depth, a metal grate has been thrown open, the sound has suddenly stopped, and we have been plunged into an environment that is as extraordinary for its silence as it is for its bizarre greenish illumination (see figure 13). For a film that ostensibly documents a South African mining operation, this dark introduction is strategic. Roughly twenty-­five minutes long and shot with a super-­8 camera, later transferred to video, the film, on the

Figure 13. Steve McQueen, still from Western Deep (2002). Courtesy of the artist and the Marian Goodman Gallery.

one hand, draws in its audience by thrusting it into a pitch-­black environment and enveloping it with intense aural sensation. That sound is physically registered and opens the body to a series of impacts unexpected in the virtualized domain of contemporary video installations. In this sense, the film proposes a parallel between its subject and the terms of its reception, creating a multisensory mimicry of the brutal experience within a mine. On the other hand, there is the conspicuous refusal to represent in the visual register, which frustrates the documentary impulse to which the film is seemingly pledged (in a way similar to Gravesend ). A black hole lies at the beginning of a film about a journey into a mine, and this darkness is not simply metaphorical; rather, it says something important about the film’s image conditions. The film begins enticingly with a paradox stretched between metaphorics and negation, between the virtual and the actual, between documentary reference and cinematic intensity. It presents us with a form of sensation based on the flickering presence of absence, or conversely on the recognition of a lack of anything like a presence to chapter one 34

capture. Commissioned for Documenta 11 in 2002, Western Deep remains exemplary for fulfilling the imperatives of the exhibition director, Okwui Enwezor, for contemporary art, which in retrospect have been paradigm-­ shifting for artistic discourse and practice: to channel postcolonial experience against the forces of a triumphalist globalism, and by doing so, to expose those zones of economic and political inequality that are normally and tragically unrepresented within the dominant mainstream institutions of contemporary art (and indeed, the exhibition has been a crucial point of reference for this book). For Enwezor, such juxtapositions and geopolitical relations provide the crucial counterweight to the myopic reign of capitalism’s global empire, with its unfulfilled rhetoric of technological progress and democratizing institutions: “From the moment the postcolonial enters into the space/time of global calculations and the effects they impose on modern subjectivity, we are confronted not only with the asymmetry and limitations of globalism’s materialist assumptions but also with the terrible nearness of distant places that global logic sought to abolish and bring into one domain of deterritorialized rule.”1 That Documenta 11 sought to undertake the “representation of nearness as the dominant mode of understanding the present condition of globalization” was clear. The exhibition was filled with examples of photography-­ based work that rendered proximate such forgotten geographical areas and forsaken ways of life—many from the global south—that normally fall below the radar of dominant mass media and mainstream political representations (as well as that of the popular art press).2 To mention only a select few, there were Ravi Agarwal’s documentary images of the daily life of India’s landless poor, including images of camped-­out, homeless families in Gujarat, families stationed with defiant pride before middle-­class housing blocks that harshly exclude them, and David Goldblatt’s photographs of postapartheid South African “intersections” that incisively juxtapose extreme urban poverty and corporate wealth, showing precariously built cardboard and plastic shanties constructed on trash heaps before the towering skyscrapers of the corporate business district that shamefully overlooks them (see plate 2 and plate 3). Also included were Olumuyiwa Osifuye’s images that picture the decrepit but lively streets of Lagos, Nigeria, and Ulrike Ottinger’s documentary film of the artist’s passage through Eastern Europe, lyrically revealing the experience of women in the geographical and temporal periphery of modernization. Far from a unified Indeterminacy and Bare Life in Steve McQueen’s Western Deep 35

group, this handful of selections from the massive show are exemplary in that all stress a photographic or filmic connection to those shadowy zones on the margins of the global order. By their inclusion, Documenta offered what Enwezor’s cocurator, Carlos Basualdo, termed a more generous and complex geography, one that transformed the exhibition into a more inclusive, transnational public sphere.3 In tandem with its geographical rearrangement Documenta 11 carried out a reordering of the hierarchy of artistic mediums. As several critics have noted, it elevated above all others documentary modes of representation—photography, video, and film—which assumed a privileged place, ostensibly for their ability to depict Enwezor’s “postcolonial order” with the accuracy of the camera, and thus to bring visibility and testimony to geographical regions and cultural areas beyond everyday Western sight.4 It is perhaps these documentary mediums that, based within a paradigm of the “evidentiary,” are seen as best equipped to compete with the hegemony of mainstream television and Hollywood film—among the central purveyors of our vaunted image of a positive, inclusive, democratic globalization. The documentary turn, however, elicits potential dangers, familiar from critical analyses of earlier waves of politicized and multiculturalist art advanced decades ago.5 Current documentary practices, for instance, may return dangerously to precritical notions of representation that make problematic assumptions of transparency or neutrality. These practices may also run the risk of proclaiming truthful depictions of a “reality” of authentic subjects living beneath a spectacle of stereotypes, or, again, of unified fields of alterity (the postcolonial “order”?), whether archaic or geographically distant, that exist as if anterior to representation. While politically activist and radical in rhetoric, the proposed transparency of a political signified may bring with it a paradoxically authoritative interpretive structure that forecloses an otherwise open and polyvocal field of meaning. Yet today, many artists are just as likely to move in the opposite direction, embracing the instability of representation, even its decidedly fictional status, to the point where it becomes common, even fashionable, to announce subjective biases, or to argue for the impossibility of documentary representation tout court, due to its historically discredited status, even if this clearly was not the case with Documenta 11.6 For his part, Enwezor argued that his Documenta would render postcolonial meanings and histories present “either through the media or through chapter one 36

mediatory, spectatorial, and carnivalesque relations of language, communication, images, contact, and resistance within the everyday.”7 The explicitly signaled multiplicity of approaches was clear in the inclusions of Allan Sekula’s critical realist photography and Jeff Wall’s staged documentaries, Walid Raad’s invented scenarios regarding the Lebanese civil wars and Agarwal’s earnest documents of Indian poverty, among many other such complex, even dissensual groupings. Neither transparently objective nor openly fictional, Western Deep resists being situated in relation to any simple oppositions (as does the most compelling work in this vein). Declining the aesthetics of photographic fiction, McQueen’s film evinces a commitment to documentation, to a witnessing of experience that is neither the result of its own fabrication nor a collapse into a modernist fetishization of its conditions of representation. The film’s ambition is to put us in the context of the hellish space of a gold mine in postapartheid South Africa. But it also refuses the pretense of transparency, articulated in its initial withdrawal of visuality, which, as it does in Gravesend, expresses the limits of its capture of a reality that exceeds it, and thus rejects any supposition that the “postcolonial” exists as such, for ultimately that history depends on the representations that structure it and that can also determine it anew. In this regard, the darkness at the heart of Western Deep proposes the materialization of the very limit between representation and reflexivity, locating a threshold wherein we confront the uncertain relation between the two. There, the film creates a zone of open-­ended possibility, what Gilles Deleuze terms a shaded center of indeterminacy.8 This opening joins cinematic and audience spaces, and it intimates another way to approach the “terrible nearness of distant places” of which Enwezor spoke, an approach that requires further exploration. As such, McQueen’s work forms part of a growing trend in contemporary art, one that Documenta in part intended to map and continues to develop today. Artists are carrying out a new modeling of documentary form, one incredulous about the objective or unmediated representation of a truthful event or experience, even while it refuses to dispense with the ethical imperative to pose relationships of proximity—if troubled and complex—to those typically excluded or marginalized from the global order.9 McQueen’s project shares this imperative with several of his peers (many of whom were also included in Documenta 11), including Walid Indeterminacy and Bare Life in Steve McQueen’s Western Deep 37

Raad, Zarina Bhimji, and Amar Kanwar, especially insofar as such work joins the exposure of postcolonial experience with an innovative modeling of representation, which in the case of McQueen’s film unleashes an uncertain relation to time, uproots any secure material site, and opens onto a multiplicity of meanings. Also relevant are the aesthetically experimental films of artists and groups close to McQueen’s formative context in London, such as the Sankofa Film and Video Collective, and the Black Audio Film Collective, which focused their cameras in the 1980s and early 1990s on the politics of British race relations during Thatcherite rule, without assuming the paradigm of truth and objectivity that have plagued traditional forms of documentary. Just as those models emphasized a multiaccented and creolized cinema positioned between the poetic and the documentary and contested the straightforward representation of politics by stressing the politics of representation, as discussed above, Western Deep stresses the uncertainty between the real and the virtual, the documentary and the imaginary.10 Following the opening shots of the elevator’s protracted and clanky descent into the dark abyss of the mine shaft (in reality it takes approximately one hour to reach the TauTona mine’s deepest point), Western Deep portrays miners passing ambiguously through obscure subterranean tunnels and drilling into rocky walls with heavy machinery (see figure 14). The atmosphere in front of the camera frequently fills with dust, blurring visual access with clouds of matter while the soundtrack alternates unexpectedly between the deafening screeches of drilling noise and sudden, unexplained passages of total silence. Adding to the resulting sensory disorientation, the scenes are recorded in highly restrictive visual fields without horizons or distant recesses, which contributes to the overall sense of perceptual claustrophobia that the film exploits for its powerful experiential affect. Significantly, there is no narrative structure, voice-­over contextualization, or textual description that might otherwise rescue us from the film’s seemingly unscripted sensations, which in traditional documentary practice would connect such chains of shots and endow them with thematic significance. Rather, the film joins visual and aural sequences with uncertain relations, presenting us with a continually modified series of mutating scenes and shots, as if we were wandering about a labyrinth. Passages of dark mine shafts abruptly interrupt silent images of water conduits, shots of miners performing strange step routines, and scenes of their relaxing in a lounge chapter one 38

Figure 14. Steve McQueen, still from Western Deep (2002). Courtesy of the artist and the Marian Goodman Gallery.

with a television set perched in the corner. The soundtrack continues to strike out at us without warning, as sudden bouts of earsplitting drilling heighten the film’s sensory and psychological shock. Yet while Western Deep offers a powerfully disorienting cinematic immersion—of visual claustrophobia, aural disorientation, and narrative disarray—that places us viscerally within the context of the gold mine, it also brings about the viewer’s estrangement from that same vicarious experience. The result is a transgressive blurring of interior and exterior spaces, breaking down the clear division between the film’s virtual reconstitution of the sensory experience of the mine and the audience’s awareness of being situated in the aural-­visual environment of a film installation. Western Deep produces that blurring between perception and representation by, for instance, moving between the excruciating drilling sounds and passages of silence. During those moments of quiet, one can hear oneself breathe, a desired effect, as McQueen points out, that heightens the awareness and sensitivity of the spectator’s presence in relation to the image.11 In Indeterminacy and Bare Life in Steve McQueen’s Western Deep 39

addition to reminding viewers of their bodily existence before the image, the periods of silence establish a cinematic situation in which viewers create their own sounds for a film that they themselves partially realize. A continual back and forth occurs throughout the piece between powerful sensations internal to the film and openings onto the self-­reflective space of an embodied viewership, with audience and film continually joined and separated. The exaggerated visual effects also create for the viewer a somatic encounter, one defined by the perception of intensified colors and streaks of light, particularly as posed against the gorgeous darkness in which so much of the film is cast. As Enwezor observes, “McQueen renders the space of cinema into a zone that is simultaneously haptic and optical.”12 But in doing so, Western Deep does not completely engulf the viewer within its immersive expanse. Rather, the sudden alternations between sounds and silence, between the haptic and the optical, bring about the audience’s oscillating embodiment before the image and its inclusion within it. It is precisely this alternation that creates a cinematic “center of indeterminacy” between the actual and the virtual, the real and the imaginary, which engages the filmic tendencies that Deleuze tracks in his book Cinema 2: The Time-­Image. With reference to the post–World War II cinema of the French New Wave and the Italian Neorealists, Deleuze observes that there we encounter the breakdown of classical plots and the crumbling of classical filmic techniques that link movements to action. With the new cinema of Godard, Resnais, Duras, Antonioni, Fellini, and others, shots and scenes develop without correlating chronological plot movement and thematic orchestration, but rather by a principle of the indeterminable: film disarticulates sequential time, crystallizes images into virtual and actual meanings, and releases the unstructured and nonnarrated power of visual and sound sensations. As Deleuze explains, cinema unleashes “a relation between the real and the imaginary, the physical and the mental, the objective and the subjective, description and narration, the actual and the virtual” where “the two related terms differ in nature, and yet ‘run after each other,’ refer to each other, reflect each other, without it being possible to say which is first, and tend ultimately to become confused by slipping into the same point of indiscernibility.”13 This description offers a good approximation of the intertwinements of the film’s visual and sound sensations and the viewer’s perceptual experience as encountered in Western Deep.14 chapter one 40

Yet Western Deep is no mere formalism of cinematic experimentation; instead, it powerfully joins its cinematic indeterminacy to the indeterminacy of a certain kind of biopolitical being found in the South African mining context. By “biopolitics” I mean to reference the conditions of existence described by Agamben, particularly where he writes of the “zone of indistinction between outside and inside, exclusion and inclusion” that characterizes the terrain of bare life, of life reduced to a biological mode of being from which political rights have been withdrawn.15 Bare life moves between a reduced physical existence and an unmediated relation to law, within which the subject is included by virtue of its exclusion, exposed to death without ceremony or political protections. At the same time, the one reduced to such a status seeks at every moment ways to elude or deceive that status, indicating that bare life is no simple ontological reality or biological essentialism. Indeed, “no life . . . is more ‘political’ than his,” Agamben notes.16 What makes such a theorization germane is the way it helps articulate the form of life McQueen so sensitively depicts in the film, especially with the artist’s poignant rendering of the physical qualities of this realm, including the claustrophobic imaging of its enclosed and contained environment, the infernal circumstances of mechanized labor that one glimpses, and, most important, the focus on the physical objectification of the forsaken miners, violently exposed to the deathly mining operations. In addition to aiding in the explanation of the experiential circumstances of the mine that is the subject of the film, Agamben’s theory also prompts a historical analysis of the wider geopolitical context in which the mine can be located. For Agamben, it is the “camp” that designates the “fundamental biopolitical paradigm of the West” and represents the privileged site of bare life.17 Yet, as a paradigm, its qualities extend to various institutionalized places of enclosure—including prisons, military installations, detainment centers, hospitals, and work sites. (The debt to Foucault is clear here, even while Agamben’s focus on sovereignty rather than disciplinary society distinguishes his analysis of the biopolitical.) Extending the insights of Agamben’s examination, the Cameroonian political theorist Achille Mbembe has argued that the biopolitics of the camp pertain as well to elements of Africa’s postcolonial condition, including in particular “the new geography of resource extraction” controlled by “the emergence of an unprecedented form of governmentality that consists in the manageIndeterminacy and Bare Life in Steve McQueen’s Western Deep 41

ment of the multitudes.”18 In those frequently militarized and technologically equipped spaces, the juridical order is typically suspended, political protections are negated, and a certain violence reigns, creating the conditions that dissolve the boundaries between the living and the dead. Writing further in his essay on what he terms necropolitics—the governmentality of death—Mbembe describes “the creation of death-­worlds” in the postcolony, “new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead.”19 Among his many references is the “extraction and looting of natural resources by war machines” that “goes hand in hand with brutal attempts to immobilize and spatially fix whole categories of people”—­ including refugees, rebels, migrant laborers, and child soldiers—who are increasingly “confined in camps and zones of exception.”20 It is important to contextualize and localize such theoretical analyses by underlining the fact that this “new geography of resource extraction” emerged after the fall of apartheid—which corresponds to the temporality of McQueen’s film—yet has continued, and even increased, the oppressive regime’s logic of inequality by other means. Consider, for instance, that in 1955 the “Freedom Charter” famously laid out the African National Congress’s (anc) emancipatory aims, declaring, “The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people; the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole.”21 Instead of realizing those goals following the end of apartheid, the anc government, led by Thabo Mbeki, ushered in a new order of neoliberal multinational capitalism, resulting in the doubling of rates of poverty and unemployment for black South Africans and an overall increase in the wealth of white South Africans.22 Naomi Klein writes, “As for the ‘banks, mines and monopoly industry’ that Mandela had pledged to nationalize they remained firmly in the hands of the same four white-­owned megaconglomerates that also control 80 percent of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.”23 Today most South Africans are in fact worse off than they were before the end of apartheid, in terms of real income (which fell by approximately 40 percent between 1995 and 2000), owing directly to the imposition of neoliberal reforms.24 One can go still further: necropolitics does not represent an accidental breakdown in juridical systems, but is rather a logical consequence of “extractive neoliberalism,” which, according to the anthropologist James chapter one 42

Ferguson, designates the flexible and opportunistic forms of deregulated mining enterprises that encourage and exploit weak or failed African states, of which the multinational corporation AngloGold Ashanti Limited, the owner of the TauTona mine, is representative.25 Employing their own private security forces, such multinational corporations as these exploit natural resources, with few responsibilities to host nations, recalling colonial-­era extraction techniques—as in King Leopold’s Congo and the British South Africa Company—used by private firms, with their private armies pioneering practices for mineral removal in the absence of modern state institutions. As Ferguson observes, “Africa’s participation in ‘globalization,’ then, has certainly not been a matter simply of ‘joining the world economy’; perversely, it has instead been a matter of highly selective and spatially encapsulated forms of global connection combined with widespread disconnection and exclusion.”26 From here, one can see that bare life’s “zone of indistinction between outside and inside” suggests a micropolitical analogue to neoliberal globalization’s geopolitics of selective inclusion and exclusion. Western Deep does not divulge such contextual information or point out these political connections—far from it. Indeed, it neither identifies the South African mining company by name nor relates the labor conditions it documents to larger economic conditions, nor does it say anything about the historical or economic factors behind the erosion of political and human rights that defines the social space of the mine’s enclosed environment. Instead, the film focuses on the intensity of the sensory experience in the mine with tunnel vision, which suggests several potential conclusions. One is that the withholding of the political and economic contexts serves to intensify the experience of sensory claustrophobia. Another is that the withdrawal of information works to pry open meaningful possibilities for the interpretation of the film’s aural and visual sensations, which are not bound to pedantic or informational forms of framing. The powerful effect of this strategy is made clear in one particularly moving sequence toward the end of Western Deep, where two rows of miners appear clad uniformly in blue boxer shorts, performing a step exercise, while figures in white laboratory coats, perhaps scientists or doctors, walk back and forth between them, monitoring the activity (see figure 15). The event is neither explained nor contextualized, and the scene consequently hovers in ambiguity. The miners alternate between stepping up Indeterminacy and Bare Life in Steve McQueen’s Western Deep 43

Figure 15. Steve McQueen, still from Western Deep (2002). Courtesy of the artist and the Marian Goodman Gallery.

and down, matching their motions to the steady rhythm of a loud buzzing noise synchronized with blinking red lights on the walls of the room. Whatever its explanation, the activity approximates what Deleuze terms a movement-­image, which here coordinates physical mechanization and collective regimentation, showing bodies conforming to the rule of machinic repetition and standardized temporality.27 Uncanny, the sequence calls up late-­nineteenth-­century experiments that integrated the body—often the bodies of workers—into the photographic synthesis of movement and time, as in the chronophotographic routines carried out by Étienne-­Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge. More locally, the scene summons the apartheid-­era images of South African photographer Ernest Cole, whose book House of Bondage (1967) contains a section on “mining,” including one black and white depiction of a similar row of miners with arms raised, accompanied by a caption that explains: “During group medical examination the nude men are herded through a string of doctors’ offices.”28 Cole’s clandestinely shot image shows a medical examination—what Agamben, chapter one 44

following Foucault, would term an economy of bodies caught in the deployment of power—that subjects miners to exhausting exercise regimens to determine their health and stamina, in order to maximize their capacity to work (and to produce the company’s profits).29 Yet rather than objectively record the scientific management of labor in the postcolony, or straightforwardly document the biopolitics of mining under extractive neoliberalism, Western Deep brings about something unexpected and remarkable in this scene: the serial movements of the miners gradually spin out of control as the regulating buzzer begins to sound irregularly. Owing to McQueen’s interventionist edits, the sequence breaks free from its rhythmic tempo and produces an irregular beat. Shots flash by at a chaotic rate, as sounds and images become detached from one another. The mechanical progression of the sensory-­motor sequence transforms into unlinked connections between shots, and with this development falter expectations of the continuity of the film. As a result of McQueen’s disruptive editing, the series of movements comes unmoored from the symmetry between chronological time, industrial repetition, and mechanical reproduction. The effect simultaneously extends to viewers, who are released from the perceptual obedience to the mechanization of the image. A drama ensues of the intensification of randomized sensation, which creates a spontaneous play of saturated colors and buzzing sounds freed from their mechanical organization. The scene ends with a prolonged close-­up of the red light, which, in a protracted illumination accompanied by a buzzing noise, both shocks and liberates, in that it finally releases image and viewer from the slavish repetitions of the routine. In this film about a South African gold mine, this flash of light, flooding the entire screen with blood red for several seconds, is the closest one gets to an image of gold—which is to say, not very close. The absence of gold precisely where you would expect to find it appears as a consequence of the film’s focus on the endless cycles of labor in postcolonial Africa, rather than on the triumphal success of such global industry. It serves as an analogue as well for the film’s general resistance to the truth claims of documentary filmmaking regarding the existence of a substantial identity—like gold—behind, or anterior to, the image. As a consequence, the real, as the intrinsic meaning of transparent images, is endlessly deferred in Western Deep, a deferral that reveals a significant accomplishment of McQueen’s work: to avoid the freezing of subjects in the situation of their domination, Indeterminacy and Bare Life in Steve McQueen’s Western Deep 45

as if that domination is the truth of their being. As the film theorist David Rodowick notes in his study of Deleuze, that abstraction is the danger of documentary film, wherein “identity politics falls prey to a schema of reversal that reifies or essentializes the subaltern subject no less than that of the cultural hegemony it is trying to combat.”30 This amounts to what Abigail Solomon-­Godeau calls a “double act of subjugation”: “First, in the social world that has produced its victims; and second, in the regime of the image produced within and for the same system that engenders the conditions it then re-­presents.”31 Conversely, McQueen’s Western Deep “puts truth in crisis,” as Deleuze terms it, which inflects its figuration and determines its mode of address, and this insight offers a further explanation to my earlier proposal that the film intertwines a cinema of indeterminacy with the indeterminacy of bare life.32 In terms of figuration, Western Deep highlights an oneiric connection between images, which throws the miners into both a temporality of undetermined openness and a space of possibility. In the dark mine shafts, figures are shown as emergent or residual, cast into a blurring of time that is never reduced to a discrete present and that disperses bodies across luminous zones (and, as we have seen, disrupts the routines of work and the biopolitical cycles of bodily regimentation). Consequently, there is a loss of the discernible distinction between what is real and what is imaginary, due to the film’s favoring a protean sense of becoming over the stasis of being. In this regard, McQueen’s use of darkness precludes access to anything like a full historical account of the mining conditions, or an ostensibly truthful depiction of its laborers, an approach that might claim to capture a subject in some illusory totality; rather, his film frees up representation and disintegrates its incrustations. In other words, while darkness may suggest a metaphor for blackness, it figures as a racial sign that remains open and flexible, its political import owing directly to its resistance to concretization. As such, McQueen builds on past cinematic experiments, as in his short film Exodus (1992/97), which portrays two smartly dressed black men walking through the streets of London, carrying potted palms, their identities never revealed, and his video Catch (1997), wherein the artist and his sister record each other as they throw a video camera back and forth, showing as well the visual distortions captured by the camera during its flight between them (see figures 16, 17, 18, and 19). A similar dislocation also figures in Caribs’ Leap, the chapter one 46

Figure 16. Steve McQueen, still from Exodus (1992/97). Courtesy of the artist and the Marian Goodman Gallery.

counterpart to Western Deep and commissioned on the same occasion by Documenta 11 in 2002 (see figures 20 and 21). For the film, McQueen traveled back to Grenada (where his parents were born) to produce a work inspired by colonial history, intertwining scenes of everyday life with phantasmic images of falling bodies. The majority of the film records shots on the Caribbean beach, with people engaged in a number of sundry activities (in one, a boat, turned over on the sand, burns, contributing to the underlying sense of violence and catastrophe). These images are intermittently interrupted by clips of figures falling through the sky in slow motion, one at a time, placed seemingly without logic or connection to what precedes or follows.33 The film thereby alludes to the grisly history of seventeenth-­ century French colonialism, when a group of Caribs, having survived the initial assault of the French, were forced back to the northern cliffs of the island, and rather than submit to the invading forces, jumped to their deaths. The story provides an allegory of the resistance to capture, of the sacrifice of the body in the escape from the forces of colonization, which resonates with Western Deep, as well as with subsequent films like Hunger Indeterminacy and Bare Life in Steve McQueen’s Western Deep 47

Figures 17, 18, and 19. Steve McQueen, stills from Catch (1997). Courtesy of the artist and the Marian Goodman Gallery.

Figures 20 and 21. Steve McQueen, stills from Caribs’ Leap (2002). Courtesy of the artist and the Marian Goodman Gallery.

(2008), McQueen’s celebrated feature release that dramatizes the last six weeks of the life of Bobby Sands, leader of the hunger strike carried out by the Irish Republican Army (ira) in 1981, and who famously died in Belfast’s hm Maze prison. Sands and other ira members struggled to gain “prisoner of war” status for republicans found guilty by the British of violent opposition to British rule, which the ira claimed to be legitimate resistance. McQueen’s Western Deep offers another powerful approach to the politics of bare life. Still, if the film strips away contextual information, this is not to say that McQueen denies the actuality of the events or people he depicts. Indeed, Western Deep shows the continued racial basis for the division of labor in postapartheid South Africa, and documents the appalling work environment of black miners (many of whom are precarious migrant laborers) in a seemingly inescapable prison. That this may express a certain level of contradiction—as a form of documentary that deconstructs its own relation to reality—is precisely the point. The ambition of Western Deep is to create the aesthetic possibilities for release from the conditions of documentation within its very system of representation. Rather than reifying identity, the film renders depiction inextricable from the endless process of its imaginary description. What enables this fluid circuit is that McQueen’s film opens up a space of uncertainty between powerful sounds and self-­reflexive silences. At times it dissolves boundaries between the real and the imaginary, between audience space and projected image; at others, it closes in upon itself as representation, maintaining the alterity of its image and the separateness of the viewer. The film further develops this oscillation in the frequent shots of miners wearing head lights. In these scenes, fragmented physiques and luminous bodies blur and form complex, shifting interactions, which radiate out from the screen in concentric circles, sparkling with flashes of light (the effect recalls experiments with filmic abstraction in the 1970s by artists such as Peter Gidal and Stan Brakhage). The startling images of bodies intimate constellations of flickering stars streaking through a nocturnal sky, suggesting an allegory of social relations through moments of glowing contact between radiant entities in a nebulous zone of darkness (see plate 4). In them, identity becomes a multiplicity of abstract shapes and metaphorical allusions, evoking the fragile sense of being-­with-­others described by Jean-­Luc Nancy as “a tracery, a marking—a gleam, an echo, a rhythm.”34 Defying capture and isolation, the form of being becomes an chapter one 50

Figure 22. Steve McQueen, still from Illuminer (2001). Courtesy of the artist and the Marian Goodman Gallery.

ephemeral sign, which inevitably resonates with those outside itself. It is relational, coextensive with its environment, as the film’s images throw the audience into its virtual field: it is as if we find ourselves in the mine shaft, illuminated by the miners’ headlamps, sharing in a shimmering community of beings. Yet the same effect also suggests the sudden disruption of this contact: When the lights shine outward from the dark void, blinding out everything else, viewers suddenly find themselves gazing at the lights of so many film cameras or projectors pointed at them. As in McQueen’s film Illuminer (2001), which shows a bed in a dark hotel room illuminated by a television’s glow (sometimes with the artist’s reclining body), the projected image reverses direction, casting its rays on the spectator, as the stark materiality of the film overtakes its representational powers (see figure 22). The moving result, which identifies the film’s powerful achievement, and affords an answer to the seeming paradox between metaphorics and negation, virtuality and embodiment, with which we began, is that a mu‑ Indeterminacy and Bare Life in Steve McQueen’s Western Deep 51

tual sharing occurs between the two fields. Viewer and viewed are each made to approach the other, yet without collapsing together. The film visualizes what Nancy calls “the singular-­plural-­being that ‘we’ are”—where “we” suggests a grouping between forms within the image, and between image and audience made possible through luminous contact in a carefully constructed cinematic space.35 This coincidence of singularity and plurality also relates to the proximity between virtual and actual, creating a space of sociability and of an alienating separateness, a space, perhaps, of bare life, and of the political solidarity that would contest its existence. Western Deep, in other words, allows audience and image to touch, engendering an empathic connection that builds a phenomenology of political alliance. We, the viewers, are placed in a relationship with an outside world, but not from the safety of an objective position; rather, we approach the other by becoming other. It is precisely through this complex negotiation of self and other, this staging of a perceptual and affective encounter with difference, that McQueen’s Western Deep models new forms of being and belonging in the world. By engendering a space of transience and fragility, Western Deep sets itself against the fixity of representational forms—whether of documentary mores of capture, or the imagery that would redouble the separateness of bare life’s included exclusion. But while the film engenders a co-­opening with others and a release of the power of becoming into its images, how can it claim to document at all? How can it expose real-­life conditions or the experience of actual people in the first place? This has led commentators to locate a conspicuous absence within the center of the film, an absence which for me is initially suggested by the darkness of its opening sequence. Jean Fisher argues: “An effective discourse, as McQueen’s work realises, is only one through whose invention the people can re-­invent themselves in turn. In the meantime, as Deleuze says, ‘the people are missing.’”36 The people are missing in Western Deep not only because they have been consigned to a state of exception, relegated to a death-­world of the forsaken, but also because they are thrown into continual transformation. They are never consistently secure enough to be located or identified—a loss that applies to those before the image as well. As beings of endless self-­ invention, perhaps the miners will never be found. At the end of the film, we are nevertheless left with the image of a lone miner whose seemingly tired face, seen in profile, we view in an extreme chapter one 52

Figure 23. Steve McQueen, still from Western Deep (2002). Courtesy of the artist and the Marian Goodman Gallery.

close-­up shot through a metal grid (see figure 23). His eyes are nearly shut; he is no doubt exhausted. It is a depressing image, for sure. It suggests that ultimately there is no easy release from these carceral conditions of labor. The miners may just as well be digging their own mass grave. If “the people are missing,” then who is this man? We contemplate him for a seeming eternity, as the camera hovers in a prolonged moment of disconcerted perplexity. Yet we know that upon the screen, his image is already a dematerialized instance of projected light, incomplete, ephemeral, and ultimately unknowable. At this ending point, the film dwells on the man’s face from the other side of a cage, poignantly, as if to ask: What of these miners toiling underground day after day for years on end? It is an image of dignity nonetheless, especially given its privileged placement at the film’s conclusion. The figure’s long wait is also one of potentiality, a conclusion without conclusion.

Indeterminacy and Bare Life in Steve McQueen’s Western Deep 53



“Sabotaging the Future” The Essay Films of the Otolith Group

A collaboration founded in 2002 by the London-­based artists, theorists, and curators Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar, the Otolith Group creates films that operate in the uncertain interval between aesthetic and political commitments. Between 2003 and 2009, the group created the Otolith Trilogy, a remarkable series of essay films that engage the fictional and documentary modes by dissolving the clear boundaries between them. Building its films from disparate visual sources, including the film and photo archives of Sagar’s family in India, recordings of scripted events, and live-­action documentary footage (such as shots of the 2003 antiwar protests in London, scenes of space travel, historical photographs, and images of monuments from past political paradigms), the group adds ambient sounds for atmospheric expression and, most importantly, narrative voice-­overs that are at once poetic and analytical, political and subjective. From this filmic assemblage of material diversity—which defines the essay film’s constitutive heterogeneity—the Otolith Group inquires into the disjunctions of temporality, investigations founded on the conviction that the deepest engagement with reality necessarily verges on the fictional.1 Proposing something of a temporal deconstruction that folds together past, present, and future, which counterpoints Steve McQueen’s derealizing imagery, the Otolith Group opens a further route to challenge the current unfolding of globalization, particularly where its outcome is pre-

sumed to be the result of historical inevitability.2 Resuscitating the aspirations of socialist collectivism, the Non-­Aligned Movement, and feminist and postcolonial struggles during the 1960s and 1970s, the group deepens the significance of its early twenty-­first-­century political engagement by establishing lines of continuity with—and, perhaps equally important, significant differences from—those inspiring but now often forgotten historical episodes. On the basis of the group’s filmic destabilization of time, our present emerges as far less certain than it might seem (see figures 24, 25, 26, and 27). Hovering between sci-­fi futurism and politically engaged documentary, Otolith I (2003) tells its story from the perspective of Dr. Usha Adebaran-­ Sagar, an off-­world paleoanthropologist who in the year 2103 imagines our conflicted present, a “time of ambient fear,” through the journal of her ancestor Anjalika Sagar. She focuses in particular on entries dating from the fraught spring of 2003. Appearing in the film as its unseen narrator, Usha muses on the protests against the American invasion of Iraq, scenes placed in slow motion, with antiwar placards held high by diverse marchers, as she mixes her own speculation with Anjalika’s observations, explaining: “The unprecedented nature” of the massive global demonstration “could through its very unlikeliness turn the inevitable into the possible long enough to alter our fate.” What would it mean to turn the inevitable into the possible—that is, into the merely possible—as opposed to the foreordained? Rather than resignedly concede that America did in fact invade Iraq, and with disastrous results, Otolith I projects a subversive charge back into the past that disrupts our assumed understanding of recent history. Throughout Otolith I and Otolith II space travel serves as a metaphor for temporal disequilibrium. The twenty-­two-­minute narrative of the first film segues enigmatically from those early shots of antiwar marches in London in 2003 to documentation of Anjalika’s subsequent journey to Russia’s old space-­training camp in Star City, outside Moscow, now refitted for commercial tourism. Taking a parabolic flight aboard a repurposed Russian military aircraft, the kind once used to prepare cosmonauts for space missions, Anjalika is shown entering zero gravity, her body asleep in midair (see figure 28). According to the film’s archival footage, the disorienting, magical images of her sleeping body, as if seen a hundred years in the future, foreshadow a coming reality in which human beings will migrate “Sabotaging the Future”: The Essay Films of the Otolith Group 55

Figures 24, 25 (left), 26, and 27 (above). The Otolith Group, stills from Otolith I (2003). Courtesy of the artists.

Figure 28. The Otolith Group, stills from Otolith I (2003). Courtesy of the artists.

to outer space. Over time, their otoliths, motion-­sensing organs in the ears that orient the body to Earth’s gravitational field, will cease to function, effectively exiling Homo sapiens from their home planet. This fictional conceit reveals the film’s stakes in the potentiality of nonlinear time: the evolution of human beings into an expatriate species signifies both a release from the gravity of history—that is, from the notion that time progresses implacably in only one direction—and a critical detachment from the present. In its conceptualization of the ever-­unfolding nature of the historical image, the Otolith Trilogy energizes what the group terms past-­potential futures. The formulation, a creative appropriation of Agamben’s notion of “potentialities,” describes their seeking to reanimate bygone dreams of a possible reality—including the hopes of Indian socialist feminism and tricontinentalist anti-­imperialism—that may never yet have come to pass.3 While ranging over several remarkable intergenerational and cross-­ cultural convergences, Otolith I’s central point of crystallization is a real-­ life meeting in 1973 in Moscow between the Russian cosmonaut Valentina chapter two 58

tFigure 29. The Otolith Group, stills from Otolith I (2003). Courtesy of the artists.

Tereshkova, the first woman to travel into outer space, and Sagar’s grandmother, Anasuya Gyan-­Chand, who was president of the National Federation of Indian Women, a group of leftwing members formed in 1954 from the rural and urban sectors struggling for a more equitable distribution of land, the betterment of the conditions of women and children, and against police violence and atrocities. Vintage 16 mm footage of cheering women in multicultural assembly and of Tereshkova in parades and at official receptions, where she appears below a monumental banner of Lenin, is screened at different speeds, perceptually disrupting time’s seemingly irrevocable continuity (see figure 29). The meeting between Sagar’s grandmother and Tereshkova occurred in the midst of euphoric excitement over space travel, which mirrored burgeoning hopes for Indian socialism and its new era of women’s rights. In bringing these moments back to life by making them once again visually present, Otolith I questions the ostensible failures of past collective struggles by resparking their potential to inspire our political imaginary today. Consequently, history is shown to be an open ontology, one that can never be fully written.4 Past events are revealed “Sabotaging the Future”: The Essay Films of the Otolith Group 59

to be infused with “potentiality,” which names more than the merely possible, as in its irreducibility to the actual. It also designates, for Agamben, and for the Otolith Group in turn, the capacity to not not be.5 Here, in the space of the double negative, potentiality touches actuality, but with a difference: its critical interval represents a source of decisiveness and imagination, in distinction from the robotic gestures of thoughtless habit or automatic reflex. In similar fashion, Otolith I coaxes the sleeping vitality of former political engagements into present realization, refusing to let them simply fade away, insisting that they not not be. In taking up the essay film, the Otolith Trilogy reanimates the experimental filmmaking of such diverse predecessors as the Black Audio Film Collective, Harun Farocki, Anand Patwardhan, and Chris Marker. A key reference is Marker’s Sans Soleil (1983), an essay film that investigates “two extreme poles of survival” in Japan and Guinea-­Bissau. The film joins disparate geographical contexts portrayed by a collection of documentary shots of everyday life, shots presented under a politically poignant and subjective narration delivered by a woman who reads the letters from a friend and traveling filmmaker, the fictitious Sandor Krasna, a structure that Otolith also takes up in its invention of its fictional narrator and descendent of Anjalika Sagar. In addition to providing a model for the film’s heterogeneous structure, Marker’s playfulness with temporality, geography, and allusions to films never made—at one point in Sans Soleil, the narrator identifies a volcanic landscape as a possible setting for a science fiction film—have played an important role for the Otolith Group’s experiments with potentiality. Also significant for the development of Otolith I was Black Audio Film Collective’s The Last Angel of History (1995), a quasidocumentary film about the intersection of the futuristic poetics of Afrodiasporic electronic music and science fiction that is situated within its own sci-­fi tale (a tale in which Kodwo Eshun appears as one of several commentators, his image, at the bottom right of the screen, fully integrated into the film’s space-­age media ecology) (see figure 30).6 In addition to the legacies of French New Wave film and New German cinema, the films both of Marker and Black Audio Film Collective have been crucial forerunners to Otolith I’s poetic, epistolary framework, its use of a fictional storyteller, and the narrative’s subjective rendering of historical and political judgments. Against an earlier documentary representation of politics, Black Audio

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Figure 30. Black Audio Film Collective, still from The Last Angel of History (1995). Courtesy of the artists.

member Reece Auguiste wrote, their practice worked toward “poeticizing every image” and “recasting the binary oppositions between myth and history, imagination and experiential states of occasional violence.”7 Acknowledging these practices as further past-­potential futures—Godard’s and Marker’s in France around the events of May 1968, and Black Audio’s in the years after the race riots in Thatcher’s Britain—deepens the Otolith Group’s engagement by casting their practice into the longue durée of transgenerational affiliations (challenging the posthistorical claims of the present), while endowing its own forbears with new critical purchase never fully realized historically. Such homages elucidate the group’s historiographical ethics, revealing the reverberating affinities of Otolith’s rhetorical strategies and recovering the living potentiality of still other dreams that would seem to have died decades ago.8 To achieve its aesthetic goals, the group couches documentary footage in imaginary scenarios, a combination that approximates what for Rancière is film’s fundamental structure as a complex medium that merges

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mechanical recording and subjective rendering.9 Situating the Otolith films within that irreducible hybridity renders the precise division between the actual and the imaginary impossible—or, alternately, shows how truth must be reinvented on the basis of fiction.10 For Rancière, fiction (as from the Latin, fingere) means to forge, rather than to feign, and therefore what he appropriately calls “documentary fiction” reconfigures the real as an effect to be produced, rather than a fact to be understood.11 “Documentary fiction,” Rancière contends, “invents new intrigues with historical documents, and thus it touches hands with the film fable that joins and disjoins—in the relationship between story and character, shot and sequence—the powers of the visible, of speech, and of movement.”12 As a result it becomes impossible to consider documentary film simply as the contrary of fiction film. Far from being opposed to fiction, documentary is actually one mode of it, joining both in continuity and conflict the “real” (the indexical, contingent elements of recorded footage) and the “fabulated” (the constructed, the edited, the narrative) in cinema. The imagery that results, as in the Trilogy’s heterogeneous combinations of archival documents, live-­action footage, fictional dramatizations, voice-­over narration, and diverse sound tracks, represents a radical transformation of the old Platonic opposition between real and representation, between original model and second-­order copy. No longer opposed to each other, the real surrenders to representational uncertainties and the image takes on material properties; combined, the sensible and the intelligible remain creatively indistinguishable. What would it mean to treat the real as an effect to be produced, rather than a fact to be understood? Rancière’s analysis is provocative, but it requires further definition in relation to the present material. It would not be wrong to say that the Otolith Trilogy concerns the construction of memory “created against the overabundance of information as well as against its absence,” as Rancière writes; only the answer would be incomplete. In defying “the reign of the informational-­present”—that which “rejects as outside reality everything it cannot assimilate to the homogeneous and indifferent process of its self-­presentation” (the logic of corporate mass media comes to mind)—such depictions must also resist the stultifying representation of that reality as merely reproduction.13 As the opening lines of Otolith I claim, “There is an excess which neither image nor memory can

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recover, but for which both stand in. That excess is the event.” That “event,” I would add, is not only activated in the film but also sparked in its reception. In both cases, representation becomes a generative force, a heterogeneous assemblage of images and sounds that in disorienting the viewer’s perceptions elicits active engagement and interpretive agency.14 This production of an event also signals the politicizing effect of documentary fiction, which occurs when the potentiality of film meets the “emancipated spectator,” that is, the one, according to Rancière, who becomes his or her own storyteller.15 Framing “the story of a new adventure in a new idiom,” he writes, “calls for spectators who are active as interpreters, who try to invent their own translation in order to appropriate the story for themselves and make their own story out of it.”16 Becoming a storyteller, however, does not entail a flight into subjective fancy, or a retreat from reality into an imaginary world. Rather than encouraging escapism, the Otolith Trilogy represents an engagement with oppositional histories that refuses to accept the posthistorical, consensus-­based politics forced upon us by those who believe military force brings democracy, that corporate globalization represents equality, and that there is no alternative (to invoke Margaret Thatcher’s unforgettable words) to the unfolding of events today. If these rich narrative strands, at times woven into an inscrutable web of temporal and geographical connections, suggest a certain ambiguity, then there is all the more material for the viewer to pick apart and reconstruct in his or her own interpretive terms. Continuing the sci-­fi premise of Otolith I, its sequel, Otolith II (2007), explores modernity’s aftermath in India and proposes further ways to consider history as event. Exploring the country’s legacy of twentieth-­ century utopian projects, situated in the failures of present-­day urbanism and in the conflicts between the traditional manufacturing economy and the emerging conditions of immaterial labor, the investigation proceeds as viewed through the eyes of Anjalika’s descendant Dr. Usha Adebaran-­ Sagar, whose narration unfolds over the film’s forty-­five minutes. Juxtaposing scenes of the concrete sweeps atop the gridded bureaucratic structures of contemporary Chandigarh—Corbusier’s planned city and symbol of Nehru’s secular rationalism—and the seemingly endless sea of corrugated tin-­topped shanties of Bombay’s Dharavi, the city’s contemporary mega-­ slum, Otolith II nonetheless avoids telling the expected tale of modernity’s

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Figures 31 and 32. The Otolith Group, stills from Otolith II (2007). Courtesy of the artists.

progressive breakdown and failure (see figures 31 and 32). Rather, the film complicates such a linear narrative by indicating how present-­day India prefigures both a coming planetary impoverishment and the future possibilities of creative survival within informal architectures and adaptive urban living. The film commences with Usha’s observation that “it is the age of hu‑ chapter two 64

man capital,” as shots of old textile mills, decaying warehouses bathed in speckled light, and dilapidated postindustrial sites are joined with footage of urban construction projects, as the viewer learns the significance of Usha’s insight: “Most of the mills were bulldozed to make way for malls. A few became film sets,” and one, complete with British telephone boxes, is shown as if geographically stranded and cast amid industrial ruins in the early part of the film. The process of postindustrialization has by no means been smooth or painless. Real estate development has not only consumed space but also bodies, as “the rights of the urban poor [become] a new [and increasingly scarce] source of wealth,” as the narrator observes. During the near future, we learn, the pressure of urban density will only intensify: “Between 2050 and 2060, Earth’s population reached its maximum growth of 10 to 10.5 billion,” Usha recounts from her future purview. “95% of this occurred in the cities of the South.” The coming architecture can already be glimpsed in Bombay’s precarious slum architecture, its corrugated roofs and plastic walls forming tightly grouped shanties packed with people, which Otolith II ominously depicts in one particularly striking pan, slowly zooming out from the urban landscape that seems to forever and impossibly expand.17 Within these uneven geographies, where industrial mills give way to postmodern malls surrounded by sprawling megaslums, a further site of conflict is the competing economies of labor in postcolonial India of the last two decades, economies divided between manual manufacture and the emergent service industry and entertainment sector. The film includes shots of Bombay workers making handmade commodities such as leather wallets and ceramic dishware, with meticulous care. These depictions of sewing and domestic work are contrasted with scenes portraying the high-­ tech production of slick television advertisements and Bollywood film, including at one point the making of a commercial for a slick writing pen, which requires shocking amounts of human energy and technological resources. Posed against images of empty factory sites, these shots capture manufacture’s last gasp amid the marketing techniques of immaterial production, which revolves around the creation of affects and desires, rather than of material objects.18 Viewing these scenes, Usha is reminded of Tarkovsky’s film Stalker (1979), in which a postindustrial area is haunted by a mysterious energy purportedly resulting from an alien spaceship’s landing. Yet she ultimately discovers a different subtext that resonates with postin“Sabotaging the Future”: The Essay Films of the Otolith Group 65

dustrial India: “the Zone” becomes a way “to map the slow death of labour,” she explains. That slow death is palpable, where the barren factories suggest so many industrial ruins, a cemetery for industrial workers’ bygone days. These urban transformations are connected to past dreams that, in the face of the sprawling slums and the fading away of labor, appear to have aborted their utopian promise long ago. The film cycles through a series of black and white photographs of Anasuya’s that depict representatives of the National Federation of Indian Women visiting their counterparts in Moscow, complementing Otolith I ’s selective revelation of the Sagar family’s archive: Indian delegates, dressed in saris, stroll through neoclassical museum galleries, gazing at ancient sculptures; they laugh while seated in the back of a large convertible automobile; they appear happily attending various meetings, receptions, and ceremonies with Soviet dignitaries; and they are shown visiting hospitals, schools, gardens, monuments, and factories (see plate 5). It is an archive of images that reveals moments of seemingly utopian equality and the international advancement of women (“We carry on forward like a river in a storm . . . ,” an accompanying text reads). The cycle of still images, joined by an upbeat Bollywood song sung by the popular twentieth-­century actor Raaj Kumar, raises urgent questions: What has happened to the socialist hopes for equality, liberty, and women’s rights in postcolonial India? One answer is that such dreams have been replaced by the triumph of neoliberal inequality (including the loss of the security of labor movements, the retraction of state support for small agricultural farms, the rise of the urban poor, and the destruction of rural landscapes by multinational mining industry).19 Yet the view of Otolith II is that that progressive history is far from dead but rather remains unfulfilled, awaiting to be reanimated at some future time. In the meanwhile, there is the work of revitalizing the repressed postcolonial archive. Following the discovery at Sagar’s family home in Bombay of a box of aged documents recording a visit in 1953 of Indian stateswomen to the ussr, the Otolith Group returned to that nearly forgotten Indo-­Russian history in other projects as well. For Preparations 1–5 (2006), the group appropriated those images—featuring groups of sari-­clad women standing arm in arm with their Soviet counterparts, among others—and resituated them in a series of digitally reprocessed photographs. The black and white images appear split down the middle, doubled horizontally, which disturbs visual perception and folds the photograph’s spatial continuum chapter two 66

Figure 33. The Otolith Group, Preparations (Blemmyae) (2006). Courtesy of the artists.

into a double figuration. The women, mirrored side-­to-­side, are seen under a large garden fountain in uncanny symmetry, arm in arm before a nondescript building, seated in an impossibly wide automobile, as passengers on a boat travelling down a river of doppelgangers, and in a textile factory where the image transforms into a multiplicity of threads (see figure 33). The digital manipulations create misshapen figures in the center of each photograph. Some, as in Akephaloi and Scyritae, generate bulbous protrusions that grow from their bodies; others, as in Pandore and Astomoi, appear as faceless, inchoate beings. These optical anomalies suggest visualizations of the wrapping of reality with its virtual unfoldings, engendering monstrosities born of convention-­defying unfamiliarity. Denying the snapshot’s punctuality, the doubleness of these images scatters existence across multiple temporalities, signaling an excess of potentiality that “Sabotaging the Future”: The Essay Films of the Otolith Group 67

haunts the image’s present and renders it available for future redemption. At the same time, the iconography of freakish mutants deliberately evokes the ancient Mediterranean world’s notions of India. Indeed, the photographs take their titles from classical Greek names for far-­away “fabulous races,” as found in Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis. Regenerated by the Otolith Group, the fantastical visions indebted to age-­old xenophobia now suggest the dormant promise of early encounters between cultures, a promise of multiculturalism that still today has yet to be realized. Adding to its sanguine images of socialist internationalism, as captured in the photographs from the Sagar family archive, Otolith II includes present-­day shots of Chandigarh’s mid-­twentieth-­century constructions and now-­worn governmental buildings. Hulking sweeps of concrete appear to dominate the natural environment, even as the creeping greenery enacts its revenge by taking root wherever possible. Superseding Britain’s colonial rule in 1947, India found the state of Punjab divided, with its historical capital, Lahore, placed in newly created Pakistan. Christened anew as Punjab’s Indian capital by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Chandigarh, he proclaimed, would be a city “unfettered by the traditions of the past, a symbol of the nation’s faith in the future,” and Corbusier was drafted to realize Nehru’s modernizing vision.20 However, as Otolith II indicates, not everyone was content with this disjunctive imposition of Western international-­ style architecture in the Punjab city: “One morning in 1955, people woke up to find themselves living in someone else’s utopia,” Usha reports, and then wonders aloud, “How many wish Chandigarh had never been built?” With these passages, Otolith II distinguishes its own historically minded futurism from those varieties that embraced a tabula rasa severed from all ties with the past. Still, it is striking that in Otolith II there is no sign of any social movement today comparable to the hopeful Non-­Aligned Movement of the twentieth century, Nehruvian modernization, or India’s socialist-­feminist struggle (the film was made before the Arab uprisings of 2010–11, and subsequent Occupy movement). Not only have such modernist utopias seemingly met their end (and some perhaps for the best), the very imaginative power that once inspired them has also apparently dissipated. Nevertheless, the film, in my view, constitutes an optimism, which resides in its resurrection of those erstwhile dreams of collective solidarity, utopian architecture, and emancipatory politics, which despite all indications to the contrary cast

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a shadow of dormant possibility on the present, glimpsed in the contemporary political manifestations seen elsewhere, as in Otolith I. The final film of the trilogy, Otolith III (2009), deviates from the first two in that, rather than being structured by a futuristic inquiry told from the fictional perspective of Dr. Usha, it represents an investigation into the historical circumstances of The Alien, an unmade science-­fiction film conceived of by the famed Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray. While it introduces a new thematic, the film nonetheless continues and deepens the trilogy’s consciousness of cinema history, and its subject was in fact intimated in Otolith II, when Usha mused, “Why do Indian artists produce so little science fiction?” Ray wrote the screenplay for The Alien in 1967, according to which, Usha explains, “The alien is a small humanoid creature whose spaceship splashes down in a Bengali village far from the metropolis.” The premise of Otolith III is to create a “premake” of that unmade film, reanimating a cinematic concept stranded in history.21 According to its scenario, four of Ray’s principal protagonists—the Boy, the Industrialist, the Journalist, and the Engineer—attempt to locate their director, then cast their own characters from a range of figures appearing in disparate source footage, and at long last attempt to complete the film. Having managed to mysteriously escape from the original screenplay, these protagonists exist as wandering possibilities in Otolith III, heard but not seen, and are each narrated by different voices during the film, each of its four sections dedicated to one of the characters. In its course, the film yields an imaginative investigation into the position of science fiction in India’s history during the era of Cold War tensions—a science fiction charged with psychoanalytic and existential complexity and insight. The film is carried out, once again, via a creative staging of the filmic event, now constructed by an innovative modeling of montage that continues the group’s investigations into nonsynchronous temporality.22 As the Industrialist, out of time and out of place, travels through contemporary London looking for non-­actors who can play the roles of his friends, an expansive image repertoire unfolds, comprising black and white shots from Ray’s remarkable filmic oeuvre (some fourteen films are drawn on and credited at the end of Otolith III ), complemented both with black and white rushes from Alienation, a cine-­portrait of London that the artist Vidya Sagar, Anjalika’s father, began shooting in 1967, and live-­

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Figure 34. The Otolith Group, still from Otolith III (2009). Courtesy of the artists.

action color footage of contemporary London (see figure 34). The outcome is a provisional network of unrealized films, which, modeled on Pasolini’s “notebook” films of the 1960s, including Appunti per un film sull’India (1968), offers an exemplar of spontaneity and improvisation, potentiality and definitive unfinishedness, that reads in utter contrast to both the traditional pedagogical nature of documentary and the unitary style and conventional narrative framework of Hollywood and Bollywood films. Adding to this filmic heterogeneity are shots of the futuristic set designs of a space-­age metropolis by comic-­book artist Jack Kirby, images designed to accompany Barry Geller’s screenplay for the unmade film Lord of Light, itself based on the eponymous epic science fiction novel by Roger Zelazny of 1967. Selectively incorporating each of these sources, Otolith III gathers a veritable panoply of excerpts of visual culture from 1967–68, a culture that functions anew as the raw material for this premake. The characters of Otolith III operate in a world of region codes, which are frequently cited in the dialogue (as in “region 2 protected”) and refer to their inhabiting a digital, copyrighted environment of variegated legal territories, as if structured by a class-­based hierarchy and controlled system of access. This virtual landscape allegorizes, on the one hand, our con-

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temporary striated geographies composed of restricted borders that guard against alien threats of immigration, which provides the framework for the current geopolitics of globalization—an era of terrorism, resurgent nationalism, and militarized checkpoints that contests earlier celebrations of the ostensibly fluid terrain of the postnational world. On the other hand, the environment implies a futuristic dystopia reminiscent of the American sci-­fi film Blade Runner (1982); Indeed, Otolith III ’s characters—existing as errant potentialities—repeatedly convey their attempts to “meet their maker.” The director and the film recall the cyborg “replicants” of Ridley Scott’s cult classic, who similarly seek out their creator to gain more life. With Otolith III, however, subtle differences arise with each repetition of the encounter between the characters and the director. Once, the characters laugh, doubting if the director could ever know what it is like “to dream of luminosity.” At a later point, they accuse him of turning them into guinea pigs for his whimsical cinematic experiments. But as the director Satyajit Ray died in 1992, this scenario too forms another trajectory into an imagined past. By reengaging science fiction, the Otolith Group puts it to task as a way not only to criticize present reality—a world supposedly threatened by the mounting pressure of illegal aliens, exploited by fear-­mongering nationalists and high-­tech security firms—but also to reinvent our hostile world on the basis of co-­belonging and friendship. Ray’s The Alien was in fact originally intended to be posed against its Cold War context, an era when geopolitics was played out via science fiction, with the enemy (usually played by the ussr) portrayed as evil aliens. (Appropriately, Stalker’s “Zone” is invoked once more, this time implicating a haunted geography of fear.) Ray’s creative intervention was to reposition the alien as friend, thereby giving rise to a new fictional paradigm in which the self opens onto difference empathically, which was meant to reconfigure the sensible world by replacing destructive antagonism with mimetic affinity. Otolith III’s characters, however, remain skeptical, and mount a critique of Ray’s “cinema of friendship”—a cinema which saw one commercial realization in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. (1982), whose conditions of possibility allegedly owe to Ray’s screenplay, circulating around Hollywood in search of a producer at the time. According to the characters’ critique, however, Ray’s vision failed to shift the terms of the “time of enemies” that defines, to this day, much of

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international relations. That said, viewers are invited to identify with the film’s characters, who use the first-­person pronouns “I,” “we,” and “me,” easily adopted up by the audience who see themselves in a range of possible bodies, forming mobile identifications located in the historical films of Ray and Vidya Sagar, as well as in contemporary footage of London’s densely populated streets. The result is a radical social reorientation from the perspective of the late sixties, given the antagonistic context of the intensifying war in Vietnam, and the mounting pressure in South Asia of Bangladeshi nationalism, pressure leading to the coming violent secession from Pakistan in 1971. In addition, it redefines the current era, characterized by increasing xenophobia, terrorist threat, and resurgent nationalism. Ray’s alien-­as-­friend paradigm is, finally, creatively taken up by Otolith III via a reconceptualization of the structure of montage. Rather than inciting the shock of “dialectical montage,” which stresses the disjunctive representational cut that, according to Rancière, “invests chaotic power in the creation of little machineries of the heterogeneous,” the group’s film builds on what the philosopher terms symbolic montage. According to this latter formulation, “elements that are foreign to one another . . . establish a familiarity, an occasional analogy, attesting to a more fundamental relationship of co-­belonging, a shared world where heterogeneous elements are caught up in the same essential fabric, and are therefore always open to being assembled in accordance with the fraternity of a new metaphor.”23 Consequently, the final film of the Otolith Trilogy reaffirms the model of film-­as-­event as an open ontology, one that is posed against the industry of “cinema.” As the Industrialist observes, “Cinema takes the side of the image against the honour of the event,” and by doing so, “it nearly destroyed us. It will kill me if I let it.” It is against that eventuality of a commercial film industry—that is, Hollywood and its international avatars—that Otolith III, and indeed the Trilogy as a whole, is posed, which lends credence to its self-­professed quest to find a way to carry out a “creative sabotage of the future,” as voiced by the Industrialist.24 Such an intervention, one of what sociologist Melinda Cooper terms preempting emergence, is necessary whenever the image is understood as a totalizing representation and a submission to the oppressive “reign of the informational present.” Were we to surrender to the belief that nothing exists beyond the image, or indeed can be produced from it, then what hope could there be for art and politics? What would it take to creatively sabotage, and thereby rescue, the chapter two 72

future, saving it from the clutches of those who totalize the image? What will be the future of the image? One answer comes in a moment of earnest vulnerability and collaborative spirit voiced by one of Otolith III’s characters, who at the film’s conclusion seems to speak for all at a time when basic survival is under threat: “I will need my friends. We will need each other.”

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Hito Steyerl’s Traveling Images

It is the sheer versatility and multiplicity of global media—the circulatory flux of images, their expanding distribution networks—that render the task of documentary filmmaking today more fraught than ever. Or so argues the Berlin-­based Hito Steyerl in her essay “Documentary Uncertainty” (2007), wherein the artist discusses how contemporary works in the genre bespeak a kind of paradox: some rely “on authoritative truth procedures [that intensify] the aura of the court room, the penitentiary or the laboratory,” while others end in a postmodern relativism unable “to distinguish the difference between facts and blatant misinformation.”1 When so much of contemporary politics runs on precisely this kind of misinformation, the need to reinvent documentary practice—in a way that retains its social engagement and historical integrity despite its internal contradictions—would seem only more urgent and more difficult. Steyerl appears uniquely prepared for the endeavor, and is recognized as much for her adroit writings on postcolonialism, globalization, and feminism as for her work in film and video. She began her filmmaking practice by making amateur films in her teens in Germany in the aftermath of New German Cinema during the 1970s and 1980s—the work of Alexander Kluge, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Volker Schlöndorff was then at its height. She soon went to film school in Japan, at Kawasaki’s Academy of the Visual Arts (now the Japan Academy of Moving Images), before returning to Munich in the early 1990s to study at the Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film, with Helmut Färber. (There Steyerl also worked

with classmate Wim Wenders on two films, including Until the End of the World [1991], and she credits the director’s exploration of cosmopolitan subjectivity as highly influential.) Today, the fact that she counts as crucial to her development individuals ranging from Harun Farocki to Marguerite Duras, from Hara Kazuo to Black Audio Film Collective, also allies her to approaches that stress both the politics and aesthetics of filmmaking (such as Rancière’s), as when she writes that “the political importance of documentary forms does not primarily reside in their subject matter, but in the ways in which they are organized. It resides in the specific distribution of the sensible.”2 In Steyerl’s artistic practice, in other words, the documentary genre is still rich in historical reference, but is characterized as well by a heightened consideration of video’s formal organization, built on a keen awareness of the uncertain status of truth and meaning—which also links her to the concerns of Steve McQueen and the Otolith Group. Whereas the Otolith Group, as we have seen, weaves documents into fictional scenarios in order to bring out the potentiality of history against the ineluctability of fate, Steyerl reveals the creeping predominance of fiction in everyday life, which, for her, threatens the fragmentation of collective mobilization and the depletion of political agency. If, as the San Francisco-­based activist-­theorist collective Retort argues, the most domineering global power today owes its potency to the historically unprecedented conjunction of military force and spectacle—that is, an image economy at the service of capital, reinforced with military might—then what possible chance do artists stand to oppose it? One of the most interesting recent artistic approaches to this question, Steyerl’s November (2004) is perhaps also one of the most pessimistic, because it confronts a debilitating image regime that appears capable of neutralizing any and all opposition, whether in the gallery or on the street. November takes as its subject the assorted lives of the embattled German-­Kurdish figure Andrea Wolf—or, rather, the errant lives of her image. Once the best friend of Steyerl, Wolf also evinced an early interest in filmmaking before going through a radical political transformation that saw her end up as a Kurdish freedom fighter, renamed Sehît Ronahî. Toward November’s end, a short but poignant passage demonstrates the unnerving fluidity between fact and fiction that is Wolf ’s actual fate and November’s formal condition. A clip from a feminist martial arts movie that Steyerl made in the early 1980s features Wolf as she Hito Steyerl’s Traveling Images 75

Figure 35. Hito Steyerl, still from November (2004). Courtesy of the artist.

plays the part of a tough, biker-­jacketed heroine (see figure 35). This image slowly morphs into one of Wolf in her later, astonishingly different guise as Ronahî. Wolf-­Ronahî, we learn, was reportedly killed during armed conflict with the Turkish army in 1998, and her image—an iconic portrait shown by Steyerl as it appeared on placards carried by Kurdish protesters in Germany—became a symbol of martyrdom for the Kurdish resistance (see figure 36). Finally, Steyerl dissolves this visage back into Wolf ’s rebellious celluloid character, but this time with added valences, as expressed in the voice-­over: the parodically butch fighter (who dispatches the rival gang and then rides into the sunset on her motorbike) curiously comes to reflect the “truth” of Ronahî’s real-­life heroism. The film’s resurrection of her image also alludes to the Turkish government’s (disputed) contention that Ronahî is still alive, operating underground as a guerrilla. As Steyerl’s narration observes, “Andrea became herself a traveling image, wandering over the globe, an image passed on from hand to hand, copied and reproduced by printing presses, video recorders, and the Internet.” Wolf thus slid into the unpredictable flow of “traveling images” that dechapter three 76

Figure 36. Hito Steyerl, still from November (2004). Courtesy of the artist.

fines the historical context of “November,” which, according to Steyerl’s piercing video essay, identifies a broader social and political landscape of unaccountable government power (the kind that allegedly killed Ronahî), fragmented oppositional struggles (in which Ronahî willingly participated), and representational instability (signaled by Wolf ’s proliferating identities). That Steyerl works to uncover this situation in digital video— with all it implies about the increased ease of reproducibility, postproduction processing, and instantaneous distribution—only ups the ante, in that she uses the very medium that has come to be privileged by and definitional to November’s representational economy. To drive home the political implications of this new image regime, Steyerl’s video includes a short passage from Sergei Eisenstein’s October (1927), to which Steyerl’s title clearly refers, that focuses in part on the Kazakhs’ alliance with Russian proletarians during the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917. At the time October was made, revolution could be universalized as a collective movement transcending boundaries of ethnicity and nationality. These visions of socialist solidarity stand in marked contrast to November’s flux of signs, characterized by virtual drift and endless exchange, structurally matching the spread of interconnected markets but leaving political struggles disjointed and disempowered (Debordian spectacle and Deleuzian dispersal are today far more pertinent than yesterday’s conventional warfare). And if “in November, the former heroes become madmen,” as Steyerl’s narration intones, it is because now no truth is safe, no identity secure, and no protest incorruptible. The challenge for Steyerl, then, is how to pursue a documentary proj­ ect that, on the one hand, avoids the extremes of postmodern relativism (where, if all subjective views possess a certain validity, falsehood is seemingly impossible) and, on the other hand, refuses to ignore the opacity of the image in the urgency to restore the right of nonsubjective truth. Writing elsewhere about the status of the historical document today, Steyerl outlines “the paradox of truth” that she confronts: “On the one side the ethically [and] absolutely necessary insisting on a historical truth, which would still remain true, even if every evidence of it were obliterated; [and] on the other side, the insight that the perception of it can only happen within a construction conveyed through media (society, politics), which is therefore manipulable and opaque.”3 Although Steyerl’s account forms part of an examination of Georges Didi-­Huberman’s reading of photochapter three 78

graphs of the Auschwitz concentration camp considered in relation to Walter Benjamin’s notion of the “dialectical image,” her comments also provide insight into her own practice as a video-­maker.4 Against relativism, yet in some ways sympathetic both to the Otolith Group’s notion of history as an open ontology and to McQueen’s representational opacity, Steyerl concludes, “The ‘urgency’ of the documentary is grounded in the ethical dilemma of having to give testimony to an event that cannot be conveyed as such, but instead contains necessary elements of truth as well as of ‘darkness.’”5 This dilemma is not only irresolvable but constitutes the point of departure for Steyerl’s practice: because the one continuous certainty about documentary film is the uncertainty of its truth claims, the video essay, she argues, must be reinvented on that very basis. November consequently discovers room for maneuvering within this state of uncertainty and its seemingly debilitating terms. Lamenting the passing of October’s atmosphere of possibility, the video makes the most of the cinematic tools that remain, deploying twenty-­five minutes of narration alongside a highly entertaining montage of imagery borrowed from popular culture, looking to media (considered in the inclusive sense of representation beyond the conventional sources of mainstream news) as a kind of humorous rallying cry for real life. These include shots from Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), depicting an aggressive female gang (one of the only models, however campy, of powerful women fighters that Steyerl and Wolf found for their early effort). As well, Steyerl inserts scenes from Bruce Lee’s last and unfinished film, Game of Death (released posthumously in 1978), in which the main character stages his own death in order to regroup secretly, a fictive plot that unexpectedly echoed the actor’s real death, proposing an intermingling of real and fake (the film uses footage from Lee’s actual funeral) that relentlessly continues in the migrations and mutations of Ronahî’s image. November also proffers a mournful reflection on the cooptation of Steyerl’s own image. While documenting a Berlin demonstration against the Iraq War, Steyerl was spotted by a television director who knew of the artist’s video project. He quickly placed a Kurdish flag around her neck and a torch in her hands, told her to “look sad and meditative . . . as if [she] were thinking about Andrea,” and filmed the results (see figure 37). Steyerl soon found herself featured in a television documentary the next night, cast as “the Kurdish protester,” the very image of a “sensitive . . . and understanding filmmaker, who tells a personal story.” Hito Steyerl’s Traveling Images 79

Figure 37. Hito Steyerl, still from November (2004). Courtesy of the artist.

But as her confession continues in November’s voice-­over, such posturing is “more hypocritical than even the crudest propaganda.” As did Wolf ’s, Steyerl’s image entered November’s infinite regress, wherein “we are all part of the story, and not I am telling the story, but the story tells me.”6 As if to gain traction against such slipperiness, November frequently interrupts its quick-­paced cutting and diegetic trajectory with self-­reflexive tactics. For example, a series of shots in the video focuses on the blinding light of a film projector (shown precisely when a visually undocumented story, that of a reconstructed witness account of Ronahî’s death, is being told). As well, we see close-­ups of a grainy tv screen replaying footage from videotapes (as when Ronahî is interviewed in Kurdistan). One might view these moments in the video as yet another return to critical strategies of appropriation or even to a modernist “laying bare of the device.” November’s montage also recalls precedents from the artist’s German context, such as Kluge’s benchmark Deutschland im herbst (Germany in autumn) (1978), which mixed documentary footage and fictional dramatization chapter three 80

Figure 38. René Viénet, screen grab from Can Dialectics Break Bricks? (1973).

within a jigsaw-­puzzle narrative. Yet whereas Steyerl’s own elegiac work may share much with these previous efforts to come to terms with revolution’s seeming impossibility, November does not deploy quotation against a regime of “truth” in order merely to reveal the constructedness of representation and produce an aesthetics of doubt. And whereas Eisenstein’s dialectical montage as presented in October offered a generative combination of shots meant to spark the spectator’s insight and action, and whereas Kluge activated the intervals and dark gaps between frames as a liberatory space for the viewer’s creative imagination, in Steyerl’s video we confront the dissolution of such distinct filmic elements as they succumb to the endlessly fluctuating economy of images and flexible networks of power that constitute our new digital milieu.7 November makes clear that any attempted return to the revolutionary project of October would be an absurd proposition. When the film describes Ronahî’s use of martial arts in Kurdistan, for instance, Steyerl introduces shots from René Viénet’s hilarious Can Dialectics Break Bricks? (1973), which famously recast a B-­grade Hong Kong martial arts flick as Hito Steyerl’s Traveling Images 81

situationist critique by adding his own rebellious dubbing to the film (see figure 38). In Viénet’s account, a group of samurai-­bureaucrats terrorizes a local village, the inhabitants of which are training to fight for freedom with the aid of stultified Marxist rhetoric. November includes the point at which the lead antagonist loses his temper with the proletarians’ endless talk of class struggle, warning them to stop: “If not I’ll send in my sociologists! And if necessary my psychiatrists! My urban planners! My architects! My Foucaults! My Lacans! And if that’s not enough, I’ll even send my structuralists.” As critical theory, adapted to the forces of social control, becomes mere farce, the broader implication is that avant-­garde methods of subversion—from Eisenstein’s dialectical montage to situationist détournement—have been exhausted, if not complicit with new markets and regimes of power. Under these conditions, documentary strategies might seem futile or obsolete. As a result, Steyerl leaves us with a paradox: while November details German military support for Turkey’s oppressive state, which has paradoxically led to Germany’s crisis of Kurdish immigrants fleeing from Turkey’s wrath and oppressive politics and specifically to the death of Andrea Wolf, it does so via a subjective perspective, narrated by Steyerl herself in a personal, idiosyncratic voice-­over. That commentary is delivered without sourced authorities or other trappings of indubitable evidence, positioned in the midst of its montage’s gaps and fissures (that said, Steyerl’s remarks come off as quite sober and analytical, compared to the Otolith Group’s fictional and poetic scenarios). Moreover, the poor quality of the video, owing to multiple generations of copies and to the recording of imagery directly off a tv screen, tends to derealize the video’s referents. While such pirated imagery exemplifies Steyerl’s rebellious disregard for image rights (increasingly notable in today’s environment of the extensive commercial capture of intellectual property), it also reveals the intrinsic malleability of video’s meanings.8 In other words, although truth should determine politics rather than politics determining truth—as when weapons of mass destruction are conjured out of thin air—Steyerl knows that whatever truth she can deliver will also be the truth of mediation. What avenues remain if one has no recourse to preexisting “truth,” if no fact cannot be revealed as subjective viewpoint? Steyerl’s conclusion is innovative: if the one certainty about documentary film is the very uncertainty of its claim to truth, then “this uncertainty is not some shameful chapter three 82

lack, which has to be hidden, but instead constitutes the core quality of contemporary documentary modes as such.”9 One of Steyerl’s earliest forays into “documentary uncertainty,” Die leere mitte (The empty center) (1998), appropriately focuses on unstable space— geographic and cinematic, as much as mythic and mnemonic. The 16 mm film (shown commonly on video) presents Berlin’s metropolitan center, the area between Potsdamer Platz and the Reichstag, as a zone of shifting cultural politics. Steyerl skillfully weaves together numerous historical strands, including accounts of the xenophobia suffered by Felix Mendelssohn and his grandfather, the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (who lived in eighteenth- and nineteenth-­century Germany); the tragic fate of one Mohammed Hussein, a German veteran of World War I living and dying amid national socialist racism; and the current amnesia of reunified Germany, which elides these precedents even, Steyerl suggests, as it perilously glimpses shades of their reappearance. The film—Steyerl’s last before turning to video—connects these episodes by capitalizing on the medium’s capacity for slow dissolves and visual palimpsests, formally underscoring the porosity of borders via filmic montage. For example, Steyerl superimposes footage of the location of a former customs gateway over one of Felix Mendelssohn’s drawings of his house at nearby Leipzigerstrasse 3, rendering a web of correlations between foreigners’ experiences of Berlin over the centuries. In another provocative combination, phrenological drawings of cranial types appear superimposed over the façade of the Reichstag (using a depiction before its Norman Foster-­built glass dome had been added in the early 1990s), the two contexts connected via the history of racialist colonial policy elaborated in the voice-­over (see figure 39). The film thereby exposes disturbing patterns of community formation based on jealously guarded rules of belonging and racist exclusion, both of which are shown to persist in the present. When some (Berlin) walls triumphantly come down, other less visible ones—social, racial, sexual, economic—arise in their place. Testifying to these continuously renewed boundaries, Die leere mitte includes an interview with a young Asian-­German man who describes (in fluent German) the unnerving experience of appearing publicly as a “non-­German.” He concludes that the country’s unification has been far from propitious for “outsiders”: German economic insecurity, resulting from the integration of the former gdr, has invited the scapegoating of foreigners for “stealing” jobs at a time of Hito Steyerl’s Traveling Images 83

Figure 39. Hito Steyerl, still from Die leere mitte (The empty center) (1998). Courtesy of the artist.

growing unemployment. Indeed, Steyerl’s coverage soon cuts to the alarmingly racist violence of union workers’ protesting against the hiring of nonunion, migrant laborers, a demonstration that takes on ominous echoes of Germany’s Nazi past—even as World War II sites are redeveloped and paradoxically erased from public memory, rendering Berlin an empty center of historical obsession and evacuation. Yet the repercussion of burying history, of course, is history’s irrepressible reemergence. What does it mean to give such a historically-­minded project over to uncertainty? If Die leere mitte disavows its own historical tales as absolute truth, Steyerl does not exactly call for the dismissal of her own research. Rather, Die leere mitte presents a historical archive that acknowledges its subjective construction, most clearly in Steyerl’s personal, idiosyncratic voice-­over. The very nature and function of “truth” are consequently transformed. In this regard, Rancière’s reading of Chris Marker’s “essay films” in his book Film Fables (2001) appears valid for Steyerl’s work as well: whereas conventional documentary practice, “instead of treating the real as an effect to be produced, treats it as a fact to be understood,” for both chapter three 84

Marker and Steyerl these understandings are critically reversed.10 Far from being opposed to fiction, documentary actually forms one mode of it, joining—both in continuity and conflict—the “real” and the “fabulated” in cinema. “Documentary fiction” results, visible in the heterogeneous combinations of archival documents, illustrations, cartoons, live-­action footage, fictional dramatizations, voice-­over narration, and diverse sound tracks—all of which appear in Steyerl’s work. In this way, Rancière argues, “thoughts and things, exterior and interior, are captured in the same texture, in which the sensible and the intelligible remain undistinguished”: a precise characterization of Steyerl’s documentaries.11 What is more, the effects of this hybrid genre also—even by necessity— give rise to a new mode of reception. Steyerl’s essayistic documentaries do not position their audience as passive recipients of unquestionable information. Instead, they offer us a complex address: we become both engrossed in the storytelling and continually implicated in the multiplicity of representations. In Die leere mitte, this active mode of spectatorship pries Berlin open as a site of unfinished struggles. The film urgently calls for a heightened historical consciousness, for viewers to position themselves amid the profound contradictions of Berlin’s current unfolding. The words of Siegfried Kracauer in the film’s closing lines offer encouragement: “There are always holes in the wall we can slip through and the unexpected can sneak in.” At this point, we are introduced to a group of squatters camped out in the erstwhile no-­man’s-­land between East and West Berlin, where they are attempting to found an unlikely free republic in the former “death strip,” protesting the real-­estate development and speculation happening all around them. These figures, for me, become an allegorical projection of the film’s ideal viewers, those who would insist on occupying and participating in the determination of urban space, just as they would actively involve themselves in creative acts of cinematic interpretation. All is not lost, then, in the period of November, and Steyerl demonstrates the resilience of the video-­essay format once again in her film Lovely Andrea (2007). Here, the quest to bring home a traveling image from the artist’s past becomes the basis for Steyerl’s attempt to reclaim history from desolation. The video relays the artist’s hunt for a lost photograph, in this case a sadomasochistic image of Steyerl herself posed in the style of nawa shibari, or Japanese rope bondage. Steyerl had once modeled for extra Hito Steyerl’s Traveling Images 85

cash when in film school in Japan in 1987, but twenty years later, without memory of her photographer, agent, or studio, she takes on the formidable task of relocating a single image from the tens of thousands made that year and disseminated in hundreds of publications each month (the enormity of this image pool, in print as well as online, is repeatedly stressed). Steyerl’s quest takes her to various locations in Tokyo, with her translator and cameraman in tow. Documentary passages and interviews with industry workers encountered on the expedition are interspersed with appropriations from old cartoons and pop music videos, giving us glimpses of scantily clad women tied in a variety of edgy and vulnerable poses. As the sound track intones, “she works hard for the money.” Throughout Lovely Andrea, clips from the tv cartoon Spider-­Man, appearing like a leitmotif in unlikely places, magnify narrative strands, as spinning themes of networks and suspension connect quick-­paced transitions, energized further by the frenzied use of a handheld camera (see plate 6). This rapid-­fire delivery evokes the culture industry’s increasingly agitated pace (and mtv’s libidinal pulse). It also reveals Steyerl’s interest in Japanese avant-­garde cinema and the documentary approaches of figures such as Hara, whose films of the 1970s brazenly mixed sexuality and violence, fact and fiction. Steyerl’s search in Lovely Andrea likewise becomes a sociological investigation into the meanings of sexual domination, the libidinal attraction of shame, and the relationship between pain and visual pleasure. (In the video, one magazine editor offers his unique insight that “genitals are not between the legs, but between the ears.” Steyerl takes him at his word and censors his face with a pixelated blur.) Cycling through disparate references—including shots of bondage used in samurai arts, in the Japanese military torture of pows during World War II, and in contemporary U.S. military and Chinese police practices—the video posits bondage’s ubiquity, confirming the otherwise banal pop psychology of one shibari practitioner in the video, who avers that everyone today is captive in one way or another. But as Steyerl’s odyssey is threaded through with persistent references to various subcultures, from the artist’s Ramones T-­shirt to the sound track’s use of the X-­Ray Spex punk anthem “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” the meanings of sexual practice are diversified and stereotypes unmoored. Steyerl ultimately locates her lost image while rifling through a library of pornographic magazines in Tokyo. There, her portrait is titled “Lovely chapter three 86

Figure 40. Hito Steyerl, still from Lovely Andrea (2007). Courtesy of the artist.

Andrea,” a pseudonym the artist borrowed from her friend Wolf. By the video’s end, yet another series of revelations emerges: it becomes apparent that Asagi Ageha, Steyerl’s translator, is herself a bondage model. In the last scenes of the video, she is shown practicing an agile act of self-­suspension in which she hovers with erotic charge and (self-­professed) agency. “When flying in the air, I really feel free,” she confesses (see figure 40). As her physical prowess unfolds further, visually amplified by intercut animated sequences of Spider-­Woman, Ageha divulges that she also studies Web design and has her own website, as all loose ends of the image network finally connect. Although Ageha seems aware of her bondage work as both a form of degradation and a source of personal pleasure (as the video’s acid intertitles oscillate between the words independence and dependence), her desire to control her own image in a system of domination makes her an unexpected heroine in Lovely Andrea. Ageha, then, parallels Steyerl’s own attempt to repossess her lost shibari picture, reframed within the searching narrative of the video essay. Indeed, Steyerl’s willful reappropriation of her own imagery suggests another level of transgression, a defiance Hito Steyerl’s Traveling Images 87

of copyright law as a form of control within a culture of easy reproducibility. Rather than fetishizing high-­definition, Steyerl also appears politically committed to her images’ low resolution, the intended consequence of multiple generations of copying. This formal gambit reinforces the degraded connection between sign and referent: historical retrieval becomes an act of decontextualization as well as one of decay—throwing documentary representation once again into uncertainty. But here uncertainty appears less paralyzing than productive, revealing a space of political mobility, even subjective liberation. Steyerl’s Red Alert (2007) would seem to bring representation’s demise to its logical conclusion. Shown at Documenta 12 (2007) along with Lovely Andrea, the work is composed of three computer screens set side by side, each displaying the same red, monochrome image. According to the artist, the piece defines the “outer limit” of documentary video, where representation meets abstraction, the image reduced to an elementary and static color. But this is no ordinary color. The red images mimic the color used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at the time to warn that a terrorist attack is imminent. Multiplied to three, the screens indicate both the global proliferation of this warning system (like a global ellipsis, cycling into potential infinity) and its approach toward being the norm rather than the exception in everyday life. Yet the piece’s format and scale also restage Aleksandr Rodchenko’s triptych of primary colors, produced in 1921, with which he famously declared the end of easel painting. By evoking both sources, Red Alert expands on the lament of November: if red was once the sign of the October revolution and the death of bourgeois art production, it is now a Pavlovian trigger of mediatized fear, one where the affective image (directly modulating sensory experience at a pre-­subjective level, according to Brian Massumi) overtakes representational significance.12 Red Alert also takes its revenge on the system, showing that when representation becomes a matter of “this equals that,” where a flash of color is meant to induce powerful emotional reactions, we are not far from pornography—a kind of red-­light district where signs are stripped of representational complexity and feed into a direct neurophysiological manipulation of mediatized desire or dread. The prevalence of this system appears connected, moreover, to the evisceration of political representation today.13 It’s no coincidence, as Steyerl has written (in “Documentary Uncertainty”), that the ascendancy of Homeland Security’s reducchapter three 88

tive color charts has paralleled the burgeoning of executive power and the deregulation of multinational corporations that are, for her, devoid of democratic accountability, formations that have in turn paralleled the growth of migratory populations and stateless persons. Brilliantly connecting the subject stripped of political agency (the homo sacer of biopolitical governmentality) to signs denuded of representation (in the context of global spectacle), Red Alert condemns the grotesque abstraction of language by the state and mass media alike. And by revealing abstraction’s multivalence, infusing it with political and art-­historical import, Red Alert contests documentary’s supposed transparency and lays bare the political stakes of this challenge in turn. Yet, as Steyerl observes, “documentary uncertainty” may ultimately be inadequate for the political project required today. What viewers need to do, according to her analysis, is replace the current economy of affect, one based on fear and anxiety, with another one. But the problem is that, as Steyerl confesses, such a new “affective and political constellation”—one of, say, social justice and economic and political equality—does not yet exist.14 Or, at least, let us add, not in the way it should. That said, Steyerl has already, in my view, pointed the way forward in her own practice. If in the age of November all imagery is adrift, then only when such uncertainty is fully acknowledged might viewers revivify their engagement with a politicized conception of history and language, develop creative relations to the body and sexuality, form experimental social communities, and reinvent urban space. Steyerl’s documentaries not only inject urgency into these goals; they also begin to generate the “affective and political constellation” that may yet bring them about. Images today are bound to travel and we can only make of them what we will—which, for Steyerl, is everything.

Hito Steyerl’s Traveling Images 89

Transit Politicizing Aesthetics

What does it mean to address globalization critically—transvaluing its states of exception and forms of inequality, challenging its historical inevitability, defying its politics of truth—within an art context, whether commercial gallery, museum, or biennial exhibition? Answering a recent questionnaire about the relation between art and politics published in the journal October, the art historian and critic David Joselit raised the seeming contradiction of discovering art that opposes consumerism in the site of the commercial art gallery, a circumstance that for him engenders only political paralysis and expanded profits. “This situation leads to a truly intractable contradiction in which a conceptual disavowal of markets is dependent for its enunciation and dissemination on the market system itself,” Joselit argues. “A certain paralysis within political art practice results while nonetheless allowing for enormous expansion and profits in the business of art.”1 A similar objection could be made that fighting global inequality from within the site of economic, political, and cultural privilege only plays into the versatility of the systems of appropriation and domination that define predatory corporate globalization; for it allows an institution to hide its practices that support political and economic disparity behind an image of cultural charity and humanitarian concern. Yet while Joselit may be right in calling for the critical infiltration of more widely trafficked networks of visibility in order to reach larger audiences (raid the multiplexes, he advocates), the potential of the gallery—and even the commercial gallery—as a site of critical contemplation, imaginative experimentation, and, indeed, politicization cannot in my view be easily dismissed, even as the paradox he correctly names must be recognized. That contradiction is one we can only live with for now, though not necessarily on its terms. Rather than flatly dismiss art’s gallery-­bound political

ambitions as a trap, we must instead interrogate the very complexity of the situation, as well as its critical and politically generative possibilities, beginning with a reconsideration of the relation between aesthetics and politics (even if that reconsideration is conducted with a view toward artistic form and its politics of representation).2 Asking whether or not art could be “effective” on the level of national and international politics, as did the questionnaire, can only invite its own (often expected) negative response, bringing about a state of melancholy, disappointment, and resignation. For if answered in the positive—as is the tendency of those activists who wish to transform art into politics—then the evident danger, beyond the obvious idealism and suspected naiveté, is the instrumentalization of form and the submission of art to a sociological assessment, which privileges reified sloganeering or artistic welfare at the cost of subtle aesthetic construction. Such strategies may be potent and even necessary in street protests or in crisis situations, but they are less than compelling when they curtail art’s formal creativity, theoretical complexity, indeterminate and potentially contradictory meanings, and contemplative possibilities. Of course, art and activism are not mutually exclusive, and when mobilized within a meaningfully complex form of life—the kind that desperately needs to be reinvented today—they might not only coexist, but challenge each other’s autonomy and representational conventions in provocative ways. The common setback shared by activist critiques of art and artistic critiques of activism may very well be the rigidification of the categories of aesthetics and politics. In this case, retaining the solidified terms of “political art” and “autonomy” can itself be intellectually debilitating, even depoliticizing. The challenge today—which I believe the above discussions of the art of Steve McQueen, the Otolith Group, and Hito Steyerl address—is to creatively rearrange aesthetic and political spaces by challenging their conventions of separateness, even if one finds these practices, more often than not, in art galleries.3 One particularly enabling feature of Rancière’s reconceptualizing art’s autonomy as a zone of the political beyond the determinations of governmental policy, commercial logic, and activist tactics is that autonomy supersedes traditional associations with isolationist escapism and artistic essentialism. Such an insight, in my view, provocatively opens up an old discussion, allowing us to articulate anew how the conflicted, institutionalized, and sheltered space of the biennial exhibition, for instance, might nonetheless offer moments of oppositional energy that Politicizing Aesthetics 91

are irreducible to the means-­end logic of effectiveness.4 In addition, it helps us appreciate those models of art (for instance, McQueen’s, Steyerl’s, the Otolith Group’s) that join, sometimes uneasily and paradoxically, political commitment and subjective desire, forming a complex image world that unleashes unconscious processes and imaginative scenarios. What results is nonetheless a political space, but one apart from politics, oppositional without rationalist determinism, which moves by other means. Art becomes political, to return once more to Rancière’s position, not simply by communicating a political message; rather, it intervenes in the very organization of communicable form. Rancière writes, “Suitable political art would ensure, at one and the same time, the production of a double effect: the readability of a political signification and a sensible or perceptual shock caused, conversely, by the uncanny, by that which resists signification.”5 With Rancière, I would argue that the act of criticism must therefore grapple with the paradox of political art. In this regard, there can be no criteria or ready-­made formulas for establishing an ideal or correct correlation between “aesthetic virtue” and “political virtue,” as Rancière contends. Yet against the potentially facile conclusions drawn from this premise—for example, that we are consequently set adrift without the means to evaluate art’s political claims, or that therefore anything can be considered equally political—art’s relation to politics becomes mobilized by the singularizing event of interpretation via the act of criticism. It is, in other words, contingent upon viewers and readers to stake a claim and to argue for the validity of a particular formulation of the politics of aesthetics, to invest this otherwise potentially empty formulation with meaning in relation to the singular expressions of specific artworks. In a similar vein, the suggestion articulated in October’s questionnaire, that the “professionalization of the artist (as a highly paid and market dependent provider of infotainment)” has “reduced or eliminated political consciousness from cultural production,” may be true in certain cases, but is also doubtlessly overstated, for it fails to take account of the fact that the market can and does in certain cases reward politically conscious artistic practice—and not necessarily in ways that are immediately neutralizing. Representation by a commercial gallery does not force artists to evacuate political consciousness from their work. In fact, many practitioners are supported precisely for the shrewd way their work negotiates politics. It is time to extend some complexity to the market, which is not transit 92

some monolithic force or totalizing determination. Nor are all commercial enterprises the same. Viewing commercial institutions as complex, diverse, and at times contradictory does not mean capitulation.6 Rather, it entails acknowledging at present the inescapability of operating within a market-­ driven system, but not necessarily operating on its terms. It means seeking ways to nurture social equality, rigorous artistic engagement, and creative intellectual autonomy, whenever possible. It means reconfiguring the divisions of time and space in which the practices of politics are framed and advanced, where such hierarchies are incorporated in everyday sensory experience. Against the caricature of the art institution as a mere commercial enterprise, which one sometimes finds in activist-­oriented writing, we need to avoid the economic determinism that positions art as a passive effect of its patronage and reduces the meaning of aesthetics to an automatic function of its commercial context.7 While the gallery is admittedly a compromised space with an often limited audience, it is also one of multiple pressures and determinations that cannot be unified into a totalizing framework. Rejecting the kinds of reductive equivalences and oppositions often posited between, on the one hand, the artistic realm’s apolitical autonomy, spectatorial passivity, and self-­reflexive isolation, and, on the other, the street’s political vitality, social immediacy, and real-­world existence is imperative.8 Such facile identifications and binaries suggest precisely the kind of “partition of the sensible” of which Rancière speaks, “a distribution of the places and of the capacities or the incapacities attached to those places” that in this case reaffirms so many “allegories of inequality.”9 In other words, writing off gallery-­bound art is surely a missed political opportunity. If defending the politics at the core of aesthetics sounds romantic, then we should not be surprised that Rancière discovers the origins of the current “aesthetic regime”—by which he refers to the conditions of modern art—in the writings of the German romantic poet, dramatist, and philosopher Friedrich Schiller. According to Schiller, art’s placement of aesthetics and politics in indeterminate relation necessitates the creative reinvention of each realm.10 For Rancière, Schiller’s aesthetics proposes an autonomy of experience (and not of objects) that defines a space apart, wherein ways of life might be reconceptualized outside the limitations of conventional modes of governance. Such a view, far from being outdated, retains its profound relevance in today’s conflicted environment. Considering conPoliticizing Aesthetics 93

temporary art in light of such a proposition need not amount to a naive or foolish privileging of art’s political claims and engagements over other forms of activity, regardless of whether those other forms involve social movements, activism, or governmental or nongovernmental politics. But such a consideration does resist those pressures to hierarchize and police the public sphere that dismiss all too quickly the political concerns of artistic practice. It also entails treating the reception of such work as ultimately radically undetermined, proposing a space of affective potential and immeasurable effects that may yet carry material consequences. Works like Gravesend, November, and Otolith not only reorganize our political image of globalization; they reveal its crisis points and provide a more equitable division of appearance by joining geographies normally kept far apart, as in McQueen’s Britain and dr Congo, Steyerl’s Germany and Kurdistan, and the Otolith Group’s London and Mumbai. Their formal presentations also share the rejection of the rhetoric of authority—whether of governmental propaganda, media reportage, or activist protest—that tends to situate the viewer in the role of docile recipient of ostensibly factual information. The power of Steyerl’s video essay lies in its capacity to motivate the creative engagement of the spectator without stultifying direction, as do the models of McQueen and the Otolith Group. Far from positioning their audiences as passive recipients of unquestionable information, these essayistic documentaries offer us a complex address: we become both engrossed in the storytelling and continually implicated in the multiplicity of representations. To suggest that globalization, as a sprawling and dispersed series of cultural, economic, and political formations, could be adequately addressed from any one site is, of course, ultimately unacceptable. Although art may not possess the visibility or communicative capacities of governmental politics, in the face of the perceived failure of such politics people not surprisingly will turn to other forums for alternatives, to imagine new ways to reinvent the world.

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Life Full of Holes

In a moving series of photographs, Yto Barrada glimpses at life slipping away from law (see plate 7). A street in Tangier appears in one image from a bird’s-­eye view, an angle that centers sight on the ground, crops out the urban surrounds, and renders the space depicted nondescript but consequently generates a richness of metaphorical play. While the pavement seems to melt into a sea across which an old schooner sails, the street’s horizontal expanse alternately transforms into a vertical wall that bars visual passage as if to block escape. The image visualizes a geopolitical conflict that is ironic. Whereas such colonial vessels once transported the glory of European civilization to darkest Africa, their present-­day avatars suggest only an imaginary return voyage that occurs in reality against enormous odds. The ship, actually an intricate model named Le Détroit (also French for “the strait”) is carried across Tangier’s Avenue d’Espagne by a young man peripherally located in the corner of the image. He holds the vessel at shoulder level, which obscures his face, removing his visage from the camera’s visual access. This representational dislocation, the blurring of human being and boat that distances a man from his community, is the visual effect of a figure becoming the vanishing point of citizenship. Barrada, a Moroccan artist based in Tangier, has for several years concerned herself with the Strait of Gibraltar, that contentious divide between Africa and Europe where two continents nearly touch but mobility is strictly regulated. In a text that accompanies her photographs, Barrada

writes, “Before 1991 any Moroccan with a passport could travel freely to Europe. But since the European Union’s (EU) Schengen Agreement, visiting rights have become unilateral across what is now legally a one-­way strait.”1 A Life Full of Holes: The Strait Project (1998–2004) investigates this area less as vivid geography or as international legal context than as zone of imagination and desire, one split between the would-­be émigré’s longing for escape, looking forward to passage into an idealized realm to the north (depicted in another image by a peeling tourism poster of an idyllic Alpine landscape), and the expatriate’s homesickness, gazing back with irrepressible memories of an intimately familiar place irrevocably lost. In the image of the street in Tangier, the turbulence between these two positions seems to lift our vantage point to a disembodied height, the uncertainty of which indicates the ungrounding of any single interpretation. Pledged to a certain ambiguity, the scene depicts not only a drama of fantasized displacement but the experiential conditions of the refugee that have already seeped into everyday life. Spatial insecurity, perceptual disorientation, and reality’s substitution by reverie’s wonder appear encoded in the image itself, which favors the imagined elsewhere to the here and now, and it leaves the viewer too in a state of determined irresolution. I begin with this provocative photograph because it both inspires and provides one answer to a question I am left with after considering Giorgio Agamben’s concept of bare life, meaning, here, life stripped of political identity—as in the case of the refugee—and reduced to mere biological existence.2 How can one represent artistically a life severed from representation politically? And how can one reject the fatalism that would seem to attend such an image? In his essay “Beyond Human Rights,” Agamben makes a startling declaration: “Inasmuch as the refugee, an apparently marginal figure, unhinges the old trinity of state-­nation-­territory, it deserves instead to be regarded as the central figure of our political history.”3 If so, then our understanding of subjectivity must surely change, and with it the philosophical basis of human rights. Because the refugee—a figure Agamben comes to generalize radically (and problematically), referring to voluntary expats, destitute asylum-­seekers, and economic migrants—presents the very instantiation of bare life, of life stripped of political inscription insofar as the refugee exists outside the nation-­state, it exposes the “originary fiction” of national sovereignty. “The fiction that is implicit here,” Agamben explains, “is that Departure B 96

birth comes into being immediately as nation, so that there may not be any difference between the two moments.” This idea, in fact, is embedded in the very etymology of the term nation, where nativity joins nationality, thus naturalizing a connection that is historical but by no means universal. Agamben continues, “Rights, in other words, are attributed to the human being only to the degree to which he or she is the immediately vanishing presupposition (and, in fact, the presupposition that must never come to light as such) of the citizen.”4 For if this realization that human beings have no inalienable rights ever did come to light, as it does precisely in the case of the refugee, so would the realization that rights are assigned arbitrarily, and thus unjustly, by virtue of one’s nationality. Whichever rights one enjoys, owing to where one was born, are due to the luck of the draw. Mere human beings have no natural protections or legal recourse, not only because no national or extranational entity is able to guarantee them at present but also because modern political philosophy and legislation have failed adequately to define and institutionalize rights that transcend nationality. The subject of “human rights” has consequently remained an ethical discourse, not a political realization. The figure of the refugee thus demands an answer to the question of rights “beyond human rights,” which have proved inextricably linked to the nation-­state and therefore incapable of bearing meaningful relation to those who live outside it.5 If I seem already to be drifting from my initial concern, which is the fraught question of the relation of political and artistic representation when it comes to the subject of bare life, it is only to prepare the ground for that discussion in the chapters that follow. For me, these theoretical questions are not marginal to contemporary artistic practice; indeed, they go right to its heart. They constitute the central issues that are systematically explored by those artists whose work is among the most compelling in the contemporary field. I will consider here the projects of only three: Emily Jacir, Ahlam Shibli, and the Otolith Group. But certainly my list is incomplete. These three create art whose representational conditions relate directly to bare life, while each approaches it with distinct emphasis. Jacir directs the claims of human rights against Israel’s spatial control of Palestinian lands, bringing about an experience of aesthetic dislocation that proposes a platform for a shared political subjectivization. Shibli investigates the condition of political unrecognizability as it relates to the social invisibility of Palestinians of Bedouin descent. And the Otolith Group, inLife Full of Holes 97

vestigating the limits and advantages of the non-­visible, advances opacity as an innovative political strategy in relation to the depiction of life in a Palestinian refugee camp. The representing of bare life, of course, is not my concern alone. Not only did the intersection between art and bare life form, most notably, a significant thematic component of Documenta 11 (2002), organized by Okwui Enwezor, it was also enlisted in the conceptualization of Documenta 12 (2007), directed by Roger Buergel and Ruth Noack, and was included as a central query of the latter show’s international magazine project. In addition, the topic of art’s relation to bare life has been taken up in numerous critical studies and has informed several art exhibitions ever since.6 How can one document bare life? The two terms might appear homologous: just as bare life is life severed from political identity, so, too, documentary imagery is appearance reduced to its essence, and shed of aestheticization.7 What else can be the significance of the fact that one term finds its meaning in the other? According to Enwezor’s formulation, “the meaning of the term ‘documentary’ that was of philosophical interest to our main purpose in Documenta 11—and I believe this was demonstrated throughout the entire length and breadth of the project, in all the platforms, publications, symposia, workshops, et cetera—refers to Giorgio Agamben’s idea of bare life or naked life.”8 There seems to be a necessary link here, such that the existence of bare life, as the essential basis of life, is somehow its own documentary realization. As Enwezor writes, “The hinge for the examination of naked or bare life is the vérité/documentary space.” He goes on to complicate this equation by hybridizing “the documentary mode” (defined as “a purposive forensic inclination concerned essentially with the recording of dry facts”) by joining it to “the idea of vérité” (“a process of unraveling, exploring, questioning, probing, analyzing, and diagnosing a search for truth”).9 This qualification is important because it adds a conceptual layer to an otherwise potentially anachronistic positioning of photography as unmediated procedure, as in the truthful doubling of life (“the recording of dry facts”). It also, in turn, qualifies the notion of “truth,” which becomes indissociable from the conventions of its exploration, thus contingent and historical, and this mediation adds nuance to our relation to the “social world,” which figures as “an excess of reality over which we have little control and even less of a choice of full comprehension.”10 Still, one might question the basis Departure B 98

of this homology, arguing conversely that the negativity of bare life, of life as absence within the political field, cannot simply be consonant with the positivity of visual representation, and, moreover, that documentary—in its fictionalized essence, as we have seen above—is far from the merely factual, as opposed to the imaginary. Indeed, the recording of dry facts is itself a fiction. What if the documentary mode is always a form of representation, always a construction requiring the process of interpretation, its meaning never univocal or unambiguous? This is an old realization, for sure, but one that writers on documentary practice do not always critically put to task. Nor does it quite enter into Enwezor’s account of the documentary/ vérité mode.11 Regarding the “life full of holes” that Yto Barrada depicts, the rupture from political status brings about a troubling of representation, which is key to her project and to those considered in what follows. For instance, in another image from The Strait Series, there appear two children who lean up against an advertisement light box that illuminates an enlarged photograph of a ferry ship approaching port. While the figures reach out to an imaginary distance, as if attempting to grasp the ship, even board it and depart from their reality, the backlit image reduces the substance of their bodies to dark profiles, flattening their otherwise detailed appearances to patches of silhouettes (see figure 41). The scene, in other words, visualizes the becoming of the refugee as a process that pulls away presence into another world, creating a hole in the visual field that expresses the phenomenon of dislocation as a rupture from the grasp of the state of visibility. “It’s their political disenfranchisement that’s expressed in these characters trapped in a state of absence,” Barrada echoes.12 This analysis leads me to the conclusion that bare life is not at all a natural condition of documentary practice; nor is the latter somehow a natural opposition to the former. In fact, documentary representation, when it does take on a relation to bare life, often serves the interests of the state, according to which photography, positioned within ever new and expanding surveillance systems, operates as judicial and forensic evidence, where “truth” and “objectivity” live on through their continued institutional and legal validation. Indeed the documentation of bare life appears closely aligned to the exercise of biopower. As an application of force against the body of those denied political rights, this function was infamously revealed in the shockLife Full of Holes 99

Figure 41. Yto Barrada, Advertisement Lightbox—Ferry Port Transit Area, Tangier (2003). From A Life Full of Holes: The Strait Project (1998–2004). Courtesy of the artist.

ing images taken of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, where photography itself was enlisted as an instrument of torture (one among many), and where the photographic exposure of bare life was simultaneously its constitution. Conversely in Barrada’s work, photography does not operate as a technique of identification; rather, it enacts a visual subtraction of figures that is multivalent, both melancholy in the way it allegorizes the social devastation to Moroccan culture and promising in its liberation of life, where identification, for better or worse, is partly freed from representation, and where representation acknowledges its absences. The documentation of bare life, in other words, here takes place negatively, that is, inDeparture B 100

dicated through the lacuna, blurs, and blind spots that mar the image, but also critically, by opening up possibility within the image, possibility that counteracts the simultaneous disfranchising and constituent condition of the subject stripped bare of political representation. A further reason why the refugee deserves to be elevated to the position of the “central figure of our political history” is that such an elevation proposes the elemental unit of a postnational social formation. In this regard, it is telling that Agamben wrote his essay in 1993, during the jubilant years following the fall of the Soviet Union, when there were hopes for a new Europe liberated from national borders and the promise of creative potential for reimagining identity beyond the nation-­state. Just as Arendt in 1943—startlingly—thought that “refugees driven from country to country represent the vanguard of their peoples,” insofar as “history is no longer a closed book to them and politics is no longer the privilege of Gentiles,”13 so for Agamben “the condition of the countryless refugee” represents “the paradigm of a new historical consciousness.”14 The situation of Israel becomes a case in point for Agamben to draw out the social ramifications of his theoretical repositioning of the refugee in terms of a radically new conception of community (and, indeed, owing to its exemplary status as a state of exception today, it is a focal point for the artists discussed here): “Instead of two national states separated by uncertain and threatening boundaries, it might be possible to imagine two political communities insisting on the same region and in a condition of exodus from each other—communities that would articulate each other via a series of reciprocal extraterritorialities in which the guiding concept would no longer be the ius (right) of the citizen but rather the refugium (refuge) of the singular.”15 Agamben extends this ultimately democratic proposal—made before the start of the second intifada but equally compelling today—to the imagined reinvention of Europe not as a unity of nations (the European Union) but as an “aterritoriality or extraterritorial space” in which all inhabitants would exist “in a position of exodus.” In such a situation, Agamben contends, “the status of European would then mean the being-­in-­exodus of the citizen.”16 Accordingly, bare life signifies a revolutionary refusal of national determination and a commitment to conceptualize anew the relationship between life and politics within a spatiotemporal order detached from national sovereignty or the state’s territory. It is a speculative political proposal for sure, a proposal made in the context of European euphoLife Full of Holes 101

ria regarding the recent collapse of the borders between East and West that today can only be seen as the complete antithesis to the directions of Europe’s increasingly nationalist politics of exclusion and borders. Yet many artists have taken up the spirit of Agamben’s suggestion since it was first articulated. Namely, Barrada’s work glimpses what being-­in-­exodus might look like, a visual approximation that reveals its affective complexity, inspiring melancholy and emancipatory desires alike, as a mode of documentary representation.

Departure B 102



The Art of Emily Jacir Dislocation and Politicization

​“If I could do something for you, anywhere in Palestine, what would it be?” With this question, the Palestinian artist Emily Jacir initiated the project Where We Come From (2001–3), soliciting requests from Palestinians living within or outside Israel and the Occupied Territories who face severe Israeli travel restrictions that prohibit movement to or within the country. “Go to my mother’s grave in Jerusalem on her birthday and put flowers and pray,” reads one plea. The corresponding text, presented in English and Arabic, tells us that the man who made the request, Munir, lives only a few kilometers away in Bethlehem but was denied access to Jerusalem by Israeli authorities. Consequently, he could not visit his mother’s grave on the anniversary of her death. Jacir could make the visit, because she held an American passport that entitled her to greater mobility through Israeli borders and checkpoints. A photograph presented next to the white panel on which the request appears shows her shadow floating over the tombstone as she carried out the task. Her image is a fleeting presence that is rather the sign of a painful absence. Although Jacir’s action fulfills a desire, its realization remains phantasmatic, vicarious, ghostly (see plates 8 and 9). Bringing together the results of some thirty such wishes, comprising a similar number of pairings of texts and photographs—although some statements are joined with more than one photograph, and one is accompanied by a dvd—the project introduces varied appeals: Hana, from a Palestinian family exiled to Lebanon in 1948, asks Jacir to go to Haifa and

play soccer with the first Palestinian boy she comes across on the street; Marie-­Therese, raised in New York to parents from Haifa, who were exiled in 1948, requests that the artist “do something on a normal day in Haifa, something [she] might do if [she] was living there now”; and Iyad, living in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, located just south of Bethlehem in the West Bank, asks her to water a tree in the village of Dayr Rafat, the erstwhile home of his parents, in the district of Jerusalem that was depopulated during the war in 1948 that established the state of Israel (see figures 42 and 43). Rather than portray the Palestinians who responded to her query, Jacir makes evident their visual absences and thereby allegorizes their deprived political status, a status decreed by Israeli law, imposed by borders and checkpoints, and enforced with military might. Implying a parallel between political disfranchisement and representational erasure, Where We Come From confronts the oppressive apparatus of spatial control in which these Palestinian subjects are enmeshed. Whether banished from Israel, or prohibited from moving about within the Occupied Territories, these Palestinian subjects are conveyed through a skeletal descriptive language reminiscent of bureaucratic discourse, and by the photographic realization of an act that could only be performed by a Palestinian with the rights accorded to a holder of a U.S. or European passport.1 Jacir embarked on her project during her residency at al-­Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, in Jerusalem in 2002, and its original presentation appeared as a series of overlapping images and texts in the magazine What’s Up in 2003, distributed for free, before being exhibited in various galleries in the United States and in Europe, which introduced the project to international art audiences. This strategic flexibility is fitting for a piece that concerns what Jacir terms “(im)mobility”—the inequality between those who can and cannot enjoy the rights of the freedom of movement.2 Resonating with the practices of likeminded midcareer Palestinian artists who also address the diaspora and the Israeli occupation in their artwork, such as Ayreen Anastas, Taysir Batniji, and Khalil Rabah, Jacir’s engagement distinguishes itself by intertwining the coolly analytical, poetically ironic, and poignantly political, expressing a complex, even appropriately paradoxical response to an intransigent, seemingly irresolvable geopolitical conflict.3 And building on the accomplishments of an earlier generation of artists—foremost among them Mona Hatoum—who prepared the ground for these more recent engagements, it is the experichapter four 104

Figures 42 and 43. Emily Jacir, Where We Come From (2001–2003) detail (Hana). American passport, 30 texts, 32 c-­prints and 1 video. Text (Hana): 91/2 × 111/2 in/24 × 29 cm. photo (Hana): 15 × 20 in/ 38 × 50.8 cm. Photo: Bill Orcutt. Courtesy of the artist and Alexander and Bonin. Copyright: Emily Jacir.

ence of displacement in the context of Israel’s occupation of Palestine that is addressed by invoking various neoconceptual artistic strategies. Since Jacir began working as an artist in the mid- to late 1990s, she has experimented, for instance, with the photo-­text presentation (Change/Exchange [1998]), the task-­based system (My America (I am Still Here) [2000]), the statistical survey of responses (From Texas with Love [2002]), the use of the newspaper advertisements (Sexy Semite [2000–2002]), the role of artist as service-­provider (Where We Come From), and the mixed-­media installation (Material for a Film [2005–present]).4 Doing so, she has creatively deployed many of the signature elements of conceptual art, drawing on particularly the politicized versions of its late stages. Consider, for instance, the photo-­text combinations of Douglas Heubler, Cildo Meireles, and Martha Rosler, the scripted scenarios and photographic realizations of Sophie Calle, and the political installations of Hans Haacke and Alfredo Jaar, which are among the precursors of Jacir’s art. The significance of these conceptual techniques to Jacir’s practice owe to two factors: first, conceptualism, and particularly its manifestation in the work of Rosler and Haacke, exemplifies a period in art history when political engagement was seen as sanctioning a “tactical” use of mediums, a “by-­any-­means-­necessary” approach to materials and conventions definitively freed from modernism’s insistence on medium specificity as the privileged criterion of artistic quality—a term that typically excludes political factors.5 Second, conceptualism proved to be the most effective means of pursuing a politics of representation capable of addressing oppressive systems and institutions, as demonstrated in its enthusiastic reception in the work of artists working in the 1990s in the context of identity politics and multiculturalism—think of the practices of Fred Wilson, David Hammons, Jimmie Durham, Edgar Heap of Birds, Duane Michaels, Adrian Piper, and Felix Gonzalez-­Torres, which also inform and parallel Jacir’s artistic methods.6 But in addition to those artistic factors that opened various formal possibilities, the Israeli negation of Palestinian claims to a homeland and the consequent experience of the forced Palestinian exile motivated Jacir’s peripatetic use of various mediums and strategies. Indeed, for an artist with an intimate relation to displacement—she grew up as the daughter of guest workers in Saudi Arabia, went to high school in Italy, college in Texas and Tennessee, and has lived in New York City, Paris, and recently in Italy—there is a certain personal correlation between her chapter four 106

own geographical mobility and contemporary art’s post-­medium condition, where no single medium, such as painting or sculpture, dominates its practice. Indeed, Where We Come From “comes out of [Jacir’s] personal experience of the constant back and forth between Palestine and whatever country [she happened] to be living in at the moment.”7 Given that Jacir’s work is marked—formally, materially, thematically, and politically—by the experience of displacement, the project Where We Come From is also appropriately distant from the self-­assuring phenomenology of site specificity and the presumed open access to location that many other artists have interrogated in recent years. For instance, artists such as Mark Dion and Renée Green, whose work also began to gain visibility during the 1990s, have dedicated themselves to complicating the postminimalist understanding of the “site” of sculptural interventions by insisting that that site define a complex field of discourses and representations, political and economic determinations, which uprooted the meaning of site from any reductive relation to a simple geographical designation.8 Jacir’s subsequent movement away from such geographical security, however, owes not only to the fact that her work elicits the legalistic, economic, and political conditions of the framework she investigates, the Palestinian diaspora in the context of the Israeli occupation, which obviously resists any oversimplifying territorial basis. And it owes not only to the fragmented status of her objects and performances, which stretch across a variety of mediums (sculpture, text, photography, video, and so on), distribution mechanisms (galleries, newspapers, commercial outlets, and public spaces) and geographical references (Italy, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Paris, Texas, and New York), thereby fitting into the genealogy of site specificity at the point where it is said to turn increasingly “nomadic,” becoming uprooted from a fixed geography.9 Most fundamentally, the fraught relation of Jacir’s art to site specificity owes to the fact that for Palestinians suffering from political and territorial dispossession, the site that is of primary reference—the homeland—appears as if under erasure. Indeed, for Edward Said, exile represents “the unhealable rift between a human being and a native place, between self and its true home,” a rift that separates one from “the nourishment of tradition, family, and geography.”10 It is this rift that Jacir has poignantly explored over the course of her still developing body of work. Given Jacir’s own relation to displacement, it is not surprising that moThe Art of Emily Jacir: Dislocation and Politicization 107

Figure 44. Emily Jacir, Change/Exchange (1998). The piece documents the repeated exchange of $100 into francs and back into dollars, until only $2.45 in coins remained, the remainder of sixty exchanges. Photo: O.K. Center for Contemporary Art, Upper Austria. Copyright: Emily Jacir. Image courtesy of Alexander and Bonin.

bility and exchange mark her practice overall, which enacts in disguised form the movement that in Israel is strictly controlled or altogether foreclosed. In Change/Exchange (1998), Jacir took $100 and exchanged it for francs sixty-­seven times, until the sum, after three days of fees, was gradually reduced to insignificance (see figure 44). The piece displays photographs of currency exchange offices paired with receipts of her transactions. Border crossings for money, these places of exchange are portals for a global economy, of continual transactions that are seemingly endless and fluid. Still, currency exchange is never free, as we learn from Jacir’s piece, and its costs vary from place to place, region to region. Exchange can gradually wear down one’s money (and alternately make money for someone else). In My America (I Am Still Here) (2000), Jacir went to the World Trade Center mall, in New York, and over the course of thirty-­three days bought one thing each day, only to return it the next day, from stores like Banana Republic, the Body Shop, and Godiva. When she exchanged the various clothes, sunglasses, shoes, books, and chocolates, she completed a circuit chapter four 108

of ownership that ended with her exercising the right to return purchases as a consumer. The circuit is replayed in the documentation, which presents photographs of the purchases along with receipts of full refunds. An infinite back and forth seems possible, the object caught in an eternal return. But because My America realizes certain privileges of living in capitalist society, which means participating in a utopia of the freedom of choice when it comes to buying and selling things, then the parenthetical I Am Still Here signals the impossibility of other returns. She is still here—not in her home in Palestine, where return is restricted, if not altogether forbidden. Far from being straightforward artistic interventions in everyday consumerist life, these pieces reenact an exchange with veiled content. They render visible a perverse inequality between things and people. That inequality concerns the fact that commodities can move about relatively freely through global markets and across national borders (with minor fees), but people (the ultimate focus in her projects) are controlled physically and geographically. People, not things, are denied entry into certain territories and nations, regimented in ways that are politically instrumental to maintaining exclusive political and economic communities, and ethnic and national identities. In this regard, Jacir’s work dramatizes the inequalities of globalization, revealing that globalization is more about the purported economic freedom of markets than the free mobility of people. In other words, while nation-­states under globalization increasingly participate in a transnational economy that delocalizes citizenship, they also continue to militarize their borders in ways that reterritorialize national identities. When the virtues of free-­market capitalism are proclaimed, couched in the celebrations of “freedom,” then the freedom to buy things, often from far-­flung places, rather than the freedom of people to cross borders, is most often assumed. Of course Jacir’s work allegorizes, more specifically, the inequities of movement in relation to Palestinians and Israelis, which is taken up more explicitly in pieces such as Sexy Semite, a series of mock personal ads she had her friends take out in New York’s Village Voice newspaper from 2000 to 2002 (see figure 45). “You Stole the Land, May as Well Take the Women! Redhead Palestinian ready to be colonized by your army,” reads one ad. Another grabs our attention with a greeting: “Shalom baby! Hot Palestinian Semite gal Hoping to find my perfect Israeli man. Let’s stroll the beaches of Akka & live and love in Jerusalem. No Fatties.” Beyond the The Art of Emily Jacir: Dislocation and Politicization 109

Figure 45. Emily Jacir, Sexy Semite (2000–2002) (detail). Palestinians placed ads seeking Jewish mates in order to be able to return home, utilizing Israel’s “Law of Return.” Photo: O.K. Center for Contemporary Art, Upper Austria. Copyright: Emily Jacir. Image courtesy of Alexander and Bonin.

funny translation of the Israeli-­Palestinian conflict into a personal ad’s tryst, the piece’s humor turns on the highly contentious inequality between Israel’s Law of Return (allowing any Jewish person to immigrate to Israel and obtain citizenship) and the Palestinian “right of return” (claimed by Palestinian exiles who wish to return to their homeland, denied by Israel). Not surprisingly, many missed the joke. The Anti-­Defamation League and the Israeli Consulate in New York took seriously its conspiratorial tone, even imagined a terrorist agenda to infiltrate their country. While these organizations doubtlessly overreacted, they nonetheless picked up on the political challenge of Jacir’s ads—the demand for open borders, for the restitution of the homes of the forcibly displaced, for an end to the occupation and its control of Palestinian movements. Jacir continued to explore the effects of travel restrictions placed on Palestinians in Crossing Surda (A Record of Going to and from Work) chapter four 110

(2003). The video, shot secretly, shows the everyday commute to work that Jacir and multitudes of Palestinians were forced to walk at the time, because of a travel checkpoint manned by Israeli soldiers that separated Ramallah from nearby Birzeit University (where the artist was teaching at the time) and approximately thirty Palestinian villages. The passage was once open, existing within the archipelago of fractured Palestinian territories controlled by Israel in the West Bank, until it was blocked by the checkpoint in March 2001.11 From that moment on, everyone, including the disabled, elderly, and children, had to walk as far as two kilometers to traverse a path they could once easily drive, creating a nuisance that has significantly disrupted academic life for those studying at Birzeit University (in the West Bank, twenty kilometers north of Jerusalem).12 When the Israeli soldiers would periodically and seemingly arbitrarily decide to shut down the passageway, they sometimes fired live ammunition, tear gas, and sound bombs to disperse people from the checkpoint—a situation Jacir wanted to document. Clandestinely shot with a camera she hid in her bag (owing to Israeli restrictions on documenting the area), the video traces the walk step by step, occasionally showing ordinary Palestinians filing past Israeli military vehicles and tanks. The frustration caused by endless checkpoints and border controls that have been gradually put into place since the early 1990s explains why Jacir, for another piece, once got in a car and drove without stopping in Texas. From Texas with Love (2002) presents the resulting video: one hour showing the road ahead. She asked various Palestinian respondents: “If you had the freedom to get in a car and drive for one hour without being stopped (imagine no Israeli military occupation; no Israeli soldiers, no Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks, no ‘bybass’ roads), what song would you listen to?” The responses included Jimi Hendrix’s “Freedom” and Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” as well as several Arab nationalist hymns. Jacir is fully aware of the significance of these playful games, which, far from representing compensatory maneuvers, deliver a punishing side-­ effect to the enjoyment of such emancipatory experiences as driving freely in Texas. She notes, “The ability to actually experience such a freedom in other countries is a painful marker and reminder of the impossibility of experiencing such a basic human right in Palestine.”13 When one endlessly repeats the freedom of movement here, in Texas, one also continually reenacts the painful memory of its impossibility there, in Palestine. For Jacir this diaThe Art of Emily Jacir: Dislocation and Politicization 111

lectical relation is just the point: her work is clearly not about an imaginary, utopian escape from the restrictions of occupation. Rather, such flights of fancy, never naive, are continually rendered ironic in her work. They express the image of freedom precisely to dramatize a profound unfreedom. Indeed, to speak of the experience of the occupation in ironic terms recalls a point once made by Said, who observed that speaking ironically of occupation is “by no means to reduce or trivialize its force. On the contrary: what to many Palestinians is either an incomprehensible cruelty of fate or a measure of how appalling are the prospects for settling their claims can be clarified by seeing irony as a constitutive factor in their lives.”14 The story of Palestinian dispossession is, of course, a long and complicated one, beginning with the formation of the State of Israel in 1948, a fateful year for many of Jacir’s respondents in Where We Come From. A year of commemoration for Israelis celebrating the establishment of the Jewish nation after the devastation of the Holocaust, for Palestinians, it commonly signifies the “Nakba,” meaning the catastrophe of Israel’s violent expropriation of Palestinian territory and the forced exile of approximately 800,000 Palestinians from their homeland. Many have perceived the ongoing Israeli occupation and colonization of the West Bank following the war in 1967 and its settlement-­led takeover—illegal according to international law—of ever more Palestinian land since then as a continuation of that original and still unresolved historical injustice.15 Indeed, for Said, it has stoked the Palestinians’ fear of their complete and total elimination from their ancestral lands in the not-­so-­distant future (meaning the temporality of the Nakba is still ongoing), a fate that is glimpsed in Where We Come From: “The destruction of Palestine in 1948, the years of subsequent anonymity, the painful reconstruction of an exiled Palestinian identity, the efforts of many Palestinian political workers, fighters, poets, artists, and historians to sustain Palestinian identity—all of these have teetered alongside the confounding fear of disappearance, given the grim determination of official Israel to hasten the process to reduce, minimize, and ensure the absence of Palestinians as a political and human presence in the Middle Eastern equation.”16 By the time Said wrote these words in The Question of Palestine (1994), already over 50 percent of the total Palestinian population—numbering some 10 million—were living in forced exile outside the West Bank and Gaza, forbidden from entering Israel.17 Following the Oslo Accords in 1993, parts of the West Bank were transferred to Palchapter four 112

estinian self-­rule, yet the territory would effectively remain under Israeli control, including the population registry, borders, water, airspace, taxation, and other vital measures, preventing the return of diasporic Palestinians and encouraging the emigration of those who remained by making life generally difficult. The number of exiled has consequently only continued to grow, a phenomenon explained by the Israeli historian Ilan Pappé as far from accidental. Rather, for him and other dissident historians, Israeli policy since 1948 has been consistent in working toward the resettlement of Palestinians outside Israel (including its Occupied Territories), encouraged via economic pressure, land appropriation, settler activity, and military violence—what Pappé terms “ethnic cleansing.”18 That practice has met with resistance. Most recent has been the Second Intifada, which intensified the Palestinians’ struggle for justice, national liberation, and an end to the Israeli occupation, and forms the more immediate, politically fraught context of Jacir’s Where We Come From. The uprising was set off, let us recall, in September 2000, by Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit, along with over 1,000 Israeli police officers, to the area known to Muslims as al-­Haram al-­Sharif, which houses the eighth-­century al-­Aqsa mosque and the Islamic shrine called the Dome of the Rock. Using the context of his visit to the sacred Islamic compound to declare that the complex would henceforth exist under perpetual Israeli control (thus implicitly countering Palestinian claims to Jerusalem as the capital of their proposed state), Sharon, then a candidate for prime minster, sparked an already volatile situation. Some ten days earlier, Palestinians had just observed their annual memorial day for the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon in 1982 (a massacre overseen by Sharon as defense minister). The al-­Aqsa event catalyzed mass Palestinian protests, general strikes, and violent resistance to the occupation. Following the breakdown of the Middle East Peace Summit convened by President Clinton at Camp David earlier in July, Israel responded with violent, military repression, paralyzing Palestinian movements throughout the Occupied Territories with checkpoint closures and strict curfews, transforming the Occupied Territories into what the Palestinian-­Israeli member of parliament, writer, and activist Azmi Bishara called “the land of the checkpoints.”19 These divisions in the Occupied Territories, adopted during the nineties, would culminate in the construction of the barrier wall.20 In addition, there would be destructive military incursions into West Bank cities, such as Nablus and The Art of Emily Jacir: Dislocation and Politicization 113

Jenin in 2002 and Gaza in 2008 and 2009. While responding to their own fears of terrorism in the face of Palestinian bombings, the Israeli measures enacted a form of economic warfare against Palestinian livelihood, measures many took to be a form of collective punishment (again illegal, according to international law). In retrospect, the Israeli dissident historian and sociologist Baruch Kimmerling has argued that the ultimate goal of Sharon’s provocation was to continue his long-­standing project of “politicide . . . a process that covers a wide range of social, political, and military activities whose goal is to destroy the political and national viability of a whole community of people and thus deny it the possibility of genuine self-­ determination.”21 Advanced earlier, with his retaliatory raids during the 1950s and his brutal actions during the 1982 Lebanon war, Sharon’s agenda thus lent credence to Said’s fear of Palestinian erasure, as well as Jacir’s, as she explains: “Measures such as checkpoint/borders, barbed wire, tanks, and soldiers with M-­16s have encircled every town and village [in the Palestinian territories]. Palestinians are killed trying to cross these borders. Those that do have the ability to move are subjected to the worst forms of humiliation at every crossing in an effort to discourage people from entering or moving around the country. These measures have been implemented and designed to fragment and destroy the fabric of our entire people.”22 Given the forced dislocation and exile that has defined Palestinian collective experience over the last half century, Jacir’s Where We Come From can be considered only a partial view of a recent stage of that long and complex history. Yet as a response, the piece is pointedly distinct from the conflagration of militarized resistance and state violence—Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli targeted assassinations and house demolitions—that has characterized the context of the Intifada, which has appeared to have only spelled disaster for both sides and provided yet further opportunities for the prolonged state of siege that has allowed Israel to take advantage of its military superiority and economic support from the United States to gain even more ground via renewed settlement activity.23 That distinction is crucial, for it signals an implicit rejection on Jacir’s part of the cycle of violence that tragically defines the conflict, offering an alternative for exchange that leads in other productive directions, including the ethical and political consideration of the effect of the occupation on Palestinian lives. That said, it is striking that rather than utopian pleas for peace and liberachapter four 114

tion, Where We Come From gathers mostly pragmatic concerns, exemplified in those requests for Jacir to pay bills, visit one’s family, and water one’s trees. Consider Rami’s request: “Go on a date with a Palestinian girl from East Jerusalem that I have only spoken to on the phone. As a West Banker, I am forbidden entry into Jerusalem.” The photograph shows the dinner with Jacir that took place at a restaurant. Across the table sits the woman, clearly not thrilled with the situation. Far from unrealistic political pleas or desperate entreaties for relief from newly suffered injustices, these requests are the expressions of those accustomed to dealing with travel restrictions, which have been in place in some shape or form for generations now, even if they have intensified as of late. As Jacir herself explains, she has been making these visits regularly, bringing things to people who could not travel. The piece extends from the experiences over the course of her whole life, “always taking things back and forth for other people.”24 In this regard, Where We Come From differs from Mona Hatoum’s experience of displacement as figured in her video Measures of Distance (1988). As we recall, Hatoum’s video—one of the artist’s most powerful works—fixes on the traumatic intimacy of her distanced relation to her mother, who appears throughout in her bathroom. Those images are overlaid with the fragmented lines of Arabic text taken from Hatoum’s correspondence with her mother and also read in English by the artist in her voice-­over. In addition to the obstruction of the image by prolonged shots of abstract colors and intervals of darkness, Hatoum’s mother’s body is occluded by the lines of writing, suggesting a kind of barbed wire preventing visual passage. Connecting homesickness to familial distance, the video poignantly joins a desired maternal communion with its foreclosure, owing to the facts of exile, which is poetically translated in the formal structure of the piece with great pathos. Conversely, for Jacir’s interlocutors, exile is seemingly all they have ever known, which perhaps explains the pragmatism and prosaic everydayness of their requests, even if their longings for home are just as strong. The banality of operating under Israel’s occupation for so many years contrasts with the tumultuous immediacy of Hatoum’s psychologically expressive meditation, recorded during the unfolding of her initial displacement. Still, insofar as Jacir’s respondents are visually and physically absented, as is Hatoum, from their objects of desire, for which the artwork’s vicarious representations stand in, there remains a connection between the two The Art of Emily Jacir: Dislocation and Politicization 115

projects, especially their shared poetic and political use of minimalist forms, and the performative and autobiographical response to the experiential conditions of displacement.25 And although Jacir’s subjects make pragmatic requests, there are also those telling pleas that nonetheless betray the powerful desire for a return to Palestinian land, a return that is figured as a visual connection to the earth, inextricably associated with family and the intimacy of memory via descriptions and photographic representation. For instance, Mohannad, born in Cairo and living in Riyadh on a Jordanian passport, requests that Jacir go to Haifa’s beach at the moment of the first light and take a deep breath and light a candle. Rizek, born in Bayt Lahia and living in Bir Zeit with a Palestinian passport and a Gazan id card, asks the artist to bring him a photo of his brother’s children, who are shown picking lemons and strawberries on their fields. These requests and corresponding images, which so often focus on a forbidden land and family connections, profess a yearning to be grounded in the homeland of Palestinian territory, appealing to it as if it were a state of nature freed from Israeli control—and as a place of final rest, as when Munir’s mother’s grave is shown securely planted in the earth. A visual grounding parallels the descriptive desires for a return to the land. It is this desire for grounding that explains one important feature of Jacir’s work: its reliance on language’s transparency and directness. Distant from the frequent artistic focus on semiotic play and representational multiplicity, including its recent tendency to blur the boundaries between fact and fiction, Jacir’s work emerges out of a political crisis that leaves no room, it seems, for ambiguity. This denotative, direct address characterizes Jacir’s commemorative project, Memorial to 418 Villages Which Were Destroyed, Depopulated, and Occupied by Israel in 1948 (2000), a title chosen explicitly to force the political recognition of the piece’s subject. It consists of a beige refugee tent embroidered with the names of those Palestinian villages referred to in the title, which recalls the Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi’s groundbreaking study All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 (1992). Khalidi’s text represents an archaeological account comprising statistics, an extensive photographic archive, and numerous historical maps, from which Jacir’s Memorial quotes as if to reinforce and extend its historical evidence. Aided by friends and supporters who assisted with the handiwork of sewing the names onto the tent’s fabric, Jacir transformed the making of her sculpchapter four 116

ture into a collective act of remembrance. During the embroidery sessions in New York, participants read passages from Khalidi’s book, grounding the physical process of sculpture in both historical consciousness and political solidarity. Because of the polemical terms of the political conflict, the violent origins of the creation of Israel have been subjected to much denial in Israel and in the West, in favor of a whitewashed narrative that claims, among other myths, that Palestinian villagers “voluntarily” left their homeland during the conflict of 1948, a mytholigization that minimizes Israeli responsibility for the violent events of the war.26 Preempting the potential misrepresentation of this history a second time, in relation to her Memorial, Jacir chose a name that would be as direct as possible, one that in effect registers the piece’s significance—and references scholarly support—by virtue of its title, constituting an act of nomination that figures not as deconstructive mechanism, but as evidential grounding.27 In this regard, Jacir’s information-­based use of language differs from the playful approaches of her conceptualist forbears, such as Sophie Calle. Presenting written scenarios that introduce the formulas for her various projects—such as asking kids in New York to take her to a place they love or hate, as in The Bronx (1980), or requesting advice from the writer Paul Auster in Gotham Handbook (1994)—Calle’s pieces pair them with photographs that document her realization of those tasks. Her documentary texts “admit exhibits as evidence” and undertake a “judicial relation to reality,” notes Yve-­Alain Bois.28 Yet, in distinction from Jacir’s practice, they do so only as a declared beginning, one that subsequently opens onto the aleatory occurrence, the masquerading performance, the serendipitous eventuality, which is the basis of Calle’s interweaving of the factual and the fictional in her work. Recent art has moved in similar directions. Consider the work of the Lebanese artist Walid Raad, who integrates historical documents concerning the Lebanese civil war, such as photographs of bombed areas of Beirut, into imaginary scenarios (discussed in chapter 7). Raad’s projects, with such allusive titles as Secrets in the Open Sea (2002) and My Neck Is Thinner than a Hair (2002), evoke the psychologically infused subjective aspects of traumatic memory, presented as embodying its own legitimate historical truth. Conversely, Jacir has rejected this kind of aesthetic play in confronting Palestinian history and the reality of the Israeli occupation. It is as if the very fact of being displaced—experientially, geographically, and politically—by a long-­standing colonial regime demands The Art of Emily Jacir: Dislocation and Politicization 117

the stability of language to reaffirm one’s own self-­representation and historical narrative, especially when one’s self-­representation and narrative are under threat of erasure. When spatial security and sovereignty are in jeopardy, the facts of photographic truthfulness and language’s straightforward, descriptive power stand in for existence’s otherwise shaky ground. What would it mean to doubt these images, as the viewer is called to critically disbelieve the historical truthfulness of the Atlas Group’s archives? It would mean to fail or refuse to enter into the work’s given system of affects and meanings. It would be to ask the wrong questions of Jacir’s art, effectively to misread it and miss its point. That said, Jacir’s use of language is not as clear as it seems; rather, in Where We Come From, the ambiguous pronouns, the slippery use of “I” and “we,” introduce a productive mobility to the piece’s photographic and linguistic modes of address. First of all, consider the artist’s own identification with her subjects as she acts out their wishes. In the photographs, the artist’s body becomes an instrument of their will, becomes them for a brief moment of time, a slippage that points to exile as a shifting form of identification. In this regard, we learn something about the artist’s desires to somehow provide subjective connections through an artistic mediation that would draw together a diasporic community. “Diaspora,” from the Greek, dia-­, “apart, through,” and speirein, “to scatter”—can its tears be repaired, its pieces recollected? Jacir’s wish, it seems, is to reassemble the splinters of diaspora into a single place by performing an identification with the exiled. By doing so, she builds narrative continuity, assembling an interconnected history for a people dispersed geographically and threatened with disappearance. In this sense, it is significant that Jacir represents Palestinians from different religious backgrounds in her piece. The grave of Munir is marked with a Christian cross, and Ghassan asks her to “go to al-­Aqsa Mosque and pray to God to ease the pressure and help those who are needy.” These subjects of heterogeneous backgrounds nevertheless share a collective bonding that has found itself only strengthened in the face of Israel’s state of control. It is that fragmented community—simultaneously visually absent and called into presence as a heterogeneous liberation struggle—that Jacir’s piece reassembles in terms of its shared experience of Israel’s occupation.29 Where We Come From also inspires the viewer’s desire. We read the text on the left and then look at the task’s completion as photographed on the right. The resolution from description to realization repeats the habitual chapter four 118

structures of the act of reading, of narrative denouement, of the pictorial connectedness of the diptych structure that most often organizes the piece’s components. We not only see these connections occurring over and over; we come to desire them ourselves. As we come to pronounce the texts, the first-­person accounts slip from the words of others to those of ourselves. We then identify with the position of exile: I desire to be able to visit my mother, to enjoy everyday life in my native land, to see my friends, and so on. In this regard, the linguistic identification is further reinforced photographically, as Jacir’s lens becomes the viewer’s eye. That is my shadow falling across the grave of Munir’s mother, that is me walking the streets of Nazareth, that is my family in Bayt Lahia. But it is precisely the seeming ease of making this transition for the viewer—from textual description to photographic realization—that also dramatizes the tragic impossibility for those Palestinian respondents to realize their desires themselves. Viewers face a project that is first of all divided between text panels and photographs. But how to get from one to the other? The visual transition from language to image, from text to photograph, seems simple enough. Yet it is just this translation, written out in clear language and realized photographically, that for many is insurmountable. For those subjects caught up in the politics of the Israeli-­Palestinian conflict, the terrain between text and photograph, description and realization, represents an unbridgeable chasm, an impossibility on which a complex of desires and political demands are built. Jacir’s “service,” then, is to show the political desire and its unlikely satisfaction in the artistic sphere precisely by staging the kind of everyday activities viewers outside of Israel and Palestine would take for granted in everyday life. Often Jacir’s performance, informed by the “notes” she appends to the bottom of the texts, only ends in bathos, or still more confrontations with the degraded status of Palestinian suffering, as when she carried out Munir’s request: “When I reached the grave of his mother, I was surprised to see a circle of tourists surrounding a grave nearby,” she records in the piece’s text. “It was the grave of Oskar Schindler . . . buried next to a woman whose son living a few kilometers away is forbidden [from] paying his respects without a permit.”30 In this vein, even in the artistic performance, there is a confrontation with the impossibility of the piece’s compensatory logic. This division between desire and impossibility is inscribed into the piece’s very formal structure. The more we look, the The Art of Emily Jacir: Dislocation and Politicization 119

more we become aware of the gaping disjunction between the two panels, between the representational conditions of writing (where a wish can be easily articulated) and those of photography (showing the impossibility of its realization by the respondent). In other words, there is ultimately a limited salve in Jacir’s service, a hollow benefit in her proxy performance, a stunted life in the photographic realization of an exile’s wish. As a stand-­ in for the realization of a yearned-­for desire, the photograph is a cold and unsatisfying substitute. The vicarious, not victorious, realization of diasporic desires that Where We Come From performs is, in the end, no substitute for the human rights denied to those in exile, as Jacir herself points out. It is exactly that failure to which the piece responds. Through it we focus on the absences that Jacir’s service cannot fill. These instill a yearning in us, its viewers, to see some sort of resolution, to wish for an answer to the inequities of movement outside the piece. “If I could do something for you, anywhere in Palestine, what would it be?” The desire this question elicits is ultimately very difficult to occupy, at least for us who are not exiles, as we can only understand it indirectly, on the basis of what we can do. What would it be like not to be able to do these things? The piece makes evident that the experience of requiring another to carry out the wishes one cannot perform oneself prevents the exile from ever feeling at home. But this sense of displacement is also sometimes relished in exile: to refuse to feel at home while homeless and—perhaps perversely—to cultivate that feeling, for the converse would only be a mark of resignation or of capitulation. Becoming settled would mean to forget the occupation’s injustice. “It is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home,” Said explained, finding a way to articulate the ethical complexity of exile in the phrasing of Theodor Adorno, who wrote those words himself during his forced exile from Nazi Germany.31 Said went on to point out the troubling uncanniness of the situation whereby Palestinians have been severed from Palestine by Israelis banished from Europe: “to have been exiled by exiles.”32 The result has been a peculiar mirroring most often answered with aggression—exiles denying the status of exile to the exiled, a logic that produces a double displacement, not only of bodies from territories, but stories from history, nations from narration. Said notes, “It is as if the reconstructed Jewish collective experience, as represented by Israel and modern Zionism, could not tolerate another story of dispossession and loss to exist alongside it—an intolerance constantly chapter four 120

reinforced by the Israeli hostility to the nationalism of the Palestinians, who for forty-­six years have been painfully reassembling a national identity in exile.”33 Jacir’s project breaks that cycle by throwing the viewer into an experience of dislocation via an identification with the displaced that inspires the demand for justice and resolution. Jacir explains, “Where We Come From is based on my ‘freedom of movement’ as a Palestinian with an American passport, a document that allows me this basic human right.”34 By staging a confrontation that defies the clear division between the rights of nationals and the privation of those of Palestinians, Jacir makes a political demand for the universal applicability of human rights, including the freedom of movement, personal independence, equality, and protection from discrimination and degrading treatment.35 In this respect, the demand articulated in Jacir’s work differs from those traditionally associated with past Palestinian national liberation movements, which have included the demand for the establishment of a Palestinian state within the borders prior to the war in 1967 (as designated by the “Green Line”) with its capital in east Jerusalem, and the demand for the right of return for Palestinian refugees who fled or were uprooted from their homeland during the war in 1948. Instead, the artist’s claim, which exceeds governmental politics by invoking human rights with universal applicability, invokes the recent turn toward humanitarianism as a purported path to the protection of Palestinians under occupation, if not to the resolution of the political crisis in Israel. It also mirrors the disillusionment of many Palestinians with past political processes, owing to the perceived ineffectiveness and corruption of their own political movements up to this time.36 However, it is important to distinguish Jacir’s work from the sometimes depoliticizing nature of such rights claims. There are several reasons for—and more importantly, problems with— the post-­Oslo humanitarian turn in relation to Palestinians. One is that during the 1990s, the Israeli state happily proclaimed its disengagement from the Occupied Territories but did so in large part, critics charge, because the move would free it from its identity as an occupying force with responsibilities toward the occupied, a maneuver challenged by international legal opinion.37 Allowing aid organizations—or what Sari Hanafi and Linda Tabar term the international “aid industry”—to care for the vital needs of Palestinians, as with the situation in Gaza, would release Israel from those duties and expenses, and would therefore serve the state’s The Art of Emily Jacir: Dislocation and Politicization 121

interests by reducing Palestinians to a condition of victimhood outside of political considerations. Because of international political and financial pressures upon aid organizations to position themselves as neutral, many ngos are accused of ignoring the root causes of conflicts and the colonial nature of Israel’s occupation and to provide vital services and disaster relief on that basis. “Faced with the Palestinian struggle for their collective national rights,” write Hanafi and Tabar, “aid agencies have opted for dispensing controversial food aid, devoid of any meaningful support for the national rights of the Palestinian people, and invariably leaving the root causes of the crisis in place.”38 Doing so, humanitarian discourse and practice tend to deprive refugees of their political being, and it is for this reason that philosophers such as Agamben and Rancière have criticized humanitarian developments as a form of depoliticization that ends up knowingly or unwittingly serving oppressive powers. To escape this humanitarian bind, according to Rancière, we must resituate the political as “a process of subjectivization” that rejects the stable boundary between those with political rights and those without, in order to insist on the equal redistribution of rights.39 Alternately, Agamben attempts to reconsider our “political philosophy anew starting from the one and only figure of the refugee,” meaning the negation of citizenship’s national basis and the construction of rights “beyond human rights.”40 Positing a third proposal, Ariella Azoulay suggests the reconceptualization of an ethicopolitical citizenry, a reframing based on the community of photographic subjects and spectators that would grant all members rights beyond national sovereignty.41 Jacir’s work surely will not settle the complex theoretical disagreements at stake here; however, its political demand stands as an important corrective to the humanitarian approach that would neutralize the political grievances of Palestinians and reduce them to the simple status of victims needful of aid. Moreover, by juxtaposing those with and those without “basic human rights,” in order to make a political demand, her project resonates, I would argue, both with Agamben’s proposal for a state of “reciprocal extraterritoriality” that acts against the security of a national identity based on the unfreedom of others, and Rancière’s insistence on a “back-­and-­forth movement” that continually scrutinizes the distribution of rights, and thereby brings about a process of political subjectivization founded on a commitment to equality.42 Jacir’s work achieves this political traction by tenaciously exposing the divisions chapter four 122

between national communities that remain a site of glaring injustice, and insisting on a reorganization of political rights. Where We Come From not only visualizes the inequality between those with rights and those without; its photo-­text structure also establishes an inclusive audience address, inviting an identification with the camera’s viewpoint and with language’s pronouns that extends Jacir’s position to the viewer as she performs a given request. In that moment of interpellation, when the viewer’s virtual presence finds itself internalized within the image’s visual logic, comes an experience of connection, as if one is swept away and projected into the negative space of another’s life, transported to the place where the other is prohibited from appearing. This connection, achieved through mutual dislocation, expresses a sense of experiential solidarity between the viewer and the subject of representation, a political relation established through the ethical and political identification with the deprivations of the other. There are multiple outcomes to the form of mobility developed in Jacir’s work in this respect. Her art proposes a solidarity of Palestinian belonging, but also a sociability founded on the very experiential basis of displacement. In this regard, Where We Come From catalyzes a politicization of being and becoming that ultimately challenges the essentialism and homogeneity of nationalism and the state’s limitation of the rights of citizenship. As if mobilizing an imaginary site where diverse communities intersect like overlapping circles, Jacir’s work gives form to a phenomenology of translation and displacement founded on equality. The change and exchange that defines the structure of her work engenders a pleasure in the freedom of itinerancy. That sense of mobility not only directly opposes restrictions on Palestinian movement; it also posits movement as both an aesthetico-­political experience and a fundamental human right.

The Art of Emily Jacir: Dislocation and Politicization 123



Recognizing the Unrecognized The Photographs of Ahlam Shibli

Ahlam Shibli’s photographs present a seeming contradiction, which places aesthetics and politics at odds. Consider the following two images. The first is from Unrecognised (2000), Shibli’s photographic series that depicts fellow Palestinians of Bedouin descent who live in Israel’s northern Galilee, in the village of ʻArab al-­N’aim, which is officially unrecognized by the state. The image shows a man resting on some pillows, surrounded by his meager possessions in his corrugated tin house (see figure 46). Cabinets, a television, and some prints of the Dome of the Rock are visible behind several colored textiles, and blankets rest on the plastic-­topped dirt floor. A teakettle and some food appear in the foreground. The image (and its series) would seem to advance a traditional documentary project, taking up its long-­standing social commitment to expose the plight of the disfranchised who are otherwise rendered invisible by mass media and ignored by political elites.1 This claim is often made on behalf of Shibli’s photographic project, which signals the political goal commonly ascribed to it: to recognize the unrecognized in order to contest their disempowering invisibility. As the Palestinian artist and writer Kamal Boullata observes: “Shibli continues to make visible what has been made invisible in Israeli public space.”2 The second image is from Goter (2003), another of Shibli’s series, this one focusing on the southern Palestinian Bedouin of the Naqab desert re-

Figure 46. Ahlam Shibli, Untitled (Unrecognised no. 22), ‘Arab al-­N’aim, Palestine (2000). 38 × 57.7 cm, Gelatin silver print. © Ahlam Shibli. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 47. Ahlam Shibli, Untitled (Goter no. 10), al-­Naqab, Palestine (2002–3). 38 × 57.7 cm, Gelatin silver print. © Ahlam Shibli. Courtesy of the artist.

gion (the Negev) (see figure 47). The black and white photograph captures a domestic scene set in the unrecognized village of al-­Qurein. All of the figures appear slightly blurred, owing to the photograph’s shallow depth of field, and the middle person’s face is blocked by a piece of paper held up by the woman to her right. Adding to this sense of visual obstruction, the faces are shown clouded in darkness, so that it is difficult, if not impossible, to gather any sense of their expressions or, beyond that, to find an entrance into the emotional setting of the scene. The austere, enigmatic photograph, disjointed and unwelcoming to the viewer, frustrates exposure in more ways than one, thereby troubling the very basis of documentary’s logic. Rather than rescuing the unrecognized from invisibility, the shot redoubles the opacity of the image, preventing identification, defeating whatever ethnographic revelation the photograph might otherwise offer. It is as if the figure who is denied political recognition (as in the work of Emily Jacir) can only appear as a specter beyond or on the edges of the onlooker’s gaze, exiled from the field of vision. The tension between these two images, which counterpose visibility and invisibility, the representation of politics and the politics of representation, chapter five 126

runs right to the center of Shibli’s project. But more than merely setting up an antagonism that nonetheless remains central to photographic practice today—the tension between aesthetics and politics, between photography’s self-­reflexive autonomy and its intervention in life—Shibli mobilizes its complexities to overcome both the shortcomings of traditional social documentary and the limitations of the recent postdocumentary repositioning of the photographic image as a fictional construct. We are consequently presented with an innovative modeling of photography that refuses to sever its ties to lived experience, even while a sensitivity toward the representational components of the medium remains in view. If Shibli’s photography indicates a rupture from traditional social documentary practice—precisely owing to her work’s aesthetic complexity, which limits the image’s capacity to expose its subject—then how does this development reconfigure her project’s political engagement? Part of the significance of Shibli’s work is due to the fact that she operates at a time when photography’s status within certain circles of the international art world has been gradually slipping toward aesthetic concerns and away from documentary commitments. The dominant form of photography today, some would argue, is characterized by the “picture,” the term proposed by the Canadian photographer Jeff Wall. Strategically opposed to the “document,” a term denoting a form of proof that accurately conveys information, “picture” emphasizes the medium’s basis in a subjective mode of depiction appreciated largely for its aesthetic qualities, where artistic autonomy has superseded photography’s evidentiary or communicative function. Think of Wall’s theatricalized tableaux, Andreas Gursky’s digitally modified images, Thomas Demand’s sculpturally mediated impressions of traumatic places, or Gregory Crewdson’s uncanny cinematographic stagings. Such work—both parallel to and extending the trend established by the “pictures” generation of photographers of the late 1970s and 1980s, including Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, and Richard Prince—has traded photography’s documentary function for its simulacral appearance, evidencing a demotion of the medium’s referential capacity in favor of its poetic imagination. In the course of this development, the assumptions regarding photography’s ability to record the reality of social relations have given way to practices concerned chiefly with the creation of artificial scenarios. Whereas a few decades ago photography was more subtly placed in the position to mediate between the documenRecognizing the Unrecognized: The Photographs of Ahlam Shibli 127

tation and the representation of social reality—as by Allan Sekula, for instance—some recent practitioners have progressed toward embracing the extremes of representational fantasy and contrived creations, often carried out through digital procedures that render the image fully available to manipulation.3 While this development may participate in a progressive move away from the false and naive claims of truth and objectivity made on behalf of earlier documentary practitioners (such as the generation of Garry Winogrand, Diane Arbus, and Robert Frank), the result appears to be the near complete disconnection of photography from social reality. In this vein of photography, lived experience appears merely as a secondary effect of the image’s creative fabrication. With that severing of photography from the real, however, there looms a potentially depoliticized eclipse of the medium’s traditional social commitments, one that sits well, not surprisingly, with the formalist preferences of many artistic institutions and the art market’s celebration of the artist’s creative genius and original vision. Consider the case of Jeff Wall, who argues that the medium’s ascendant pictorial status owes in part to photography’s withstanding conceptual art’s anti-­aesthetic assault on its basis in “depiction” and realignment as documentation.4 Because that attack, waged by artists such as Dan Graham, Ed Ruscha, and Bruce Nauman, “failed,” photography’s fundamental relation to the picture was, according to Wall, established beyond all doubt, leaving it now to return unabashedly, as it does with Wall’s own work, to its supposed key predecessors in nineteenth-­century history painting. Yet, whether or not we accept Wall’s conclusion, one ramification of his repositioning of photography is that when the medium is evaluated according to the criterion of pictorial value, photographic achievement risks collapsing into a matter of fetishized, virtuosic technique and subjectivist aestheticism, which is precisely the vulnerability of Wall’s elaborate digital constructions. Another is that this neopictorialist view of photography, which reached its height in the 1990s, surrenders the medium’s documentary functions: Wall’s positing of a new “near-­documentary” image, even while representative of the progressive reinvention of photography following the theoretical problematization of documentary’s scientific presumptions of objectivity, neutrality, and truthfulness, can only create at best a simulated construction of reality akin to the artist’s memory of everyday existence or the painting of modern life.5 Yet because this solution leaves us with a photography that ultimately chapter five 128

distances itself from social reality, it has proven unsatisfactory for a younger generation of photographers—Yto Barrada, Ghaith Abdul-­Ahad, Geert van Kesteren, George Osodi, and Emily Jacir come to mind. These artists and photographers insist on retaining documentary’s continued relevance to photography. Granting visibility to this tendency, large-­scale exhibition frameworks such as Documenta and biennials such as the 2006 Seville Biennial and the 2009 Istanbul Biennial, as well as new theoretical studies of lens-­based media, have powerfully demonstrated what can legitimately be called an international return to the documentary mode in contemporary art. Indeed, for the editors of the recent volume The Green Room: Reconsidering the Documentary and Contemporary Art “documentary practices have made up one of the most significant tendencies within art during the last two decades.”6 It appears that the pictorialist takeover of contemporary photography is not quite total. For those like Ahlam Shibli, for whom the exposure of the lived conditions of the oppressed functions as a political imperative, the dedication to the documentary mode (not the near-­documentary mode) remains unshaken, even while her photographic relation to her subjects is far from simple or unmediated. As documentary photography continues to be reinvented today, it never‑ theless faces its own challenges, despite its practitioners’ well-­intentioned commitment to social justice and the exposure of the human costs of recent catastrophic political, military, and environmental crises. The Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado, for instance, has photographed the desperate and impoverished circumstances of migrants and refugees worldwide, from Tanzania to Brazil, and exemplifies the wide visibility the work of certain photographers is able to command.7 Yet his self-­acknowledged compassionate identification with his subjects, rendered in highly dramatized scenes, courts what Tim Clark criticizes as the “beautification of poverty,” which amounts to “a photography of faces rather than one of causes.”8 Meanwhile, other documentary practices that wish to avoid the trappings of fine art and consequently reject the stylistic signature that guarantees Salgado his worldwide recognition, tend to perpetuate photography’s outdated epistemology of truth that conceptual practices have done so much to dismantle. Consider the photojournalists who have independently documented the recent upheavals of war and occupation in the Middle East, such as Ghaith Abdul-­Ahad, Kael Alford, Thorne Anderson, and Rita Leistner, which appear online as much as in magazines and books. On the one hand, Recognizing the Unrecognized: The Photographs of Ahlam Shibli 129

their images are commonly viewed as performing “the task of truly informing the public” by providing “irrefutable images” that “document honestly” what they witnessed in Iraq, including scenes of brutal violence and the posing of resistance fighters, captured with spontaneity and directness (see plate 10).9 Yet, on the other hand, while resolutely “unembedded” ideologically, these photographers’ images still depend on the contextualizing captions both of mass media’s editorial slant and the independent outlets through which they are distributed. Their “truthfulness,” in other words, is determined ultimately by factors exterior to the image, as they remain embedded in antiwar narratives that nonetheless instrumentalize the photograph’s significance. Consequently, these arguments overlook the fact that, situated in other contexts, these images could be read in radically opposed ways (consider the images of the Abu Ghraib detainees, which circulated between very different interpretive contexts, performing equally as sadistic pornography and as documents of human rights abuses).10 For artists like Ahlam Shibli, whose work, in my view, carefully anticipates these assorted dangers, it becomes necessary to consider how to reinvent documentary photography so that it retains its referential function, but without the problematic side effects of objectifying victimization or naturalizing its representations. Similarly pressing is the consideration of how Shibli might overcome the obsolete epistemology and political directing of truth and objectivity without surrendering photography’s relation to the real, which is the most immediate focus of her work considered here: the dispossession of the Palestinian Bedouin in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Herein lies the challenge of engaging a necessarily complex understanding of photography, one that takes into account the historical condition of the medium’s double tendency that positions it between aesthetics and documentation—a relation that is creatively recalibrated in Shibli’s practice. At first glance, it is the documentary side of Shibli’s project that predominates. By focusing on the material conditions and social reality of the Bedouin’s current nonrecognized existence under Israeli rule, her photographs seem to operate by contesting their invisibility. Unrecognised, for instance, includes an overview of the village of ʻArab al-­N’aim, situated in its harsh rocky environment. A few dozen houses built of corrugated tin fragments sit in desolation among some trees. There are no paved roads in view, no signs of electricity lines or of other basic infrastructure. The village chapter five 130

Figure 48. Ahlam Shibli, Untitled (Goter no. 25), al-­Naqab, Palestine (2002–3). 38 × 57.7 cm, Gelatin silver print. © Ahlam Shibli. Courtesy of the artist.

appears in a primitive state—yet it is shown to exist. In other photographs, however, this logic of recognition is complicated. The Goter series presents one image of a living room set with rugs, couches, and pillows, which appears strangely absent of inhabitants, as if the unrecognized are somehow invisible to Shibli’s camera, just as their existence is unrecognized by Israeli law (see figure 48). In those images where figures do appear, they are frequently captured in fleeting moments or flattened into depthless silhouettes, which relays a sense of their precarious existential situation. Still other examples in the series nonetheless portray Bedouin families seemingly enjoying moments of happiness in their dire circumstances, such as one diptych that shows two children playing on some rocks, positioned between a smiling woman and a man who serve as visual bookends that seal what appears to be a family unit. The image implies a scene of carefree everyday life that poignantly contrasts with the depressing, barren environment represented by the metal shanty structure in the background that is likely their home. Taking into account the diversity of these photographic approaches, it appears that Shibli’s images both express the fragile circumstances of life under the conditions of legal nonrecognition, where Recognizing the Unrecognized: The Photographs of Ahlam Shibli 131

the life of the Bedouin appears as tragically abandoned and verging on nonexistence, and counter the abject sentence of political invisibility by showing how the Bedouin perform harrowing acts of survival in everyday life. An integral part of the Palestinian people, the Bedouin have lived in the semiarid terrain of the Naqab desert in southern Palestine and in northern Galilee for centuries. It was only in 1948, with establishment of the State of Israel, that their territory was significantly fractured, resulting in exile for many Bedouin, some of whom found refuge in Egypt and Jordan. Of some 65,000 original Palestinian Bedouin, only 11,000 remained in Israel after 1948, where they were placed under military rule, forcibly removed into continuously shrinking plots of land, and deprived of their natural resources and traditional territory.11 Since the 1960s, the Israeli government has pursued an intensified policy of resettlement and urbanization, attempting to move those in the Negev into planned Palestinian Bedouin townships in southern Israel, reclassifying their territory as state lands.12 In her statement that accompanies the Goter series, Shibli draws our attention to the infamous proposition made in the early 1960s by the Israeli military leader and politician Moshe Dayan, which accurately anticipated the state’s treatment of the Bedouin in coming decades: We should transform the Bedouin into an urban proletariat in industry, services, construction and agriculture. 88% of the Israeli population are not farmers, let the Bedouins be like them. Indeed, this will be a radical move which means that the Bedouin would not live on his land with his herds, but would become an urban person who comes home in the afternoon and puts his slippers on . . . The children would go to school with their hair properly combed. This would be a revolution, but it may be fixed within two generations. Without coercion but with government direction . . . this phenomenon of the Bedouins will disappear.13 Dayan’s proposed “policy”—which is not merely about land appropriation but concerns the effective destruction of an ethnic group—found political resonance in the Zionist campaign to Judaize Israel’s landscape, to counter the demographic threat of Jews’ becoming an ethnic minority, a campaign intensified under successive administrations, particularly under Sharon’s government.14 Despite the state’s legal proclamations and militarized pracchapter five 132

tices of intimidation, however, many Bedouin have nonetheless refused to move to the approved settlements, where roughly half the total population of Palestinian Bedouin have now come to live, as these areas are frequently located far from traditional places of work and the familiar agricultural terrain, and pastures of the villagers contain few economic resources and educational prospects, and enjoy little political autonomy.15 The Bedouin villages that remain are consequently “unrecognized” by the state (there are some one hundred of these in the Naqab), and are thereby condemned to a precarious material and architectural existence. For Shibli, this points to a harsh irony for her once-­nomadic people, now forced “to become refugees on their own land.”16 Inhabitants of unrecognized villages are forbidden to build permanent structures, and have no access to running water, electricity, or sanitation, as many commentators have noted.17 Nor do they have recourse to health services or education above the primary level. Subjected to frequent abuse and forced removals, their houses and mosques are sometimes bulldozed with little advanced notice, their crops repeatedly sprayed with toxic herbicide by Israeli helicopters.18 Meanwhile, the Bedouin of the West Bank—also the subject of Shibli’s work—face endless land confiscations, their pastures reclassified as nature preserves and placed under state protection, preventing the villagers’ animals from using these lands for grazing. The wall has effectively closed off commercial markets in Jerusalem for those in the Palestinian territories.19 Not surprisingly, this calculated dispossession has sunk the Bedouin into widespread poverty.20 “According to official statistics,” Shibli notes in one of the statements that accompanies and contextualizes her photographs, the Palestinian Bedouin “are among the very poorest of all communities in Israel, lacking sufficient public services, haunted by high rates of unemployment and criminality, and denied viable prospects of development.”21 It is Israel’s refusal to recognize these villages—erasing them from maps and road signs, Hebraicizing their traditional Arabic names, rejecting legal claims to Palestinian real estate ownership, and committing endless demolitions of Bedouin housing—that creates the conditions of a “state of exception.” Invoking the paradigm of government theorized by Giorgio Agamben, this legal designation describes the conditions under which a group of people are included in the ruling order by virtue of their very exclusion from state protections. What appears particularly relevant Recognizing the Unrecognized: The Photographs of Ahlam Shibli 133

for a discussion of Shibli’s photographic subject is the way Agamben defines the state of exception as “a legal civil war that allows for the physical elimination not only of political adversaries but of entire categories of citizens who for some reason cannot be integrated into the political system,” a war that is carried out by erasing the legal status of the individual, who becomes a “legally unknowable and unclassifiable being”—in other words, one who is unrecognized by the state.22 Exceptional measures are undertaken during times of crisis, when the law is suspended by the sovereign in order to overcome threats to its existence by invoking greater executive powers. The result is generally a militarized state, instituting “an unprecedented generalization of the paradigm of security as the normal techniques of government.”23 A central point of historical reference for Agamben’s analysis of the state of exception is the theorization of sovereignty by the German jurist Carl Schmitt, whose claim that the “sovereign is he who decides on the exception” formed part of Schmitt’s legal justification for the authoritarian rule of the Third Reich.24 However, the state of exception, for Agamben, transcends that specific context, its declaration having become “one of the essential practices of contemporary states,” particularly in the age of global crisis and the so-­called war on terror.25 In these present circumstances, the state of exception fulfills its function as a biopolitical paradigm, a term Agamben uses to draw on Foucault’s discussion of that form of modern governmentality that seeks to control life itself.26 For other analysts, such as Achille Mbembe, this form of government, as we have seen, can also transform into its opposite, that of necropolitics, designating the power of government over the life and death of unwanted, abandoned, or enemy populations. “Late-­modern colonial occupation differs in many ways from early-­modern occupation, particularly in its combining of the disciplinary, the biopolitical, and the necropolitical. The most accomplished form of necropower is the contemporary colonial occupation of Palestine,” Mbembe notes.27 Designating Israel as operating under a state of exception appears quite justified. As Ronit Lentin, the sociologist and recent editor of the volume Thinking Palestine, points out: “Judging by Israel’s intricate regime of emergency regulations and the play between the judiciary, the legislature and the executive with regard to both Israel’s Palestinian citizens and those Palestinians living under occupation, it does not take a major leap of the imagination to extend [Agamben’s] analysis to Palestine and Israel.”28 chapter five 134

However, there are potential perils to invoking Agamben’s optic when seeking to understand Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and Lentin herself identifies the danger of reducing Palestinians to “naked life,” an analysis that “runs the risk of erasing the active agency of the Palestinian subject, represented as either passive victim of Israeli dispossession or aggressive insurgent, but with interpretative control wrested away.”29 In addition, Ilan Pappé raises the surprising fact that Agamben has received an enthusiastic reception within Israeli intellectual and humanitarian circles on both the left and right of the political spectrum, precisely because “the state of exception,” Pappé contends, “strongly grounds the Zionist case within the liberal democratic camp,” by casting Israel’s exceptional measures as temporary and necessary, which “allows Israel to continue benefiting from this membership financially, politically and more importantly, morally, despite the abuses on the ground.”30 Pappé consequently opts for the term state of oppression to describe Israel. Yet while Agamben’s theories may possess certain pitfalls, and may also be used and abused in various ways, these circumstances do not detract from the value of drawing on the logic of the state of exception to comprehend the unrecognized status of the Palestinian Bedouin, which is of central concern to Shibli’s photography.31 Because the political force of Shibli’s project resides in the exposure of the Palestinian Bedouin’s dire situation, an exposure that aligns it with the ambition of committed documentary photography, then how does such a reading correlate with the highly unstable meanings of her images? This point is where the validity of claims made for the predominantly documentary aspect of Shibli’s project breaks down. For instance, Boullata argues: “As a visual artist, [Shibli] aspired to go beyond being the passionate eyewitness she is, by attempting to give body to an injustice and the perpetuated impermanence of Palestinian life wherever it happens to persist.”32 As much as one would like to support the political import of this reading, the precise relation of Shibli’s photographs to injustice is in fact not so clear-­cut as this claim makes it seem. That Shibli’s work is capable of producing multiple, even contradictory “truths” is evident, for example, in the controversy that surrounded her exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum in 2003 (an exhibition commemorating Shibli’s winning of the 9th Nathan Gottesdiener Israeli Art Prize). In an essay written for the show’s catalogue, curator Ulrich Loock argued that Shibli’s photographs open onto the history and politics of the oppression of the Palestinian Bedouin, inRecognizing the Unrecognized: The Photographs of Ahlam Shibli 135

cluding the “Israeli occupation of the Negev,” where “houses are demolished, where fields are poisoned and families are evicted from the living places on the basis of the Israeli land laws.”33 Deemed unacceptable by the museum’s director, Mordechai Omer, because of its political views of the history of the Israeli treatment of the Bedouin, Loock’s text was censored, leading to the curator’s resignation. Omer wished to forward a very different interpretation of Shibli’s work, one that assimilated the Bedouins’ dispossessed circumstances shown in her images into an ultimately positive overarching narrative of the formation of Israeli national identity: “The hardships [that] the Bedouin of the Negev have faced in the process of adapting to life-­style changes,” wrote the director, “is integral to the history and birth pangs of Israel.”34 For Shibli, Omer’s censorship was a function of the colonizer’s narrative (at one with Dayan’s views), and it clearly contradicted her intentions: “I told [the director] that his interpretation of my work was wrong and misleading.” She reports, “My photographs are not about a process of ‘adaptation’ to modern changes, but rather about state-­imposed violent changes. I never talked about ‘hardships,’ I talked about state repression.”35 No doubt, one would tend to accept the artist’s explanation over Omer’s attempted cooptation, particularly when it comes to accounting for the motivations behind her own work. Nevertheless, what becomes evident in this case is the very instability of the meaning of her photographs, which bear an apparent openness to a diversity of readings. That Shibli’s photography could be seen to support both perspectives not only places in doubt the presence of a singular, incontrovertible documentary “truth” in her images, but also demonstrates that any prevailing interpretation ultimately depends on a selective historical contextualization of the images, as well as on the institutional power to impose one exclusive narrative and censor other views. It is evident that the politics of Shibli’s work cannot be pinned on the revelation of some immanent meaning residing in her photographs. Rather, what constitutes the political is the ability of Shibli’s work, and its interpretive positioning by Loock, to interrupt the normative discourse that typically excludes the Palestinian Bedouin, despite the museum’s attempted ideological assimilation and redirection of her project. In other words, Shibli’s work can be seen to represent those who are normally erased from the political field of Israel’s public sphere, although the precise meaning of the photographs’ relation to the political and historical circumstances of chapter five 136

the Bedouin’s “repression” or “hardship” cannot escape a certain contingency and interpretive multiplicity. In this regard, the political operation of Shibli’s photography corresponds to a particular politics of aesthetics, wherein aestheticization does not equal deception, nor does politics oppose aesthetics, as it does on both counts, for instance, in Walter Benjamin’s classic account of photography. A similar move is made more recently by those wishing to reinstall a nonaesthetic instrumentalization of documentary photography.36 Rather, aesthetics forms an essential feature of the political, which designates the process of reorganizing the perceptual field and the interruption of politics as usual. Political subjectification occurs when those who are excluded from the public realm assert their voice in the struggle for equality, when those who “have no part” make a demand for a joint share in a common world of appearance—which is exactly the struggle of Shibli’s practice, even if it is not easily achieved.37 This understanding is particularly useful here because it allows us to move beyond the familiar logic of documentary photography’s traditional political justification, that it exposes the “reality” behind aesthetic mystification, offering an honest truth that “corrects” the disinformation of corporate and governmental media. Instead, Shibli’s practice can be seen as an aesthetic intervention in the organization of perception that allows the state of exception to exist according to a differential logic that works to “maximize precariousness for others while minimizing precariousness for the power in question,” as Judith Butler explains. Reinforcing her position, she continues: “This differential distribution or precarity is at once a material and a perceptual issue, since those whose lives are not ‘regarded’ as potentially grievable, and hence valuable, are made to bear the burden of starvation, underemployment, legal disenfranchisement, and differential exposure to violence and death”—exactly what the Palestinian Bedouins endure.38 Because Shibli’s photographs inspire a political subjectification through aesthetic mobilization, which accounts for the defiance of Shibli’s project toward the differential precariousness of life, then how does this reading sit with the frequent elisions, lacuna, and fragmentations that occur in her images, which complicate their representational structure? The Goter series, for instance, often presents figures in silhouette, half out of frame, or obscured by objects, so that their appearance suggests a process of emergence into incomplete visibility or a passage into absence (see figure 49). Recognizing the Unrecognized: The Photographs of Ahlam Shibli 137

Figure 49. Ahlam Shibli, Untitled (Goter no. 6), al-­Naqab, Palestine (2002–3). 38 × 57.7 cm, Gelatin silver print. © Ahlam Shibli. Courtesy of the artist.

Rarely do they appear uninterrupted or clearly legible. It is as if these depictions allude to the existence of lives beyond what the images are able to capture, as if photography is caught revealing its very limits. This representational feature of the imagery returns us to the problem with which we began: the visual obstruction present in Shibli’s photographs troubles their documentary referentiality, which otherwise establishes the very basis of recognition on which the political claims for her practice rely. We thus return to the tension found in Shibli’s work as it situates itself between image and reference, and more broadly between aesthetics and politics. There are several ways to read the presence of obstruction within Shibli’s images. With Boullata, we might argue that the photographic fragmentations play out an allegory of the disappearance of Palestinian communities, so that the voids and elisions within the image correspond to the political erasure of the Palestinian Bedouin outside the image. In this regard, Boullata’s realist approach views the photograph’s formal structure as mirroring social reality. For example, returning to the domestic scene with which we began, the one with the figure’s face obscured by a piece of paper, the photograph’s representational disruption appears to issue from chapter five 138

Figure 50. Ahlam Shibli, Untitled (Goter no. 42), Umm Mitnan, al-­Naqab, Palestine (2002–3). 38 × 57.7 cm, Gelatin silver print. © Ahlam Shibli. Courtesy of the artist.

the subject’s political invisibility, as if the Bedouins’ nonrecognition in the political sphere renders their visual documentation impossible. A second image provides the corollary: the photograph presents another domestic scene (this one from another village), depicting a family sitting on a couch before a window in a living room (see figure 50). Clearly legible, the figures appear fully available to the viewer’s gaze, if slightly formal and uncomfortable. The man, sinking into his suit with his hands resting over his crossed legs, gazes across the room, while a woman and young girl look downwards, apparently sad and depressed. The transparency of the image owes ostensibly to the fact that the depicted man heads a community organization resisting eviction. Boullata summarizes his response to these two photographs: “In Shibli’s language, the effacement of the women’s features seems to reflect . . . their experience of being uncounted and unrecognized. In contrast, the close-­up portraits of a Palestinian Bedouin activist and his family, clearly show the features of all three people in the picture. The visual recognition of human features thus appears to be equated with defiance and resistance.”39 Despite the seeming resignation betrayed by the figures’ expressions, Loock similarly states in regard to the secRecognizing the Unrecognized: The Photographs of Ahlam Shibli 139

ond photograph that “in the face of the threat of demolition, this family seems to have made its house a home—which may have made it possible for Shibli to depict them as subjects where they live.”40 In other words, political invisibility brings about photographic disruption, and vice versa, so that the conditions of the image are understood to “reflect” exterior reality. While tempting on one level, given the neatness of its correlation of reference and representation, the problem with this argument is that it effectively renders photography transparent to social and political reality, as if the image faithfully reflects the subjective conditions of the represented, rendering impossible any other view. In doing so, Boullata’s argument ultimately overlooks the more ambiguous workings of the photographic image by privileging subject over form. This is especially striking because it is precisely the connection between the photographic signifier and its reference that is interrupted in so many of Shibli’s images, interruptions that become a screen for interpretive projection. Such a reading ultimately reveals the flaw in claiming that Shibli’s project is fundamentally a documentary one. If only Boullata reversed his terms—arguing instead that the images were Shibli’s constructions, the result, in other words, of a complex representational negotiation of the Palestinian Bedouin’s problematic relation to visibility and invisibility, rather than a transparent reflection of it—then the reading would be compelling. Rather than suggesting that Shibli’s photographic elisions reveal the truth of her subjects, is not the more radical approach to argue that her fragmented images expose the truth of photography? In other words, the emphasis here would fall on photographic representation, rather than on direct reference, so that the visual fragmentations within the image identify first and foremost photography’s unstable sign structure. According to this reading, the marred images debunk the assumptions of photography’s clarity of meaning and instead point to the fact that the medium’s indexical relationship to its referent is indeterminate: “The photograph is pure contingency and can be nothing else,” Roland Barthes argued long ago.41 Shibli’s tacit acknowledgment of this premise, as demonstrated by her repeated inclusion of absences and disruptions within her images, provides an explanation for the antinomy that is at the crux of her practice—to represent the unrecognized, but also to deny them representation. By revealing the obstructions of the image, Shibli reveals the representational condition chapter five 140

of photography, that it produces the effects it displays, plays an active role in the construction of its subjects, and constitutes an opaque surface whose coding can only be ambiguous, a condition that disqualifies interpretation based on referential certainty. This acknowledgment adds nuance to Shibli’s “politics of aesthetics,” which, in my view, operates in two ways. First, her photographs’ fragmented representational condition constitutes the rejection of the supposed truthfulness of the propaganda of the state (as when Bedouin sacrifice is claimed as integral to the formation of Israel). By accepting the fundamental uncertainty of photographic meaning, one then challenges the dominant regime’s representation of the hierarchical structure of social relations. In this sense, Shibli provides one response to Ariella Azoulay’s demand that photography serve as an instrument in the construction of a political community that articulates grievances regarding the state’s exercise of violence against those deprived of rights, and thereby transcends the state’s claim to exclusive sovereignty.42 One consequence of Shibli’s deconstruction of the ideology of realism, however, is that one cannot then prop up a more agreeable regime of truth in its place. Shibli’s refusal to do so identifies the second operation of her politics of aesthetics: by acknowledging photography’s own limits of recognition, its basis in contingency, Shibli avoids creating her own state of essential truths and substantial identities in the course of her exposure of those excluded from the existing social and political order. While her photographs do bring visibility to her subjects, her images simultaneously acknowledge an indeterminate relation to meaning. Photographic contingency, moreover, is not only inscribed into the image—through its many elisions and lacuna—but also corresponds to the diversity of Shibli’s photographic styles, which include family snapshots in color, neutral photojournalistic shots, and black and white representations. The effect of her mobilization of a multiplicity of stylistic approaches is to show her subjects in a diversity of ways, emphasizing social differences, spontaneity, and social complexity, which resists substantializing her subjects as complete identities that could be comprehensively documented in single images. Shibli’s “recognizing the unrecognized,” then, means the acknowledgment first and foremost of the gaps and fissures within the image, an acknowledgment that entails the resistance to the complete inscription of her subjects, not because her photography “reflects” the undoubtedly real Recognizing the Unrecognized: The Photographs of Ahlam Shibli 141

process of social erasure taking place in Israel, but because the life of the Palestinian Bedouin cannot be fully captured by photography. It may be useful here to distinguish between “recognition” and “apprehension,” as does Judith Butler, who argues that unlike the conceptual form of knowledge involved with recognition, apprehension designates a mode of perceiving without full cognition that does not presume to fully comprehend—and thus reify—the subject.43 Shibli’s images, however, depend on a certain political recognition of subjects who are denied political identity, even though her photographs also apprehend forms of life that ultimately escape a subjugating identification. The critical achievement of her photography is something beyond the documentary image, something that escapes representation, which amounts to what Jean-­François Chevrier usefully terms an “internal decolonization” of the image.44 Were Shibli’s images interpreted as offering a complete account of her subjects, then the danger would be a photographic objectification, a recolonization, that would reify the Palestinian Bedouin’s social oppression at the level of representation, committing a second-­order victimization. Ultimately, Shibli’s refusal to do so resonates with the political struggle that never presupposes a predefined group of individuals, such as the proletariat, the poor, or minorities (a struggle articulated in the arguments of theorists from Deleuze and Guattari to Glissant and Rancière); for if it did, then a contingent social and political grouping would be transformed into an ontological essence, thereby naturalizing the group’s disempowered status. Conversely, the political can only be relational and relative in nature, founded upon an ongoing, never-­ending subjectification that contests hegemony rather than creates new regimes of power. Shibli’s photographs extend this mode of political becoming to her subjects. Loock suggests: “In a situation wherein people are denied the fundamental rights that would empower them to constitute themselves as autonomous subjects, it seems that in order not to constitute them as victims of their adverse living conditions, they must be denied the right to their own photograph.”45 Yet Shibli, in my view, neither denies her Palestinian Bedouin subjects this right, nor simply mirrors their disappearance at the hands of the state; rather, her photography acknowledges its own representational limitations, and by doing so it both avoids reifying victimization and engenders a political subjectification from within the image. This opening up of possibility, finally, must be seen as a double act of chapter five 142

liberation: first in the social world, where Shibli’s photographs constitute an interruption of the hierarchical organization of social and political appearance by recognizing the unrecognized Palestinian Bedouin (which was evident when her work was shown with oppositional effect at the Tel Aviv Museum); and second, in the regime of the image, where her photographs’ fragmented condition repudiates the objectification of victimhood by recognizing the limits of photography’s capture. Her work consequently indicates that her subjects’ existence extends beyond both their documentary representation and their oppressive relegation to the status of bare life in a state of exception. As such, Shibli’s is a new kind of photography. Its sense of heterogeneity seems to follow necessarily from the visual and conceptual complexities of renegotiating photography’s relation to aesthetics and politics. Such tensions also indicate a sensitivity to the formidable forces of negation directed at the Palestinian Bedouin by the powerful Israeli state and its media system. The fragility of Shibli’s photographs implies a recognition of the precarious power of its own protest.

Recognizing the Unrecognized: The Photographs of Ahlam Shibli 143



The Right to Opacity On the Otolith Group’s Nervus Rerum We clamor for the right to opacity for everyone. —Édouard Glissant

Taking as its subject the Jenin refugee camp, in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Nervus Rerum (2008) is a thirty-­two-­minute film by the London-­based Otolith Group.1 Juxtaposing excerpts from the writings of Fernando Pessoa and Jean Genet with mystifying imagery of the West Bank camp, the film builds on the artists’ remarkable Otolith trilogy of 2003–8 (discussed in chapter 2), for which its two members, Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar, exploited the critical potential of the essay film—a distinctive mixture of documentary and dramatic imagery accompanied by poetic, historical, and often autobiographical narration that, in the tradition of such diverse filmmakers and groups as Black Audio Film Collective, Harun Farocki, Jean-­Luc Godard, Chris Marker, and Anand Patwardhan, works to disrupt the clear boundaries between fact and fiction, subjectivity and objectivity, the real and the imaginary. In the process, the Otolith Group has invented inspiring new political and creative possibilities for filmmaking as a critical and conceptual art, for which Nervus Rerum offers a further experimental model. Most significantly, Nervus Rerum—its title borrowed from Cicero’s Latin, meaning “the nerve of things”—confronts the problem of the rep-

resentability of a people confined to a geographical enclave by a long-­ standing military occupation.2 Established in 1953, the Jenin refugee camp was built to shelter Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their native towns and villages in the areas that became Israel, following the Arab-­ Israeli War in 1948. Under Jordanian control for nearly twenty years, the Jenin camp fell to Israeli occupation during the Six-­Day War of 1967, and was later handed over to the Palestinian National Authority in 1996. With a population of some 13,000 Palestinians, most of whom are descendants of refugees of 1948, Jenin’s inhabitants have resisted settling in the West Bank, clinging instead to their displaced status and thereby refusing to surrender their right of return to their historical land. Nominally self-­ governing territories, camps such as Jenin today form many extraterritorial islands surrounded by Israeli military power. Writing about the West Bank’s “multiplying archipelago of externally alienated and internally homogenous ethno-­national enclaves,” composed of Israeli settlements and military outposts and Palestinian Occupied Territories and refugee camps, architectural theorist Eyal Weizman states: “In this unique territorial ecosystem, various other zones—those of political piracy, of ‘humanitarian’ crisis, of barbaric violence, of full citizenship, ‘weak citizenship,’ or no citizenship at all—exist adjacent to, within or over each other.”3 Nervus Rerum brings visibility to the Jenin camp, populated by refugees who, like Emily Jacir’s exiled subjects and Ahlam Shibli’s unrecognized Palestinian Bedouin, have no political rights and few means of political representation. Yet it does so, strikingly, without positioning the camp’s Palestinians as transparent subjects of a documentary exposé. This refusal to represent the unrepresented delivers us to one particularly arresting aspect of the film: the visual experience of passing through narrow, labyrinthine passages of tightly grouped buildings while gaining no information about the camp’s inhabitants, either from direct testimonials or descriptive commentary (see figure 51). Nervus Rerum depicts those who live in a political state of exception, but where one would expect anthropological insights and cultural access to Jenin’s inhabitants, there is only blankness and disorientation. In other words, this film is ruled by opacity, by the reverse of transparency, by an obscurity that frustrates knowledge and that assigns to the represented a source of unknowability that is also, as we shall see, a sign of potentiality. As suggested in the “Trialogue on Nervus Rerum,” in which Eshun and Sagar discuss the film, one starting point for The Right to Opacity: On the Otolith Group’s Nervus Rerum 145

Figure 51. The Otolith Group, still from Nervus Rerum (2008). Courtesy of the artists.

their project was “the conundrum of representing Palestine.”4 That conundrum is complex, and unraveling it will also assist in locating the framing conditions and motivations that define Nervus Rerum’s point of departure. First off, in their Trialogue the Otolith Group points to their desire to avoid reproducing what has been termed “Pallywood” cinema, that is, the clichéd and thus all too easily dismissed genre of victim reportage intended both to expose the truth of the traumatic suffering that has resulted from Israel’s political and military policies and to elicit the audience’s emotional sympathy as a way of mobilizing support for Palestinians (as we saw recently in the alternative media’s account of Israel’s bombing and invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2008–9).5 Whereas those who make such documentaries attempt “to speak truth to power” by exposing the human cost of Israel’s occupation, these filmic or video-­based treatments often only reaffirm the oppressive power’s control of this situation, as when, for example, “breaking news” stories are neutralized by their seamless assimilation into the dominant narratives and recursive structures of mainstream media reporting, raising ratings without altering opinion. If mainstream reporting refers primarily to its own set of codes rather than to reality itself, as the media theorist Niklas Luhmann has argued, then what hope can the documentary exposé have in challenging public perception in that chapter six 146

Figure 52. Mohamed Bakri, still from Jenin, Jenin (2002). Courtesy of the artist.

regulated environment?6 It is for this reason that we might agree with the Otolith Group’s rejection of such filmic and video-­based strategies as ineffective, as was articulated in their Trialogue. Yet not all Palestinian cinema, one could argue conversely, is trapped in this dilemma, nor must all documentary accounts end up merely providing mass media with sensationalist fodder.7 Consider, for example, the case of Mohamed Bakri’s Jenin, Jenin (2002), a documentary film that portrays what the filmmaker calls the “truth” about the “Battle of Jenin,” referring to the bombing of the refugee camp by the Israeli Defense Forces in April of that year, which drew Palestinian accusations of a massacre (see figure 52). Comprising footage of buildings reduced to rubble and firsthand accounts of the attack, the film presents the evidence of catastrophic destruction alongside emotional testimony from its survivors. The literary theorist and cultural critic Hamid Dabashi points out that the film’s basic criterion for the selection of interviewees was the interviewee’s ability to say: “I held the truth, I was there.”8 On the one hand, Jenin, Jenin perpetuates the long-­standing Palestinian strategy of producing documentaries about the horror of Israel’s military incursions in order to raise international The Right to Opacity: On the Otolith Group’s Nervus Rerum 147

public consciousness and encourage condemnation of the occupation. The film’s conventions in this regard date back to the “revolutionary” period of Palestinian film of the 1960s and 1970s (consider, for instance, Qais il Zobaidi’s Away From Home [1969], which portrays the Sabina Camp near Damascus, in operation since 1948, through the voices of the children who live there; and Mustafa Abu Ali’s They Don’t Exist [1974], which presents the history of South Lebanon’s Nabatia Camp, which was bombed by the Israeli Air Force on May 15, 1974, with numerous civilian casualties).9 Following suit with its documentary exposé, Jenin, Jenin appeared to represent a clear instance of cinema’s political effectiveness, particularly on the basis of its ostensible threat to the Israeli public’s support for the government’s militarized policies in the Occupied Territories, as judged by the Israeli Film Ratings Board, which charged the filmmaker with libel and banned the film from public cinemas in Israel immediately upon release (although the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem cinematheques screened the film despite the Israeli ban, which was later overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court).10 As if this act of censorship was insufficient in negating Bakri’s account, Israeli filmmakers have made no less than three filmic retorts to the censored film, all aired on primetime television, rebutting Bakri’s version of events, which demonstrates that documentaries, in addition to whatever oppositional energies they may promote, often serve to entrench conventional views. On the other hand, Jenin, Jenin is clearly bound up with the “traumatic realism” that is commonly understood to characterize Palestinian cinema in general, providing us with another reason why the representation of Palestine is problematic. Given the film’s prominent scenes featuring a mute young man who can only gesture pathetically toward the bullet-­holed walls and exploded infrastructure to express the ineffable psychological effects of the camp’s devastation, the implication is clear that violence can sometimes best be measured by the absence, even the impossibility, of speech. According to Dabashi, this muteness responds to the experience of political disfranchisement that marks the situation of Palestinians historically: “What ultimately defines what we may call a Palestinian cinema is the mutation of that repressed anger into an aestheticized violence—the aesthetic presence of a political absence. The Palestinians’ is an aesthetic under duress.”11 Taking a longer view, the filmic response to the recent bombing of Jenin might be said to constitute on chapter six 148

one level a repetition of Palestinian cinema’s relation to the originary traumatic event of Palestinian history: al-­Nakba, or “day of the catastrophe,” which accompanied the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 and names the violent expulsion and exile of scores of Palestinians from their homeland. Indeed, the Nakba shines like a dark star over Palestinian cultural production, including film, and renders problematic representation, accepted as fundamental for virtually all recent commentators. This “foundational trauma of the Palestinian struggle,” writes Joseph Massad, is also traumatic for its very “unrepresentability.”12 For related to that trauma, as Edward Said has similarly argued, is the continued threat of erasure in the present, occasioned by Israel’s exclusionary narratives and the repression that accompanies and forms part of its continued occupation of Palestinian territories: “The whole history of the Palestinian struggle has to do with the desire to be visible,” Said writes. “Remember the early mobilizing phrase of Zionism: ‘We are a people without a land going to a land without a people?’ It pronounced the emptiness of the land and the non-­ existence of a people.”13 Because of this erasure, the Palestinians’ diasporic conditions have entailed both a disordering in time and a disorientation in space, which, Said notes, has structurally disabled historical thinking.14 As such, films like Jenin, Jenin, which offers a paradigmatic example of the cinematic documentary as a mode of historical truth-­telling put to task as political resistance, appear caught in a vicious cycle of struggling for self-­ expression against the forces of erasure, even as their imagery inevitably manifests the fragmenting effects that drive the desire for ever more totalizing—and equally ever more unattainable—accounts in turn. This digression on Jenin, Jenin sets up our understanding of what Nervus Rerum is not. The Otolith Group’s innovative approach declines the attempt to overcome the numerous challenges to represent Palestine via ever more truthful exposures of its “reality”; rather, the artists opt to record the camp environment only to reveal its opacity as a system of images and sounds. They choose to “turn their back on power” instead of “speaking truth to power,” as Eshun explains in the Trialogue (129). In filmic terms, this gesture is carried out by the mobile visual portal into the camp that is the Steadicam, the technical system by which the camera glides about as if undistracted and unconcerned with individual figures, including sometimes curious children. If it does momentarily dwell on them, the camera’s focus soon moves on, wandering ever deeper into the maze of tight chanThe Right to Opacity: On the Otolith Group’s Nervus Rerum 149

Figure 53. The Otolith Group, still from Nervus Rerum (2008). Courtesy of the artists.

nels between buildings and cul-­de-­sacs that compose Jenin’s enclosed and claustrophobic space, as if seeking a way out but endlessly discovering only frustrating blockages. As such, the film refuses to furnish power—whether that of governmental authorities or corporate media—with more material for its publicity campaigns. Not only is Jenin’s geography rendered opaque to cartographic reason, the architecture’s function and meaning is left similarly unexplained, just as the graffiti on the exterior walls goes untranslated. People ignore the camera and go about their business, for the most part without looking back (see figure 53). The eyes of the camp’s figures and those of the viewer rarely meet, never become the site of mutual recognition. The effect is to eliminate possible avenues of identification between viewers and the film’s subjects. There is no cinematic suture, no fuel for the construction of conventional narrative desire. Nor is there the likelihood of an adoption of the camera’s vision as one’s own, as its continual wraith-­like drifting through the camp—“like a tired drunk ghost of the camp,” as Sagar observes (131)—differs markedly from the lived perception that is frequently mimicked by the embodied movements of a handheld camera in much documentary film, as in Jenin, Jenin. As Eshun notes, here, there is no “ethnographic shortcut to empathy” (129). This breakdown of the conventional documentary approach leads us to chapter six 150

a further explanation of the difficulty of representing Palestine. Because “Palestine” exists as a form of collective consciousness and identification that is based on the absence of a state, an imagined community without a sovereign geography, it thereby presents a challenge to the norms of representation. It is from this point that the Otolith Group attempts to reconfigure the possibilities of documentary representation. That said, Nervus Rerum does not give up on intimating the psychic and spatial conditions inside the camp, and it indeed relays the horror of enclosure that permeates the camp’s ambience by offering an “intimacy without transparency,” as Eshun provocatively explains: “Any evocation of the quotidian” in an environment like the long-­standing refugee camp of Jenin “cannot help but yield the texture of life lived under occupation” (130). He then asks, rhetorically: “What if the saturation of the spatial and the psychic by the pressure of the occupation relieved us of the necessity to address it as a frame?” And here we come to the significance of the Otolith Group’s experiment with cinematic opacity. Because names ascribe a conventional identity to things in the world, then naming risks the reification of reality by language, particularly in those cases where geography and its people are inextricably linked to seemingly fixed, substantialized essences that generate the litany of familiar stereotypes—camp, bare life, victim, refugee, militant, martyr—to which Jenin and refugee camps in general are so often reduced. Choosing to avoid this trap while still evoking the oppressive, carceral conditions of the camp, the artists reject the sociology of authoritative explanation and its potentially colonizing activity of naming, in favor of an unexpected détournement of the very labyrinth in which the inhabitants of Jenin are trapped.15 The labyrinth becomes a place where the distinction between reality and fiction loses its clear boundary. However, rather than an escapist evasion or fanciful flight, this gambit provides what is perhaps the most direct acknowledgment of the impossibility of representing Palestine. Rather than using a factual or informational voice-­over, Nervus Rerum includes a lyrical commentary performed by Sagar that runs intermittently throughout the film, its content based nearly entirely on passages borrowed from Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet and Jean Genet’s Prisoner of Love.16 Published more than fifty years after the author’s death in 1935, Pessoa’s text is written in the voice of Bernardo Soares, one of the writer’s many heteronyms (his term for character-­authors, each with a specific temperaThe Right to Opacity: On the Otolith Group’s Nervus Rerum 151

ment, philosophy, and writing style, through which Pessoa would “write” his texts). As such the Book of Disquiet already begins to blur the lines between autobiography and fiction, a structure that is complimented by Genet’s philosophical firsthand account (also published posthumously) of the author’s memories of living among Palestinians in Jordan in the early 1970s, memories reignited during his experience visiting Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon a decade later. Not only does Genet’s thematic engagement come close to the concerns of Nervus Rerum, the excerpted sections, as with those of Pessoa, also similarly focus on the obduracy of the “image” and its tricky relation to “reality,” the latter constituted by the inextricable connection to the imagination. The resulting sense of perceptual disorientation is intensified by the film’s inclusion of repeated and repetitive selections from the postminimalist Prelude V, from Ryan Teague’s Six Preludes (2005). The piece’s mixture of synthesized sounds and clarinet lends the film a sonic atmosphere of meandering harmonic progressions without fixed tonal center, correlating the visual and literary experience of the loss of reality with the sensation of musical dislocation. It is therefore not surprising, given the film’s complex mixture of paradoxical genres (documentary and fiction), historical contexts (1910s, 1980s, and 2000s), and mediums (film, literature, and music), that its mosaic of conventions, temporalities, and materialities renders any pure and transparent documentary transcription inconceivable. The resulting “heterogeneous sensible” regime of the image—to invoke the term used by Rancière, which helps to define the irreducible hybridity of film—perfectly defines Nervus Rerum’s cinematic image as the intersection of the real and the imaginary, an intertwinement that is also conceptualized in Genet’s and Pessoa’s borrowed texts.17 As for the content of the film’s commentary, viewers are introduced immediately to the elusiveness of the “real,” as it is placed in an unstable reversibility of presence and absence, dream and wakefulness, life and death: “What we call life is the slumber of our real life, the death of what we really are,” narrates Sagar’s Pessoa, cryptically. “The dead are born, they don’t die. The worlds are switched in our eyes. We’re dead when we think we’re living; we start living when we die.” The implication, when recontextualized and focused by the film’s imagery of narrow thoroughfares, is that the so-­called life in the camps is akin to a living death, and that the freedom of life proper will only begin, hopefully, upon death. These chapter six 152

conceptual realizations pressure linguistic articulation—resulting in the catachreses, paradoxes, and mixed metaphors that work to join irreconcilable categories—and are corroborated in the film’s subsequent quotation of Genet, which blurs the oneiric and the actual: “Sometimes events from this former life became so vivid I had to wake myself up. I was in a dream, which I am able to control now by reconstructing and assembling its various images.” In Genet’s dream imagery, the meaning is similar to Pessoa’s: life at times reaches an intensity that denies language’s ability to capture or express it; at these points, reality’s significance can be intimated only through its fictionalization—meaning not only the significance that imagination can supply, but also the literary breakdown that provokes language’s failure. Adding to the subject matter’s corrosion of the common-­ sense understanding of reality is the fact that these appropriated sections are relayed without any indication of the text’s origin and are spoken as if forging a continuous passage or narrative; in “reality,” they are sourced from various parts of the quoted books. In Chris Marker’s “documentary fiction,” which, as we have seen, represents an important and influential precedent for the Otolith Group’s practice, fiction suggests the “forging,” not the “feigning,” of reality, as observed earlier in relation to Rancière’s argument.18 As such, film, according to the philosopher, designates a unification of the camera’s mechanical perception and the subjective vision of the filmmaker, which resonates with Marker’s innovative reinvention of the documentary mode, wherein fiction is the only possible outcome. Yet here, in view of Nervus Rerum’s evocation of the traumatic spatial ambience of the Israeli occupation, reality can only be newly forged because representation under such oppression is by necessity damaged, invalid, and insufficient, as Genet’s and Pessoa’s accounts demonstrate. Nervus Rerum repeats Genet’s insight that “death is a phenomenon that destroys the world”—a world that is as much made up of language as it is by the massacres at Lebanon’s Sabra, Chatila, and Bourj Barajnah camps in the early 1980s, which are Genet’s immediate points of reference.19 Manifesting that derealization and simultaneous fictionalization of reality, Nervus Rerum at times combines the script’s textual sources and its visual footage to create uncanny constellations of sudden revelation. For instance, as the film cuts to a shot of young men engaged in a game of cards, the narrator intones the words of Genet: “The card players, their The Right to Opacity: On the Otolith Group’s Nervus Rerum 153

hands full of ghosts, knew that however handsome and sure of themselves they were, their actions perpetuated a game with neither beginning nor end. Absence was in their hands just as it was under their feet.” In this moment, the text, stolen out of the past, abruptly comes to possess illuminating currency regarding the Palestinians’ political dispossession. Likewise, contemporary Jenin is strangely transported into history, inviting the viewer to read its condition as being one with Genet’s accounts of massacred Palestinians of decades past. Whatever the interpretation, which can at any rate only appear provisional and its possibilities multiple, these images of “reality” are far from obvious or self-­evident. In fact, they too reveal only absence when a firm ground is sought. Given fictionalization’s denial of a transparent reality, it might seem imperative to cross-­examine cinematic imagery for its potential manipulations, for its false leads and dead ends—a course of action that is undertaken in the Otolith Group’s film’s visual exploration of the camp. “It would be tempting,” suggests Sagar, “to attempt to place documentary images on trial.”20 This direction is also picked up in the film’s commentary: “The [cinematic] image shows what it shows, but what does it hide?” wonders Genet in the voice of Sagar. “Since I have an imaginary world of my own, like everyone, a palm tree, there on the screen, obliges me to see only it and to cut short my imaginary world, which means what?” On the one hand, for Genet, such elisions might constitute or provoke “a gesture of revolt,” as when the image brackets the subjective imagination in a pragmatic gesture to spark revolution’s collective mobilization. On the other, such visual obfuscation also reveals, for Genet, the “prison” that is our habituated image world, one capable of binding viewers to a political instrumentalization that bars creative interpretation, collapses temporal multiplicity, and abridges individual agency and autonomous thinking. Does Genet’s warning here not point out the very danger of the testimonial documentary that the Otolith Group is so keen to avoid—that in substituting an image for a person, the potential for subjective becoming is suppressed in the act of concretizing being, thereby entrapping its existence within the instrumentalized political message? Does it not warn against the temptation to locate truth within an image? And how can cinema reveal truth when its own truth is an image of irreducible multiplicity? It is precisely when imagery becomes so rigidified and ensnaring, as when conventional documentary rules determine representational stanchapter six 154

dards, that it is imperative to invoke new creative strategies, and this represents the ambition of Nervus Rerum. As Eshun makes clear: the film constructs “an opacity that seeks to prevent the viewer from producing knowledge from images” which, Sagar adds, “complicates normative modes of address,” thereby declaring a rupture from long-­standing documentary conventions of witness-­bearing (131). Following from this ethical and aesthetic dedication to opacity, the film’s disorienting images of prison unexpectedly become a way to avoid Genet’s warning about images as prison. Though the Otolith Group refuses to surrender Jenin to transparency, however, this decision should not be taken as a capitulation to the insurmountable challenge of representing Palestine (even if that challenge is acknowledged in the artists’ Trialogue). Rather, Nervus Rerum deploys opacity as a political demand, one making a claim for a decolonized, subjective, and collective formation. According to the French-­Caribbean poet and literary critic Édouard Glissant, whose essay, “For Opacity,” was an important source for the Otolith Group’s concept, “the right to opacity” is not an “enclosure within an impenetrable autarchy” but rather a “subsistence within an irreducible singularity.”21 Sagar, taking up Glissant’s lead, remarks: “Opacity is understood as the right to a singularity that displaces the demand of difference for transparency” (130). On the one hand, “singularity” might suggest in this context the nonrepeatability of being and existence. It also intimates what the film theorist David Rodowick terms the inimitable quality of the “singular becoming multiple” through time and across space, which positions singularity as a particular relationality between changing states of metamorphosis.22 On the other hand, and in the context of Nervus Rerum, singularity might additionally express itself negatively, as not only that which escapes or eludes representation and conventional communicative codes, but also as an “event” that mines representation insofar as cinematic images and signs become generative and transformative of new experiences and nonconventional meanings. This notion of the “event” only reaffirms the film’s dissolution of the boundaries between the real and the imaginary; for if the image is forever the source of newly wrought configurations between its appearance and its meanings, then it becomes impossible to consider it as simply reflective or representative of a frozen reality. As such, Nervus Rerum constitutes a continuation of the Otolith Group’s exploration of the “event” in Otolith I and Otolith II, where the focus was placed on the “past potential futures” of the The Right to Opacity: On the Otolith Group’s Nervus Rerum 155

Non-­Aligned Movement of the 1960s, Indian socialism, and Third World feminism—the erstwhile revolutionary dreams of decades past, inspired by the archives of Sagar’s grandmother, Anasuya Gyan Chand, president of the National Federation of Indian Women, who figures as protagonist in the two films.23 While the event might be creatively related to Agamben’s concept of potentiality (which parallels in some ways Deleuze’s account of virtuality in his book Cinema 2), it also recalls Maurizio Lazzarato’s discussion of the “event” that occurs when “images, signs and statements” form “possible worlds” and “intervene in both the incorporeal and corporeal transformations” of reality.24 But in distinction to the Otolith Group’s earlier work, Nervus Rerum unleashes an event in which the self discovers its singularity in its impossible transparency to difference, in an image that fails to represent the subject. This is clear in those scenes depicting figures—for instance, the one referred to in the Trialogue as Zacharia—who are unmoored from their identities, their appearance invested with resistance to familiar modes of understanding, whether it be Israeli political résumés (Zacharia as the wanted “terrorist” affiliated with al-­Aqsa Martyrs Brigade) or Palestinian narratives (Zacharia as the “heroic resistance fighter” and “proto-­martyr,” as he is depicted in Nervus Rerum’s shot in the graveyard of martyrs, where he may likely someday end up) (see figure 54). In this regard, we might reformulate the notion of Genet’s that is paraphrased in the Trialogue (“it is the image that cannot be emulated that becomes heroic through the paradox of the generalization of its singularity”) so that the political force of opacity designates the right to singularity as exception. As such, the “state of exception” that is the Jenin refugee camp—a place that corresponds to the legalized lawlessness, wherein political representation is denied and inhabitants are reduced to an existence that is included on the basis of its exclusion from the rule of law in Israeli society—suddenly finds itself transvalued as a space beyond representation and not deprived of it.25 This space is, in other words, one of opacity, a site of a politics to come. There are certainly risks to this strategy. Might the embrace of opacity as a strategy of resistance against oppressive identifications, for instance, end up unintentionally silencing the other, as the unforeseen mimicry of political erasure reenacts the very effect of colonization? And does this invocation of the opaque not also negate positive identifications with Palestinians chapter six 156

Figure 54. The Otolith Group, still from Nervus Rerum (2008). Courtesy of the artists.

in the act of collective and transnational solidarity, mitigating or undermining support for their struggle for liberation and self-­determination? And if Pallywood cinema is deemed ineffective, then what real consequence does the recourse to opacity promise? And where does the evocation of the nondiscursive phenomenological experience of the camp, creating the existential sense of estrangement, leave the viewer, if not in a state of debilitating confusion and alienation? While these questions and concerns are not easy to dismiss, they do indicate the stakes of Nervus Rerum, which centers on the ambition to move beyond the instrumentalization of essentialist identity politics and managerial multiculturalism and toward a reshuffling of the cards via the Otolith Group’s theory of the event. And if this event corresponds to the political claim of the right to singularity as exception, then its productive corrosion of the transparency of identity and difference also represents an escape from the problematic “speaking for the other” so well critiqued in postcolonial studies. Whereas the risk of silencing the other might appear as a legitimate concern, the recourse to authenticity and transparency that traditional documentary conventions presuppose may be much worse. Moreover, opacity does not equal erasure. Glissant is clear on this account: “The opaque is not the obscure”; instead, it is “that which cannot be reThe Right to Opacity: On the Otolith Group’s Nervus Rerum 157

duced,” saving one from “unequivocal courses and irreversible choices.”26 Additionally, Nervus Rerum’s cinema of opacity cannot be generalized as a final and definitive approach to Jenin, for it represents an experimental gesture made to open up space for play. It is true that the relegation of Jenin to opacity means the transportation of the viewer to a similar disorientation. Yet this is not meant to be an alienating act, but the constitution of a new mode of social relations: the documented subject is not situated as fundamentally different and distant from the self; rather, opacity defines the viewer’s experiential condition of perception, which mirrors that of the film’s subject, forming a bridge of nontotalizing empathy between the two. As Glissant observes, opacity proposes a “relation” that is “an open totality evolving upon itself,” and as such constitutes “the force that drives every community: the thing that would bring us together forever and makes us permanently distinctive.”27 Finally, pointing out the ineffectiveness of traditional documentary approaches does not necessarily equal an implicit argument for the effectiveness of a cinema of opacity. Can effectiveness even be definitively measured when the experience of film is imbued with potentiality, and when its image is understood as an event that remains infinitely generative? With this conceptualization of the event in mind, one might say Nervus Rerum operates in the realm of the ethical rather than the political, where ethics relates to matters of subjective reasoning and conceptual positioning, and politics to the management of outcomes and calculable effects.28 The recent ethical turn is propelled in part by globalization’s media ecology, wherein digital reproduction and Internet dissemination bring the potential for the image’s endless manipulability and recontextualization, making meaning infinitely unstable and elastic. Hito Steyerl has termed the resulting representational condition one of “documentary uncertainty,” which for her is the fundamental basis of documentary practice today.29 But are ethics not the basis of contemporary art as well? Unable to predict the outcomes of their events, and often unwilling to instrumentalize their work, artists, according to such a view, might be said to operate (at least in part) in the field of ethical concerns. And it is the same with opacity: “The rule of action (what is called ethics or else the ideal or just logical relation) would gain ground,” writes Glissant, “by not being mixed into the preconceived transparency of universal models.”30 However, one might also conclude by resisting this ethical turn alchapter six 158

together, for it risks the depoliticization of artistic practice—that is, the limiting of its operations to the field of subjective motivations. Instead, one might turn to another view of the political, a view that sees it as constituted in and by challenges to the conventional partitioning of the visible and the audible, the division of appearance and speech into a hierarchy of significance, reproducibility, and dissemination, ranging from matters of urgent public concern to disregarded noise. “Is it possible for the dispossessed, for those that have little or no capacity for self-­appearance, for those that have no space to be visible in the global distribution of the sensible, is it possible for these subjects to appear as other than victims or witnesses?” asks Sagar in the Trialogue. Responding to this question, Nervus Rerum assumes a political cast insofar as it produces a different discourse, rejects familiar codes of identification, and makes a demand for a just rearrangement of forms of appearance. While the Otolith Group’s notion of the event may designate an open ontology, it need not be considered devoid of political force, for it also suggests, perhaps paradoxically, an “operative image,” in the sense Genet extends to the word in the film: “Images as delegates [sent] into the future, to act in the very long term, after death.” Creating images that are delegates sent into the future, Nervus Rerum’s imagined world does not begin with uncertainty and lead to authoritative explanation—as in documentary approaches like that of Jenin, Jenin; instead, it begins with an overdetermined field of representation, and, drawing out the opacity of the image, unleashes its potential.

The Right to Opacity: On the Otolith Group’s Nervus Rerum 159

Transit Going Offshore

The art of Yto Barrada, Ahlam Shibli, Emily Jacir, and the Otolith Group variously contributes to recent aesthetic innovations around documentary practice, mobilized in part to show the circumstances of those caught up in oppressive border regimes or expanding states of exception. These artists variously portray “life full of holes,” drawing on mobile identifications, showing the limits of representation, and investing potentiality in the image. By recognizing the unrecognized, their work extends visibility to those outside mainstream forms of appearance, capturing the human costs of global crisis and its political, economic, and religious exclusions, even while they resist objectifying the oppressed, thereby challenging social documentary’s long-­standing project of producing ethnographic knowledge and affirming humanitarianism’s compassionate beholder. Forming an aesthetics of opacity—according to Édouard Glissant’s poetic, postidentitarian conceptualization—their photography and films reject the conventional knowledge systems that might otherwise neutralize their political opposition and creative offering. But what happens when corporate power draws on the aesthetics of opacity as a resource to disguise its own dealings, cloak its identities, and increase forms of inequality by absenting itself from regulatory mechanisms, taxation, and the spotlight of legal and financial scrutiny? Areas of exception have also proliferated in the geography of global capital, allowing financial bodies to operate outside the state’s borders, and such a situation enables the further accumulation of wealth by those intent on voluntarily exiting from the distribution of appearance—especially when it comes to economic accountability. The recourse to “capital flight,” the often sudden transnational movement of capital, corresponds, however, to the destruction of national economies, debt crises, and skyrocketing inflation,

as if the country losing money were somehow responsible. Such is the privilege and practice of financial organizations—offshore banks, hedge funds, and shell companies—that exist beyond the visible fiscal network, overseeing massive flows of capital. According to the investigative journalist Nicholas Shaxson, “There are anywhere between $10 and $20 trillion sitting offshore at the moment,” constituting “the secret underpinning for the political and financial power of Wall Street today.”1 Linking together Libreville and Paris, Luanda and Moscow, Cyprus and London, Wall Street, Mexico City, and the Cayman Islands, Washington and Riyadh, this network connects the criminal underworld with financial elites, the diplomatic and intelligence establishments with multinational companies, and, Shaxson contends, it continues the prerogatives of neocolonialism even as it motors financial globalization. It is the shady epistemology of the offshore, and perhaps unexpectedly its aesthetic and political potentiality, that provides the source for Goldin + Senneby’s Looking for Headless, a project included in Uneven Geographies: Art and Globalization, an exhibition I co-­curated with Alex Farquharson in 2010 at Nottingham Contemporary in the U.K. The show assembled artistic practices that critically and creatively investigate the uneven developments of globalization, what Marxist critic Fredric Jameson, as early as the mid-­1990s, termed “a system so vast that it cannot be encompassed by the natural and historically developed categories of perception with which human beings normally orient themselves.”2 Indeed, as Nina Power and Michael Sayeau suggested more recently, the current economic crisis of 2008 has its “origin in financial instruments of such complicated construction that even their users are said not to have understood exactly what they were and how they worked. How does one illustrate a credit-­default swap?”3 Taking up such representational challenges and the political difficulties they imply, the exhibition looked to artists, including Yto Barrada, Steve McQueen, Ursula Biemann, the French collective Bureau d’études, and the Swedish duo Goldin + Senneby, among others, for recent proposals to creatively map and critically examine the conditions of the uneven geographies of contemporary globalization.4 The unevenness of modern geographies, of course, is well established in the scholarship, and the exhibition’s premise took account of the work of scholars such as David Harvey and the late Neil Smith to gain historical perspective on the present. It was Smith’s text Uneven Development, pubGoing Offshore 161

lished in 1984, that first systematically analyzed the concept in relation to the economic geography of neoliberal capitalism. As elaborated in Milton Friedman’s Chicago school of economics, the policies of deregulated markets, privatization, and curtailed social spending—the key tenets of neoliberalism—were advanced with devastating results by Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Augusto Pinochet, and Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s and 1980s.5 Yet despite the ruinous consequences, measured in social and political injustice, a hobbled social security system, lowered standards of living for the working and middle classes, and growing economic disparity, uneven development has continued unabated, as neoliberalism has been consolidated and expanded worldwide in the 1990s and 2000s, with the consequent spread of economic and political inequality across the globe. The relevance and accuracy of uneven geographies as an optic of analysis has only increased ever since.6 For Smith, uneven development issues from the dual and contradictory tendencies of capital to simultaneously promote “equalization” (the harmonization of levels and conditions of production in geographically dispersed areas) and “differentiation” (the accumulation and centralization of wealth).7 As Smith acknowledges, this analysis builds on earlier insights of economists and political theorists; indeed, uneven development was first observed in the nineteenth century by Karl Marx, who wrote presciently of capitalism’s “new and international division of labour” that “converts one part of the globe into a chiefly agricultural field of production, for supplying the other part which remains a chiefly industrial field,” even while capital “extracts in every sphere of production equality in the conditions of the exploitation of labour.”8 Marx saw that expanding and internationalizing the division of labor would also mean introducing the rule of exploitation worldwide, an outcome clearly visible in the most recent guise of capitalism’s growing divisions between the developed world’s economy of postindustrial services and consumption, and the underdeveloped world’s foundering in cheap precarious labor, environmental devastation, and resource expropriation.9 We now face the “equalization” of economic and cultural homogenization, in terms of the global monoculture of the same few global corporations, fast-­food restaurants, hotels, clothing chains, cars, films, music, and television shows, and the simultaneous “differentiation” between skyrocketing ceo salaries and multinational wealth based in the global north on the one hand and, on the other, the global south’s (and inTransit 162

creasingly segments of the north’s) wallowing in underdevelopment and debt. The result is what some have called “global economic apartheid,” supported ultimately by the neoliberal policies of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.10 While the circumstances of global economic development are no doubt more complex than this brief account allows, it is clear that “accumulation by dispossession” (to use Harvey’s favored term, which emphasizes the causal and often brutal relations between systems of wealth and poverty) has only intensified of late.11 Indeed, one sees its violent manifestations in the military, financial, social, and environmental crises that have become the perverse mechanism of what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism,” when profiteers and governments exploit catastrophes as pretexts for emergency measures, making politically viable the introduction of free-­ market economic reforms without democratic accountability and enforced by military domination.12 As Klein writes, the world is in the grips of a “fundamentalist form of capitalism,” which has “consistently been midwifed by the most brutal forms of coercion, inflicted on the collective body politic as well as on countless individual bodies.”13 A related cause and consequence of neoliberalism is the construction of the financial offshore, according to which multinationals are able to make enormous profits by circulating their capital through complex networks of financial exchange via semilegal and ethically dubious mechanisms; as a result, they are able to pay virtually no taxes to the nations and states where they operate, defining further heights of wealth differentiation and an emerging model of accumulation by dispossession, where the dispossessed is now the general public deprived of its welfare and social security, education and health care.14 It is at this point that Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby intervene with Headless, a project begun in 2007. Excavating the long and sometimes bizarre history of secretive tax havens, their work has brought out surprising parallels between recent banking practice and transgressive avant-­garde activities, as when they ask: could the shadowy world of offshore banking somehow harbor an incarnation of Georges Bataille’s mid-­ twentieth-­century secret society Acéphale? Following through with this unlikely—but because of it all-­the-­more provocative—proposition, their project’s symbol, a headless man, pays homage to Acéphale’s adoption of André Masson’s notorious drawing of a gruesome decapitated figure, a Going Offshore 163

Figure 55. Goldin + Senneby, “Headless. From the Public Record,” Installation view: Index, Stockholm, 2009–10. Courtesy of the artists.

perverse inversion of Leonardo’s enlightened Vitruvian Man, with a skull in place of his groin (see figure 55). The Swedish artists’ examination of how financial systems relate to forms of invisibility focuses on Headless Ltd., an offshore company recently registered in the Bahamas, and has yielded an array of collaborative and aesthetically unpredictable outputs, including a quasinovel, a feature-­length documentary, secretive presentations in the financial districts of European cities, and lectures in various venues on economic geography and Bataille’s esoteric club, which are performed in minimal, corporate-­style installations (sometimes in actual corporate office buildings) with projections that evoke the popular associations of the offshore with Caribbean islands (see plate 11). Spokespersons, emissaries, and ghost-­writers stand in for the artists at these events, while the artists themselves seemingly pull the strings from an undisclosed location, enhancing the project’s cloak-­and-­dagger murkiness. If Headless mines the opaque epistemology of the offshore as a source of artistic inspiration, its provocative results could not be more economically timely or politically explosive. As such, the project participates in the recent postconceptual artistic Transit 164

trend of adopting the aesthetics of corporate administration and putting them to critical ends. Consider, for instance, the Yes Men’s subversive deployment of the language of media publicity in 2004, when they publicly impersonated representatives of Dow Chemical, live on the bbc, and apologized for the company’s responsibility for the deathly chemical spill in Bhopal, India; Melanie Gilligan’s display of the fraught psychology of financial calamity in her four-­part video drama Crisis in the Credit System (2008); Carey Young’s performance of the collapse of neo-­avant-­garde into service industry in I Am a Revolutionary (2001), for which the artist hired a personal trainer to help her convincingly say the words in the video’s title; and Maria Eichhorn’s construction of an artwork as a shareholder-­owned business in Aktiengesellschaft (Public limited company) (2002). Sharing in this detouring of the corporate environment for artistic material—­ increasingly tempting in this age of obscene levels of corporate power— Goldin + Senneby’s distinct approach involves investigating the clandestine zones of global finance and creatively appropriating those mysterious spaces of withdrawal. Within the expansive scope of Headless’s many iterations, they investigate the juridical anomalies of offshore financial centers. The project’s cast of characters includes the freelance writer John Barlow, sent by the artists (whom he had never met) to the Bahamas to investigate Headless Ltd. and write a travel blog based on his investigations (itself becoming the Goldin + Senneby work Gone Offshore [2008]). Barlow’s activities are also selectively narrated in Looking for Headless, a novel by a fictional author known only as K. D., who recounts how she became suspicious of the artists while working for Sovereign Trust (Headless’s management company, which apparently threatened the artists with legal action to have their employee’s name—shared, coincidentally, by the work’s purported writer—removed from public communications) (see figure 56). The novel has been published gradually in chapters, just as the project has grown incrementally with each new show. Goldin + Senneby’s exhibition openings and associated readings and screenings serve as fodder for the developing plot, which is captivating less for its literary qualities than for its cannibalistic fictionalization of the realities it both describes and steadily produces. The documentary Looking for Headless (2010), by Kate Cooper and Richard John Jones, provides a useful overview of the project. They interview experts and the investigative journalist Gavin MacFadyen about Headless Going Offshore 165

Figure 56. Goldin + Senneby, “Headless. From the Public Record,” Installation view: Index, Stockholm, 2009–10. Courtesy of the artists.

Ltd., and themselves visit Sovereign Trust offices in Gibraltar and London; the work also includes footage of a São Paulo Bienal panel discussion led in 2008 by an actor impersonating K. D. The proliferating interconnections and multiplying levels of documentary and fiction make it easy to lose one’s bearings, which is part of the point. In terms of such zones of lawlessness, one thinks of Agamben’s analysis of the state of exception as a paradigm for current geopolitical developments, one that refers to new formations of executive sovereignty that manifest themselves by creating areas of legal exclusion, such as the prison at Guantánamo Bay.15 By referencing Agamben’s notion in “their” novel, Goldin + Senneby imply that what falls out of his analysis is the simultaneous construction of financial zones of exception that have accelerated the accumulation of wealth by multinationals and rich individuals outside of public accountability and national regulation.16 It is this field of invisibility that Goldin and Senneby track and turn into a source of intrigue in their commissioned texts and lectures by their representatives, the indeterminate status of which—is it fiction or real?—mirrors the uncertain knowledge economy of the offshore. By mimicking the world of shell companies, economic evasion, and unaccountable institutions in their semiTransit 166

fictional accounts, the artists blur the boundaries between the real and the imaginary, thereby reappropriating the category of the offshore from the financial elite and redirecting it for shared creative and collaborative artistic purposes. The seriousness of the project, however, is undeniable. The academic Angus Cameron, coauthor of The Imagined Economies of Globalization (2004), appears in the project’s book and videos and frequently gives lectures as the artists’ “emissary.”17 His creative role reached its apogee on the occasion of “The Decapitation of Money,” the artists’ exhibition at the Kadist Art Foundation, in Paris, for which Cameron led an expedition to the Marly Forest, where the Acéphale group met during the late 1930s to carry out secret rites and celebrate the beheading of Louis XVI.18 While walking his audience through the woods, he lectured on select moments in the history of the offshore industry, including its first appearance, when England detached its currency from silver during the war with revolutionary France in 1793. He also discussed the Cold War-­era monetary uprooting when Soviet and Chinese banks, intent on escaping American control of their foreign assets, created the Eurodollar market by depositing their dollar-­denominated reserves in European banks (a reconstruction of the somewhat psychedelic interior design of one of these institutions was created within the exhibition). Finally, he reviewed the explosion of offshore markets in the contemporary global economy, where trillions circulate beyond national regulatory oversight in an increasingly fictitious—but financially very real—realm.19 For Cameron, that murky area beyond national sovereignty echoes the acephalous, as corporate bodies detach themselves from nation-­state heads, even though, he confesses, Bataille would not have found in their examples the rebellious headless transgression he desired. While the economy has recently convulsed in fits of consumption and destruction—­ resonating with Bataille’s writings on the “general economy” in The Accursed Share—secretive financial bodies have only grown more powerful, leading to a neoaristocratic age of wealth-­based privilege, disguised by fictitious offshore companies. Such could not be further from Acéphale’s passionate devotion to collective union before death (as on one occasion, when its members infamously wished to consummate their bonds through a real human sacrifice but could only find volunteers for the role of the executed). Going Offshore 167

One might conclude that Goldin + Senneby’s project demonstrates that economic fictions cannot be exposed in reality today—in contrast with, for instance, Hans Haacke’s ambitions to catalogue Harry Shapolsky’s Manhattan real estate holdings in the 1970s, or the more recent mappings of geoeconomic governmentality in projects by Bureau d’études and Mark Lombardi (both included in Uneven Geographies).20 The reason being, financial reality has become the very site of fiction, hence Goldin + Senneby’s recourse to creative mimicry. But this need not, in my view, entail accepting the hermetic core of multinational capitalism, and with it the proliferating, uneven geographies of today’s corporate globalization. More in the Bataillean spirit, Headless amasses the potential for a collective imagination that would reinvent a politics of regulatory justice (drawing out Bataille’s Marxist roots), as Cameron intimated in the Marly Forest. Such a call indeed resonates with the aims of anticorporate tax-­dodging groups like U.K. Uncut.21 Indeed, reality volunteered a ready-­made plot development during recent demonstrations in London against the conservative government’s proposed cuts to education funding (while corporations such as Vodafone and Topshop continue to find ways to avoid U.K. taxes), when protesters encountered Prince Charles’s and Camilla’s limo and, in an unsettlingly close-­to-­the-­bone joke, began to chant, “Off with their heads!”

Transit 168



Zones of Conflict

More than a decade into the “War on Terror,” inaugurated by the Bush regime and disturbingly continued under the Obama administration (if with less belligerent rhetoric), military action can now occur potentially anywhere and everywhere.1 Since the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq, transitory and mobile zones of conflict seem to possess no geographical boundaries, temporal limits, or discrete enemies. Recent developments, whether terrorist strikes or drone bombings, simultaneously redefine conflict as a mobile phenomenon, one that visits metropolitan and rural areas worldwide, even as military operations turn inward, transformed into counterinsurgency against mass uprisings and struggles for democracy, as witnessed recently in the Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East.2 Whereas drone attacks appear concentrated in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan, they could conceivably strike anywhere, as the U.S.—for the moment—maintains a monopoly on the deadly and extra-­judicial practice.3 Still, the city has become a common locus for the concentration of warring forces, as in Beirut, Cairo, and recently Damascus, which has disrupted the clear divisions between civilians and soldiers, in terms of targeting as much as of deterrence. “The external ‘Theater of Operations’ is no more,” writes Paul Virilio. “The Principle of Indetermination now reigns. Is Globalization Total War?”4

If Virilio’s analysis is correct, then “Total War”—or “permanent war,” according to Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri—defines uncertain terrains of spatial ambiguity, a field of ever potential violent eruption that is delocalized, dispersed, and transnational.5 Fluid and shifting, metropolitan areas like Baghdad or Kabul as much as London and New York anticipate surprise attacks and terrorist bombings. Nowhere is safe, apparently, as a pervasive sense of fear and indeterminacy reigns. Conflicts, devoid of the internationally agreed-­upon “rules of engagement” that once structured war, are now waged in “no-­law zones,” “free speech areas,” and states of exception where neither humanitarian protections nor familiar military regulations apply.6 The term conflict thus signals the obsolescence of conventional “war,” designating terrorism and state violence alike, often with indecipherable differences regarding their effects, constituting psychic and representational components as much as strategic matters of geopolitical and military calculation. Current conflicts are also thus fought on (at least) two fronts—both on the ground, with military might (involving occupations, bombings, and campaigns of destruction) and in cyberspace, via media power (involving the control of information, images, and publicity).7 Such are the characteristics of what Retort has termed twenty-­first-­century “military neo-­liberalism,” which joins free-­market ideology to military enforcement directed at world domination, and which also meets resistance at every turn: jihadi strikes in postwar Iraq, for instance, accompany simultaneous news dispatches (whether emanating officially from as-­Sahab, al-­Qaeda’s media wing, or anonymously dispersed on Internet file-­sharing sites).8 The result has been a perceived “clash of fundamentalisms” between a crusading Western imperialism, on the one hand, and a transnational Islamic militancy, on the other, a clash proposing a worldwide civil war between right-­wing forces driven by an infuriating mimetic rivalry defying resolution (one that is poignantly captured in Tariq Ali’s eponymous book, and humorously symbolized by its depictions of a mullah-­like George W. Bush and a presidential Osama bin Laden on its front and back covers).9 If, as Virilio presciently argued, “there is no war without representation,” then today there is also no conflict without a war of images.10 Decisively refusing this rush toward militancy and fundamentalism, recent artistic responses to war have rejected this current (and false) double bind. Many artists have surrendered neither to the patriotic deDeparture c 170

fense of freedom—which all too often accompanies and justifies an aggressive corporate and military colonization—nor to the zeal of the religious warriors—which betrays a repressive and deadly intolerance toward nonbelievers, along with a flat-­out refusal of dialogue and negotiation.11 I wish to foreground some of these artistic responses in the following three chapters. After more than ten years of the War on Terror, we are now positioned to take stock of the diverse ways artists have carried out that refusal and, moreover, have proceeded to negotiate and analyze conflicts in the United States, the Middle East, and elsewhere (even while at present the effects of the momentous political uprisings of 2011–12 have yet to be comprehended). The present context, in addition, makes earlier responses to conflict newly relevant, such as the response in Lebanon during the 1980s and 1990s. As such, the current circumstances offer us the occasion to discover and cultivate alternative expressions of and critical relations to the representations of conflict, in order to trace, compare, and critically juxtapose the specific approaches of a diversity of artists to singular geopolitical events that may nevertheless share certain underlying structures. The next three chapters consider the work of Walid Raad and Lamia Joreige, which investigates the visual culture and memory crises following Lebanon’s civil wars; the video essays of Ursula Biemann that explore Saharan transmigration; and the Camp Campaign project of Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, which examines the spatial politics of inclusive exclusion in the United States. These works offer representations of conflict as much as a conflict of representations. Whereas these artists develop a multiplicity of nuanced approaches to representation and to the image, considered together, their projects might be said to emerge from a shared sensitivity to a fundamental tension, one split between the desire to give expression to the tragic experience of crisis, and the recognition that representation is ultimately unable to capture that experience in its fullness and directness. That tension results at times in paradox (to express the inexpressible, glimpsing the atrocious human cost of war and violence), and at others in self-­reflexive acknowledgment (to elicit the limits of the documentary image by evoking, for instance, its fragmentations and elisions, which betray the existence of hidden psychological realities). The approaches unfold from the image’s zone of conflict as much as from geopolitical ­conflicts. Zones of Conflict 171

In this regard, these contemporary practices offer further examples that foreground the instability of the documentary mode and the migrant image, which mirrors the indeterminacy of contemporary warfare—think of Raad’s fictitious archives, Biemann’s polyvocal videos, or Anastas’s and Gabri’s heterogeneous representational components. If the “uncertainty principle” Virilio mentioned also extends to documentary practice (recalling Steyerl’s point that “uncertainty is not some shameful lack, which has to be hidden, but instead constitutes the core quality of contemporary documentary modes as such”) then uncertainty emerges from multiple motivations.12 These motivations include the refusal of the conventional models that posit a hierarchical relation between authoritative media and docile recipient; the eliciting of the spectator’s creativity and interpretive agency; the foregrounding of the multivalent meanings of representation and the selective aspects of memory, which draw out the potentiality of historical practice; and the acknowledgment of the fact that images travel (especially in today’s digital world), shifting their meanings, consequently, in each new context. A clear commitment to joining poetic presentations to commemorative and documentary commitments marks the projects of Raad, Joreige, Biemann, and Anastas and Gabri. At times this aesthetic casts itself negatively, as when these projects variously manifest the ultimate unrepresentability of traumatic experience, whether by avoiding the voyeuristic objectification of the state of victimhood through the presence of obstructions in the image (as in Raad’s photographic cycles marked with Baldassari-­like colored circles), or insisting thereby on a visual or poetic opacity that holds the potential for subjects to exist politically beyond the condition of traumatic experience and exposure (as in Biemann’s videos and the representations of Anastas and Gabri). If all documentaries involve an element of fiction, subjective motivation, and imaginative supplement, then it is because fiction may very well be the site where reality is forged. It is worth recalling that for Rancière fiction originates etymologically from its roots in the Latin fingere, meaning “to forge,” not “to feign,” a source that reveals the constructive basis of the documentary enterprise.13 The blurring of the real and the imaginary, the aesthetic and the political, presents us therefore with a reconfigured notion of historical knowledge, one that is no longer founded on the idea of history as somehow objectively “out there” in the world and capable of being faithfully captured “here in this image,” but rather admits subjective experiDeparture c 172

ences and interpretive processes, what Raad terms “unconscious events” and “hysterical symptoms.”14 The projects informed by these concerns— including Raad’s various archives of the visual geographies of subjective postwar memory, and the dream sequence that interrupts the rationality of mapping procedures in Anastas and Gabri’s Camp Campaign—not only reflect upon the visual testimonies and imaging techniques relating to war and conflict, but also betray a certain representational symptomatology of psychic effects, including obsessive orderings and fictional scenarios that weave together and modify historical documents. These projects chart an expanded field of traumatic experience that surrounds conflict, but that are also sensitive to the impossibility of total recall or of the completeness of our knowledge of past events. In converse relation to certain claims made on behalf of the photojournalistic exposés of practitioners like Guy Tillim and Ghaith Abdul-­Ahad, these projects posit the inevitable failure of representation’s capacity to capture the experience of conflict, a failure that acknowledges the psychoanalytic insight that the very shock of a violent encounter inherently surpasses the subject’s ability to process or comprehend punctually its full range of effects—yet without concluding that representation should be discounted or abandoned.15 A further reason for skepticism when it comes to the deployment of documentary exposure to defy the biased nature of political and media rhetoric may be information’s very ineffectiveness as a tool of politicization. It may be useful to recall Deleuze’s point that “what makes information all-­powerful (the newspapers, and then the radio, and then the television), is its very nullity, its radical ineffectiveness.”16 Witness the impoverishment of information during the Bush years, when seemingly no fact could be brought to light that would alter the political direction of the government, whether it related to the nonexistence of weapons of mass destruction or to the practice of torture in U.S. military bases. In fact, information seems often only to reinforce already existing identifications, promoting defensive postures and entrenching opinion ever deeper.17 (We will have to wait and see if the emergence of institutions like WikiLeaks will change the global media and its infoscape in any substantial way.) One explanation for this conservative tendency is that information presented in the media operates foremost according to its own internal relations, reaffirming, referring to, and repeating itself, in a milieu of apparent “urgency,” “instantaneity” and “forgetability,” as Mary Ann Doane has Zones of Conflict 173

observed.18 Not surprisingly, the artists discussed in the following pages frequently place the will toward political instrumentality in abeyance, provoking in its place the contemplation of psychic fragmentation and internal strangeness that is otherwise suppressed in the public sphere, or again the privileging and the appreciation of the inescapable multiplicity of representation and the necessary duration of its critical consideration. Perhaps the only possible conclusion here is that, in light of these practices, truth can no longer be assumed—and yet neither can its existence be abandoned. One useful resource in thinking through this challenge remains Foucault’s writings on the “politics of truth,” a politics that exceeds the definition of truth as a matter of verifiable content and proposes in its place an expanded field of contestation and problematization, of critical thinking and creative experimentation. In this realm, truth figures as a process and, at times, a practice tied to contingency and driven by political commitment and subjective engagement, a process that seeks to escape from constituted forms of political rationality and equally from academic doctrine and institutionalized regimes of thought. Such a definition diverges from that which reinforces preformed identifications and calculated political positions. Truth, in this version, assumes no ready-­made group or predetermined subject. Instead, it frees the progression of subjective becoming from its determination by representation—whether that of government, media, or art—and relocates it at the center of an agonistic collective assembly, one formed in disagreement and debate, within a conflict that is internal to the individual as much as to the social realm. For Foucault, such a practice designated “not a critical philosophy that seeks to determine the conditions and the limits of our possible knowledge of an object, but a critical philosophy that seeks the conditions and indefinite possibilities of transforming the subject, of transforming ourselves.”19 The point of such transformation, in relation to zones of conflict, is to open up the process of understanding violence and warfare, trauma and memory, in order to learn about ourselves and the image world that mediates and perpetuates conflict today, as well as to seek ways of being and becoming beyond the conventional patterns of the spectacularization of war, cultural amnesia, and the affects of fear that define the present. It is in this light that we might also relinquish the question of “effectiveness,” when it comes to cultural practices deemed political in their oppositional, antiwar stances. Let us favor a more complex and aesthetically considered relation to artisDeparture c 174

tic imagery and practice, even where it has been deployed to problematize and dissolve the very line of separation between art and activism. More often than not, the motivation behind such political stances originates in a perpetually negotiated politics of truth that is capable of transforming the subject, of transforming ourselves.

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Out of Beirut Mobile Histories and the Politics of Fiction

In May 2006, the exhibition Out of Beirut opened innocently enough at Modern Art Oxford. Organized by curator Suzanne Cotter, in collaboration with Christine Tohme, director of the leading Beirut-­based arts organization Ashkal Alwan, the survey promised an exciting profile of contemporary Lebanese art and another chapter in the story of its growing international reputation.1 The work of fifteen artists, including Walid Raad, Lamia Joreige, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, and Rabih Mroué, was on view for two months, accompanied by a program of films and symposia featuring prominent speakers, such as the curator Catherine David, organizer of the expansive exhibition and research project Contemporary Arab Representations, and the architect Bernard Khoury, whose work was also included in the show.2 As part of a veritable cultural renaissance taking place in Beirut following the country’s fifteen-­year civil war (1975–90), a renaissance that continues to this day, Lebanese artists have generated an impressive array of work that reconsiders the nature of photographic documentation and the projected image, with critical insights arising largely in their conceptual examinations of traumatic memory and the workings of the archive. At once cohesive as a group show, which gathered the work of artists of the same generation who emerged together in Beirut during the 1990s, sharing many of the same concerns and theoretical engagements, and yet variegated in terms of the singular approaches, the exhibition

offers the opportunity to consider the conditions of art in the aftermath of violent conflict. Many of the artistic engagements reflect on the continuing legacy of the wars of Lebanon between 1975 and 1990, which include battles between the country’s competing sectarian militias (divided along religious and political lines), successive Israeli invasions and occupations, and Syrian and American meddling, during which an estimated 200,000 people were killed, many more wounded, and nearly a million displaced.3 Nearly every piece on view in Oxford reflected on these conflicts. But it is the work’s confounding of the relation between reality and representation, and with it the resulting slipperiness between the factual and the imaginary, that places it squarely in the context of an inquiry into how artists have reinvented documentary—or postdocumentary—modes of representation in the last two decades, as a way to negotiate global discord. At the time of the show’s opening, no one could have foreseen that the gravity of these investigations would soon be dramatically underscored by contemporaneous events. On July 12, four days before the exhibition’s conclusion, Hezbollah militants seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-­border raid, a response to earlier Israeli kidnappings of Hezbollah members from Lebanese soil. The raid sparked a month-­long, full-­fledged military confrontation followed by a tenuous cease-­fire (still precariously in effect today). During that time, more than a thousand Lebanese civilians were killed, a million displaced, and some 30,000 homes in Lebanon were destroyed, along with 400 miles of roads, all the country’s national airports, and numerous hospitals, schools, mosques, and churches. Fifteen thousand tons of oil spilled into Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast.4 Because the work on display in “Out of Beirut” was concerned with exposing and examining the psychic aftershocks and uncanny mimicries of the earlier civil war that had become fixtures of everyday life in contemporary Lebanon, one was soon led to recognize what these artists had in fact been suggesting all along: the terrible conflict of the 1970s and 80s had never actually ended. As Tohme noted, “I don’t think we’ve ever lived through a postwar period. There is no ‘postwar’ in Lebanon, only pauses.”5 In this regard, Lebanese history is representative of our contemporary reality, in which global political arrangements between Western liberal democratic powers and Middle Eastern nationalist and religious movements are ever tenuous, at any moment capable of erupting into military clashes. Indeed, we are chapter seven 178

Figure 57. Lamia Joreige, still from Here and Perhaps Elsewhere (2003). Courtesy of the artist.

living in the context of an ostensibly endless war, with Lebanon seemingly continually on the verge of open conflict between its various religious and political factions. One of the exhibition’s most poignant commentaries on the civil war’s legacy was Lamia Joreige’s Here and Perhaps Elsewhere (2003), a ninety-­ minute video exposing the persistence of memories of the conflict, even while stressing their volatility (see figure 57). “Do you know of anyone who was kidnapped around here during the war?” asks the artist as she comes across individual pedestrians while retracing the Green Line that divided East and West Beirut during the troubles. (A map in the beginning of the video shows the historical location of the division.) In the course of her interviews, Joreige shows her interlocutors archival photographs culled from local newspapers, to locate the sites of former militia checkpoints along the line, such as the Ring Checkpoint, the Harbor Checkpoint, and the Museum-­Barbir crossing point, where thousands were abducted, their bodies never to be recovered. Nor were the proofs of their deaths ever Out of Beirut: Mobile Histories and the Politics of Fiction 179

provided, hence the title’s underlying of the still anxious uncertainty of their perhaps being elsewhere. (Astonishingly, nearly 18,000 people are still considered missing from the civil-­war era.) The video intercuts shots from a handheld camera of people handling those black and white historical images of devastated, bombed-­out areas, with contemporary footage of the city’s busy, contemporary, urban landscape, underscoring the significant physical transformation of Beirut that has taken place since the fighting ended. Some interviewees are suspicious of Joreige’s inquiries, reluctant—even afraid—to delve into the past. “Names? It’s best not to,” one man responds with a wink. “Why bring up this memory again?” But others encourage full disclosure: “If you know anything . . . you should talk,” one man urges. Many do freely share their stories before the artist’s camera. “My two cousins were kidnapped in Ain el Remmaneh,” explains one man who appears to be about fifty years old, wearing a blue button-­up shirt. “We know who kidnapped them. It’s common knowledge,” he says. “When they disbanded the Lebanese Forces [one of several Christian militias], the government should have made a claim [to investigate, but it never did].” Others talk of the kidnappings of the Mourabitoun (the Nasserist political party of Sunni Muslims), and of the Kataeb (a local term for the right-­wing Christian Phalange), as Joreige elicited spontaneous reports from people of various religions who knew someone who was victimized. An older man tells movingly of losing a son in 1985 and shows the scars from his open-­heart surgery, an operation undertaken to cure a disease caused, he believes, by grief and exacerbated by the unknown and perhaps forever unknowable circumstances of his son’s disappearance. The father’s psychic injury is still obviously raw, evidenced by his emotional recounting, which, within the context of Joreige’s work, suggests that the effects of the violence that ended more than a decade previously are not quite so safely distant as some had thought, and are far from processed in the culture at large. In what is undeniably a documentary account that addresses the everyday resistance to remembrance, Joreige’s video brings out the postwar context of amnesia, which followed in the wake of the war and emerged as a mass cultural phenomenon for multiple reasons. As is clear in Here and Perhaps Elsewhere, Lebanon’s so-­called memory deficit resulted from the subjective trauma of those survivors who lived through the horrors of the war’s violent conflict, and who now have little wish to talk about their dischapter seven 180

turbing experiences. The reality of massive disappearances, as well, has made it extremely difficult psychologically to declare a relative dead when he or she is only technically missing. Simply repressing the fact, or clinging to hope (as many clearly do in Joreige’s video) appears preferable to transforming a profound uncertainty into an artificial fact, if only so that mourning can commence. An additional well-­known reason for postwar amnesia, one that is not at all due to unconscious mechanisms or subjective blockages, is what some historians have termed “state-­sponsored amnesia,” that is, the politically instrumentalized and economically calculated official policy that has discouraged post-­civil-­war remembrance in favor of a clean slate. When the Taiff Accords were signed in 1991, bringing the war to a close (but without any clear winners or losers), many combatants gained amnesty and thus benefited from an official policy of nonremembrance in lieu of a process of truth and reconciliation (although such a process would be by no means simple and could also be manipulated by political power).6 As a result, former militia leaders and family members— such as the Gemayels, Jumblatts, Aouns and others—entered and still enjoy positions of political leadership, suffering neither public investigations nor legal challenges, their very freedom and postwar livelihood dependent on a culture of forgetting.7 An added factor for those in Beirut, in particular, has been the governmental policy of tearing down the ruins of bullet-­ridden and bombed-­out buildings and constructing new developments, a practice strongly supported by the government of Rafik Hariri, who was himself a developer, and who, in 1994, while prime minister, founded the Solidere corporation, responsible largely for the postwar development of central Beirut. The results are visible in the city’s urban transformation. The historical traces of the civil war have been erased in many areas of the city, even if the reconstruction has been uneven and is still incomplete. Partially destroyed buildings riddled with bullet holes, such as the forlorn Murr Tower (which apparently is too expensive to tear down), still hover over the city like watchful ghosts, acting as unofficial monuments to the civil war. In other areas, such as Beirut’s Central District, signs of the conflict are nowhere to be seen, as former ruins have been replaced with nostalgic developments that propose, as literary critic Saree Makdisi points out, a false continuity with Beirut’s imagined prewar appearance.8 Because of the persistence of cultural amnesia, the original causes of the Out of Beirut: Mobile Histories and the Politics of Fiction 181

war have gone unrecognized—at least officially—and are thus still unresolved, leaving the country seemingly perpetually on the brink of crisis. For instance, nonnaturalized Palestinian refugees continue to live in impoverished camps (in some cases for multiple generations), owing as much to the exiles’ resolve not to relinquish their unrecognized nationality as to the Lebanese government’s refusal to naturalize those who are predominantly Sunni Muslims and would threaten to disrupt the country’s fragile demographic balance and sectarian political arrangements. As well, foreign powers such as Syria, Iran, and the United States, continue to exert destabilizing influences on the country, seeking to move it alternately toward Western neoliberalism and its version of democracy or toward political Islam and militant resistance to Israel’s policies toward Palestinian Arabs. All told, Lebanon persists in a condition of suspended animation, one of political and social insecurity, which extends the country’s artificial and precarious status, first created in the aftermath of the fall of the Ottoman empire and following its geopolitical restructuring after World War II.9 Yet that situation has also led to an unofficial “memory culture” in Lebanon. Generated by civil society, political groups, and nongovernmental agents, including artists, novelists, investigative journalists, academics, and filmmakers, participants have debated and produced counternarratives of the country’s history since the 1990s.10 Sharing such aims, artists such as Joreige have reflected upon and challenged the context of postwar amnesia. For her, the documentary mode remains one viable tool to contest forgetting and to challenge the hysterical and psychosomatic effects of suppressing memory when trauma goes unacknowledged. In this regard, Joreige’s practice of witnessing—putting individuals in front of the camera and asking them to talk—joins a long tradition of documentary practice following in the wake of wars, conflicts, and experiences of abuse and violence, a practice used as a tool of remembrance, therapeutic working-­ through, and collective memory production.11 Similarly, Joreige’s Objects of War, a video project she began in 1999, asks participants to choose an object around which memories of the Lebanese civil war have crystallized for them, and then to talk about their experiences (she made four editions between 2000–2006, each roughly an hour in length). Samir Frangié, for instance, chose a packet of batteries with which he powered a radio to listen to news during the conflict. Mazen Kerbaj picked a drawing made with his son, portraying the 2006 bombings, which parallels for him images of chapter seven 182

Figure 58. Lamia Joreige, still from Objects of War (1999-). Courtesy of the artist.

civil-­war-­era bombings. The actress and theater maker Lina Saneh selected a can of beer wrapped in Kleenex, which reminds her of hanging out with friends in West Beirut, where they would disguise their drinks to avoid detection by the Islamists who controlled the area (see figure 58). The result is a series of wartime testimonials, wherein sundry objects lead to individual narratives of bombings, kidnappings, and killings. This desire to reopen the wounds inflicted by the tragedy of Lebanon’s brutal past through direct documentary representation, and to remedy shock with comprehension, reveals one powerful approach to history in Joreige’s work and indeed in all contributions to Out of Beirut. A nagging paradox, however, follows from Joreige’s contention that comprehension depends on the awareness that our relationship to the past—or to historical “facts”—is uncertain at best. And, in fact, her video’s testimonials belie the transparency of documentary evidence. One man she approaches in Here and Perhaps Elsewhere, for instance, refuses to provide further stories, explaining that “they may be true and they may not Out of Beirut: Mobile Histories and the Politics of Fiction 183

. . . They won’t give you the answer you’re looking for.” As Joreige notes, “In both Objects of War, and Here and Perhaps Elsewhere, the diversity of the many stories recounted, their accumulation and unequal repetition, link each personal experience to the collective one, making difficult if not impossible the idea of a unique truth.”12 One could still put it differently: There is no such thing as a unique truth, because the idea of a public memory, a memory of “the people” constituting some nonpolitical universal truth, is simply impossible. Memory is, and perhaps always will be, a contested terrain. It is contested because meaning is always connected to and reinforces specific identities, and in Lebanon’s sectarian context, it is not at all surprising that memory continues the basis of the civil war in the realm of remembrance.13 This factor becomes apparent in Joreige’s videos, in that the testimony comes only from those who position themselves as victims, not perpetrators. Everyone seems to know someone who was kidnapped, but none name the assailants. The fear is still evident, the memories still fresh, as the lingering politics of memory interferes with the acts of spontaneous remembrance that Joreige records, rendering them ever delicate and sensitive. If “memory is politics,” as Haugbolle notes, then it is often “not primarily about reading the past historically but about using it for political means” in the present.14 Clearly, then, promoting remembrance not only contests amnesia; unleashing its process can also represent a challenge to the culture of sectarianism, the culture of religious affiliation that is the basis for national and local political power.15 And this is one of the aims of Joreige’s video: to facilitate memory in an undetermined and open way, one that is freed from political direction. As Lina Saneh explains in her narrative in Objects of War, “I was at war with . . . those political parties, those sectarian parties.” And Joreige’s video supports that position insofar as its archive of testimonies reveals the violence of the war’s sectarian divisions without privileging any single viewpoint. The result is a collective, shifting truth, not unique, but delivered through shards, each incomplete, the whole contingent upon the representational, linguistic, cultural, and psychological circumstances of its delivery. The artist writes, “As History escapes us, only fragments remain, words and images. These fragments are memory and oblivion at the same time, parts of an incomplete whole and assembled subsequently. Rearranged and re-­interpreted, they border

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fiction.”16 Nonetheless, Joreige’s version of remembrance bears a politics of its own—a politics of postsectarianism—and this documentary fiction appears most needed today. Deconstructing the notion of a singular truth, producing documentary accounts of history that border on fiction—Joreige is not alone in these ambitions, and indeed her practice offers an entrance into the conceptual character of the Lebanese postwar artistic context. Whereas she invites communication, and thereby elicits its politics and blind spots, the artist Walid Sadek confronts us with its absence. His Love Is Blind (2006) invokes Beirut’s once picturesque settings by reproducing just the informational labels for paintings by Mustafa Farroukh, a prominent Lebanese artist in the late 1930s and 1940s, who depicted idyllic scenes of the city and the surrounding landscape in the style of academic European art. Sadek’s conceptual installation at Modern Art Oxford thus left ghostly white expanses where the paintings should have hung, the distance between blocks of wall-­text corresponding to the dimensions of Farroukh’s missing canvases. While the pictorial absences double the wartime destruction of those geographical sites—not only has the geography physically changed but also the very culture that Farroukh’s practice inhabited—Sadek’s act of negation also implicitly questions the ability of visual language to convey loss. The curator Suzanne Cotter refers rightly to the “mistrust of the image as reliable document of history” that characterized the artwork in “Out of Beirut.”17 Its inclusions generally registered the fact that meaning is determined by context, is capable of being politically instrumentalized, and the notions of transparency and objectivity find no support or common currency in Lebanese art. Such a mistrust indeed informed Sadek’s pointed refusal to show what has been lost to the past, as if its representation would only repeat the violence by objectifying it, or would further offend by pretending to grasp some essential truth about its demise. His work still attempts, as does Joreige’s, to come to terms with destruction’s lasting effects. In Sadek’s case, a perceptual absence translates the devastation done to history and its visual artifacts. Nonetheless, his commitment to a conceptualist investigation of negativity, one that makes present the absences that prohibit a facile visualization, signaled an important difference from Joreige’s innovative documentary approach, even while he shared with her the wish to produce historical awareness and to counter

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cultural amnesia on that basis (his project at Modern Art Oxford also included a substantial art-­historical reflection on Farroukh that was published in the exhibition’s catalogue). In this sense, staging the withdrawal of visuality can itself become productive as a way of moving beyond the aftermath of disaster, which may entail not only the destruction of the material structures of one’s urban environment, but “the additional, more insidious withdrawal of what survived the physical destruction,” as Jalal Toufic has observed.18 The Iraqi artist and theorist, and former Beirut resident, has written at length about this feature of catastrophe’s effect on imagery—not only that images have literally been destroyed, but that they, like memory in postwar Lebanon, have somehow become unavailable to the senses, following what he calls the “radical closure” of a “surpassing disaster.” Resonating with such a representational withdrawal, works in Out of Beirut similarly challenged the notion that language, whether visual or textual, might be used positively, to convey the experience of war with uninterrupted continuity, exemplifying the negation of visual artifacts that characterizes what Toufic terms the “withdrawal of tradition” following a surpassing disaster.19 Doing so, they rendered the idea of direct expression impossible, even while overtly manifesting the injuries done to representation, and transforming that very rupture into a vehicle of positive transformation. In a further contribution to the show Wonder Beirut: The Story of a Pyromaniac Photographer (1998–2006), Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige presented a display of brightly colored postcards of touristy Beirut, “appropriated” from the work of the Lebanese commercial photographer Abdallah Farah. In fact an imaginary figure created by the two artists, Farah is said to have originally published these postcards in 1968, only to carefully burn the negatives seven years later, when the war began, so that the images, scarred with gruesomely charred areas and twisted searings, and punished nearly to the point of abstraction, would correlate with their actual damaged counterparts (see plate 12). The artistic exercise effectively updates the current postcards of Beirut, widely known to typically date from before the civil war, and as such they represent a further index of the country’s status of being frozen in time.20 As the artists write, Abdallah “followed a very precise recounting of events, retracing the trajectory of the bullets and the destruction they caused, as though he tried to conform the images to the present.”21 Interestingly, the fictional construction recalls chapter seven 186

Sadek’s deployment of Farroukh as a kind of elusive, intermediary figure, as a cipher to problematize representation. Indeed, the story has it that Abdallah even keeps a notebook description of every photograph he has taken since the war but refuses to develop, which brings to mind Sadek’s empty walls. The artists contend, “We documented these fictions very thoroughly in order to enable a reflection on this history [of the Lebanese civil wars].”22 But their reflection is clearly not an attempt to find a transparent relation to the war and its horrors, nor are their constructions based on pure fantasy; rather, “they are interested in the violence that the war makes on images and the manner by which it can be returned,” as Rancière observes of their work. “They speak to us of what ties the work of the image to that of the war and of memory: absence.”23 But, as with Sadek, this damage to the presence of representation is not simply a matter of negative destruction, but of productive engagement, one that allows the traumatic aspects of the subjective relation to representation to be confronted, rather than repressed. The damage to the image also creates a new kind of image, which bears the traces of the past in a “latent” way. The term is Hadjithomas and Joreige’s, meant to call up lingering, nonapparent phenomenon, the yet-­to-­ be-­developed image that nonetheless haunts present reality, particularly in Lebanon today.24 They explain: “Latency also evokes what is often felt in Beirut, in the face of the dominant amnesia prevailing since the end of the war, in the face of this strange paralysis that pervades the city, in the face of this violent desire to place things between parentheses—to censure one‑ self.”25 For Toufic, their work can thus be “considered a contribution to the resurrection of what has been withdrawn by the surpassing disaster.”26 The pyromania of Wonder Beirut’s photographer implies as well a therapeutic attempt to work through a brutalized reality by castigating its falsifying and outdated representations, thereby assuming a position of control in relation to that violence, rather than being its passive effect. Yet the oftentimes stunning visual results betray a perverted, parallel strategy of trumping violence through its aestheticization, designating its translation into startling imagery. If it does enact such an aestheticization, then it is one defined, for me, not by making violence into an object of beauty, but rather by showing the perversion and horror of that very maneuver. Aestheticizing, in this context, means granting visibility to the subjective processing of past catastrophes—including their sometimes stunning, if Out of Beirut: Mobile Histories and the Politics of Fiction 187

horrific, visual spectacle. This move elicits in turn the latent visual idiosyncrasies and narrative fantasies manifest in the image. As an “irruption in a radical closure,” Hadjithomas and Joreige’s work contributes to what Toufic calls “the resurrection of what has been withdrawn.” But in doing so, they do not posit a relation of continuity with the past; rather, they give visibility to the very withdrawal of representation. By placing that act in a fictional scenario, they commit to the reality of living with ghosts, instead of repressing the past by resuming to document it unproblematically.27 But a simple opposition should be avoided: the fictional and factual are intertwined in this work, yielding complex interactions where the qualities of one end up not so easily distinguished from those of the other. Consider Akram Zaatari’s Saida, June 6, 1982 (2003–2006), a photograph that ostensibly documents the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, taken when the artist was sixteen years old and developed only years later (see figure 59). The delay recalls the workings of latency, but here the motivation for the postponement—whether it owes to the psychological barrier of bringing to life an image of horror, or to mere accident—remains unclear. In “Out of Beirut” Zaatari’s photograph faced Walid Raad’s large-­scale photographic cycle We Can Make Rain but No One Came to Ask, (2006), composed of mostly white surfaces with nearly illegible fragments of text that line the bottom, fragments culled from an investigation that Raad and two collaborators conducted into a 1986 car-­bomb explosion (see figure 60). The juxtaposition seems clear: Zaatari, as does Joreige, plays the artist-­as-­reporter, seeming to scout out hard information to prove what cannot be easily understood (his photograph showing a number of explosive bursts on a hilltop could convincingly substitute for news images of the Israeli rocket attacks on Lebanon in 2006). Conversely, Raad, akin to Sadek, clearly signals his doubt that such “factual” documentation is possible, utilizing material from a partly fictional archive of contemporary Lebanese history, maintained as part of his fifteen-­year project, the Atlas Group, dedicated to the exploration of experimental ways to write and represent the history of the wars in Lebanon and its episodes of traumatic violence.28 Yet any seeming dichotomy between Raad’s work and that of Zaatari is hardly pat; for just as Raad’s art embraces multiple fragmented stories, rendering the idea of a unique truth impossible and testifying to the inevitable dance between memory, forgetfulness, and invention that determines chapter seven 188

Figure 59. Akram Zaatari, Saida, June 6, 1982 (2003–2006). Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Sfeir-­Semler.

Figure 60. Walid Raad, We Can Make Rain but No One Came to Ask (2007–8) 43 archival inkjet prints. 17 × 22 in. (43.2 × 55.9 cm) © Walid Raad. Courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

any historical account, so Zaatari’s “photograph” is actually a digital composite that assembles several images captured at different times and joins them into a constructed event, the entirety of which a single documentary photograph could never have depicted. The documentary impulse of Joreige and Zaatari, in other words, converges with the critique of representation by Raad and Sadek, suggesting that all the work in Out of BeiOut of Beirut: Mobile Histories and the Politics of Fiction 189

rut countered, in some sense, the fictions that are commonly presented as objective “facts” in the mass media, especially in relation to mainstream accounts of the Middle East.29 This points to the work’s basis in representational critique: to sponsor critical doubt in viewers, to promote a healthy skepticism toward media and governmental narratives based on supposedly incontrovertible documentary evidence. But the convergence also identifies another more subtle aspect of the art considered here, the way individual works join documentary reportage with aesthetic consideration. The result draws the two orders into a critical and self-­aware regard for representation’s nonobjective basis, and posits a different kind of truth than the one found in mass media, official histories, government publicity, and political propaganda. In other words, the lacunae, stuttering, and displacements that form Raad’s true subject are not simply negatively critical of the fallacies of objectivity and the meaninglessness of dry information, but also positively expressive of the subjective consequences of violence in language. Because catastrophe fundamentally represents a disruption in the continuity of a system—a disruption that frequently involves technological failures— then information tends to annihilate indeterminacy and provide reassuring explanation in a way that is immediately graspable and understandable. Information seeks to immediately repair the damage that catastrophe introduces, erasing the effects of representational violence. Yet given the fact that the effects of violence cannot be immediately understood, or its traumatic aspects punctually defined, means that such information can only be paradoxical.30 For Raad, these complex representational effects are fully acknowledged and put to task to define a new way of writing history, signaling a shift in the very nature of “truth”—far from its abandonment. The artist explains: “Today, we find ourselves in a position where what we take to be true is what rings true at the level of the psyche.” Referencing Freud’s analysis of hysteria, Raad goes on to explain that the traumatized subject often invents fantasies and memories to narrate or explain a shocking event. Those fantasies and memories cannot be dismissed as merely fictitious and therefore meaningless, since they manifest the truth and reality of the subject’s state of mind. “I think the hysterical symptom then becomes, in a way, a document of something,” Raad continues. “And the interesting thing about it is that it’s not a question of returning to the origin, it’s a question of the future. It’s a question of the production of a chapter seven 190

narrative that rings true to the subject . . . The story you tell yourself may have nothing to do with what happened to you, but that’s the story that may cure you.”31 Raad’s account significantly redefines the status of “fiction” as a mode of inventive construction by taking seriously the psychoanalytic symptomatology that is its basis.32 By constructing imaginative scenarios, the subject gains control over chaotic reality by representing it, challenging destructiveness with productive imagination. Rather than existing in a simple opposition to “truth,” the resulting “fiction” offers the building blocks of reality itself rather than defining an escape from it (as Rancière has been at pains to point out, and Deleuze before him in relation to the “powers of the false”).33 Far from designating postmodern escapism or relativism, or a postdocumentary disavowal of truth and referential meaning, fiction here proposes a medium for the construction of truth, producing images that are psychologically significant and historically meaningful. In other words, such work does not, in my view, operate in the name of “make-­believe” or “parafiction,” according to which art, as a kind of hoax, temporarily confounds the relation between truth and fiction in order to foster critical doubt, one that ultimately presupposes the ability to separate the true and the false.34 Rather, Raad’s project works, for me, by challenging the very basis of traditional notions of and oppositions between “fact” and “fiction,” contributing to the invention of an entirely new episteme, where the two cannot be so clearly differentiated. As Raad states, “The Atlas Group produces and collects objects and stories that should not be examined through the reductive binary of fiction and non-­fiction,” as “the distinction is a false one.”35 From the above discussion, three interrelated conclusions follow. First, fiction doesn’t obscure reality; rather, as a hybrid formation of documents and imaginary scenarios, it elicits its deepest truths. Consider Raad’s and the Atlas Group’s well-­known video Hostage: The Bachar Tapes (#17 and #31) English Version (2001), which presents the alleged testimony of Souheil Bachar, a Lebanese man who recounts his traumatic experience of being held captive during the civil war with a group of Americans, and how during that time he was mistreated by his better-­off hostages (see figure 61). Much has been made about the fictional aspects of the video— the fact that it is performed by a well-­known Lebanese actor, exhibits the “reality effects” (time cues, archive numbers, intertitles, poor quality, etc.) Out of Beirut: Mobile Histories and the Politics of Fiction 191

Figure 61. The Atlas Group, Walid Raad, stills from Hostage: The Bachar Tapes (#17 and #31, [cat.A]_Hostage_Videotapes_017/031) (2001). Single-­channel video installation. 18 min. Copyright: the artist. Courtesy of Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London.

that mimic the homemade video, and is couched in the convincing but falsified archival language and documentary conventions typical of the Atlas Group’s presentations. Not surprisingly, commentators emphasize the basis of such work in representational critique: for instance, what Caroline Jones terms the “hermeneutics of doubt”; and what Tom Holert describes as the work’s aim “to destabilize truth claims.”36 Saree Makdisi bases his critique of the Atlas Group on similar assumptions: “The risk that this kind of work expresses . . . is the possibility that its photographs and images might generate a kind of alter-­history, such that ‘genuine’ history itself is effaced through a process of not merely fetishism but of aestheticized numbness.”37 Yet the video’s scenario, and particularly its recounting of the traumatic events of confinement “experienced” by Bachar—namely, the beating he received one night after declining the sexual advances of another man in the close confines of their sleeping arrangement—nonetheless open onto the psychological turbulence surrounding the situation of imprisonment that was a real part of the civil war’s commonplace kidnappings and detainments. It also serves as a poignant metaphor for the unbearable repression of trauma in the postwar period. Even if Raad himself never underwent such an episode (the video’s narrative emerged from his research in the United States38), its subjective expression is still significant, despite what the art historian Vered Maimon convincingly describes as a “disidentification” from the controlling terms of portrayal and self-­representation that she reads as the piece’s central merit. Maimon offers a reading of Raad’s work that highlights the fact that Bachar, as a former hostage, assumes the role of a historian and contributes to the production of cultural knowledge, as does Raad, thereby challenging the exclusivity of academic, media, and governmental claims to history: “What we see in the ‘return’ of the imaginary and fictional is an effort to reconsider appearance not as that which conceals ‘facts’ but as a productive mechanism that enables processes of subjectivization beyond ‘empirical’ counts,” she writes.39 Yet the two logics, in my view, need not be opposed. The revelation of content—of being held hostage, of the sexual violence of captivity—need not be dismissed, for it is in fact crucial to the artwork, which concerns itself precisely with exposing symptoms of subjective truth situated in an environment of state-­sponsored amnesia. According to the video, fiction rewrites reality, relaying new realms of experience, which reveals more inOut of Beirut: Mobile Histories and the Politics of Fiction 193

clusive ways of thinking about the subject’s psychological reality beyond the narrow constraints of conventional identities and official histories or, rather, nonhistories. If Raad’s internally conflicted characters—the gambling historians, the Arab hostage, the hysterical photographer, the melodramatic operator— do resist the reductive divisions of “us and them,” “enemy and friend,” that rule in the global “War on Terror,” as Maimon suggests, then they gain particular critical traction in the more local context of Lebanese sectarianism. There, the confessional system—according to which government posts are apportioned among groups according to religion, and it is incumbent upon citizens to identify their religion on identity cards, whether or not they practice—has defined the country’s politics since independence. By showing the internal multiplicity of his characters, Raad’s work proposes important ways to surpass the identitarian conflicts of the civil war by moving beyond the social and religious divisions that were among the conflict’s central causes.40 As with Joreige’s postsectarian videos, the intertwinement of fact and fiction correlates with the disidentification of the subject from conventional collective affiliations and essentialized identities. This aspect proposes a further way to consider the work’s surpassing a disaster—that of the violent intolerance of political and religious group psychology. The second conclusion is that fiction facilitates memory by linking representation with affect, as shown by the objects of remembrance of Lamia Joreige, the videos of Walid Raad, and the films of Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. This linkage demonstrates that the sterile, objective, and factual basis of the classic documentary mode is ostensibly inadequate in eliciting subjective desire, wonder, and engagement when it comes to historical remembrance and transmission. In order both to overcome cultural amnesia and resist the instrumentalization of memory (as in official monuments and political narratives), the practice of memory has been engaged in experimental, creative, and individualized ways by these artists. Consider, for instance, the nightclub B018, designed by the architect Bernard Khoury and portrayed in his nine-­and-­a-­half-­minute video, which takes its name from the club, featured in Out of Beirut (see plates 13 and 14). The video, produced in 1998, shows the subterranean construction built on the site of a former refugee camp where a violent militia attack was carried out in 1976.41 The club is located in the Karantina, an area near the port of chapter seven 194

Beirut that was historically a place of quarantine for arriving crews during the French protectorate. During the civil war it existed as a Muslim slum in a predominantly Christian area of the city, populated by Palestinian and Kurdish refugees and South Lebanese displaced persons (some 20,000 in total in 1975) and controlled by the Palestinian Liberation Organization. In 1976, local Christian militia men of the Phalange launched an attack that massacred some fifteen hundred people in the area, leaving a depopulated zone in its wake, the scars of which are still visible today in the disparity between the current desolation of the club’s immediate surroundings and the densely populated neighborhoods found across the highway. To this day, there are no official commemorations of Palestinian losses in Lebanon during the civil war (as the Palestinian presence in Lebanon remains a contentious issue), and the unofficial community-­supported memorials that do exist tend to be located in cemeteries, mosques, hospitals, and schools.42 As the architect explains, the project was realized as “a reaction to difficult and explosive conditions that are inherent to the history of its location and the contradictions that are implied by the implementation of an entertainment program on such a site.”43 Khoury has in fact long been a vocal critic of the “naive amnesia” of the Lebanese government’s postwar rebuilding efforts, as seen in the false nostalgia of the designs favored by Solidere, which selectively referenced the colonial architecture of the 1920s and 1930s in its reconstruction of Beirut’s Central District—conducting what Jalal Toufic has termed a “war on the traces of war.”44 Khoury’s early practice included projects that preserved the states of civil-­war ruins as recuperated architectural forms, for which he encased a bullet-­ridden structure in wire mesh to stabilize the surfaces, as in his design in 2001 for the restaurant Centrale. And yet, what could be more dubious than to promote historical awareness through the construction of a vogue discotheque? Khoury provocatively addressed the challenge by casting the club as an underground bunker, with a severe, hard-­edged atmosphere of slick, black surfaces flanked by red, velvety curtains that evokes both gothic minimalism and funerary chic. Khoury’s club proposes a morbid commemoration through stylish interior design, wherein architecture internalizes the historical conditions of its site but does so without the expected trappings of the official monument. The video documentation was shot in infrared—­ invoking military night vision, loosely playing further off the site’s wartime associations—and explores the club in operation. It commences with the Out of Beirut: Mobile Histories and the Politics of Fiction 195

camera’s descending past security guards and fashionable young denizens and then moves toward the bar’s bunker-­like pit, where flashing lights, grinding music, and convulsive bodies express a bizarre translation of the phenomenology of conflict. Dancing in this context offers a mode of therapeutic expression, and, in fact, some survivors reportedly gather in melancholy tribute in this spot where friends and relatives met their end.45 But, just as significantly, Khoury reinserts the potential oblivion of the nightclub’s setting within the living contradictions of Beirut, as the site becomes one of experimental remembrance and commemoration as much as entertainment and forgetting. Khoury’s architecture—as well as the projects of other Lebanese artists considered here—opens the process of memory by engaging the workings of affect. It does so in the sense that affect, as uncoded sensation and bodily response prior to their structuring and narration, offers a mode of remembrance that challenges both the mechanistic stimulus-­response circuit of conventional commemorative practice (visiting graves and reading prayers, which inspire emotions of grief and melancholia), and the ethical responses to propaganda and political direction (memorializing deaths as “heroic sacrifices” for the nation, or as “collective suffering” for a specific community).46 It is therefore useful to understand affect’s difference from “emotion” in this regard. With affect, “content” and “effect” are unlinked, defining affect’s “autonomy” as an intensified sensation coming from without the subject that is embodied and distinct from the subjective encoding and cultural structuring of emotion.47 As such, the experimental commemorative mode of B018 suggests what Jill Bennett terms “embodied sensation,” one that generates singularized modes of “feeling sensation” existing outside of habitual forms of perception.48 Commemorative practice, according to such a definition, can thus remain noninstrumentalized, open, subjective, and undetermined, rather than moralizing, operationalized, and ideologically directed. As such, the club invites an entrance into historical recollection or an encounter with its unlikelihood, without rehearsing the familiar cultural rituals around death, which appear as insufficient in regards to the exceptional circumstances of the massive casualties and destructiveness of the civil war. Not that Khoury’s architecture is sufficient, however; rather, it signals an attempt to address architecture’s relation to history creatively and beyond the familiar ceremonies associated with official remembrance—resonating with what Laleh Khalili terms a chapter seven 196

“counterhegemonic commemorative practice”—connecting to the disjunctions and paradoxes of Lebanon’s memory culture in the context of postwar amnesia.49 The third and final conclusion is that fiction does not immobilize politics; rather it is politics’ condition of possibility. Take Rancière’s argument regarding the films of Hadjithomas and Joreige, including Je Veux Voir (2008), where the French actress Catherine Deneuve tours the south of Lebanon with the Lebanese director and artist Rabih Mroué, in an unscripted scenario. Rancière writes: “The politics of art does not serve the cause of the dominated. It subverts the positions of victor and victim by sabotaging the relations between the real and the fictional.”50 In his short text, Rancière does not elaborate further on this point, but what it suggests is that the films of Hadjithomas and Joreige are not politically motivated in any conventional sense; that is, they do not show the devastation and suffering of the victims of oppression in order to support them in their struggle for justice (although, in Je Veux Voir, the film does indeed focus on the devastation wrought in south Lebanon by the Israeli bombings and could also, in my view, support that position). Rather, for Rancière, the film declines to take up that documentary project and that documentary politics, substituting for it another, which is to use the mise-­en-­scène of ruined Lebanese villages as a set for the construction of undetermined fictional possibilities that remain schematic (represented by the presence of Mroué and Deneuve, who explore the sites of devastation because, as Deneuve explains, she “wants to see”). The result has the effect of derealizing the documentary evidence and rendering uncertain the immediate political significance of those sites of destruction, which is how it departs from a conventional documentary project. Yet, at the same time, the film constructs new representational possibilities that allow the artists to escape from being placed in the familiar role of documenting victims—in this regard one is reminded of Godard’s point that when it comes to representing their conflict, the Palestinians have only documentary but the Israelis have epic. Hadjithomas and Joreige reject that kind of hierarchy by claiming access to fiction as Lebanese artists, and by doing so they level the playing field, making possible future contributions to the definition of reality on that basis. It is precisely this rejection of the inequality of representational divisions—and of the documentary eclipse of the fictional, or vice versa—that defines the political nature of their gesOut of Beirut: Mobile Histories and the Politics of Fiction 197

ture, which is to sabotage the positions of victor and victim by reinventing the relations between the real and the fictional. They reject the adoption of documentary’s conventional epistemology and its truth claims, on which dominant power typically draws its justifications and rationales, and instead reorganize the roles and competences of those who represent reality. Consequently, the work of memory is no longer solely in the hands of the state, its experts, and its media. Which is not to say that Hadjithomas and Joreige oppose the real; rather, they use fiction as a ground on which to assert a new vision of reality, composing a geography of destruction freed from the ideological commentary of the state, resistance, or enemy. Offering a final example of the politics of fiction, Inhabitants of Images (2009), a lecture-­performance by the playwright and actor Rabih Mroué, explores the relation between images and political systems of belief.51 Central to his talk, which features the artist sitting before a desk, engaging in storytelling and discussing various projected images behind him, was a photograph of a street poster he claims to have encountered in Beirut, showing a chronologically impossible meeting between former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who died in 1970, and Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005 (see figure 62). Dismissing the likely explanation of photomontage in his presentation, Mroué surmised that the mysterious rendezvous must have occurred in “the realm of death,” between ghosts, as it were, who joined forces in an act of affirming the project of Sunni pan-­Arabism (as if it were shared by Nasser and Hariri) against both Hezbollah’s “Shiite Islamic project” and the “Zionist Israeli-­American project.” Building on his research into the politics of appearance, and to propose similar scenarios, Mroué went on to investigate recent posters depicting Hezbollah martyrs of the Israeli invasion and bombing campaign in 2006, posters that line the streets of the southern suburbs of Beirut. Visually analyzing these images, Mroué observed in the course of his performance that the martyrs’ outfits look uncannily identical. To bolster his point, he had one of them digitally processed, subtracting the body to show a bizarrely inhabited but headless military uniform. Again, rather than explain the odd occurrence by recourse to Photoshop, Mroué proposed that the consistency of the images metaphysically manifests a postmortem collective solidarity, as if the martyrs came to inhabit the same body in death as an act of ideal unanimity and social cohesion. (See plate 15.) chapter seven 198

Figure 62. Rabih Mroué, still from Inhabitants of Images (2009). Courtesy of the artist.

While such accounts of course beggar belief, accepting the claims of his tales ultimately depends on who is listening. Mroué’s engaging storytelling thus leads one to realize that political commitment, like theatrical illusion, is due to acts of faith. In consideration of Mroué’s project, as well as those Lebanese practices considered here, with which his engagement shares a theoretical affinity, it becomes clear that what separates art from fanaticism is its awareness of its own fictions. That does not mean that such artistic engagements that dissolve the boundary between fact and fiction are necessarily nonpolitical, untruthful, or unengaged—far from it. Rather, they exist as performative acts that reconstruct the terms of politics. Acknowledging fallibility does not entail political surrender, or the surrender of politics. Unlike martyrs dying for their cause, the politics of aesthetics developed by Lebanese artists such as Joreige, Raad, Joreige and Hadjithomas, and Mroué prevent the assumptions of a privileged access to an objective, transcendental truth, and challenge the belief that truth must be inextricably rooted in a homogeneous notion of identity. In its place, the practice of criticality, reason, imagination, and storytelling indicate the elevation of the subject’s individual agency, beyond the self-­abnegation of the obedient martyr’s posture—in terms of both fostering the independence of skeptical thinking (that importantly resists impulsive actions within the context of a state of emergency) and building creative historical narratives for a new postwar, nonsectarian community.52 These commitments are what link his work to the proposals of the other Lebanese artists of his generation included in Out of Beirut, even while each remains ­distinct.

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Video’s Migrant Geography Ursula Biemann’s Sahara Chronicle

In “Oujda Frontierland,” one of twelve videos that make up Sahara Chronicle (2006–7), a group of Moroccan police patrol their country’s western border with Algeria, checking desert locations known for migrant activity. These guards are in charge of stemming the tide of sub-­Saharan Africans coming north with the intention of finding a better life in Morocco or further on in Europe. This time, the guards come across nothing in particular, even though they are aware that migrants are always in their midst, hiding and waiting for the right moment to cross the border. In the course of their operations, a sand storm rises, bringing with it the loss of geographical markers and spatial orientation. A visual blindness ensues that is at once reflective of Sahara’s unstable weather conditions and allegorical, in that it symbolizes the struggle between mobility and the politics of containment that is the Swiss artist Ursula Biemann’s object of inquiry. As the camera loses its clear perception of the desert, the storm dramatizes the breakdown of the advanced technologies of surveillance and the Moroccan police’s inability to maintain its country’s national integrity (see figure 63). What happens to the concept of a geographical border when the land itself moves? Containment becomes an impossible task, and the contours of the nation as a locus of economic, linguistic, and legal identity begin to blur. In its place a vague terrain emerges that is the space of the migrant.

Figure 63. Ursula Biemann, still from Sahara Chronicle (2006–7). Courtesy of the artist.

It is this migrant geography—composed of shifting terrains, fluid borders, and mobile passages—that Sahara Chronicle explores via a sequence of twelve short videos, each between three and thirteen minutes in length. The project represents a further step in Biemann’s quasi-­ethnographic video-­based practice, which, drawing on extensive fieldwork, investigative research, and on-­site interviews, has examined several different but structurally related border zones to date. Performing the Border (1999) considers the exploitation of female labor in the northern Mexican town of Ciudad Juárez, the center of the illegal drug trade and a hub for northern migration. Remote Sensing (2001) and Writing Desire (2002) both investigate the post–Cold War marketplace of desire surrounding the transnational sexual commodification of women over the Internet. Europlex (2003) examines the informal practices of domestic labor and smuggling activities that occur over the Moroccan-­Spanish border. And Black Sea Files (2005) tracks the Caspian multinational oil industry and its turbulent political and social effects on the surrounding Caucasus area. What joins chapter eight 202

these projects in defining a consistent practice is Biemann’s rigorous approach to documenting life in transitional social and economic areas and global zones of conflict, her use of heterogeneous visual sources coupled with subjectively inquisitive and politically analytical voice-­overs and subtitles, and her work’s complex relation to representation that develops a creative modeling of the documentary mode. These tendencies equally mark Sahara Chronicle. Over the course of the seventy-­six-­minute video—although it is typically displayed as simultaneously playing component sections—we follow Biemann’s camera as it offers multifaceted accounts of the lived experience of migration. We see footage of the transit business in Agadez, Niger, where migrants purchase tickets for their overland journeys north, eventually setting out into the Sahara Desert on trucks overloaded with bags that will take them to Algeria or Libya (“Desert Truck Terminal”) (see plate 16). We watch shots of the cargo trains that carry iron ore to the coast of western Mauritania, which serves as a vector of passage to the Canary Islands (“Iron Ore Train”). We also view aerial footage of precarious desert camps surrounded by sand dunes, where travelers lie low, before making their border crossings (“Architectures of Mobility”). To tell these stories, Biemann deploys a diversity of representational strategies and presents a variety of perspectives, including footage that simulates the imagery of surveillance aircraft equipped with night-­vision and thermal cameras, which track movement near the Libya-­Niger border (“Desert Radio Drone”) (see figure 64); interviews conducted by the artist with transportation providers in Agadez (“Desert Truck Terminal”) (see figure 65); and documentation of a prison in Laayoune, Morocco, where unsuccessful migrants frequently end up, before being bused off to their countries of origin empty-­handed, only to start the journey anew (“Deportation Prison Laayoune”). In this last passage, we hear the personal stories told by several travelers, all young men who were intercepted in the Sahara: one from Senegal saved his money for three years to come up with the four hundred euros needed for travel expenses, only to lose it in his failed attempt to get to Morocco; another left Niger because he could not find a job and thus felt socially excluded, unable to marry; and a man from Nigeria claims Moroccans often rob immigrants, treating them as if they are not human beings. These are no doubt common stories, picked out seemingly at random from the crowd of men in this camp, one of many such places now found more often across Video’s Migrant Geography: Ursula Biemann’s Sahara Chronicle 203

Figure 64. Ursula Biemann, still from Sahara Chronicle (2006–7). Courtesy of the artist.

North Africa and Southern Europe (which have been usefully mapped by migrant support groups, such as the Migreurop network). Yet while their tales may be heartrending, Sahara Chronicle is far from pessimistic. In fact, the video remains ever hopeful in its attempts to offer a positive account of migration that extends a sense of organization, humanity, and agency to the migrants who form its subject. As Biemann makes clear, Sahara Chronicle is motivated by the desire to challenge the representational conditions of clandestine migration. As is common knowledge, over the last decade thousands of migrants have died of exposure in the desert or have drowned in the Mediterranean, all because they sought to challenge increasingly restrictive African and European travel regulations. Stories and images pervade mass media, telling the harrowing and tragic fates of refugees picked up in boats off the shores of Lampedusa and the Canary Islands, or of those who died in capsized vessels making the clandestine journey in darkness and bad weather.1 While chapter eight 204

Figure 65. Ursula Biemann, still from Sahara Chronicle (2006–7). Courtesy of the artist.

such reports commonly offer statistics—including the fact that some 28,000 migrants reached the Canaries in 2006 (a peak year), only to be placed in camps or returned to the African mainland, and some 1,000 die each year trying to make this journey—what is less known are the policies of the eu’s externalization of border security to repressive African governments, the criminalization of emigration in North Africa, and the encouragement of African economic and political dependency on neoliberal institutions and reforms, which Biemann’s work, including both her video essays and the interdisciplinary research facilitated by her project, makes evident.2 These policies help to maintain a global system of economic and political inequality that drives the cycle of migration. Belying the rhetoric of globalization that continues to vaunt the liberties of personal freedom, the resulting glimpse of inequality could not be greater than when the mass media advertises cheap travel to Europeans and simultaneously runs stories about the tragic fate of refugees trying unsuccessfully to gain Video’s Migrant Geography: Ursula Biemann’s Sahara Chronicle 205

passage to the north. For Biemann, the goal is to intervene in prevailing perceptions of the situation of migration, in order to reframe our understanding of its complexities, causes, and lived realities. Her work, she explains, attempts “to present an empowered vision of organized migration in which geopolitics is not strictly reserved to powerful nations who wish to dominate a region for its resources, but instead is a strategy that can equally apply to a large movement of exiles or work migrants who target another territory for more economic plenitude.”3 For her, this strategy of transforming migration’s association with desperation into a collective political demand by those unrepresented by government is a way “to turn a stigma into an enabling force.”4 As if by necessity, Biemann’s work emerges out of a critical relationship to mass media reportage, which, as she explains, either fails completely to cover Saharan migration or, when it does cover migration, captures it in sensationalist images corresponding to an easily consumable repertoire of human-­interest stories.5 Going beyond these reductive approaches and narratives, Biemann’s Sahara Chronicle acts as a diagram of the geopolitical reality of North African migration; that is, it joins different regimes of signs into a heterogeneous assemblage that offers an expansive analysis of intersecting geographies of conflict and inequality.6 The video cycle links everyday life with colonial history, legal structures with economic facts, and the politics of containment with the will toward mobility. That said, Biemann’s relation to media is complex. On the one hand, the video’s lack of an overarching narrative or an omniscient voice-­over distinguishes her approach from the rhetoric of authority and the claims of truthfulness that characterize official and media-­based representations. On the other hand, Sahara Chronicle bears comparison to the mixed-­media platforms of television news broadcasts, such as Al Jazeera’s, and the heterogeneous structure of the multiple-­imaged web page. The piece’s installation extends this experimental mode of address, showing its video sections according to a variable configuration, split between projections and monitors. (In recent shows at Nottingham Contemporary, in the U.K., and the Bildmuseet, in Umeå, Sweden, Biemann projected some of the videos and played others on monitors.7) By looping sections of variable length that play simultaneously, the diagram of connections is always shifting, promoting a continually renewed set of narratives that is at once transformative of conventions and generative of new possibilities. Spatialized and dispersed, chapter eight 206

Figure 66. Ursula Biemann, Sahara Chronicle (2006–7) (Installation view: Arnolfini, Bristol). Courtesy of the artist.

Sahara Chronicle’s complex installation maps a heterogeneous site at once geographical, legalistic, political, and economic, allowing the viewer to enter at any point and create his or her own linkages between the diverse elements (see figure 66). In so doing, Sahara Chronicle creates an unexpected space where the stratifications of digital video translate the geopolitical terrain of the Sahara. This correspondence is far from an unwitting one, as, for Biemann, geography designates “a signifying system that allows [the viewer] to grasp the relations between subject, movement and space,” a definition that for her also corresponds to the video essay.8 Nor is this relationship between video and geography a simple mimicry; Biemann’s video disconnects from the conventional system of reporting in which the sign—whether map, document, or interview—forms reality’s substitute, as if transparently presenting a given reality, which is the presumption of media’s objective “truth-­telling.” The documentary video Kingsley’s Crossing (2006), by French reporter Olivier Jobard is one of the many examples of independent photojournalism that conform to this formula.9 Over the course of its twenty-­minute, suspenseful narrative, the film documents a migrant’s Video’s Migrant Geography: Ursula Biemann’s Sahara Chronicle 207

six-­month journey from a poor Cameroonian village to Europe, via the Sahara Desert and the Canary Islands, after which he successfully gains residency in France. Fulfilling the conventions of the media’s human-­interest story—offering an emotional portrayal of the plight of one individual— the video not only fails to examine the political and economic framework that explains the causes of migration but also, in its desire to portray the objective reality of the journey, suppresses the journalist’s participation in the unfolding events. The film thereby exemplifies the tendency of the traditional documentary project: to engender a compassion for the struggling and disadvantaged that conveniently overlooks the viewer’s situation and potential complicity in the unequal political and economic arrangements that drive migration in the first place.10 Conversely, for Biemann, the event of the sand storm dramatizes how Sahara Chronicle confronts the opacity of the desert and its inhabitants, visualizing reality’s resistance to representation, demonstrating that there is always more to the story. The tumultuous weather not only derails the border guards, but also Biemann’s own camera, and in this seemingly insignificant but telling detail we witness a confrontation with the limits of the documentary approach, which finds its imperatives of exposure and lucid reportage frustrated. In its place, Sahara Chronicle reinvents the relation between video’s politics of representation and its space of reception, one that differs radically from conventional media images of migration. While Sahara Chronicle’s heterogeneous and spatialized structure and installation mirrors the fluidity and infinite complexity of its subject, it moves beyond the simple equivalence between sign and image. Here the goal is not the truthful depiction of an already existing subject, but the construction of a system of possibility that remains open, realizable in a multiplicity of ways by the viewer. While the analysis gains direction from Biemann’s political authorship, which informs the video’s subtitles, her contribution is continually interrupted by the interviews with the stakeholders in this economy of migration. As such, Sahara Chronicle generates a transformative experience by extending the dislocating forces of migration into a mode of address that shifts perspectives and thereby creates its political effect: to transform the act of migration into a political demand for equality and participation that challenges the global system of social inequality and geographical exclusion in which migration takes place. In this regard, migration takes on an autonomy as a force of social and politichapter eight 208

cal formation that distinguishes it from a mere response to economic and social crisis.11 Biemann’s chosen term for her work is the “video essay,” which implies a category that joins images and writing, but also, more complexly, presents images as a form of writing and writing as a mode of images. The resulting images are denaturalized as much as language is materialized, both requiring a subtle and considered interpretive approach. The essay’s form emphasizes video’s discursive condition, one that is composite and that overcomes positing the image as either documentary or aesthetic. Rather, it is indissolubly both, which becomes clear in those passages in Sahara Chronicle that provide information but also offer allegorical allusions, as well as in shots that combine to express the video’s development over time, placing documentary elements into subjectively organized passages. As such, Biemann’s work advances a new kind of video practice, which, emerging over the last fifteen years or so, shares certain of its concerns with the work of like-­minded yet diverse practitioners of the video essay, including Harun Farocki, Amar Kanwar, Dario Azzellini and Oliver Ressler, Hito Steyerl, and the Otolith Group.12 What broadly marks this development, as we have seen, is the tendency to link documentary functions to imaginative scenarios, in order both to retain video’s representational relation to social reality and to nuance its meanings via carefully elaborated constructions. The result is a new mode of address that replaces the stultifying conventions of traditional documentary filmmaking and sensationalist media with the transformative capacity of representation to shift perspectives and invite collaborative and creative interpretation. As her careful and well theorized use of the term video essay makes apparent, Biemann takes her video’s representations to be multivalent and internally divided, unfolding according to a spatially and temporally determined montage. The result is “dissociative, multi-­perspectival and hypertextual in the structuring of images and sounds,” she explains.13 Her highly mediated projects follow suit and are characterized by texts streaming over images sourced from a variety of origins, including maps, appropriated footage from official sources, and her own live-­action recordings. Her video essays thereby pull apart the ostensible naturalness of the image, refusing any assumption of its bearing a direct or transparent connection to reality and, likewise, any presumption of its possessing an immanent and singular meaning. In this regard, Biemann’s model of the video essay is not unlike the Video’s Migrant Geography: Ursula Biemann’s Sahara Chronicle 209

more established one of the film essay, even while the two forms must also be differentiated, for her use of digital technology recalibrates film’s relation to representation. While the film essay’s own heterogeneous structure emphasizes representational mediation over the direct filmic transcription of reality, the video essay might be thought to banish the real even further from its images—especially when it comes to the animation and special effects achieved by computerized technology. As has often been remarked, recent video signals a crisis of the real because it severs analogue photography’s indexical relation between sign and referent by translating the image into digital code, thus preparing it for easy future computer processing. Yet this aspect does not mean that all digital video is condemned to mere artifice. Predictions of the eclipse of reality by simulation—as in Baudrillard’s famous remarks about the death of the real—are certainly overstated, for digital video continues to offer recordings of the visual field that are capable of functioning as evidence in legal contexts, documents in historical archives, or actionable data in military reconnaissance. (Indeed, Sahara Chronicle includes aerial footage of the Sahara that is similar to that used by the Libyan military precisely in this way.) Creating dissociative, multiperspectival, and hypertextual videos, Biemann has exploited digital technology. Working in the digital format since Performing the Border (recorded in Hi8 video), she typically employs numerous postproduction procedures, such as split-­screen displays and composite images, subtitling, and stop-­action and slow-­motion functions, that hybridize her videos, including Sahara Chronicle, by situating documentary footage in highly artificial digital environments. Yet Biemann’s reliance on documentary elements and strategies—including the use of a handheld camera that mimics everyday perception, the integration of unprocessed live-­action imagery of real people and places, and captions that pin visual images to specific geographical and historical locations—clearly serves to maintain the connection of her videos to the ground of social reality, even if that ground is far from stable or uninflected by the procedures and mechanisms of its representation. In fact, the clear division between digital video and film may be a false one (as is evident in Biemann’s case), since montage and processing strategies have frequently rendered film an artificial construction in the past, particularly in avant-­garde practice (consider Dada and Surrealist montage). To view the video essay as newly artificial presupposes—falsely—that the real was once unproblemchapter eight 210

atically available to film. “In retrospect, we can see that twentieth-­century cinema’s regime of visual realism, the result of automatically recording of visual reality [based on live-­action footage], was only an exception, an isolated accident in the history of visual representation, which has always involved, and now again involves, the manual construction of images,” argues the media historian Lev Manovich.14 Rather than reinforcing a rupture between different technological platforms, whether between film and video or electronic and digital video, Biemann’s use of the video essay defines a line of continuity with the film essay. It is thus not surprising that she references Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1983) as an important precedent for her work. Marker’s film essays, including Grin Without a Cat (1977), similarly assemble a mixed array of documentary imagery and places them in relation to highly poetic, subjective, and politically analytical voice-­overs. These techniques prefigure Biemann’s own work, even though her video essays exchange Marker’s meditative, elegiac style for more of an activist engagement.15 The film essay similarly constitutes a hybrid form, mixing writing and images, and frequently joining fiction and documentary elements. As Nora Alter points out in her study of Marker’s work, the term film essay was used first by artist Hans Richter in 1940 in a short text, “The Film Essay: A New Form of Documentary Film,” in which Richter wrote about how this new approach allows one to make “problems, thoughts, even ideas” perceptible in a way that conventional film could not. André Bazin also employed the term, using it later in relation to Marker’s work, to identify its composite filmic mode, which is simultaneously historical and political, documentary and poetic. For Alter, the film essay is inherently diverse in its discursive positioning, potentially combining autobiography, history, social commentary, critical exegesis, epistolary form, anecdotal digression, and self-­reflexive elements.16 But one can go even further than this analysis, which separates the film essay from film proper. One could also argue that the film essay makes apparent the very condition of film, as it brings out film’s fundamental dual tendency: to capture luminous traces of matter in movement, and to arrange those elements into a sequence over time. This unification of a machine account of the visual world with its subjective arrangement results in documentary fiction, which, however, does not mean the result is purely imaginary. Rather, fiction aligns with construction, which comes close to Video’s Migrant Geography: Ursula Biemann’s Sahara Chronicle 211

Figure 67. Ursula Biemann, still from Sahara Chronicle (2006–7). Courtesy of the artist.

describing the character of the film essay: “Fiction means using the means of art to construct a ‘system’ of represented actions, assembled forms, and internally coherent signs,” argues Jacques Rancière.17 Similarly for Biemann, “the essayist approach is not about documenting realities but about organizing complexities.”18 Rather than pursuing “the representability of truth,” the “essayist intention lies much rather in a reflection on the world and the social order,” Biemann notes, “and it does so by arranging the material into a particular field of connections.” By emphasizing the subjective rendering of social reality, the video essay thus proposes an “imaginary space,” an “artificial construct,” built on documentary elements. By reconstructing reality, directing film’s power of affect to alter perspectives, build memories, and create modes of identifications not experienced before in representation, Biemann’s film redefines documentary’s ambition as not only the representation but the constitution of reality, inspiring belief in the world of its own constructions. chapter eight 212

Toward the middle of Sahara Chronicle, the video presents an interview with Adawa, a former rebel Tuareg based in Niger (see figure 67). Wearing indigo-­colored robes at times and mirrored sunglasses, he is portrayed sitting against red, earthen walls, forming a striking image split between tradition and modernization, as he relays stories about his people and their difficult geopolitical circumstances. The traditionally nomadic Tuareg, the viewer learns, have lived historically without clear geographical boundaries in the expansive Sahara region, which came to be divided by European colonial powers during the late nineteenth century and reorganized into the nations Chad, Niger, Libya, Algeria, and Mali.19 To this day, however, there is virtually no organization between those countries in terms of governing the transnational, and none have consequently integrated the nomadic people into its national fold, as Adawa explains, whose account is supplemented with additional information that scrolls intermittently across the screen during the interview. Although the Tuareg are nominally recognized by Niger, they accrue none of the rights or benefits of citizenship from that country or from any of the surrounding ones. This political disfranchisement culminated in a violent rebellion against the Nigerien authorities during the early 1990s, when the Tuareg revolted because they found themselves excluded from the labor force at the major uranium mine in Arlit.20 Developed by the French when valuable deposits were discovered near Agadez in the early 1960s, Arlit’s mine was soon staffed by managers and engineers brought from Europe and miners from southern Niger. The Tuareg, however, received neither job opportunities nor benefits from French multinationals that came to possess majority stakes in the uranium mines in Arlit, even though the Tuareg have long considered the mines part of their territory.21 When the rebellion came to a temporary end in 1994, owing partly to the crash of uranium prices when formerly Soviet Russia dumped its reserves on the world market, the Tuareg rechanneled their energies into the development of a semiclandestine transportation system catering to West African migrants traveling north to Algeria and Libya. With intimate knowledge of the merciless terrain of the Sahara and considerable multilingual ability, the Tuareg soon became key players in the transnational migration industry, carrying sub-­Saharan travelers in four-­wheel-­drive vehicles over the desert, to Niger’s northern borders. The Tuareg do so, however, at the risk of arrest by various state authorities for assisting with the transportation of undocumented persons, and even at Video’s Migrant Geography: Ursula Biemann’s Sahara Chronicle 213

the risk of death, because of the nature of their clandestine and dangerous activities. They consequently consider themselves to be engaged in “a continuing rebellion” with the nations that surround them, as Adawa explains: “It’s as if we live outside of law, always.” To live outside the law, always. Adawa’s conclusion identifies the Saharan terrain as a legal void wherein national sovereignty (in this case, the sovereignty of several countries at once) denies political rights to inhabitants, effectively designating a state of exception outside the protected enclaves of the mines.22 Not only does this lawless space define the reality of the Tuareg, deprived of the rights of citizenship by the state, but also that of migrants, who have traded national identity for stateless status (oftentimes they destroy their identification papers to avoid the forced repatriation to their country of origin). It is fitting that the locus of statelessness is the desert, as the vast Sahara—a migrant land as much as a land of migrants—is a smooth space that geologically defies borders as much as national inscription. For Agamben, the designation of such a territory performs a “dislocating localization,” where the “political system no longer orders forms of life and juridical rules in a determinate space.”23 Instead, space becomes indeterminate, a partitioning carved out of national space where political existence is withdrawn from life. In fact, Biemann’s practice focuses repeatedly on such spaces, and her own Foucauldian conceptualization of these “heterotopic” terrains “where civil realities and national regulations are largely suspended in favor of a special corporate arrangement” correlates as well with Agamben’s theorization of the state of exception.24 There, the exemption from legal recognition becomes the norm, one exploited by the state and by its corporate partners, whether within a specific delimited area, such as the mining enclaves, exceptional zones of financial mobility, and the camps, prisons, and desert regions in which inhabitants are subjected to the withdrawal of political rights. There are in fact certain benefits for North African countries to maintaining such states of exception, as pointed out in the Sahara Chronicle. One incentive for nations to maintain regional instability is that rebel groups such as the Tuareg are thereby kept active with their transportation operations, which serves to minimize their desire for political rebellion (in addition, the state has formally mandated figures like Adawa to manage and organize the semilegal transport of migrants, as Biemann points out).25 Rebels are also consigned to the edges of legality, where their crimichapter eight 214

nal status grants the state impunity to arrest them at any point, should the need present itself. Far from being opposed by North African states, then, migration appears to be tacitly tolerated by the governing regimes and even strategically managed at the national levels. Because the European Union promises aid to African countries that demonstrate the ability and political commitment to control their borders, migration is also instrumentalized as a bargaining chip by African nations to exact further resources from the eu, in terms of funding for internal security, military armaments, and population control.26 The result is that the cynical politics of migration tend to reinforce the repressive character of those African countries’ governments, which, in bringing about further misery and oppression to their peoples, fuels the desire for emigration. By creating a representational analogue for this geopolitical space, Sahara Chronicle exposes and thereby contests its lawlessness, for it is precisely through representation and discourse that the strategic invisibility of North African migration must be challenged. In doing so, the video answers a long-­standing imperative to develop new ways of charting the nebulous geographies of globalization under advanced capitalism, as made most forcefully by Fredric Jameson in the mid-­1980s. According to Jameson’s now classic analysis, advanced capitalism introduced broad shifts in cultural conditions, including the commercial image’s severing of signs from references and the mediatized disconnection of visual culture and built space from historical consciousness. By producing a generalized “schizophrenic” experience that renders consumers affectless, socially atomized, and deprived of the ability to locate themselves in either space or time, the system disables critical challenges to its rule and maximizes its own efficiency at the cost of social connectivity and critical consciousness. Jameson argued that the technological advances of globalization left us unable to situate ourselves within its new simulacral reality: the “faulty representations of some immense communicational and computer network are themselves but a distorted figuration of something even deeper, namely, the whole world system of present-­day multinational capitalism.”27 Biemann’s mapping project proposes one recourse as it invents a system of representation that charts the territories of global capitalism, particularly the visual regimes of its security systems, border zones, and the lived conditions in its states of exception. Rather than focusing solely on the virtual worlds of new media to which Jameson refers, Sahara Chronicle Video’s Migrant Geography: Ursula Biemann’s Sahara Chronicle 215

brings into visibility the informal social organizations in the underdeveloped postcolonial world, spaces of exemption from national and economic regulation, which nonetheless connect with and support the more visible, media-­focused areas of globalization in the West (and the human interest stories of the border zones). The video essay does not merely represent that geography, but, as Biemann notes, also proposes a structural correlation to it: “The transnational video explores the parallels between the transnational spaces of the global economy and the structures of essayist mental space.”28 The same can be said of Sahara Chronicle, which diagrams North Africa’s contested geography. As such, Biemann’s video offers an “organization of complexities” that partly mirrors the Sahara’s own. Information flows over geographical space, and images are fractured and doubled within the single video image and between monitors and projectors, paralleling the fragmentary and transitional experiences of Saharan everyday life. The video, moreover, assembles a multiplicity of perspectives, from individual migrants to the official spokespersons of local industries, from documentary footage of clandestine transit operations to reconstructed military reconnaissance from drone aircraft tracking illegal migration. These elements link the conflicting pressures that define the Sahara as a contested area between official containment and human passage, between informal economies and militarized fields, multinational economies for resource extraction and local movements for social justice. Local practices are thereby joined to global geopolitical networks via the contiguity of image sequences and the montage of image-­text combinations, so that Sahara Chronicle enables what Jameson terms a “situational representation on the part of the subject” that approximates the economic, social, and political conditions of North African migration. Without interventions like Biemann’s, the danger is that the present regime of media and governmental representations will only continue uncontested, further reducing migrants to the status of scapegoats for nationalist agendas in Europe and Africa, feeding the cycle of intensified security measures and xenophobic policies that answer the media’s production of fear.29 The image of migration as lawless and criminal, threatening to European stability, and linked to terrorism and national insecurity, is crucial to that exploitation. It is this perspective that the mainstream media commonly emphasize in their sensationalized accounts of migration, even when they report on European abuses of and reactionary responses chapter eight 216

to African immigrants.30 Why is it so common to read of sunken boats, drowned migrants, and brutal responses to foreigners, but to hear virtually nothing in the mainstream press of the local and global conditions that drive people to make the perilous voyage to Europe in the first place, that is, beyond the routine pointing to pervasive generic poverty? Faced with an apparent complicity between media, government policy, and the military, Sahara Chronicle challenges that system by inventing a new mode of representation that gives expression to the migrants’ own contestation of their disempowered status. This perspective is largely presented by individual migrants from “below” official and media narratives, migrant voices and images Biemann gathers in her video. By revealing the highly organized network of transportation, economic conditions, and politics that sustains migration, Sahara Chronicle challenges the perception of migration’s lawlessness. Biemann’s use of associative montage in the Sahara Chronicle is a key element in this regard, for it allows viewers to connect the precarious situation of the Tuareg (as seen through Adawa’s eyes, for example) to related conditions across the Sahara region, which are in turn linked to Europe’s economy and politics. As a result, we are presented with the perception of a global network that provides explanation and historical contextualization for the causes of North African migration. The interview with Adawa connects to shots of the uranium mine in Arlit that depict laboring miners, drilling machines, and mining tunnels. Taken with a handheld camera, the passage relays the spontaneity and immediacy of an embodied perception, which extends a visceral account of current mining conditions to Adawa’s narrative. The section on the uranium mine may then join with coverage of the iron ore terminal in Mauritania, which includes footage of a railway line operated by the Mauritanian Mining Company. Connecting the inland mining town of Zouerate to the coastal port of Nouadhibou, the cargo train doubles as a furtive transportation system that shuttles migrants to the coast, where they seek passage to the Canary Islands. At the same time, individual elements of this diagram are deepened by researched and informed presentations. At one point, Sahara Chronicle includes an interview with Sid’Ahmed Ould Abeid, president of the Fisheries Federation in Nouadhibou, who speaks of the overfishing of octopus off Mauritania’s coast. Even though the state law requires fishing boats to offload yields on Mauritania’s mainland (and pay taxes), Europeans refuse to Video’s Migrant Geography: Ursula Biemann’s Sahara Chronicle 217

Figure 68. Ursula Biemann, still from Sahara Chronicle (2006–7). Courtesy of the artist.

do so and operate with impunity, explains Abeid (see figure 68). Biemann notes, “Using the menace of unleashing a troupe of white-­coated veterinarians to scrutinize conformity to its hygiene norms and the threat of closing down port facilities, the EU secures licenses which bypass Mauritanian laws specifying that the fish [caught off its coast] be processed in local plants, generating jobs and surplus value for the Mauritanians.”31 Adding insult to injury, the eu demands ever more fishing contracts, which suggests the continuation of a long-­standing colonial paradigm, according to which goodwill rhetoric masks the reality of the expropriation of natural resources. As Abeid logically points out, if the eu were to invest in local African industries—as it has promised to do on record—then the influx of capital could lead to an increase in employment opportunities in Mauritania, bringing a higher standard of living, helping to alleviate poverty and counter disorder, and lessening the stimulus for emigration. No solution is, of course, simple, but rather than supporting the intensification of chapter eight 218

economic inequality and the protection of its own borders, the eu could alternately stimulate African economies, cultivating local businesses and promoting a sustainable way of life, economic and environmental. Instead, it propels the very cycle of migration it is otherwise intent on stopping, renewing the demand for travel that, bringing us full circle, drives the Tuareg transportation system and its rebellions. In this way, Sahara Chronicle builds its argument through a web of correlations, placing documentary footage in contact with syntactical arrangements, organizing complexities so that a substantive picture of migration is established. Yet while it provides a transformative map of this North African zone of migration, Sahara Chronicle resists the foundationalist elements of Jameson’s earlier argument, according to which the map of the future, neither mimetic nor analogical, will offer a “representation of the subject’s Imaginary relationship to his or her Real condition of existence,” one that will coordinate existential experience with the unlived, abstract processes of geographical totality.32 While the map that is Sahara Chronicle fulfills certain elements of this description, it also differs from Jameson’s belief in a cartography that could translate the Real. The risk in positing such a reality as a fact to be reproduced is the treatment of representation as “truth,” bringing about the attendant problems of rendering language authoritative, assuming meaning to be immanent in signs, and situating the viewer as a docile recipient of factual information. Sahara Chronicle avoids these assumptions by opening up a state of uncertainty between the real and the artificial, between the objective documentary and the fictional construct, which extends an interpretive and emancipating agency to the viewer.33 This is, finally, where Sahara Chronicle unleashes its political force: Biemann’s mapping project is ultimately no mere passive mimicry of geographical relationships, but rather generates a transformative power, one that dissolves borders rather than recreating them. In other words, this mode of representation is performative, invoking Biemann’s earlier Performing the Border, which analyzes the institutional, legal, and everyday practices that grant borders their force, but also destabilizes borders by inviting their transgression. As in the definition of geography advanced in The Maghreb Connection, the video essay becomes performative in that it models “an affective, imaginary and symbolic cartography” that is “intended to contribute to the emergence of a transnational consciousness Video’s Migrant Geography: Ursula Biemann’s Sahara Chronicle 219

and in this way to help empower political participation.”34 In other words, the Real in not presented as fact or viewed as an already existing system that simply lacks representation—which would risk the reification of borders—but instead the real is treated as an effect to be produced, an effect that transforms migration into an empowered form of life. The sociologist Mehdi Alioua asks in his own study of North African migration, “How to rethink migration as freedom? How to recognize that it is a fundamental choice? How to go beyond our concepts of exclusive citizenship and sovereign national territory, in order to recognize the preeminence of the individual’s rights and liberties?”35 These are poignant questions, and ones that guide the direction and form of Sahara Chronicle, wherein migrants are shown as definers of their own destiny, existing as part of a social movement demanding rights and political inclusion, even while suffering the nation’s attempts at controlling them. Biemann’s video comes at a time, of course, when these political demands are least likely to be met, with Europe poised only to intensify its current xenophobic politics of exclusion with even more technologically advanced and militarily enforced modes of securitization. Yet that is why projects like hers are needed now more than ever, to contest the unequal division of rights and forms of visibility and invisibility, in order to gather the energy necessary to realize alternatives to this intolerable situation. In the meantime, Biemann’s geography of resistance shows a mounting crisis in which migrants chart their courses defiantly through the state’s space, rendering its borders porous, positioning themselves as rebels against the sovereignty that otherwise excludes them.

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Means without End Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s Camp Campaign

​“How is it that a camp like Guantánamo Bay can exist in our time?” With this question Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri initiated Camp Campaign, a process-­intense investigation of a political issue that continues to be urgent today, more than ten years after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, which precipitated the opening of the detention center on the U.S. naval base in Cuba in 2002. Although initiated during the Bush years, the project remains ever relevant following the Obama administration’s failure to close down the infamous Guantánamo Bay prison. The many different iterations of Camp Campaign—including an exploratory road trip across the United States; the production of several videos, a super-­8 film, and a slide show, which formed part of a gallery exhibition at New York’s Art in General in early 2007; and an active website containing political texts and archived podcasts (—indicate the expansiveness of their approach to their vexing question. Not surprisingly, their “campaign,” a term diverted here from its political or military associations, soon spiraled into multiple questions concerning human rights, constitutional protections for the stateless, and viable modes of political contestation currently available within artistic practice. Anastas and Gabri included these and other questions in their detailed map of the United States, which charts the journey they took from New York to Los Angeles during July and August, 2006: “What is the legal status of the detainees in Guantánamo Bay?

Figure 69. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, Fear Is Somehow Our for Whom? For What? + Proximity to Everything Far Away, from Camp Campaign (2006). Courtesy of the artists.

Who is the subject of human rights? What is the status of a human being who has been stripped of any legal standing or any political rights? How to open up this discussion to a wider public and to do so in all of its complexities?” (See figure 69.) Thus Camp Campaign was directed first of all toward provoking discussion, a central vehicle for Anastas and Gabri, who have collaborated since 1999. Since then they have also been active organizers at 16Beaver, in New York, a space initiated “to create and maintain an ongoing platform for the presentation, production, and discussion of a variety of artistic/cultural/ economic/political projects.”1 As an open and inclusive forum for collective exchange—“it is the point of many departures/arrivals”—16Beaver has also maintained a website and an online forum for the documentation and consideration of the collective’s past work, which has included numerous projects intended as platforms for the critical engagement of political and artistic issues. For example, Strategies of Resistance (2003) involved a chapter nine 222

series of conversations in New York, Vienna, and elsewhere, and the online networking between artists’ collectives and those concerned with art and politics, brought together to address questions such as “Is collective practice inherently more political than individual practice?” and “What tactics/ strategies of political or collective practice from past experiences do you find useful/useless?” 24/7 (2003), shown at the Contemporary Art Center in Vilnius, included conversations with local artists and participants, following collaborative readings of Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer paired with a screening of Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, Pasolini’s infamous film about the decadence of Italian fascism. And Between Us (2006) initiated a research project in Seoul and Gwangju, an endeavor that was “part aesthetic intervention, part communicative scenario,” in order to examine the political, cultural, aesthetic, and social aspects of the conflicted geographies of globalization.2 However, it was with RadioActive, in 2002, that Anastas and Gabri first approached the topic of the status of U.S. security and the suppression of civil rights, following the attacks on the World Trade Center, which set the stage for Camp Campaign. Invited to participate in an exhibition at White Box Gallery, in New York, the pair used the opportunity to catalyze debate around censorship in relation to cultural institutions in the wake of the incipient war in Afghanistan and the build-­up to the bombing and occupation of Iraq. On opening day—September 11th—they posted an “Order of Closure” notice by the newly inaugurated but fictitious “Homeland Security Cultural Bureau,” explaining that the Bureau’s “Director General” had determined that “the exhibition space at White Box was [being] used for illegal activities and events that pose a threat to national security.”3 The notice clearly played on the charged emotions inspired by the U.S. government’s belligerent and opportunistic response to the World Trade Center attacks a year earlier. Two days later, the artists extended the ruse by distributing a protest letter over e-­mail, in which they detailed the circumstances of the closure, identified the responsible Homeland Security Cultural Bureau, and provided a link to its (ersatz) website, which the artists had devised in advance, requesting that recipients “raise [their] voice against this closure” (see figure 70). Not surprisingly, heated responses and rejoinders quickly mounted on 16Beaver’s forum and several other artistic and activist discussion forums, commentary soon divided between those outraged at the “audacity of the government” and others who indignantly Means without End: Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s Camp Campaign 223

Figure 70. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, screenshot of the Homeland Security Cultural Bureau home page, from RadioActive (2002). Courtesy of the artists.

scolded the artists for making light of the “real suppression of certain, dissenting voices.” Still others defended the artists’ elaborate hoax as a significant exposure of the self-­censorship already rife in American cultural institutions.4 But while these responses may all possess a degree of validity, Anastas and Gabri’s intervention not only brought to light certain ineffectual elements of left-­wing opposition to the government’s reaction to the events of 2001 (for instance, by providing a false premise for the protest of censorship, the project revealed the frequent and complacent lack of critical awareness of automatic petition-­signing); but, in doing so, Anastas and Gabri aimed to reinvigorate the space of cultural opposition and critically chapter nine 224

reflect on its present options. As the artists explained in their original proposal, “These actions will try to generate public debate among cultural workers and institutions about the ramifications of ‘heightened security and policing’ of the ‘Homeland.’ Furthermore, they will seek to question the role and responsibility of cultural spaces/workers in contesting and calling into question emerging social/political problems.”5 Representing an extension of the concerns with “heightened security and policing” that motivated RadioActive—yet without its hoax element— Camp Campaign retrained the earlier project’s focus onto the specific role of the “camp” in the “war on terror” since 2001. And like RadioActive’s questioning of cultural approaches to political problems, Camp Campaign manifested a self-­reflexive critical impulse. To address Camp Campaign’s initial query, suggesting at once incredulity (how can the camp at Guantánamo Bay exist?) and an earnest determination to understand its conditions of possibility (how can it exist?), Anastas and Gabri visited numerous types of camps during their trip across the states, such as a long-­standing Native American reservation in New Mexico, a Hurricane Katrina relief camp in New Orleans, an erstwhile internment camp in Texas for Japanese, Italians, and Germans during World War II, and a former pow camp in Ohio that now plays host to the annual National Outdoor Rifle and Pistol Championships held by the nra. Along the way, they held meetings with legal experts, political activists, and artists, which were recorded on select occasions for local radio programs and subsequently archived on Camp Campaign’s website. These discussions help to parse the diversity of those camps and maintain the historical specificity of their different types. Yet because these diverse examples, according to the artists, nevertheless share a generalized set of procedures—including spatial mechanisms of geographical exclusion, the suspension of law, and the retraction of civil rights—which, for them, increasingly defines the relationship between power and everyday life today, Anastas and Gabri confirmed the thesis that the camp is “truly the paradigm of our time.”6 In terms of the diversity of its engagement, Camp Campaign advances an innovative approach to the intersection of artistic practice and political activism, which is today quite significant. First of all, Anastas and Gabri have refused the complacent positioning of their activity solely within the borders of art, where questions of medium, object production, and representational logic tend to prevail. Instead, they have prioritized collective Means without End: Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s Camp Campaign 225

social engagement and the raising of political awareness in their work, which forms the basis of an expanded notion of art as collective cultural practice. It is significant that the artists’ road trip, for instance, constituted an integral component of Camp Campaign, for it emphasizes the project’s diversification both in terms of its possible sites of reception beyond the art gallery’s walls, and its mobilization of a variety of publics, interlocutors, and collaborators. In this regard, Anastas and Gabri reinvigorate past models of “cultural activism” and “social aesthetics,” particularly those that addressed the democratic crises during the conservative Reagan era via the turn to collaborative process and multidisciplinary practice, which insisted on art’s relevance to political struggle. (Think of Group Material’s Timeline: A Chronicle of U.S. intervention in Central and Latin America [1984], at P.S.I., or Democracy, their exhibition at Dia, in 1987–89, which approached four areas of perceived political crisis—education, electoral politics, cultural participation, and aids—through planning sessions, roundtable discussions, pedagogical displays, town meetings, and the publication of a book.)7 Anastas and Gabri’s model of practice, and particularly RadioActive, also resonates with recent “interventionist” approaches that emerged from that earlier commitment to “cultural activism,” including the work of Critical Art Ensemble and the Yes Men, which have exploited “tactical media” and “cultural sabotage,” in order to forward distinct political goals, such as raising awareness of the presence of gmos (genetically modified organisms) in consumer food products and holding corporate multinationals like Dow Chemical and Union Carbide accountable for environmental destruction and deathly malfeasance. In such models, the choice of medium and representational strategy is determined by the specific project’s political objectives; consequently, the tools of cultural intervention primarily become instruments of social engagement, connecting to the movement for global justice, or to the campaigns against environmental destruction, homelessness, and neoimperialism.8 But if Camp Campaign exemplifies art’s post-­2001 politicization— though the simple, artistic categorization of their practice is precisely what Anastas and Gabri place in question—the project was not solely directed toward any practical result (for example, the closure of the military camp at Guantánamo Bay) or theoretical resolution; if analyses were needed, the project’s website provided numerous, compelling ones by Giorgio Agamben (“A Brief History of the State of Exception”), Judith Butler (“Guanchapter nine 226

tánamo Limbo”), and Jacques Rancière (“We Prisoners of the Infinite”), among others. Rather than simply reiterate the model of cultural activism, Camp Campaign suspended the pragmatic force of its engagement in favor of a sharing of discourse, an opening up of questions and a replacement of the declamatory and the accusatory with the interrogative and the conditional, where the journey represents a means without an end.9 “If the paradigm of the camp is what informs the organization of our cities and states,” write Anastas and Gabri in the script that accompanied their exhibition and unfolded alongside it, then “what can we do?” Yet this admission proved to be far from a confession of defeatism. To explore the various questions posed in their project, Anastas and Gabri reserved a zone apart from goal-­oriented activism and instrumentalized political engagement, creating a place, one that is mobile and multiple, transformative and generative, from which to consider anew issues of representation, strategy, and political practice, and to do so collaboratively. Yet this would be no simple activist abandonment of art: they acknowledge in their script that “they refuse to give up the capacity of the poetic and the aesthetic . . . to generate new meaning or tear away from the past something which is altogether useful still.” Indeed, their goal was: “To think. To question. To move. To shift things, unsettle held assumptions, reorganize the perceptual domains, the sensible.”10 This destabilized positioning of Camp Campaign’s site of intervention clearly disturbed its easy reception in both artistic and political contexts.11 Just as the Other Collective (a group of Arab American artists based in Detroit) asked Anastas and Gabri during their road trip how exactly their project figures as art, so the radio host of New York’s wbai-­ fm wished to understand Camp Campaign’s political function and objectives.12 Because Camp Campaign falls into neither and both camps, it became the location of a productive uncertainty, one that defamiliarized the conventional expectations of art and politics alike. While this uncertainty regarding what is art and what is politics invariably arose in the reception of Camp Campaign, it is also internal to the project’s forms; indeed, uncertainty may constitute its very aesthetic condition. Consider the project’s map, suggestively titled “Fear Is Somehow Our for Whom? For What? + Proximity to Everything Far Away” (see figure 71). On the one hand, the map charts the geographical and historical appearance of the camp as it has variously come into existence in the United States, its legend detailing information regarding each site and deMeans without End: Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s Camp Campaign 227

Figure 71. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, detail from Fear Is Somehow Our for Whom? For What? + Proximity to Everything Far Away, from Camp Campaign (2006). Courtesy of the artists.

scribing the artists’ activities and experiences there during the trip. For example, one finds the following annotation for their final visit in California: “Our last trip is through downtown Los Angeles at night. A tent city, hundreds of tents strewn along the sidewalks just south of the large banks and office towers. Here is an improvised camp comprised of the city’s outcasts, derelicts, mentally ill, drug addicts, poor, homeless, abandoned, or exiles. Here camp is a signifier for where bare life resides, here camp is a testimony for the failures, the cracks and gaps of economic and social policies.” On the other hand, the artists also break from this descriptive rhetoric and analytic trajectory by introducing a certain opacity in the map’s format and language, represented by the inclusion of passages of poetic text, stuttering repetitions, and nonsensical sequences of words. How does one navigate the map’s territory when one finds the note “Mexico begins here” right next to Vancouver’s geographical location, when one discovers a jumbled list of related concepts and meaningless articles on its periphery: “What is a Camp? camp, concept, crime, an, camp, place, most absolute, conditio inhumana, appear, all, counts, as, as, posterity . . .”? The procession disarticulates descriptive language, providing a play of free association, a subtext of subconscious wonderings and wanderings around the representation of the United States and its neighboring countries. These elements obscure the clarity of the otherwise rational cartographic logic and resist the analogical structure that normally rules the format of maps. In this regard, Camp Campaign’s map differs from certain contemporaneous models, such as the various flow charts of the French collective Bureau d’études, who adopt a scientific paradigm of clearly presented objective information to schematize economic, political, and military networks (from Princeton and m.i.t. to the nsa and cia), with the poetic imagination banished into exile (see figure 72).13 By placing language’s functionality and its lawless breakdown in close proximity, Anastas and Gabri’s map creates a poetic/informational site that is one of disorientation; it is as if the map makes a first step toward overcoming the existential condition of fear that is named in its title by acknowledging that the distant unknown—in terms of both the spaces of exception and the traumatic lawlessness of language—is actually quite near. What lies behind the simultaneity of political engagement and aesthetic sensibility that characterizes Camp Campaign? The project’s renewal of the intersection between aesthetics and politics builds on what has become Means without End: Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s Camp Campaign 229

Figure 72. Bureau d’études, detail of World Government (2004). Courtesy of the artists.

a major concern in recent years, and does so for two main—and by now familiar—reasons: first, artistic practice is commonly seen to have forfeited whatever oppositional force and critical purchase it once possessed in the face of culture’s overwhelming commodification and institutionalization; and second, there nevertheless remains a deeply felt urge to respond to the crises and emergencies of present-­day reality, including the quotidian conditions that support state terrorism and endless war, the growth and spread of economic inequality and the retraction of civil rights, environmental destruction, and mindless consumerism. Moreover, it appears imperative to respond to such crises with a creative subtlety and analytic power that resist the reductive tendencies of political discourse, whether chapter nine 230

that of the mass media, governmental publicity, or protesters’ rhetoric. For many artists, critics, and curators, this conflicted condition has entailed a return to cultural activism and collaborative social engagement in order to transcend what many perceive as art’s myopic, self-­reflexive tendency and domination by market concerns.14 Critics such as Brian Holmes, an occasional 16Beaver collaborator, thus tap into a widely sensed impulse when they identify the need to conceptualize new forms and sites of resistance, including “the desire that pushes more and more artists to work outside the limits of their own discipline, defined by the notions of free reflexivity and pure aesthetics, incarnated by the gallery-­magazine-­museum-­collection circuit, and haunted by the memory of the normative genres, painting and sculpture.”15 The “extradisciplinary investigations” that Holmes supports involve occupying a field but bringing it into critical relation with exterior disciplines, thus reinventing both, so that art escapes its specialized “form of enclosure” and sociopolitical practices are reinvigorated with creative energy. Yet while such analyses are doubtlessly provocative (particularly Holmes’s critique of the institutionalization of interdisciplinarity, which, in its sheer ubiquity and market-­friendliness, threatens to lose whatever critical potential it once possessed), they are frequently weakened by the quick and summary dismissal of art (especially as found in the commercial gallery context) as formalist and thus apolitical, severed from life “in the streets,” an area all too easily idealized by activists. The reductiveness with which art is treated frequently accompanies a related failure to appreciate the significance of recent theoretical debates regarding the politics of artistic representation, which posit the performative force of art within institutions that are more complexly defined than many analyses typically allow.16 It is also striking that current dismissals of the gallery and museum come at a time when many curators are dedicated to rethinking and reinventing the role of such institutions—particularly in Europe, even as these publicly funded institutions are set back by austerity budgets—by developing their capacity to facilitate distinctly political projects and diverse social aims.17 Yet, more than anything, the often facile denunciation of art’s perceived autonomy fails to account for its historical complexity as a long-­standing site of negotiation between aesthetics and politics. One could argue, conversely, that it is the very unstable relationship between the two that governs contemporary art’s logic, and that, in this sense, recent challenges to and realignMeans without End: Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s Camp Campaign 231

ments of the relationship between art and politics indicate something important about the current status of artistic practice. Contemporary art, as Jacques Rancière argues, advances a paradigm that stretches back to the late eighteenth century, to the time of Friedrich Schiller, for whom the notion of aesthetics “holds the promise of both a new world of art and a new life for individuals and community.”18 At the crossroads between art and life, the “aesthetic regime”—Rancière’s periodizing term for modern art—consequently outlines a paradox of competing claims for autonomy and heteronomy, for art’s loyalty to its own formal laws and its rule by external determinations. Yet Rancière negotiates this seeming antinomy by forwarding an innovative reading of autonomy that avoids the dead end of art’s solipsism: for him, autonomy designates a “mode of experience” that transcends the realm of art, rather than identifying an aesthetic purity existing solely within it.19 Art, then, proposes a heterogeneous field wherein the relation between aesthetics and politics is precisely one of indeterminacy, defining a condition that individual practices will uniquely negotiate. Art’s autonomy, as a mode of experience, might even designate “the ‘self-­sufficiency’ of a collective life that does not rend itself into separate spheres of activities, of a community where art and life, art and politics, life and politics are not severed one from another.”20 Certainly Camp Campaign explores this possibility, and prompts the desire, moreover, to expand that reserve of autonomous experience—even while never sacrificing it completely—so that it ultimately challenges the norm of alienating forms of separation that define everyday life. Elements of this argument are certainly not entirely new: Peter Bürger, in his classic account of the avant-­garde, asks “whether [maintaining] the distance between art and the praxis of life is not a requisite for that free space within which alternatives to what exists become conceivable.”21 That is, Bürger argues against making art into the site of a desired sublation, as it was in certain forms of avant-­garde practice in which autonomy was surrendered. Yet Camp Campaign neither denies that autonomous space (although the artists would likely reject the notion that it is simply “free,” as Bürger contends) nor gives itself over complacently to the “distance” between art and life that engenders it. Rather, it engages both realms. And this, in my view, identifies the radical and innovative political nature of their project, which is to direct its entwinement of aesthetics and politics

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against the force of separation that has arisen recently in relation to the camp. It is precisely the force of separation between life and law, between human being and citizen, that, for Agamben, brings the camp into existence. Which returns us to the question of Guantánamo Bay. The camp, in Agamben’s analysis, represents a manifestation of the state of exception (or state of emergency), for which, as we have seen, sovereignty suspends law and creates a space of lawlessness, a decision that simultaneously constitutes the power of sovereignty, particularly in its limited sense of executive authority.22 Such a decision created Guantánamo Bay in the first place—a camp on an island where neither U.S. nor international law applies (including that of the “host” nation, Cuba, which refuses to recognize the legal validity and territorial claim of the U.S. naval base). Because in its declared war on terror the Bush administration claimed to confront an opponent that is not aligned with any specific nation, but rather part of a transnational organization—that is, al-­Qaeda and similar groups—it argued that these extraordinary circumstances justify the suspension of law in the process of responding to threat, which led to the creation of the camp at Guantánamo Bay. Accordingly, in the name of national security, detainees have little recourse to legal counsel, are subject to indefinite detention, and are denied the protections that ensure humane treatment according to international rules for “legitimate” prisoners of war (even though these practices are subject to continued legal contestation). The result, as Judith Butler has observed, is that “the stateless are terrorized by the distinction between state violence and ‘terrorism,’” an artificial and politically opportunistic differentiation enforced by governmental power.23 Insofar as the stateless and dispossessed are stripped of rights, whether they are refugees, “illegal” combatants, prisoners, or the internally displaced, Camp Campaign views these figures as inhabiting the condition of bare life. In taking up this reasoning, Camp Campaign posits both the historical progression of this condition to its current widening basis and the unique situation of the present state of exception. By visiting various camps across the country, Anastas and Gabri reveal how such zones of anomie have in fact pockmarked the history and geography of the United States from its very beginning—from eighteenth-­century Native American reservations to contemporary detention centers. Moreover, by placing

Means without End: Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s Camp Campaign 233

Figure 73. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, photo of east Baltimore, from By Many Means Necessary—Baltimore (2006). Courtesy of the artists.

these various enclaves in relation to extraterritorial camps like Guantánamo Bay, as well as by comparing them to similar areas in other countries, their research, videos, and conversations seek to uncover the structural connections between them, which are infrequently acknowledged. For instance, in the year before realizing Camp Campaign, Anastas and Gabri traveled to and researched several international locations, the results of which were subsequently included in or related to their later project. One location was Baltimore’s so-­called Middle East, a segregated zone of poverty where the “urban poor, in this case mostly African American, are targeted, deemed a threat, an unwanted ‘population,’ [their] neighborhoods terrorized with flood lights, [and] 24 hour surveillance,” as it is described in the project’s script, which accompanies the project’s photographic documentation of the area (see figure 73). A further site of comparison is the village of Daechu-­Ri, in South Korea, which was under threat in 2006 when the artists visited the area and was subsequently destroyed by the expansion of a nearby U.S. military base.24 The pair also traveled to Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories, visiting al-­Lydd and Ramleh, two of Israel’s “mixed cities,” not far from Tel chapter nine 234

Figure 74. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, video still from Day 8: Building Vacancy Maps, from What Everybody Knows (2006–present). Courtesy of the artists.

Aviv, and several Bedouin villages in the al-­Naqab that are unrecognized by the Israeli state. Completed before the initiation of Camp Campaign, these trips represent important preparation for their later project, in that Anastas and Gabri conducted extensive interviews with local inhabitants and political activists, which resulted in several quasidocumentary videos: Day 1: Good Architecture, Day 8: Building Vacancy Maps, and Day 15: Valley of the Graces (all 2007). In the first, a handheld camera records the Israeli activist Jeff Halper as he speaks to an audience before a section of the wall dividing Israel from the West Bank. He explains how the occupation is advanced not only by the Israeli Defense Forces, but also, more subtly, in its nuts and bolts, by liberal planners and architects. In the second video, the Palestinian architect and activist Buthaina Dabit, facing the camera directly, outlines what she sees as Israel’s historical and continuing program of ethnic cleansing, which she explains with the aid of detailed maps (see figure 74).25 While presented in straightforward documentary styles, these videos nevertheless disrupt the seemingly objective portrayal of facts that characterizes their content: the fragmentation of the narratives, interMeans without End: Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s Camp Campaign 235

rupted frequently with shots of the landscape or broken off suddenly without explanation, implies that the artists’ representation of this particular state of exception simultaneously challenges its finality by an exposure that can never be total, by a depiction that can never be complete. Situated within the context of Camp Campaign, each of these various places comes to exemplify—whether formally or informally—the suspension of law and the reduction of its inhabitants to a state of political dispossession. Committed to investigating the notion of the camp as both historical singularity and modern paradigm, the artists explain how they have sought to explore “the recurrent motif of security to justify a suspension of law, a law which is outside the law, or an outside the law which the law attempts to territorialize and with it, a life which falls under a law that is lawless.”26 Indeed, as described in the script, Camp Campaign represents “a project which attempts to not only be present [with] the ongoing crimes taking place in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, but to connect these crimes to other contexts, historical as well as contemporary, far off the American map, in Occupied Palestine, or right in the heart of American cities like Baltimore or New Orleans.”27 By referring to zones of political dispossession as examples of the state’s overstating its authority—and thus refusing the American administration’s extralegal categorization of the camp—the artists invoke a law that would designate these areas as illegal, but without specifying its origin. Whether they mean to identify contradictions within U.S. law, to bring international law to bear on rogue states (namely the United States), or to point toward a notion of universal justice remains unclear; what is crucial is that they make the first performative effort to condemn the tortuous legal “justification” of camps. One might nevertheless object to the implication that bare life represents a “state of metaphysical abandonment,” as Judith Butler does, asserting that the various enclaves of political disfranchisement—for example, those of migrant workers in Germany, or Palestinians living under occupation—“are not undifferentiated instances of ‘bare life’ but highly juridified states of dispossession.”28 She reminds us, moreover, that bare life “is a state actively produced, maintained, reiterated, and monitored by a complex and forcible domain of power, and not exclusively the act of a sovereign or the permutation of sovereign power.”29 Yet, while Butler is certainly right to insist on viewing bare life as a distinct juridified area inscribed within particular relations of power, and right to challenge the chapter nine 236

reductive definition of sovereignty, one could respond, with Gabri, that Agamben “is also writing about the dispossession that takes place within the framework of the law, whether it is in applying it, as the Nazis did in fully stripping Jews of citizenship (denationalizing) before sending them to the camps, or in suspending it in the name of preserving it.”30 Not only do Gabri and Anastas acknowledge finding a critical resource in Agamben’s “refusal to acquiesce to a reading of the Nazi as a singular and aberrant exception in the history of the world,” but they believe it urgent “to also find that there is something which took place in those camps that is repeating itself [today].” And these reasons justify their investigation of the camp as a contemporary paradigm of biopolitics.31 As the artists write in an essay included on Camp Campaign’s website, “The camp should not be seen exclusively as a historical fact (e.g., Auschwitz) or as an exception reserved only for the ‘inhuman’ (e.g., Guantánamo Bay) or displaced refugee (e.g., Palestine), but as the paradigm, the ‘hidden matrix and nomos of the political space in which we are still living.’” In this regard, they challenge the camp’s existence as an anomaly or freak occurrence, and comprehend it instead as “a means of conditioning and establishing (a relation to) [what is now becoming] the norm.”32 That said, our present political situation nevertheless appears perilously unique and precisely for the reason offered above. Jeff Fogel, the former legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, pointed out in a radio interview with Anastas and Gabri that U.S. law has historically been reinstated soon after periods of its suspension (as when the Supreme Court reestablished the writ of habeas corpus following its retraction by President Lincoln during the Civil War). Yet because the United States continues fighting a seemingly infinite war on terror with neither geographical boundaries nor temporal limitations—despite the Obama administration’s recent announcement in 2012 that the war on terror is over—we therefore currently face the prospect of an indefinite, potentially permanent suspension of law (including civil liberties that many take to constitute democracy).33 One might reasonably conclude that today the state of exception has become the norm, as Agamben has consistently argued, and that in the post-­Bush years, it has even become an accepted policy choice of the U.S. government.34 If this division of sovereignty and bare life defines our present political era, as an increasing number of scholars argue, then it is precisely against that separation that Camp Campaign’s joining of Means without End: Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s Camp Campaign 237

aesthetics and politics becomes particularly significant.35 But rather than simply collapse or equalize the two spheres, Anastas and Gabri place them in a relation of indeterminacy, an act that transforms their practice into a site of the perpetual reinvention of each. Such a site was created by Camp Campaign’s exhibition in early 2007, which built a montage-­like media environment inside Art in General’s small, ground-­floor gallery space. The presentation included a super-­8 film projection, a series of videos playing on two monitors, a projection of slides, and a musical soundtrack, all of which took on an improvised, semichaotic cast. Offering raw and edited footage from the artists’ road trip, the display invoked both documentary models and fictional scenarios, often running them up against one another. In addition, the multiple components diversified the project’s status as both activist and artistic, which emerged in part from the provocative relations between the exhibition’s diverse and processed materials. In one video made up of text, a series of terms for Middle Eastern nationalities (Saudi, Yemeni, Egyptian, and so on) cycled as subtitles against a blank background. A second video showed a slowly progressing night scene of a barbed-­wire fence surrounding a farm on the location of a former World War II-­era Japanese “Relocation Center” in Wyoming. The video then cut to shots of “Fort Rockvale,” a Southwestern casino advertised by garish flashing lights and a gigantic plastic figure of a cowboy holding a rifle (see figure 75). In a third video, one encountered images of a placid lake in Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest, the soundtrack of which is suddenly interrupted by a voice that yells out “Close Guantánamo Bay!” which echoes in the canyons of the Native American land. The selection, in other words, dramatized the sheer multiplicity of the project’s source material—from the encyclopedic listing of the nationalities of detainees found at Guantánamo Bay to the documentation of common mechanisms of spatial division and security, from images suggesting paranoid insecurity and corresponding hyperbolic compensation to recordings of the artists’ desperate but obviously ineffective interventions. Because there was no pretense to categorize or order the unwieldy data, the exhibition offered a desultory assemblage of resonant alignments, nonsensical contiguities, and potential allegorical relations, which could be neither clearly summarized nor easily comprehended. Intensifying its unruly presentation, the exhibition changed its appearance while in progress, both loosely following and simultaneously revising chapter nine 238

Figure 75. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, video still from All Strayed and Were Incapable of Using, from Camp Campaign (2006). Courtesy of the artists.

the artists’ script, which Anastas and Gabri produced over the course of the two-­month-­long display. Entitled “Project for an Inhibition in New York or How to Arrest a Hurricane,” the script, written by Anastas and Gabri under the initials R. L. and V. L., reveals a further rift between the presentation of analysis based on extensive research and the subjective, interpretive relation to that material.36 The roughly fifty-­page document, subsequently reproduced in the exhibition’s catalogue, offers a diverse account of theoretical speculation (including engagements with the writings of Rancière and Agamben), the authors’ subjective wonderings, and their expression of questions and doubts, all of which opens a window onto the artists’ thought process by revealing some of the deliberations and considerations that lie behind Camp Campaign. Made available in parts for reading at Art in General, the text also provided a discursive entrance for visitors to the dispersed project. As a “script,” the text implied that the exhibition space existed as an uncertain zone between art installation, theatrical event, and film set, thus inviting viewers, who were ascribed an unspecified role, to figure out their own relation to the material on view. Playing on the terms inhibition and exhibition—implying both a blockMeans without End: Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s Camp Campaign 239

age of the exhibition and an exposure of the inhibition—the show at Art in General reiterated the heterogeneous status of Camp Campaign. On the one hand, the exhibition at times gave the appearance of mounting a political campaign, clear in the placement at one point of two large banners in the gallery’s windows (thus blinding views of the interior space from outside), which read “Let Americans Know That the World Is against Torture,” written in red block letters, in English and Cantonese, the language of the local Chinese community. Yet on the other hand, the exhibition manifested an introverted element, which, as conveyed in the script, opened up a space of subjective questioning pertaining to the limits of Camp Campaign’s status as an art exhibition. Most exemplary in this regard was the exhibition’s so-­called dream sequence, paralleling a passage in the script where R. L. dreams about the use of music as a device of torture at Guantánamo, prompted by reading an article on the topic before bed one evening.37 During that phase, the exhibition introduced several other videos. One offered a set of quickly edited images—including shots of a demolished Palestinian village in Gaza, a close-­up of a Guantánamo detainee’s wristband, and a map of Guantánamo Bay—which were divided by poetic and tone-­setting intertitles, such as “the loneliest loneliness.” A second video continued this melancholy passage by documenting a nocturnal perambulation around the immediate vicinity of Art in General during the exhibition’s opening, showing scenes of a valet who parks cars amid dreary empty offices, police officers in a local station, and homeless men sleeping nearby the New York City jail known as “The Tombs” (see figure 76). At times accompanied by a soundtrack of death-­metal music (the kind allegedly played repeatedly to Guantánamo inmates at excruciating volumes), the video concluded inexplicably with appropriated historical tv footage of the famous Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez performing among a circle of Arab musicians and dancers (see figure 77). One immediate effect of this sequence was to bring the art exhibition into a poignant relationship with the social reality that surrounded it. In other words, the artists resisted isolating their gallery exhibition within the space of artistic concerns alone, avoiding the potential contradiction of creating a show about systems of enclosure that repeated some of the very divisions their project was attempting to analyze and dissolve. The video compilation, moreover, figured as a sort of reversal of roles, imaging lower Manhattan itself as a camp of divided and alienated lives, next chapter nine 240

Figures 76 and 77. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, video stills from The Redeemed Night, from Camp Campaign (2006). Courtesy of the artists.

to which the representation of traditional Arab culture appeared as an antidote of joyous communal existence. Joining seemingly irreconcilable spheres, R. L. wonders in the course of her “dream” what life is like in the camp, as her character gestures toward an identification with its inhabitants that transcends the enemy-­friend opposition that characterizes the relation between sovereignty and bare life: “What does it sound like at night in Guantánamo?” R. L. asks. “At what point does the music stop? Do they sing to themselves? What songs do they sing?” The immediate answers to these questions, as provided by the videos, were discovered by R. L. not in Guantánamo, but, tellingly, on the forlorn streets of nocturnal New York. The exhibition’s dream sequence consequently figured as a nightmare, not only because it intimated that the camp currently represents a generalized condition of everyday life extending beyond the prison that is Guantánamo, but also because it meditated upon the quixotic project of Camp Campaign itself—as if its goal had been comparable “to arresting a hurricane.” During this time, the exhibition changed courses and gave further expression to the artists’ inhibitions: the slide show (which normally flashed snapshots from their trip on a screen) was turned off, implying a period of dormancy and contemplative withdrawal from political engagement; as well, the protest banners on the windows were placed on the gallery’s floor, which tempted visitors to walk on them, implicating them in the nightmare’s unfolding. In these ways, the exhibition enacted an allegory of the feared neutralization of the project, inspired by the artists’ anxieties regarding the potential perception of the exhibition’s—and even the project’s—insignificance in the face of the enormity of the problems they confronted and, moreover, the possibility of the absorption of its critical energies by the very system the artists were struggling against.38 Yet there was nevertheless an affirmative element in the dream sequence, particularly as represented by a third video, which reached toward the transformative potential of art, despite the overarching challenges. The video portrayed sections of Camp Campaign’s map in tonal reversal, on top of which appeared Heidegger’s Nietzsche-­inspired “Five Statements on Art.” In manifesto-­like fashion, the statements proclaim the global significance of art as a self-­creating force of becoming, as affirmative of life, and of the importance of comprehending art from the artist’s perspective, rather than the recipient’s.39 This latter suggestion—seemingly obsolete chapter nine 242

and romantically avant-­gardist, but perhaps newly relevant today, especially in the context of politically committed artists’ tendency to suppress their voices in the name of the democratic equality of participants—finds realization in the subjective elements of Camp Campaign. There, Anastas and Gabri have refused to abdicate a creative authorial position in relation to their work, which in corresponding models might risk dilution in endless collaboration or negation by activist instrumentalization.40 Insofar as the exhibition’s dream sequence highlighted an unconscious component of existence, moreover, it brought a certain skepticism to the rationalist assumptions of activism, particularly the belief that the exposure of the truth behind ideological mystification will lead automatically toward changes in behavior. As the artists ask in the script at the point immediately following the dream sequence’s videos, “What can be extracted from these tapes which could resist the language of information? What is this power of the aesthetic?”41 It is in light of this latter question that one discovers the signal contribution of Camp Campaign: by rendering indeterminate the relation between aesthetics and politics, the project destabilizes each in turn, refusing their clear separation and thereby revivifying the unexpected potential of each when intertwined in an expanded modeling of practice. In this sense, Camp Campaign takes on a political cast that corresponds to a particular formation of a politics of aesthetics. While it mounted its documentary evidence of the camp’s reality and prevalence today, focusing on urban poverty, rendition airports, unrecognized villages, and detainment centers, it ultimately left one in a state of the interrogative: What is to be done? How can one represent the paradigm of the camp? What is the relation between artistic representation and political engagement? How can multiple communities be engaged, expanded, created anew? As such, the form of the question became the dominant representational structure of Camp Campaign. By refusing the easy solution and consumption of the political slogan, the propagandistic logo, the media sound bite, and the activist poster, Anastas and Gabri disavowed the authoritative rhetoric that closes down thinking and critical contemplation, that negates sharing in the act of interpretation throughout the process of creation and reception. Retaining the ambiguity and complexity of their subject (as well as the ambiguity of the artists’ relation to it), they resist a false clarity, and by doing so Camp Campaign creates the terms of its participatory mode, even as it shares Means without End: Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s Camp Campaign 243

the artists’ research, analysis, and conclusions. Appropriately, copies of its map were freely available at the exhibition; its website remains openly accessible. At the same time, the project presents the aesthetics of politics, in the sense that it acknowledges the fact that the political is constituted by enacting rearrangements to the dominant organization of the sensible— what is sayable, thinkable, and communicable where and when. Rather than subscribing to Benjamin’s pejorative notion of the “aestheticization of politics,” the project supports the idea that politics is not derailed, but constituted by aesthetics as the distribution of the sensible.42 By behaving as both artists and political beings, Anastas and Gabri defined Camp Campaign as a political event, precisely because it stood opposed to the depoliticizing policing of boundaries, conventional identities, and systems of thought that is rife in everyday life and artistic institutions alike.43 Insofar as Camp Campaign refuses to separate creative existence from political being, it aligns itself with what Agamben terms a “form-­of-­life,” that is, a life that becomes the indivisible locus of political engagement and reflexive thought. Life, according to this formulation, retains its potentiality for undetermined development and unlimited growth through the exertion of “intellectuality as antagonistic power,” which becomes a force of cohesion and community.44 Correlatively, this commitment means not only resisting the power of inclusive exclusion found in zones of lawlessness, but also taking seriously the instability of the law. As Jeff Fogel contends, we must be careful not to fetishize the law in the act of responding to anomie, for that would mean taking law as possessing an inherent power to enforce itself, which it does not have. Only when law is desacralized and understood as powerless can it become an object of struggle, and only then does it assume power via social movements. Taking the law as unstable— advancing its just realization and challenging its arbitrary enactment—is homologous to Camp Campaign’s undoing of the certitude of the relation between aesthetics and politics, which means that whatever disciplines, forms of representation, and signifying models are put into use, they cannot be taken for granted, their meanings assured or assumed, their rules predetermined. Rather, the relation between disparate fields becomes an object of ongoing negotiation, and this is the power of Camp Campaign’s aesthetic. “How to affirm their form-­of-­life?” ask Anastas and Gabri. “How to see the intrinsic politics of their entire way of being, as a resistance?”45

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Destination The Politics of Aesthetics during Global Crisis

Over the course of its journey, The Migrant Image has steadily built an argument about how contemporary artists have investigated mobile lives (of refugees and migrants, the stateless and politically dispossessed) by reinventing the conditions of moving images in the documentary art of photography, film, and video, that is, images that are globally circulating and politically affective. This conjunction has constituted a significant development in the art of the last decade, and bears important ramifications for our consideration of aesthetics and politics today. These practices are set within the uneven developments of neoliberal globalization, and have both critically analyzed and creatively opposed its unjust conditions. Examining select artistic models in Europe, North America, the Middle East, and North Africa, and reaching out to areas in Eastern Europe, sub-­ Saharan Africa and South Asia, this study has also been geographically expansive, in some ways an inevitable outcome of its consideration of mobility. As such, it participates in the recently established trend of opening the discourse of contemporary art to areas beyond the West, which has no doubt accompanied the globalization of art institutions and international exhibitions during this same time and the widening perspectives of artists therein.1 But rather than conducting a survey of global contemporary art—with the depth of the case-­study model sacrificed to the desire for exhaustive coverage—what has been practiced instead is a sustained analysis of certain models of contemporary art and how they have responded to and negotiated impending global crises by reinventing documentary practice. As we have seen, they have blurred the divisions between fact and fiction, in order to propose a new politics of truth, one founded in contingency and self-­transformation, and attached to critical doubt and political deliberation. Paralleling that destabilization and ungrounding of repre-

sentation in the documentary mode has been the uprooting of migration as a conceptual, sociological category so that its exclusions become clear within specific conflictual geographies. As a result, the meaning of migration finds itself displaced from the familiar discourses of conventional migration theory that position it in relation to illegality and victimhood, including the economistic approach of neoliberalism, where the migrant figures as the useful and adaptable worker, and the humanitarianism of refugee studies and its focus on depoliticized bare life, as in NGO paternalistic interventionism. Instead, taking on associations with subjective mobility, the migrant names the potentiality of becoming other, of opacity as a politics of imperceptibility, and defines an increasingly occupied site of resistance, autonomy, and politicization. In this regard, the artists who give aethetico-­political expression to such ideas connect to a growing discourse and widening social movement that situate migration as bearing positive transformative potential in the current neoliberal world of control, repression, and inequality.2 As such, the experimental art of migration never really reaches any destination; it remains always on the move in one way or another. Looking ahead, in the wake of the book’s completion, the text’s concerns will likely only continue to grow even more relevant in the near future, owing to the anticipated directions of conservative governments in the West as they confront increasingly mobile populations, owing to the intensifying effects of economic and political inequality, zones of military and humanitarian conflict, and the rising environmental havoc of climate change. These directions necessitate continuing the struggle against xenophobic policies minimizing immigration and securing borders with military technology, which for many contribute to an emerging social and economic apartheid.3 Against the right-­wing movement of many current governments, the support for a politics of open borders and universal access to mobility is ever urgent, a politics this book has advanced in solidarity with many in the alter-­globalization, and more recently, the Occupy movement.4 Building on the expansiveness of these movements, it is urgent, in what lies ahead, to draw the contours of a comprehensive political engagement that links the struggle for equality in movement to the challenges to reclaim the commons. Doing so means joining the social and political commitment to maintaining public control over wealth and resources—including universal access to political identity—to the many destination 246

other pressing features of the commons under threat today, such as cultural knowledge, natural resources (including fresh water, public lands, biodiverse gene pools, and native seed banks), the mediascape of the Internet and information systems, universal health care and public education.5 In this sense, the micropolitics of opacity may be an important tactic in alluding the police function of rights and representation, yet if its practitioners surrender their participation in governmental politics, then that abandonment may very well be irresponsible; the challenge is to somehow think the two together so that transformation can occur on multiple levels.6 As such, defending the commons forms the basis of a complex, ongoing fight against sustained, corporate-­led privatization, an agenda that has tragically captivated politicians aided by the donations of corporate lobbyists and which has led to macroeconomic policies that create the conditions of zones of poverty, social dispossession, and war that motor transmigration in the first place. The politics of migration cannot ultimately be isolated from these related engagements. To build on the politics of aesthetics developed in recent years, we clearly need to foster further innovative approaches to artistic theory and practice, and to carry on resisting the simplistic distinctions between the artistic and the political, whether they emanate from the separatist perspectives of activists intent on politicizing visual culture and discounting art, or those of artists desirous of reaestheticizing art at the expense of politics. Rather, let us examine how practitioners from all sides are recalibrating and testing the relations between the creative arrangement of sensible forms and their engendering of modes of social equality, between the activism of artists and the visual culture of social movements; for these conjunctions offer critical resources with which to oppose the growing pressure to depoliticize life, which is at the basis of the expanding state of exception that potentially entraps us all. This book has tried to make steps in that direction, but it is, after all, a modest gesture in our emergency context that urgently requires ever more creative and critical energies, further practices and analyses, and most of all the expansion of social movements for political and economic transformation. The need is especially acute at this time of financial assaults on the public support for the humanities, arts, and social sciences in the United States, European Union and United Kingdom, making it all the more difficult to pursue critical discourse and cultural practice when our educational institutions of critical thinking, The Politics of Aesthetics during Global Crisis 247

history writing, and artistic practice are under attack and are increasingly marketized and consumerized.7 The arts, too, form part of our cultural heritage, and must be situated within the commons and defended on that basis. Taking issue with the globalizing concerns of contemporary art, there have been recent calls for artists and critics to focus on the problematic politico-­economic circumstances of artistic institutions at home, rather than on the suffering of others far away. As Hito Steyerl has recently observed, the “blind spot” of contemporary political art dedicated to global crises is to overlook the often compromised local conditions of its own production and display—a situation often reeking of the exploitation of interns and funded by politically unsavory benefactors, such as multinational banks, hedge-­fund operators, and arms dealers. Steyerl contends, “We could try to understand [art’s] space as a political one instead of trying to represent a politics that is always happening elsewhere.”8 She is surely right to point out this negligence; but her suggestion proposes, in my view, a false choice. There is nothing preventing us from operating on multiple fronts, both committing to an active global citizenship involving the participation in a movement of movements pledged to the anticorporate globalization struggle, and embracing the fight for equality and social justice in relation to local institutions. As well, others, such as artist Andrea Fraser, have similarly pointed out the dangers of politically engaged artists contributing work to commercial institutions with opposing neoliberal values, arguing that criticality in such circumstances amounts to a farce.9 Yet while Fraser’s analysis of the commercial logic of the exhibition site is crucial to consider, her conclusion that art’s meaning is totally determined by its context is, in my view, unacceptable as a credible methodology of interpretation and reception. While the politics of aesthetics offers no punctual revolutionary event, or immediate political effects, it does, I would argue, constitute a site of potential subjective transformation with ultimately immeasurable political implications. And while its audiences may often be relatively small, art’s potential for meaningful political, social, and cultural experience is enormous and its temporal range of reception unlimited. Given its commitment to this position, this book has attempted its own political engagement, following the cue of artistic practices that address specific global crises around the politics of migration, investigating both how migration is regulated by the biopolitics of securitization, privatization, destination 248

and militarization, and how migration also identifies a mode of social resistance and political becoming. In particular, it has attempted to comprehend the causes of the present migration crisis, relating it to the formation of neoliberalism, sponsored and directed by multinational corporations, and enabled by the international arrangements of the imf, World Bank, and wto. In this way, the unsustainable economies elsewhere are shown to owe their origins to the financial decisions made in Western centers. The results drive the contradictory arrangement whereby states facilitate transnational market relations that remap the spatial context for the financial industry and multinational corporations, but at the same time, they fortify their geographical frontiers in ways that reterritorialize national identities. As Saskia Sassen has observed, while “economic globalization denationalizes national economics, immigration is renationalizing politics.”10 In my view, the resulting conflictual global network presents one of the most formidable challenges for a future politics of documentary: the challenge to move away from the familiar spectacle of misery, from the sensationalized imagery of suffering in these times of proliferating humanitarian emergencies, and to take up the challenge of interrogating the complex political and economic causes behind the effects of migration hysteria and the politics of border wars, as well as showing how migration delineates a creative act of political transformation and a site of resistance and agency.11 Such a political and aesthetic imperative invites writers, critics, and art historians to move beyond the familiar canons and genealogies of artistic formations and to confront a newly interconnected, global set of practices, discourses, and political concerns (which also means confronting the legacies of postcolonial histories and past social injustices, as well as finding resources in the historical struggles of political and economic liberation movements). Broadly speaking, a politics of migration beckons, a politics that leads to an openness to the unfamiliar and the untimely, to a sensitivity regarding how one’s own form of life connects inevitably to others far away and in the past, and does so in both positive and negative ways, with accompanying debts, responsibilities, and solidarities. Such an ethicopolitical commitment on behalf of cultural practitioners connects to an emerging global demand to universalize the exception in the practice of a politics of equality, and to create a “citizenship of aliens.”12 What this implies is the conceptualization of commonality on the basis of exclusion, meaning that in the last analysis none fully belong, that all are displaced in The Politics of Aesthetics during Global Crisis 249

one way or another, and that we all share in this condition of immeasurability and opacity. It is on this basis that we can withdraw from the long-­ standing project of separating “citizens” from “noncitizens,” in favor of a new politics that has yet to be realized. How to advance beyond the schematic aspect of this theoretical conclusion and realize positive transformation? While there is clearly no easy answer here, further creative proposals will inevitably be found in the inventive artistic engagements, experimental curatorial projects, and inspired writing to come.

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While researching this book, my work has benefited enormously from the many opportunities I have had to present, share, and test material and ideas with colleagues, friends, students, and family. I am deeply grateful to all those who contributed one way or another to this process, generously offering critical feedback, lively debate, and vital support. It is the seemingly small, often informal exchanges, I’ve realized, that turn out to be momentous in one’s intellectual life, constituting the deeply meaningful and precious sharing of ideas that in the end make the work and investment worthwhile. I have been lucky to have had many such discussions about this project with numerous friends and colleagues, including Claire Bishop, Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar of the Otolith Group, Steve McQueen, Hilde Van Gelder, Terri Weissman, Monica Amor, Carlos Basualdo, Margaret Sundell, Stephanie Schwartz, Kerr Houston, Alex Alberro, Rachel Haidu, and Terry Smith, who variously contributed crucial feedback after reading and or discussing the manuscript and related material at different moments of its production. Many thanks as well to Tamar Garb, Briony Fer, Mark Godfrey, Carles Guerra, Tom Keenan, Amna Malik, Eyal Weizman, and Alex Farquharson. In addition, I am indebted to the artists whose work I discuss in this book. Its writing has benefited tremendously from those many conversations, my ideas productively challenged by intense discussions with Emily Jacir, Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri of 16Beaver, Lamia Joreige, Khalil Joreige, Joana Hadjithomas, Bernard Khoury, Walid Raad, Yto Barrada, Hito Steyerl, Simon Goldin, Jakob Senneby, Léonore Bonaccini and Xavier Fourt of Bureau d’Etudes, Walid Sadek, Rabih Mroué, and Ursula Biemann.

The Migrant Image expands upon several essays that I published over the last few years in diverse journals and magazines, and the process of working with excellent editors positively shows in the sharpened articulation of ideas presented here. I’m very thankful for the many incisive and critical readings of George Baker, Hal Foster, and Carrie Lambert-­ Beatty, of October magazine; Branden Joseph and Tom McDonough, of Grey Room; and Tim Griffin, Michelle Kuo, Alex Scrimgeour, and Elizabeth Schambelan, of Artforum. I’ve also been fortunate to have had the opportunity to organize several exhibitions and symposia, which granted me the space to negotiate arguments with objects in spatial terms and via collaborative discourse, which has inevitably had a positive impact on my art history. For making these occasions possible, I thank Christine Tohme, director of Ashkal Alwan Foundation Association for Plastic Arts, in Beirut (where I was able to organize an exhibition of the work of Emily Jacir and hold public discussions with Amar Kanwar and Hito Steyerl); Nick Battis, director of exhibitions at Pratt Manhattan Gallery (where I curated the exhibition “Zones of Conflict” in 2008–9); and Alex Farquharson, director of Nottingham Contemporary (who joined me in co-­curating “Uneven Geographies: Art and Globalisation,” in 2010). To all those who facilitated my work by extending invitations to present different aspects of it before public audiences, I offer my sincere appreciation, in particular to Terri Weissman, of the School of Art and Design, University of Illinois, Urbana-­Champaign; Eric de Bruyn, Rachel Esner, Sven Lütticken, and Kitty Zijlman, of Platform Moderna Kunst, in the Netherlands; Alex Streitberger, of the Department of Art History at Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium; Christian Kravagna and Hedwig Saxenhuber, of Kunstraum Lakeside, in Klagenfurt, Austria; Patricia Falguières, Elisabeth Lebovici, and Nataša Petrešin-­Bachelez, of L’École des haute etudes en science sociales, Paris; Herman Asselberghs, Sven Augustijnen, Manon de Boer, and Anouk De Clercq, of Auguste Orts, Brussels; Julian Stallabrass and Malcolm Bull, of the Courtauld Institute of Art, in London; Neha Kirpal and Gayatri Sinha, who invited me to the India Art Summit, in Delhi; Adam Budak, organizer of the 2009 International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art congress, in Helsinki and Tallinn; Mitra Tabrizian, of the ma program in Photographic Studies at the University of Westminster; Maria Lind and Hito Steyerl, who co-­ organized a conference at Bard College on documentary practice, which acknowledgments 252

resulted in the publication The Greenroom: Reconsidering the Documentary and Contemporary Art; Okwui Enwezor, for his symposium on “The Politics of Spectacle and the Global Exhibition,” at the 2008 Gwangju Biennial in South Korea; Nicolas Bourriaud for the 2008 Tate Triennial Prologue symposiums; Carlos Basualdo, organizer of the 2008 International Festival of Contemporary Art, in Faenza, Italy; Hilde Van Gelder, of The Lieven Gevaert Centre, University of Leuven, Belgium; Graciela Speranza, of the Ciudad Abierta, Buenos Aires; Eyal Weizman, director of the Research Architecture Programme at Goldsmiths College; Rachel Haidu, of the University of Rochester; and Hannah Feldman, at Northwestern University. To my various hosts, and to the numerous attentive members of their publics, I owe an immense debt of gratitude. This book has also profited from the support of several institutions and fellowship programs. These include the Flemish Academic Centre for Science and the Arts, of the Royal Academies in Brussels, which generously provided me with a research grant during 2009–2010 to conduct important stages of my research and writing. The Arts and Humanities Research Council funded my research workshop project, “Zones of Conflict: Rethinking Contemporary Art during Global Crisis,” making possible the organization of a series of four research workshops held in conjunction with Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Institute of International Visual Arts (Iniva), and ucl during 2008–9. The Creative Capital / Andy Warhol Foundation offered me an Arts Writing Grant during 2007–8, which aided me in carrying out research specifically for my chapter on Lebanese contemporary art. Finally, Duke University’s Center for International Studies provided welcomed funding for the book’s color reproductions. I extend my thanks to the Duke University Press editor Ken Wissoker, who has been supportive of the project throughout, to his editorial associate Jade Brooks, for helping with the organization of the manuscript and the collection of images, and to the editorial production department for the sensitive copyediting. At the end of my stay in Brussels in 2009, upon returning to London on the Eurostar with my family, I ran into trouble with the British Border Agency, officials of which determined that my work visa was no longer valid—to my surprise, I did not possess the “window of opportunity” to apply for “indefinite leave to remain” that I thought I had, owing to a serious misunderstanding that I’m convinced was not my fault alone. Sudacknowledgments 253

denly, I was faced with a major crisis: in a quick succession of shocking blows, I learned that I had effectively lost my position at ucl (as I no longer had the legal “right to work”), my residency in the U.K. (I was denied entry at the border), and my livelihood. While I gained these back after months of anguish—and thousands of pounds in expenses—the experience has marked me in the long term, and to my regret I cannot extend any note of thanks to the British government officials who were less than hospitable or helpful in this process. It is ironic indeed that the event occurred during my work on a book about contemporary art and migration—for I suddenly found myself a rejected refugee, although admittedly one with the resources and recourse many less fortunate do not have. Nonetheless, to be situated in the objectifying regard of the state, which views whatever is out of place as likely criminal, was a revealing encounter with an increasingly immigrant-­paranoid border regime. Thankfully many friends came to my and my family’s aid, and to them I remain grateful, particularly to Hilde Van Gelder and Pieter Van Reybrouck, who generously shared their home in Brussels with us while we regrouped. My department at ucl— and particularly Tamar Garb, Briony Fer, and Diana Dethloff—remained loyal throughout the ordeal and worked tirelessly with me to fix the problem. I remain touched by their support, and to that of my extended family, which was sustaining as well when it came to work on this project. Lastly, I thank the members of my family who have always been there when I needed them, encouraging and assisting my development and work in infinite ways. To them—Sandra Swanson, Kristin and Sigfredo Leiva, Jim and Lane Demos, George Demos, and Angie Demos—I am eternally grateful. I extend my deepest thanks to my partner, Joy Schendledecker, and to my daughters Zoë and Leila, for their endless support, intellectual companionship, and generous forgiveness of my unforgiveable time away working and travelling. It is to them that I dedicate this book.

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Check-­In: A Prelude 1. For an overview of the claims and critiques of neoliberal globalization, see David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). 2. See Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), for a prescient prognosis of this post-­9/11 contemporary reality. 3. My term crisis globalization is inspired by Naomi Klein’s devastating book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Holt, 2007). 4. For a useful discussion of the stakes of the terms bare life and naked life, which are alternate translations of Agamben’s original Italian nuda vita and its further relation to Walter Benjamin’s usage of “bloßes Leben” (mere life), see Eva Geulen, “Bare Life.” Texte zur Kunst 66 (June 2007): 102–7. 5. See Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–1979, ed. Michel Senellart, trans. Graham Burchell (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-­Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998); and Wendy Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (Brooklyn, NY: Zone, 2010). 6. For vivid pictures of this uneven geography of globalization in the African and Middle Eastern contexts, see James Ferguson, Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006); and Anselm Franke and Eyal Weizman, eds., Territories: Islands, Camps and Other States of Utopia (Berlin: kw-­Institute for Contemporary Art, 2003). 7. For a useful overview of the various, conflicting narratives of globalization as an economic and political discourse, see Angus Cameron and Ronen Palan, “Perception, Representation, Theory Construction and the Globalization Debate,” in The Imagined Economies of Globalization (London: Sage, 2004).

8. I borrow this term from Edward Said, who develops his contrapuntal methodology—which insists on analyzing literature and politics, as much as histories of enlightenment and colonialism, together—in Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage, 1993). Another useful model is Susan Buck-­Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009). 9. As argues, for instance, Jean-­François Chevrier, in “Documentary, Document, Testimony . . .” In Documentary Now! Contemporary Strategies in Photography, Film and the Visual Arts, edited by Frits Gierstberg et al. (Rotterdam: NAi, 2005), 51. 10. Michael Renov, “Documentary Horizons: An Afterword.” In Collective Visible Evidence, edited by Jane M. Gaines and Michael Renov (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 324. He continues: “It’s just that the sites and situations of documentary culture have exploded exponentially—on cable TV twenty-­four hours a day, on urban billboards and big-­screen displays, in museums and on the Internet.” 11. See Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, trans. Gabriel Rockhill (London: Continuum, 2004). Charting a Course 1. Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1940), in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1968), 258. 2. Edward Said, “Reflections on Exile,” Granta 13 (autumn 1984): 159. 3. György Lukács, The Theory of the Novel: A Historico-­philosophical Essay on the Forms of Great Epic Literature, trans. Anna Bostock (London: Merlin Press, 1971), 41. 4. Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings, ed. and trans. David Farrell Krell (London: Routledge, 1993), 243. 5. See Nikos Papastergiadis, Dialogues in the Diasporas: Essays and Conversations on Cultural Identity (London: Rivers Oram Press, 1998), 1: “Does modernity still promise to be the home of enlightenment, progress and reason, or is it an exilic state shrouded by techno-­mystification, sliding deeper into chaos, committed to inequality, a shabby justification for ecological and cultural upheaval?” See also Nikos Papastergiadis, Modernity as Exile: The Stranger in John Berger’s Writing (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993). 6. According to The Oxford English Dictionary, both terms have an extensive historical genealogy. The etymology of exile dates from c.1300, from the Old French exillier, and from the Latin exilare and exilium, meaning “banishment,” and exul, “banished person,” combining ex- “away” and al- “to wander” (compare the notes 256

Greek alasthai, “I wander”). The term migration emerged in the 1610s, from the Latin migrare, “to move from one place to another,” probably originally the Greek ameibein, “to change,” from the root mei-­, “to change, go, move” (as in, “mutable”). 7. Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993); Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1995); Edward Said, “Intellectual Exile: Expatriates and Marginals,” Grand Street (autumn 1993): 121. This double frame also implies a space of aporia, as Gayatri Spivak suggests in “Asked to Talk About Myself . . .” Third Text, 19 (summer 1992). Still, we must keep in mind Said’s warning that to think the literature of exile as solely “beneficially humanistic is to banalize its mutilations.” (“Reflections on Exile,” 160). 8. Hannah Arendt, “We Refugees,” Menorah Journal, no. 1 (1943): 77. 9. Giorgio Agamben, “Beyond Human Rights” (1993), in Means without Ends: Notes on Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 16. More broadly, the refugee presages the thinking of political and biological life together in ways that avoid their often deadly separation. On the biopolitics of such separation, see Giorgio Agamben, The Open: Man and Animal, trans. Kevin Attell (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004). 10. I have written about these contexts elsewhere. See T. J. Demos, “Zurich Dada: The Aesthetics of Exile,” The Dada Seminars, ed. Leah Dickerman (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2005), 7–30; and T. J. Demos, The Exiles of Marcel Duchamp (Cambridge, MA: mit Press, 2007). See also Stephanie Barron, Exiles + Emigrés: The Flight of European Artists from Hitler (Los Angeles: LA County Museum of Art, 1997). 11. See Camnitzer et al., Global Conceptualism, exh. cat. (New York: Queens Museum of Art, 1999); Monica Amor, “Gego: Exploding the Field,” Art Journal (winter 2007); and Frazer Ward, “Alien Duration: Tehching Hsieh, 1978–99,” Art Journal (autumn 2006). 12. Edward Said, “The Art of Displacement: Mona Hatoum’s Logic of Irreconcilables,” in Mona Hatoum: The Entire World as a Foreign Land, exh. cat. (London: Tate, 2000), 17. 13. Kobena Mercer, “Diaspora Culture and the Dialogic Imagination: the Aesthetics of Black Independent Film in Britain,” Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies (London: Routledge, 1994), 253–54. 14. Jean Fisher and Gerardo Mosquera, “Introduction,” Over Here: International Perspectives on Art and Culture (Cambridge, MA: mit Press, 2003), 3. 15. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992). 16. See Fredric Jameson, “Notes on Globalization as a Philosophical Issue,” in notes 257

The Cultures of Globalization, ed. F. Jameson and Masao Miyoshi (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998). 17. On this general development, see Amna Malik, “Conceptualising ‘Black’ British Art Through the Lens of Exile,” in Exiles, Diasporas & Strangers, ed. Kobena Mercer (London: InIVA, 2008). On the diasporic, see Jana Evans Braziel and Anita Mannur, eds., Theorizing Diaspora: A Reader (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003); and Rasheed Araeen, ed. The Other Story: Afro-­Asian Artists in Post-­War Britain (London: Hayward Gallery, 1989). 18. Mercer, “Diaspora Culture and the Dialogic Imagination,” 62. 19. Homi Bhabha, “Dissemination: Time Narrative and the Margins of the Modern Nation,” Nation and Narration (London: Routledge, 1990), 139–70; also see Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994). 20. For a critique of that resurgence, see Kobena Mercer, “Ethnicity and Internationality: New British Art and Diaspora-­Based Blackness” in Third Text 49 (winter 1999–2000): 15–26. 21. Stuart Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” (1990), in Theorizing Diaspora: A Reader, ed. Jana Evans Braziel and Anita Mannur (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003), 244. 22. Jean Fisher, “Dialogues,” in Shades of Black: Assembling Black Arts in 1980s Britain, ed. David A. Bailey, Ian Baucom, and Sonia Boyce (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005), 168. 23. On the then-­emerging “race industry,” see Chandra Mahonty, “On Race and Voice: Challenges for Liberal Education in the 1990s,” Cultural Critique 2 (1990). 24. Mahonty, 179–208. See also Tariq Modood, ed., The Politics of Multiculturalism in the New Europe: Racism, Identity and Community (London: Zed, 1996). 25. Slavoj Žižek, “Multiculturalism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism,” in The Universal Exception (London: Continuum, 2006), 151–82. See also Michael Hardt’s and Tony Negri’s query in Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000): “What if a new paradigm of power, a postmodern sovereignty, has come to replace the modern paradigm and rule through differential hierarchies of the hybrid and fragmentary subjectivities that these [postcolonial] theorists celebrate? In this case, modern forms of sovereignty would no longer be at issue, and the postmodernist and postcolonialist strategies that appear to be liberatory would not challenge but in fact coincide with and even unwittingly reinforce the new strategies of rule!” (138). 26. Paul Gilroy, Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2000); see also Eric Hobsbawm, “Identity Politics and the Left,” New Left Review (May/June 1996); and on the question of post-­black aes-

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thetics in the United States, see Darby English, How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness (Cambridge, MA: mit Press, 2007). 27. For recent positions on the subject, see Hassan Mahamdallie, ed. Defending Multiculturalism (London: Bookmarks, 2011), and Alana Lentin and Gavan Titley, The Crises of Multiculturalism (London: Zed Books, 2011). 28. Jean-­Pierre Criqui, “Like a Rolling Stone: Gabriel Orozco,” Artforum (April 1996): 88. 29. Said, “Reflections on Exile,” 159. 30. Hardt and Negri, Empire, 360–61. 31. See Lucy Lippard, The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society (New York: New Press, 1997). 32. Achille Bonito Oliva, “The Globalisation of Art,” in Belonging and Globalisation: Critical Essays in Contemporary Art and Culture, ed. Kamal Boullata (London: Saqi, 2008), 43–44. 33. Spivak proposed “a strategic use of positivist essentialism in a scrupulously visible political interest”—yet not without a controversial reception. See Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean, eds., The Spivak Reader: Selected Works of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (New York: Routledge, 1996), 214. 34. James Meyer, “Nomads,” Parkett 35 (May 1997): 207. 35. Meyer, “Nomads,” 206. 36. Kwon, “One Place after Another,” 104. 37. Consider Rirkrit Tiravanija’s exhibition A Retrospective (Tomorrow Is Another Fine Day) in 2005 at Le Musée d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris/arc; and Pierre Huyghe Celebration Park, in 2006, at London’s Tate Modern and Le Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris/arc. 38. See George Baker, “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics. The Art of Christian Philipp Müller,” Artforum (February 1997): 74–77, 109. 39. On this trend, see Wendy Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (Brooklyn, NY: Zone, 2010). 40. See Ali Bensaâd, “The Militarization of Migration Frontiers in the Mediterranean,” in The Maghreb Connection: Movements of Life Across North Africa, ed. Ursula Biemann and Brian Holmes (Barcelona: Actar, 2006), 12–31. 41. See See also Claire Rodier, “The Migreurop Network and Europe’s Foreigner Camps,” in Non-­Governmental Politics, ed. Michel Feher et al. (Cambridge, MA: mit Press, 2007); MigMap, a virtual cartography of European migration policies created by Transit Migration, a research project conducted from 2002–6, under the direction of Marion von Osten, at www.transit; the Migration Project, an ongoing artistic and interdisciplinary

notes 259

research project initiated in 2002 by the Kölnischer Kunstverein, in Cologne, at; Marion Von Osten, ed. Projekt Migration (Cologne: Kölnischer Kunstverein et al., Dumont Verlag, 2005); and the work and research of the German-­based, a self-­described “lobby organization for business enterprises specializing in undocumented cross border human traffic.” 42. Hardt and Negri, Empire, 361. 43. The contradiction could not be more stark today, in terms of France’s and Italy’s recent treatment of Roma populations. It also suggests a logic whereby the excluded are necessary to the self-­constitution of the nomad’s position of freedom—which is similar to the mutually constitutive logic of minority and majority, and subaltern and hegemon, as developed in Homi Bhabha, “Unsatisfied: Notes on Vernacular Cosmopolitanism,” in Text and Nation: Cross-­Disciplinary Essays on Cultural and National Identities, ed. Laura Garcia-­Moreno and Peter C. Pfeiffer (Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1996), 191–207. 44. See the artist’s website: 45. See Tom Trevor, ed., Port City: On Mobility & Exchange, exh. cat. (Bristol, UK: Arnolfini, 2007). 46. See Argos’s description on its website: Other relevant recent exhibitions include b-­z one: Becoming Europe and Beyond at Berlin’s Kunstwerke in 2005–6; and Be(com)ing Dutch, Charles Esche’s 2007–8 project at Eindhoven’s Vanabbemuseum. 47. Said, “Intellectual Exile,” 116 and 119; Agamben, “Beyond Human Rights,” 25. 48. See Said, in “Mona Hatoum,” 17: “Better disparity and dislocation than reconciliation under duress of subject and object; better a lucid exile than sloppy, sentimental homecomings; better the logic of dissociation than an assembly of compliant dunces. A belligerent intelligence is always to be preferred over what conformity offers, no matter how unfriendly the circumstances and unfavourable the outcome” (17). Not surprisingly, before his death Said came to favor a binational, and distinctly antinationalist, solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. See Edward Said, “The One-­State Solution,” New York Times, January 10, 1999. 49. See Okwui Enwezor, “Mega-­Exhibitions and the Antinomies of a Transnational Global Form,” Manifesta Journal no. 2 (winter 2003/spring 2004). Also see Communities of Sense: Rethinking Aesthetics and Politics, ed. Beth Hinderliter, Vered Maimon, Jaleh Mansoor, and Seth McCormick (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009). 50. Agamben, “Beyond Human Rights,” 26. 51. Ibid., 25. 52. See Étienne Balibar, “Droit de cité or Apartheid?,” We, the people of Europe? notes 260

Reflections on Transnational Citizenship, trans. James Swenson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 36–50. 53. According to Žižek, in “Multiculturalism,” “This, perhaps, is how one should read Rancière’s notion of singulier universel [as developed in his book La Mésentente, 1995]: the assertion of the singular exception as the locus of universality which affirms and subverts the universality in question” (note 27). 54. On recent creative conceptualizations of migration as a force of social and political transformation, see Linda Bosniak, The Citizen and the Alien (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008); Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson, and Vassilis Tsianos, Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the 21st Century (London: Pluto Press, 2008); Anne McNevin, Contesting Citizenship: Irregular Migrants and New Frontiers of the Political (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011); Vicki Squire, ed., The Contested Politics of Mobility: Borderzones and Irregularity (London: Routledge, 2011); and Peter Nyers and Kim Rygiel, eds., Citzenship, Migrant Activism, and the Politics of Movement (London: Routledge, 2012). Departure A: Moving Images of Globalization 1. For further information about and political mobilization around the Congo conflict, see the websites of Friends of the Congo ( and Congo Global Action ( These groups estimate 5.4 million dead from war-­related causes since 1998. For useful overviews of the conflict, see David Renton, David Seddon, and Leo Zeilig, The Congo: Plunder and Resistance (London: Zed, 2007); and Gérard Prunier, From Genocide to Continental War: The “Congolese” Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa (London: Hurst, 2009). 2. See Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1992); and Thomas Friedman, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Globalized World in the Twenty-­First Century (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). For a corrective to Friedman’s neoconservative position, see Ronald Aronica and Mtetwa Ramdoo, The World Is Flat? A Critical Analysis of the New York Times Bestseller by Thomas Friedman (Tampa, FL: Meghan-­Kiffer Press, 2006). For a useful overview of globalization, see John Cavanagh et al., eds., Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World Is Possible: A Report of the International Forum on Globalization (San Francisco: Berrett-­Koehler, 2002). 3. On the term corporate globalization, see David Graeber, “The New Anarchists,” New Left Review 13 (January–February 2002). Graeber also notes that “anti-­ globalization” is a misleading label coined by the conservative media and that many social-­justice activists are in fact in favor of globalization, in the sense of notes 261

supporting the “effacement of borders and the free movement of people, possessions and ideas” (63). The term alter-­globalization is often used to distinguish a movement that resists both a regressive, localist “anti-­globalization” and a neoliberal “corporate globalization.” 4. On the disastrous political fate of those policies, see Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Holt, 2007). 5. Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996); and Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000). 6. David Harvey, The New Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); and Retort, Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War (London: Verso, 2005). 7. On the effects of neoliberalism on African countries, see Renton, Seddon, and Zeilig, The Congo: Plunder and Resistance; James Ferguson, Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006); Theodore Trefon, Congo Masquerade: The Political Culture of Aid Inefficiency and Reform Failure (London: Zed Books, 2011); and James Boyce and Leonce Ndikumana, Africa’s Odious Debts: How Foreign Loans and Capital Flight Bled a Continent (London: Zed Books, 2011). 8. I take my cue from Hamza Walker’s perceptive essay that introduced McQueen’s film at the Renaissance Society, in Chicago, September 16 to October 28, 2007 (Hamza Walker, “Steve McQueen: Gravesend ” (2007), available at 9. On this history of Belgian colonialism, see Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa (London: Macmillan, 1999). 10. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, ed. Paul O’Prey (1902; Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1983), 105. Contesting the image of Conrad as a critic of colonialism, however, Edward Said points out, “Conrad was both anti-­imperialist and imperialist, progressive when it came to rendering fearlessly and pessimistically the self-­ confirming, self-­deluding corruption of overseas domination, deeply reactionary when it came to conceding that Africa or South America could ever have had an independent history or culture” (Culture and Imperialism [New York: Vintage, 1993], xx). For further criticism, see Chinua Achebe, “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” in Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays (New York: Doubleday, Anchor, 1989), 1–20. 11. See, for example, the politically activist documentation of the Seattle protests in Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, Five Days That Shook the World:

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Seattle and Beyond (London: Verso, 2000), with photographs by Allan Sekula; and the photography of Bruno Serralongue. 12. See Guy Tillim, Leopold and Mobutu (Trézélan, France: Filigranes, 2004). 13. I borrow this phrasing from Emily Apter, “The Aesthetics of Critical Habitats,” October 99 (winter 2002): 21–45. 14. Marx defined primitive accumulation in the following way: “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-­skins, signalled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation” (Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1, ed. Frederick Engels, trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling [London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1970], ch. 31). Retort asserts, “We believe the words ‘primitive accumulation’ are the right ones to describe what is happening [today], especially because the first word points to what is special (and for the Robert Reichs and Thomas Friedmans of the world, scandalous) about the new situation—the overtly ‘colonial’ character of the war in the Middle East, and the nakedness with which the unfreedom of the free wage contract is now placed back on the footing of sheer power, sheer forced dispossession” (Afflicted Powers, 11). 15. Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible, trans. Gabriel Rockhill (London: Continuum, 2004), 13. 16. Jacques Rancière, “The Aesthetic Revolution and Its Outcomes,” New Left Review 14 (March–April 2002): 151. Art’s unfulfilled political accomplishment, Rancière continues, means that “those who want to isolate it from politics are somewhat beside the point” and that “those who want it to fulfill its political promise are condemned to a certain melancholy.” We must therefore find a way to operate between these two extremes. Also see Jacques Rancière, The Aesthetic Unconscious, trans. Debra Keates and James Swenson (Cambridge: Polity, 2009). 17. Said, Culture and Imperialism, 33 (original emphasis). 18. Agamben, Homo Sacer, 188. 19. Agamben, Means without End, 11. Agamben here draws on a theory that goes back to Marx, and which others, such as Paolo Virno, have recently developed. See Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude. 20. I use the term moving image to refer to a new type of cinematic affect, and to designate the hybrid condition that transcends video and film, as well as the projected image and monitor-­based presentations. These various categories are increasingly treated as indistinct in contemporary art: for example, McQueen’s

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work is often shot on film (Gravesend on 35 mm) and then transferred to dvd for presentation; the Otolith Group works across both film and video, showing their final pieces on video; and Hito Steyerl works mainly in video, using projection and monitors for its presentation. A useful reference is Steven Shaviro, Post Cinematic Affect (London: O Books, 2010). Chapter 1: Indeterminacy and Bare Life in Steve McQueen ’ s Western Deep 1. Okwui Enwezor, “The Black Box,” Documenta 11, Platform 5: Exhibition Catalogue (Ostfildern-­Ruit, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2002), 44. 2. Ibid. The term representation requires a complex meaning, extending to the sociopolitical, in terms of substituting for another, as in representational politics, and to the logic of signification, as in artistic representation. I will be interested in the relation between the two, as was Documenta 11. 3. Carlos Basualdo, “The Encyclopedia of Babel,” Documenta 11, Platform 5: Exhibition Catalogue, 61. On the exhibition as “diasporic public sphere,” see Okwui Enwezor, “Mega-­Exhibitions and the Antinomies of a Transnational Global Form.” Manifesta Journal no. 2 (winter 2003/spring 2004). 4. See, for instance, James Meyer, “Tunnel Visions,” Artforum (September 2002); and Kobena Mercer’s review in Frieze (September 2002). 5. See, for example, “The Politics of the Signifier: A Conversation on the Whitney Biennial,” October 66 (fall 1993), which critically assessed the Biennial’s “certain turn away from questions of representation to iconographies of content; a certain turn from a politics of the signifier to a politics of the signified” (3). For more discussion of related issues, see Hal Foster, The Return of the Real (Cambridge, MA: mit Press, 1996). If Documenta 11 advanced the globalization of multiculturalism, it is less clear, even doubtful, owing to the complexity of its inclusion of several different aesthetic strategies, that it shares these earlier problems. 6. For further discussion, see the chapters on Hito Steyerl and postwar Lebanese art in this book. 7. Enwezor, “The Black Box,” 45; also see Enwezor et al., Documenta 11, Platform 2: Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and the Processes of Truth and Reconciliation. 8. See Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-­Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989). 9. Among the notable recent accounts of this remodeling of documentary practice are Vit Havranek et al., The Need to Document (Zurich: JRP Ringier, 2005); Maria Lind and Hito Steyerl, The Greenroom: Reconsidering the Documentary and notes 264

Contemporary Art (Berlin and Annandale-­on-­Hudson, NY: Sternberg Press and CCS Bard, 2008); and Okwui Enwezor, Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Photography (Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2008). 10. See Kobena Mercer, “Diaspora Culture and the Dialogical Imagination: The Aesthetics of Black Independent Film in Britain,” in Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies (London: Routledge, 1994), 53–66. 11. This point was made clear in my public conversation with Steve McQueen at the Louvre, as part of the series “Le Corps Biologique/Le Corps Politique,” on November, 12, 2010. 12. Okwui Enwezor, “Haptic Visions,” in Steve McQueen (London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1999), 38. 13. Deleuze, Cinema 2, 46. 14. For a provocative Deleuzian reading of Western Deep, see Jean Fisher, “Intimations of the Real: On Western Deep and Caribs’ Leap,” in Steve McQueen: Caribs’ Leap/Western Deep (London: Artangel, 2002). 15. Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-­ Roazen. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998, 181. 16. Ibid., 183–84. 17. Ibid., 181; see also Agamben, State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Bare life remains a powerful theoretical model, particularly for work like McQueen’s, which focuses on the bodily circumstances of postcolonial labor; however, my use is strategic for the purposes of this analysis, not an endorsement of all aspects of Agamben’s theory, which have indeed been exposed to criticism. See, for instance, Andrew Norris, “The Exemplary Exception–Philosophical and Political Decisions in Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer,” Radical Philosophy 119 (May/June 2003); and Andrew Norris, Politics, Metaphysics, and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005). 18. Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” Public Culture 15, no. 1 (winter 2003): 34. Whereas Agamben includes discussion of how biopolitics implies “thanatopolitics” (Homo Sacer, 122ff), Mbembe’s study bears directly on the management of life and death in the postcolony. 19. Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” 40. 20. Ibid., 34. 21. See “The Freedom Charter,” available at (accessed December 29, 2010). 22. For an account of how Mbeki negotiated away the country’s resources with the help of the World Bank and the imf, see William Gumede, Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the anc (London: Zed, 2007), especially 216–17. Also see notes 265

Naomi Klein, “Democracy Born in Chains: South Africa’s Constricted Freedom,” in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Holt, 2007); and Anne-­Maria B. Makhulu, “The Question of Freedom: Post-­Emancipation South Africa in a Neoliberal Age,” in Ethnographies of Neoliberalism, 2009, ed. Carol J. Greenhouse (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010). 23. Klein, 206; for these statistics, Klein cites Bill Keller, “Cracks in South Africa’s White Monopolies,” New York Times, June 17, 1993; Simon Robinson, “The New Rand Lords, Time (April 25, 2005); and Gumede, Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the anc. 24. See Anne-­Maria Makhulu, “The Question of Freedom,” 135. Makhulu cites the statistics found in Andrew Balls, “Why South African Incomes Declined,” National Bureau of Economic Research Digest (January 2006): 3–4. 25. For a report on the poor environmental record and human rights abuses of AngloGold Ashanti, see Leonard Gentle, “Poverty and Power: South Africa Since Democracy” (February 22, 2010), International Labour and Research Group ( 26. James Ferguson, Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 14; and in the same book, “Governing Extraction: New Spatializations of Order and Disorder in Neoliberal Africa,” 207–10. 27. See Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-­Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986). 28. Ernest Cole, House of Bondage (New York: Random House, 1967). In his critical study of the life of Africans under apartheid, Cole devotes a section to mining, explaining that “twenty-­four hours a day, six days a week, half a million Africans are at work in the earth” (22). He notes that in 1966 the starting pay was forty-­two cents for a 9–10 hour shift, while in the same year South African mines made roughly $1 billion. Miners often came from afar, including from Zambia and Angola, and were housed in miserable living conditions in mine compounds during the length of their contracts, typically six months at a time. 29. McQueen’s images capture a similar examination, as I learned in an interview conducted with Steve McQueen on October 14, 2009. Agamben refers to Foucault’s History of Sexuality in Homo Sacer (187). 30. D. N. Rodowick, Gilles Deleuze’s Time Machine (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997), 153–54. 31. Abigail Solomon-­Godeau, Photography at the Dock: Essays on Photographic History, Institutions and Practices (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 176. For further relevant critiques of documentary photography, see Martha Rosler, “In, Around, and Afterthoughts (on Documentary Photography),” in The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography, ed. Richard Bolton (Camnotes 266

bridge, MA: mit Press, 1993); and Allan Sekula, “Dismantling Modernism, Reinventing Documentary (Notes on the Politics of Representation),” in Dismal Science: Photo Works, 1972–1996 (Normal: Illinois State University, 1999). 32. Deleuze, Cinema 2, 130. 33. In recent showings, McQueen has projected the different sequences—the scenes of Grenada and those of the falling figures—onto two different screens separated by an expanse of exhibition space. In this case, an interval is spatialized within the gallery, producing a gap inhabited by the viewer, resulting in a further uncertain relation between the actual and the imaginary, between the facticity of each image and their possible connection, contingent upon its realization by the viewer. 34. Chantal Pontbriand, interview with Jean-­Luc Nancy, Parachute 100 (October–December 2000): 23. 35. Ibid. 36. Fisher, “Intimations of the Real,” 124. Chapter 2: “ Sabotaging the Future ” 1. For an overview of the history of the essay film, see Nora Alter, Chris Marker (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 17–20; and Timothy Corrigan, The Essay Film: From Montaigne, After Marker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). 2. There is a certain affinity here with the historiographic politics of Walter Benjamin, who believed, in the midst of World War II, that “to bring about a real state of emergency” and “improve our position in the struggle against Fascism” it was necessary to obtain a new “conception of history.” See his “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Shocken, 1968), 257. The Otolith Group, in similar fashion, contests the progressivist and linear historical basis of globalization today. 3. See Giorgio Agamben, Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, trans. Daniel Heller-­Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999). 4. That such a formulation differs radically from earlier notions of photographic representation is made clear when Otolith’s notion of the event is compared to André Bazin’s notion of the closed ontology of the photographic image. Enacting a “transfer from the thing to its reproduction,” “cinema is objectivity in time,” Bazin explains; it “embalms” life. See André Bazin, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image,” Film Quarterly 13, no. 4 (summer 1960): 4–9. For a historical contextualization, see Michael Renov, “Introduction: The Truth about Non-­ Fiction,” in Theorizing Documentary, ed. M. Renov (New York: Routledge, 1993), 4n9. notes 267

5. In his helpful introduction to Agamben’s Potentialities, Daniel Heller-­Roazen explains that although “what is potential can both be and not be,” it is also “capable of not not being and, in this way, of granting the existence of what is actual” (16, 18). And moreover, “This is why Agamben writes, in an important passage in Homo Sacer, that ‘potentiality and actuality are simply the two faces of the sovereign self-­ grounding of Being,’ and that ‘at the limit, pure potentiality and pure actuality are indistinguishable’” (Heller-­Roazen, “Introduction,” Potentialities, 18). 6. In addition to his activities as a member of the Otolith Group, Eshun is also a scholar of experimental music, and author of More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction (London: Quartet Books, 1999), and Dan Graham: Rock My Religion (London: Afterall, 2012). 7. Reece Auguiste, “Handsworth Songs: Some Background Notes,” in Coco Fusco, Young, British and Black: The Work of Sankofa and Black Audio Film Collective (Buffalo, NY: Hallwalls/Contemporary Arts Center, 1988), 34. 8. It is also important in this regard to mention the group’s curatorial and collaborative activities, which form integral aspects of their practice and represent a further attempt to reanimate earlier precedents. For the 2007 Athens Biennial, the Otolith Group collaborated with Chris Marker to produce Inner Time of Television, a project that screened Marker’s The Owl’s Legacy (1989), a rarely seen thirteen-­part television series on the afterlives of ancient Greece. See the Otolith Group’s Inner Time of Television (Athens Biennial, 2007). The Otolith Group also organized the recent retrospective of the Black Audio Film Collective, which opened in 2007 at Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, in Liverpool, and edited the catalogue The Ghosts of Songs: The Film Art of the Black Audio Film Collective, 1982– 1998, ed. Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2007). In addition, the group co-­curated Against What, Against Whom?, an exhibition of films by Harun Farocki, at London’s Raven Row gallery and Tate Modern in autumn 2009. The group also edited the catalogue Harun Farocki: Against What against Whom (Cologne: Walther König, 2010). 9. See Jacques Rancière, Film Fables, trans. Emiliano Battista (Oxford: Berg, 2006), 161: “Cinema is the combination of the gaze of the artist who decides and the mechanical gaze that records, of constructed images and chance images.” 10. This point connects to what Deleuze calls “the powers of the false,” which describes not so much the abandonment of truth but its reinvention as a new post-­Enlightenment paradigm of historical and cultural contingency. See Gilles Deleuze “The Powers of the False,” in Cinema 2: The Time Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (London: Athlone Press, 1989), 126–55. Rancière dedicates a chapter of Film Fables to Deleuze’s Cinema books. 11. Rancière, “Documentary Fiction: Marker and the Fiction of Memory,” Film Fables, 158. notes 268

12. Ibid., 18. 13. Ibid., 158. 14. Also relevant here is Deleuze’s and Guattari’s notion of the event: “An event can be turned around, repressed, coopted, betrayed, but there still is something there that cannot be outdated. Only renegades would say: it’s outdated. But even if the event is ancient, it can never be outdated: it is an opening to the possible. It goes as much inside individuals as in the depths of society.” Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “May ’68 Did Not Take Place,” in Two Regimes of Madness: Texts and Interviews 1975–1995, ed. David Lapoujade, trans. Amy Hodges and Mike Taormina (New York: Semiotext(e), 2006), 233. 15. See Jacques Rancière, “The Emancipated Spectator,” Artforum (March 2007): 272–80. 16. Ibid. Also see T. J. Demos, “Storytelling in/as Contemporary Art” in The Storyteller, ed. Claire Gilman and Margaret Sundell (Zurich and NY: Independent Curators International and JRP Ringier, 2010), 83–107. 17. On the proliferation of slums worldwide, and with frequent discussion of Bombay’s urban context, see Mike Davis, Planet of Slums (London: Verso, 2006), which informs Usha’s statistics. 18. A central reference here is Maurizio Lazzarato, “Immaterial Labor,” Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, ed. Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996). Otolith II is also noteworthy for visualizing the precarious life that often lies unacknowledged behind the appearance of immaterial labor. 19. See Arundhati Roy, Power Politics (London: South End Press, 2002). 20. On this history, see Vikramaditya Prakash, Chandigarh’s Le Corbusier: The Struggle For Modernity in Postcolonial India (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002). 21. On the history of its incompletion, see Satyajit Ray’s work “Ordeals of The Alien,” available at (accessed September 2009). Eshun explained to me that the concept of the “premake” was sparked by Chris Marker’s idea for a series of playful fictional film posters that would announce the subsequent releases of future films—e.g., Hiroshima Mon Amour would be announced by a 1922 poster, designed today, portraying Greta Garbo and Sessue Hayaka (conversation with the author, September 2009). 22. Another influential precursor for the Otolith Group in this regard is the late British science-­fiction writer J. G. Ballard, who dignified science fiction as a literary art invested with the capacity to merge past, present, and future, and thereby open up hidden realities of human psychology, technology, and culture. 23. Jacques Rancière, The Future of the Image, trans. Gregory Elliott (Lonnotes 269

don: Verso, 2007), 56–57. Rancière’s notion of “symbolic montage” recalls Walter Benjamin’s concept of the “mimetic faculty,” which, written just before World War II, expresses “non-­sensuous similarities” between subjects and objects. In producing affinity, it evokes a mystical and primordial world of co-­belonging prior to post-­Babel language. See Walter Benjamin, “On the Mimetic Faculty,” in Reflections, ed. Peter Demetz, trans. Edmund Jephcott (New York: Schocken Books, 1986). 24. The phrase is indebted to the sociologist Melinda Cooper, who writes: “In the face of a politics that prefers to work in the speculative tense, what is called for is something like a creative sabotage of the future; a pragmatics of preemptive resistance capable of actualizing the future outside of the police-­able boundaries of property right.” See Melinda Cooper, “Preempting Emergence: The Biological Turn in the War on Terror,” in Life as Surplus: Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008), 99. Thanks to the Otolith Group for this reference. Chapter 3: Hito Steyerl ’ s Traveling Images 1. Hito Steyerl, “Documentary Uncertainty,” A Prior 15 (2007): 306, 304. 2. Ibid., 306. 3. Hito Steyerl, “Documentarism as Politics of Truth,” trans. Aileen Derieg (Vienna: European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies, 2003), http://eipcp .net/transversal/1003/steyer12/en. 4. See George Didi-­Huberman, Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz, trans. Shane B. Lillis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008). 5. Steyerl, “Documentarism as Politics of Truth,” n.p. 6. In November’s conclusion, Steyerl also points out the way fictional film has determined real-­life actions, including the testimony of German radicals who actually employed methods of kidnapping they learned from films such as Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers (1966) and Costa-­Gavras’s State of Siege (1972). 7. This digital challenge to representation is thus different to the derealization of figuration Steve McQueen faces and critically deploys, as discussed in chapter 1. 8. On Steyerl’s relation to the second-­hand image, see her essay “In Defense of the Poor Image,” e-­flux no. 10 (2009). 9. Steyerl, “Documentary Uncertainty,” 304. See also Hito Steyerl, Die Farbe der Wahrheit (Vienna: Turia and Kant, 2008). 10. Jacques Rancière, Film Fables (2001), trans. Emiliano Battista (New York: Berg, 2006), 158–59. 11. Ibid., 2–3. notes 270

12. For a discussion of fear in relation to contemporary media and politics, which Steyerl draws on in her essay “Documentary Uncertainty,” see Brian Massumi, “Fear (The Spectrum Said),” Positions 13, no. 1 (2005). 13. On postrepresentational politics and migration, which resonate with Steyerl’s mobilization of the traveling image as political resistance to postrepresentational sovereignty, see Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson, and Vassilis Tsianos, Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the 21st Century (London: Pluto, 2008), especially 218: “The decline of representation as the core politics of resistance and subversion means simultaneously the end of the strategy of visibility. Instead of visibility, we say imperceptibility. Instead of being perceptible, discernible, identifiable, current migration puts on the agenda a new form of politics and a new formation of active political subjects who refuse to become a political subject at all (rather than strive to find a different way to become or to be a political subject).” 14. Steyerl, “Documentary Uncertainty,” 308. Transit: Politicizing Aesthetics 1. David Joselit, “Response to Questionnaire,” October 123 (winter 2008): 88. 2. As Brian Holmes writes about the art gallery, “Everything about this specialized aesthetic space is a trap, that it has been instituted as a form of enclosure.” Brian Holmes, “Extradisciplinary Investigations: Towards a New Critique of Institutions,” Continental Drift (blog), February 26, 2007, http://brianholmes.word Andrea Fraser examines the economic and aesthetico-­ political complexity of critical art presented in commercial galleries patronized by wealthy and neoconservative patrons in “L’1% C’est Moi,” Texte zur Kunst (August 2011): 114–27. 3. Still, I would second Fraser’s important call for the revitalization of nonprofit and public galleries and institutions, over commercial galleries and art fairs. The distinction between commercial and nonprofit institutions remains crucial. 4. I have tried to make this case in relation to several such exhibitions. See T. J. Demos, “The Seville Biennial,” Artforum (March 2007); and T. J. Demos, “Barbarity or Socialism? On the 11th International Istanbul Biennial,” Texte zur Kunst no. 76 (December 2009),­oder-­sozialismus/. 5. Jacques Rancière, “Politicized Art,” The Politics of Aesthetics, trans. Gabriel Rockhill (London: Continuum, 2004), 63. 6. For such an analysis, see T. J. Demos, “The Tate Effect,” in The Global Art World: Audiences, Markets and Museums, ed. Hans Belting, Andrea Buddensieg, Peter Weibel (Karlsruhe, Germany: zkm, Center for Art and Media, 2009). 7. Consider Gregory Sholette’s comment that “it is simply no longer possible notes 271

to disconnect the intention of an artist’s work, even when the content is deeply social or attempting an institutional critique, from the marketplace in which even hedgefund investors now partake.” Gregory Sholette, “Reponse to Questionnaire,” October 123 (winter 2008): 138. 8. One finds such oppositions, for instance, set out at times in Brian Holmes’s otherwise provocative writings, as in his book Escape the Overcode: Activist Art in the Control Society (Zagreb, Croatia, and Eindhoven, Netherlands: whw and Van Abbemuseum, 2009). 9. Jacques Rancière, “The Emancipated Spectator,” Artforum (March 2007): 277. 10. See Jacques Rancière, “The Aesthetic Revolution and Its Outcomes,” New Left Review 14 (March–April 2002). Also see Jacques Rancière, “From Politics to Aesthetics?,” Paragraph 28, no. 1 (summer 2005). Departure B: Life Full of Holes 1. Yto Barrada, A Life Full of Holes: The Strait Project (London: Autograph abp, 2005), 57. 2. See Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-­Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998). 3. Giorgio Agamben, “Beyond Human Rights” (1993), in Means without Ends: Notes on Politics, trans. V. Binetti and C. Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 22. 4. Agamben, “Beyond Human Rights,” 21. In other words, citizenship carries an inherently exclusionary aspect. For more discussion of this condition and the politics of “alienage,” see Linda Bosniak, The Citizen and the Alien (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008). 5. For a critique of Agamben’s position, see Jacques Rancière, “Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?,” And Justice for All? The Claims of Human Rights (The South Atlantic Quarterly vol. 103, nos. 2 and 3 [spring/summer], 2004): 302, 309. For Rancière, Agamben’s positing of a realm of “bare life”—one in which the inhabitants are denied political being—represents “an ontological trap,” because it commits “the erasure of the political” by reifying what is in fact a precarious boundary between the area of right and the zone of exception. For me, Rancière’s aim is defensible, yet his conclusion in regard to Agamben misses the latter’s own attempts to politicize bare life. 6. See, for instance, Anthony Downey, “Zones of Indistinction: Giorgio Agamben’s Bare Life and the Ethics of Aesthetics,” Third Text 23, no. 2. (2009): 109–25. The topic of bare life informed “Zones of Conflict,” the exhibition I curated at Pratt

notes 272

Manhattan Gallery in 2008–9. See T. J. Demos, “Image Wars,” Zones of Conflict (New York: Pratt Manhattan Gallery, 2008), 3–11. 7. For instance, Grant Kester once wrote: “If social documentary can be recuperated as a new documentary, it is precisely because it was never entirely aestheticized in the first place.” See “Toward a New Social Documentary,” Afterimage 14, no. 8 (March 1987): 14. 8. Okwui Enwezor, “Documentary/Verité: The Figure of ‘Truth’ in Contemporary Art,” in Experiments with Truth, ed. Mark Nash (Philadelphia: The Fabric Workshop and Museum, 2005), 101. 9. Ibid., 101. 10. Ibid., 101. 11. See also Okwui Enwezor’s essay in Yto Barrada: Riffs (Berlin and Ostfildern: Deutsche Guggenheim and Hatje Cantz, 2011) for a further engagement of these questions in relation to Barrada’s work. There, Enwezor argues that the discussion of bare life implies a fatalism; however, it is the very contestation of such a fatalism for which I am arguing in relation to the work considered here. 12. Yto Barrada, “Barrada in Conversation with Nadia Tazi,” in A Life Full of Holes: The Strait Project (London: Autograph abp, 2005), 60. 13. Arendt’s words were originally published in her essay “We Refugees,” The Menorah Journal no. 31 (1943), and republished in Hitler’s Exiles: Personal Stories of the Flight from Nazi Germany to America, ed. Mark M. Anderson (New York: The New Press, 1998). 14. Agamben, Means without End, 15–16. 15. Ibid., 24. 16. Ibid., 25. Chapter 4: The Art of Emily Jacir 1. However, due to the deterioration of the conflict, the heightening of Israeli security concerns, and the construction of the barrier wall dividing Israel from the Occupied Territories, Jacir would no longer be able to move around in the West Bank today as she once did. 2. See Emily Jacir’s statement, “Where We Come From: (im)mobility,” that accompanied the publication of her project “Where We Come From” in What’s Up 15 (2003): n.p. 3. There have been numerous recent exhibitions of Palestinian art that have grouped these and other artists. Among them, see Palestine: La Création dans tous ses états (June 23–November 22, 2009), at L’Institut du Monde Arab, in Paris,

notes 273

which assembled the work of Anastas, Batniji, and Rabah, as well as other artists; and Masarat: Palestine, at al-­Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, Jerusalem (December, 11, 2009–January, 10, 2010). 4. On this last project, see T. J. Demos, “Emily Jacir: Poetry’s Beyond,” Hugo Boss Prize 2008 (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2008). 5. I do not mean to imply, however, that modernism was apolitical either; rather, that its critics, such as Clement Greenberg, often stressed (particularly in his later writings) its medium-­specific aesthetic autonomy and formal achievements above all else. 6. Consider in this regard the paradigm-­shifting moment of the early 1990s, the “political turn” in American art, punctuated by the Decade Show (1990), held simultaneously at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Studio Museum of Harlem, and the Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art, in New York; and the politically engaged Whitney Biennial in 1993. 7. Jacir, “Where We Come From: (im)mobility.” 8. See Miwon Kwon, in relation to the art of the 1990s, in “One Place after Another: Notes on Site Specificity,” October no. 80 (spring 1997); and James Meyer, “Nomads: Figures of Travel in Contemporary Art,” Site-­Specificity: The Ethnographic Turn, ed. Alex Coles (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2000). 9. As argues Kwon in relation to the art of the 1990s in “One Place after Another.” 10. Edward Said, “Reflections on Exile,” Granta 13 (autumn 1984): 159. 11. On such geographical developments, see Territories: Islands, Camps and Other States of Utopia, ed. Anselm Franke and Eyal Weizman (Berlin: KW-­Institute for Contemporary Art, 2003); Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation (London: Verso, 2007); and “Trapped at Surda Checkpoint,” Report of Birzeit University Right to Education Campaign, Electronic Intifada (May 24, 2003), See also the testimonies of Palestinians regarding checkpoints, recorded by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, at www.btselem .org, under the category “under restriction of movement.” 12. The passage was open when I visited during a teaching stint at the International Academy of Art, Palestine, in Ramallah in April 2011. 13. The quote comes from the no-­longer active website that accompanied the exhibition “One Ground: Four Palestinian and Four Israeli Filmmakers,” at University of California, Riverside, California’s Museum of Photography, in 2003. 14. Edward Said, The Question of Palestine (New York: Vintage, 1992), viii. 15. The most commonly cited source is un Security Council Resolution 242, declared after the war in 1967, which explicitly calls for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” 16. Said, The Question of Palestine, xx. notes 274

17. Edward Said, Politics of Dispossession (London: Chatto and Windus, 1994), xlii. The entry of Palestinians into Israel was generally cut off following the Oslo Accords, in 1993. According to B’Tselem, there are some 120,000 Palestinian applications for family unification pending since 2000. 18. Ilan Pappé, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: Oneworld, 2001). Pappé argues that “the ethnic cleansing by Israel of the Palestinians,” which “started in 1948 but continues, in a variety of means, to today,” constitutes a “crime against humanity” (8, 5). On the recent effects of the occupation on Palestinian everyday life, see Saree Makdisi, Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation (London: Norton, 2008). 19. Azmi Bishara, Checkpoints: Fragments of a Story (Tel Aviv: Babel Press, 2006); cited in Eyal Weizman, “The Wall: Barrier Archipelagos and the Impossible Politics of Separation,” in Hollow Land, 147. According to the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, 85 percent of people in the West Bank did not leave their villages during the second Intifada’s first three years, owing to curfews and closures (147). 20. On the history of the barrier wall, see Weizman’s chapter, “The Wall: Barrier Archipelagos and the Impossible Politics of Separation,” in Hollow Land. 21. Among the “activities” Kimmerling cites are “murders, localized massacres, the elimination of leadership and elite groups, the physical destruction of public institutions and infrastructure, land colonization, starvation, social and political isolation.” See Baruch Kimmerling, Politicide: Sharon’s War Against the Palestinians (London: Verso, 2003), 3. 22. Jacir, “Where We Come From: (im)mobility.” 23. Israeli corporations have also benefited from using Gaza and the West Bank as a laboratory for testing military security practices and new technologies, which have subsequently been commercially developed on the international market, suggesting an economic incentive for Israel to continue to perpetuate and to manage the crisis in the occupied territories. See Naomi Klein’s chapter “Israel as Warning,” in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Holt, 2007). In The Question of Palestine, Said points out that U.S. aid to Israel went from an averaged $70 million per year during the late 1960s to over $5.1 billion per year fifteen years later. He estimates the total aid for Israel between 1967 and 1991 to be $77 billion (xvi). 24. Jacir, Interview with Stella Rollig, in Emily Jacir: Belongings (Vienna: Folio Verlag, 2003), 9. 25. This connection is also evident in relation to the presentation of Where We Come From in What’s Up, where the texts and images overlap in the piece’s layout, recalling again the montage of Hatoum’s video. On Hatoum’s relation to minimalnotes 275

ist and biopolitical abstraction, see Jaleh Mansoor, “A Spectral Universality: Mona Hatoum’s Biopolitics of Abstraction,” October 133 (summer 2010). 26. See Eugene Rogan and Avi Shlaim, eds., The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); and Zeev Sternhell, The Founding Myths of Israel (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998). 27. Much of my discussion is informed by several conversations with the artist, including various e-­mail correspondence since 2002. 28. Yve-­Alain Bois, “Paper Tigress,” in Sophie Calle, ed. Andrea Tarsia et al. (London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2009), 110. 29. Jacir’s metonymic portrayal of a Palestinian people must be read in relation to Israel’s long-­standing and self-­serving denial of the very existence of such a national community, which has been frequently repeated ever since Prime Minister Golda Meir famously claimed in 1969 that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian people . . . It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn’t exist.” 30. Oskar Schindler, the subject of Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List (1993), was a German industrialist credited with saving the lives of nearly 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. 31. Said cites Theodor Adorno’s text (Minima Moralia: Reflections from a Damaged Life, trans. E. F. N. Jephcott [New York: Verso, 1991], 39) in “Between Worlds,” London Review of Books, 20, no. 9 (May 7, 1998): 6. 32. Edward Said, “Reflections on Exile,” 164. 33. Ibid. Also see Edward Said’s chapter “Emily Jacir: Where We Come From,” in Emily Jacir: Belongings, 1998–2003, ed. Stella Rollig and Genoveva Rückert, trans. Aileen Derieg and Ingrid Fischer-­Schreiber (Vienna: Folio Verlag, 2004), 5–10. 34. Jacir, “Where We Come From: (im)mobility.” 35. These rights are contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the General Assembly of the United Nations, adopted December 10, 1948. 36. As Saree Makdisi writes: “What draws me to Palestine, then, is neither nationalism nor patriotism, but my sense of justice, my refusal to remain silent in the face of injustice” (Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation [London: Norton, 2008], xvi). It is such disillusionment with the history of failed secular liberation movements that has also led to the formation of political Islam, namely the election of Hamas in 2006, Makdisi explains. 37. Makdisi reminds us that in its Advisory Opinion of July 2004, the International Court of Justice, in the Hague, unanimously reaffirmed the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to the post-­Oslo Israeli-­occupied territories, proclaiming that “all these territories (including East Jerusalem) remain occupied territories notes 276

and Israel has continued to have the status of occupying power” (Palestine Inside Out, 20). 38. Sari Hanafi and Linda Tabar, “The Intifada and the Aid Industry: The Impact of the New Liberal Agenda on the Palestinian ngos,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 23, nos. 1 and 2 (2003): 208. That said, Hanafi and Tabar also identify humanitarian activities in the Palestinian territories that remain politically committed, including the “passive intervention” of the international committee of the Red Cross, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (unrwa); the combination of intervention with the duty of witnessing and publicizing human rights abuses, practiced by Médecins sans Frontiers and Oxfam; and the recently developed form of activism to protect the population under occupation, as with the work of the International Solidarity Movement and Ta’ayush (209). On the “humanitarian paradox” of ngos serving power, see also Weizman, Hollow Land, 152–58; Eyal Weizman, The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza (London: Verso, 2012), esp. 65–98; and Adi Ophir, “The Sovereign, the Humanitarian and the Terrorist,” in Nongovernmental Politics, ed. Michel Feher et al. (Brooklyn, NY: Zone, 2007), 161–81. 39. Jacques Rancière, “Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?,” South Atlantic Quarterly 103, nos. 2 and 3 (spring/summer 2004): 304. 40. Giorgio Agamben, “Beyond Human Rights” (1993), in Means Without Ends: Notes on Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 16; and Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-­Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998). 41. See Ariella Azoulay, The Civil Contract of Photography (Brooklyn, NY: Zone, 2008), 134: “Against the political order of the nation-­state, photography—together with other media that created the conditions for globalization—paved the way for a universal citizenship: not a state, but a citizenry, a virtual citizenry, in potential, with the civil contract of photography as its organizing framework” (134). 42. Agamben, Means Without Ends, 16; and Jacques Rancière, “Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?,” 305. That is to say, Jacir’s work identifies some shared ground between these otherwise opposed political theories, given that Rancière’s essay is largely a critique of Agamben’s position. Chapter 5: Recognizing the Unrecognized 1. Being placed “in the service of a social cause . . . to show what was wrong with the world, and to persuade their fellows to take action and make it right” was the long-­standing goal of documentary photography, as established with the early generations of social reformist documentarians in the United States, such as Jacob notes 277

Riis, Lewis Hine, and later Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, as notes Martha Rosler in “In, Around, and Afterthoughts (on Documentary Photography),” in The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography, ed. Richard Bolton (Cambridge, MA: mit Press, 1993), 321. 2. Kamal Boullata, “Cassandra and the Photography of the Invisible,” in Ahlam Shibli: Lost Time, ed. Jonathan Watkins (Birmingham, UK: Ikon, 2003), 58. 3. See Allan Sekula’s chapter “On the Invention of Photographic Meaning” (1974), in Photography against the Grain: Essays and Photo Works, 1973–1983 (Halifax: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1984); and Allan Sekula, “The Traffic in Photographs,” in Modernism and Modernity, ed. B. Buchloh et al. (Halifax: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1983). 4. See Jeff Wall, “‘Marks of Indifference’: Aspects of Photography in, or as, Conceptual Art,” in Reconsidering the Object of Art: 1965–1975, ed. Ann Goldstein and Anne Rorimer (Los Angeles: MoCA, 1995). 5. Wall used the term near-­documentary in a press release for his exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery, in New York (September 20–November 2, 2002). See Michael Fried, “Jeff Wall, Wittgenstein, and the Everyday,” Critical Inquiry 33, no. 3 (2007): 495–526. In his book Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008), Fried, in an increasingly self-­referential spiral of scholarship, argues that contemporary photography has inherited the problematic of beholding central to modern painting since the mid-­eighteenth century. 6. Maria Lind and Hito Steyerl, “Introduction,” The Green Room: Reconsidering the Documentary and Contemporary Art, ed. Maria Lind and Hito Steyerl (Berlin: Sternberg, 2008), 11. Consider also the examples of Documentary Now: Contemporary Strategies in Photography, Film and the Visual Arts, ed. Martijn Verhoeven et al. (Rotterdam: nai, 2005); Okwui Enwezor, ed., Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art (Göttingen, Germany: Steidle, 2008); and T. J. Demos, “The Ends of Photography,” in Vitamin Ph: New Perspectives in Photography (London: Phaidon, 2006), 6–10. 7. Sebastião Salgado, Migrations: Humanity in Transition (New York: Aperture Foundation, 2000). 8. See T. J. Clark, “Commentary” in Migrations: The Work of Sebastião Salgado, ed. Christina M. Gillis (Berkeley: The Regents of the University of California and the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities, 2002), 23–26; see also John Mraz, “‘Sebastiao Salgado’: Ways of Seeing Latin America,” Third Text 58 (March 2002); and Julian Stallabrass, “Sebastião Salgado and Fine Art Photojournalism,” New Left Review 223 (May/June 1997): 30–42. 9. Philip Jones Griffiths, foreword and introduction, Unembedded: Four Indenotes 278

pendent Photojournalists on the War in Iraq (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2005). 10. On the significance of such shifting contexts on the meaning of images, see Judith Butler, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (London: Verso, 2009). 11. Ismael Abu-­Sa’ad, “Bedouin Towns in Israel at the Start of the 21st Century: The Negev Bedouin and the Failure of the Urban Resettlement Program” (unpublished manuscript, 2000). 12. Ibid. 13. Ahlam Shibli, “Goter: Artist’s Statement,” available at (accessed January 2010). Dayan’s quote comes from an interview with Haaretz on July 31, 1963. 14. See the report of the Israeli activist and founder of Bustan, the environmental justice ngo, Devorah Brous, Uprooting Weeds, March 2004, available at www 15. See Muhammad Abd al-­Hafiz Qutb, “‘Unrecognized’ Villages of the Naqab,” Habit International Coalition, 2005, www.hic-­ (accessed January 2010). 16. Ahlam Shibli, “Arab al-­N’aim,” (accessed July 2012). 17. See Boullata, “Cassandra and the Photography of the Invisible”; and Ahlam Shibli, Trackers, ed. A. Szymczyk (Cologne: Walther König, 2007). 18. Brous reports that “crop spraying is merely one part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Negev Development Plan to counter the demographic threat in the Negev (where 25% of the population is non-­Jewish). The Plan is a comprehensive strategy to relocate some 76,000 Bedouin of the unrecognized villages from their cultivated and inhabited Negev land and condense them into 5 government Planned Townships within a 5-­year timeframe” (Uprooting Weeds). 19. See Ida Audeh, “A Constant Nakba for Palestine’s Bedouin,” Electronic Intifada (July 7, 2008), available at (accessed January 2010). 20. Haaretz reports that some 66 percent of Negev Bedouin live under the poverty line, and in unrecognized villages the figure reaches 80 percent, according to a study released by the Van Leer Institute, in Jerusalem. See Ruth Sinai, “66% of Negev Bedouin Live Below Poverty Line,” Haaretz, January 15, 2007. 21. Ahlam Shibli, “Goter: Artist’s Statement.” 22. Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 2 and 3. 23. Ibid., 14. 24. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (1922), trans. George D. Schwab (Cambridge: mit Press, 1985), 5. notes 279

25. Agamben, State of Exception, 2. 26. See Foucault’s discussion of biopolitics in The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, particularly 136–37; 67–68; and his discussion of governmentality in his Collège de France lectures in 1975–76 (Society Must Be Defended, 2003). 27. Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” Public Culture 15, no. 1 (winter 2003): 42. Honaida Ghanim argues that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is a form of “thanatopolitics”—the governmental management of death, in “Thanatopolitics: The Case of the Colonial Occupation in Palestine,” in Lentin, Thinking Palestine, ed. Ronit Lentin (London: Zed, 2008). 28. Ronit Lentin, Thinking Palestine, 6. Lentin mentions the fact that Israel inherited the British Mandate’s Emergency Regulations, under which it continues to operate, along with other laws that have effectively dispossessed Israeli Arabs, including the Law of Absentee Property (1950); Jewish National Fund Law (1953); and the Law of Agricultural Settlement (1967), all of which bar the selling, leasing, subletting and owning of land by non-­Jews (7). 29. Lentin, Thinking Palestine, 2. 30. Ilan Pappé, “The Mukhabarat State of Israel: A State of Oppression Is Not a State of Exception,” in Lentin, Thinking Palestine, 155. 31. Also see Adi Ophir, Michal Givoni, and Sari Hanafi, eds., The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Brooklyn, NY: Zone, 2009). The editors explain in their introduction that, with reference to Agamben, the book analyzes “the relation of exception that constitutes Palestinians as bare life and exposes them to the whims of a sovereign power whose agents may violate Palestinian integrity and dignity of body and mind with impunity” (18). They do not discuss, however, Pappé’s objections to such an approach. 32. Boullata, Ahlam Shibli: Lost Time, 55. 33. Loock, quoted in Sara Khinski, “The Politics of ‘Goter’: The Poetics of Protest in National Israeli Art,” Third Text (May/July 2006): 406. 34. Omer, quoted in Khinski, “The Politics of ‘Goter,’” 413. 35. Shibli, quoted in Khinski, “The Politics of ‘Goter,’” 413. 36. Such a position has been rightly criticized by David Levi Strauss, in Between the Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics (New York: Aperture, 2005), 8–9: “The idea that the more transformed or ‘aestheticized’ an image is, the less ‘authentic’ or politically valuable it becomes, is one that needs to be seriously questioned” (8–9). 37. See, for example, Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, trans. Julie Rose (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 35: “Politics is a matter of subjects, or, rather, modes of subjectification. By subjectification I mean the production through a series of actions of a body and a capacity for enunciation not previously identifiable within a given field of experience, whose identification notes 280

is thus part of the reconfiguration of the field of experience” (35). Also see Jacques Rancière, On the Shores of Politics, trans. Liz Heron (London: Verso, 2007; orig. publ. 1992), 49: “Self-­emancipation is not secession, but self-­affirmation as a joint-­ sharer in a common world, with the assumption, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, that one can play the same game as the adversary” (49). 38. Judith Butler, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (London: Verso, 2009), 25. Extending Butler’s argument, Eyal Weizman develops a critical analysis of hu‑ manitarianism’s calculative rationality whereby the differential distribution of life and death is precisely figured, in “The Humanitarian Present” and “The Best of All Possible Walls,” in The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza (London: Verso, 2012): 1–26, 65–98. 39. Boullata, Ahlam Shibli: Lost Time, 62. 40. Loock, Ahlam Shibli: Lost Time, 31. 41. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, trans. R. Howard (New York: Noonday, 1981), 28. For Sekula, too, the meaning of photography is “indeterminate,” as he explains in his chapter “Dismantling Modernism, Reinventing Documentary: (Notes on the Politics of Representation),” in Allan Sekula, Dismal Science: Photo Works, 1972–1996 (Normal: University Galleries, Illinois State University, 1999), 121. 42. See Ariella Azoulay, The Civil Contract of Photography, trans. Rela Mazali and Ruvik Danieli (Brooklyn, NY: Zone, 2008). However, there is also a risk in Azoulay’s writings on photography that Shibli avoids: while Azoulay offers an important means to concretize the politics of aesthetics in relation to the history of the Israeli occupation, she also risks eclipsing representational ambiguity and multivalence in the formation of the author’s directive captions and discourse. Nonetheless, Azoulay’s project remains a crucial riposte to Israeli colonialism and its amnesia regarding the history of its occupation of Palestinian lands. 43. Butler, Frames of War, 5. 44. As Jean-­François Chevrier writes, “The relationship with power of a poetry of resistance can be effective only if it is founded on an experience of subjectivation that overflows readymade critical attitudes.” It thereby becomes an act of “internal decolonization” (“A Document of Experience,” in Shibli, Trackers, 20–21). 45. Ulrich Loock, “Goter,” 31. Chapter 6: The Right to Opacity 1. The piece was commissioned by Homeworks iv: A Forum on Cultural Practices, meeting in Beirut, in 2007, and screened at Tate Britain in February 2009. The screening was one part of a series of exhibitions by the Otolith Group in London during spring 2009, with successive shows at two of the city’s prominent notes 281

alternative nonprofit galleries, Gasworks and the Showroom. See Anna Colin and Emily Pethick, eds., The Otolith Group: A Long Time Between Suns (Berlin: Sternberg, 2009). 2. Other allusions include Jean-­Paul Sartre’s preface to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove, 1963), 21, where he writes that “the status of ‘native’ is a nervous condition introduced and maintained by the settler among colonized people with their consent” (21); and the semiautobiographical novel Nervous Conditions (1989), by the Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga, which is set in postcolonial Rhodesia of the 1960s, its title borrowed from Sartre. 3. Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation (London: Verso, 2007), 7. 4. I cite the “Trialogue on Nervus Rerum,” as it appeared in October 129 (autumn 2009). (All subsequent citations will be made in parentheses in the main text.) An earlier version was published in the catalogue of 7th Shanghai Biennial. See “A Trialogue on Nervus Rerum,” in The Shanghai Papers, edited by Annette W. Balkema, Li Ning, and Xiang Liping (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2008), 74–80. The Trialogue has also been performed publicly by Eshun and Sagar, as “A Dialogue on Nervus Rerum,” in the symposium entitled “Image Wars,” at the Institute of International Visual Arts, in London, forming one edition of a series of research workshops I organized under the rubric “Zones of Conflict,” between October 2008 and February 2009. 5. Pallywood is a term coined by the Boston University historian Richard Landes in 2000, in reference to the sensationalized, televised death of the twelve-­year-­old Palestinian Mohammed al-­Durrah, who died in Gaza crouching next to his father, after allegedly being shot by the Israeli Defense Force. In its original usage, the word identified the ostensibly staged theatricality of al-­Durrah’s shooting, defining a convention of Palestinian propaganda on the melodramatic level of Bollywood film. The term is raised by Irmgard Emmelhainz in the Trialogue. 6. See Niklas Luhmann, The Reality of the Mass Media, trans. Kathleen Cross (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000). 7. A different model is presented, for instance, in Ariella Azoulay’s study From Palestine to Israel: A Photographic Record of Destruction and State Formation, 1947– 50, trans. Charles S. Kamen (London: Pluto Press, 2011), which presents an archive of documentary photographs of Israel’s occupation along with the author’s substantial historical research and critical analysis. Also see her related “Photo Dossier,” and “The (In)Human Spatial Condition: A Visual Essay,” in Adi Ophir, Michal Givoni, and Sari Hanafi, eds., The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Brooklyn, NY: Zone, 2009), 153–77. notes 282

8. Hamid Dabashi, “Introduction,” Dreams of a Nation: On Palestinian Cinema, ed. Hamid Dabashi (New York: Verso, 2006), 12. 9. Both films were included in “Palestinian Revolution Cinema,” a program organized by Annemarie Jacir that focused on the years from 1968–82 and screened as part of the New York Arab and South Asian Film Festival in 2007. See Annemarie Jacir, “‘For Cultural Purposes Only’: Curating a Palestinian Film Festival,” in Dabashi, Dreams of a Nation, 23–31. 10. See Joshua Mitnick, “Israeli Film Board Bans Jenin, Jenin,” Star Ledger, January 1, 2003; and Nirit Anderman, “Tel Aviv Cinema to Screen Jenin, Jenin on Eve of Director’s Libel Trial,” Haaretz, February 25, 2008. Mohammad Bakri explained: “My crime was to tell the truth” (The Electronic Intifada, July 31, 2008, 11. Dabashi, “Introduction,” Dreams of a Nation, 11. 12. Joseph Massad, “The Weapon of Culture: Cinema in the Palestinian Liberation Struggle,” in Dreams of a Nation, 34. 13. Edward Said, “Preface,” Dreams of a Nation, 2. 14. How might one arrange time, Said asks elsewhere, when “every progress is a regression,” when “there is no direct line connecting the home to the place of birth, school and adulthood, when all events are accidental” (Edward Said, “‘Afterward’: The Consequences of 1948,” in The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948, eds. Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); cited in Nurith Gertz and George Khleifi, introduction to Palestinian Cinema: Landscape, Trauma and Memory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008), 2. 15. Nervus Rerum thus rejects one important definition of conventional documentary practice, as articulated in Trinh T. Minh-­ha’s voice-­over to her 1982 film Reassemblage: “Documentary is when reality is organized as an explanation of itself.” 16. In addition to Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet, trans. Richard Zenith (New York: Penguin, 2002); and Jean Genet, Prisoner of Love, trans. Barbara Bray (London: Picador, 1990), quotes are also drawn from Jean Genet, The Declared Enemy: Texts and Interviews, trans. Jeff Fort, ed. Albert Dichy (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004). Nervus Rerum references these texts in its closing credits. 17. See Jacques Rancière, “The Aesthetic Revolution and Its Outcomes,” New Left Review 14 (March–April 2002): 142; Jacques Rancière, “Documentary Fiction: Marker and the Fiction of Memory,” Film Fables, trans. Emiliano Battista (New York: Berg, 2006), 168; and Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible (2000), trans. Gabriel Rockhill (London: Continuum, 2004), 63–64, where he discusses film as the “play of heterologies.” notes 283

18. See Rancière, “Documentary Fiction,” 158. 19. As the Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif observes in her introduction to the New York Review of Books edition of Prisoner of Love (1986), Genet “was, it seems, one of the first foreigners to enter the Palestinian refugee camp of Chatila after the Christian Lebanese Phalange, with the compliance of the Israeli command, tortured and murdered hundreds of its inhabitants” (x). For a moving and exhaustive history of these events, see Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). 20. The quote is from the Otolith Group’s performance of the “Dialogue on Nervus Rerum” at the “Image Wars” Symposium, October 10, 2008. See www.ucl (last accessed July 2012). 21. Édouard Glissant, “For Opacity,” in Over Here: International Perspectives on Art and Culture, ed. Gerardo Mosquera and Jean Fisher (New York and Cambridge, MA: New Museum of Contemporary Art and mit Press, 2004), 253. Glissant’s text is discussed in the Trialogue. 22. As D. N. Rodowick explains in reference to Deleuze’s Cinema 2: “There is no singular or self-­identical subject because we think, exist, and live in time; subjectivity is becoming, change, deterritorialization, repetition becoming difference, the singular becoming multiple. Reactionary thought wants to bolster the ego against the forces of change, to anchor it in a true, good, and changeless world; it exhausts life by freezing identity.” D. N. Rodowick, Gilles Deleuze’s Time Machine (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997), 140. 23. I examine the Otolith Trilogy and its relation to the event in greater detail in chapter 2. 24. Maurizio Lazzarato, “Struggle, Event, Media,” 2007, /1003/lazzarato/en. 25. See Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). See also Sari Hanafi, “Palestinian Refugee Camps in the Palestinian Territory: Territory of Exception and Locus of Resistance,” in Ophir et al., eds., The Power of Inclusive Exclusion, 495–518. 26. Glissant, 254. 27. Ibid., 254, 256. For more on the politics of opacity, or what Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson and Vassilis Tsianos call “imperceptible politics,” by which the dispossessed contest the representational politics of identification and policing, see their chapter “Outside Representation,” in Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the Twenty-­First Century (London: Pluto Press, 2008), especially 217: “Becoming imperceptible is an immanent act of resistance because it makes it impossible to identify migration as process which consists of fixed collective subjects. Becoming imperceptible is the most precise and effective tool migrants employ to notes 284

oppose the individualising, quantifying, policing and representational pressures of the settled liminal porocratic institutions.” 28. For example, according to one definition, that of Faisal Devji, what makes militant Islam into a primarily “ethical” practice, rather than a political one, is its inability to control the results of its actions and the outcomes of its media broadcasts. See his Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity (London: Hurst, 2005). 29. See Hito Steyerl, “Documentary Uncertainty,” A Prior 15 (2007); also see my discussion of Steyerl’s videos in chapter 3. 30. Glissant, 255. Transit: Going Offshore 1. Nicholas Shaxson, Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011); as quoted in his interview on Democracy Now! (April 15, 2011). 2. Fredric Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995); “It is ultimately always of the social totality itself that it is a question in representation, and never more so than in the present age of a multinational global corporate network” (2, 4). 3. Nina Power and Michael Sayeau, “How Do We Visualize the Economic Crisis?” Frieze (October 2009): 14. 4. See the digital catalogue, in T. J. Demos and Alex Farquharson, ed., Uneven Geographies (Nottingham, UK: Nottingham Contemporary, 2010), www­geographies. This chapter is a revision of my contribution to the catalogue. 5. In A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), David Harvey defines neoliberalism as “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-­being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” (3). Harvey also outlines the economic theories of Friedrich August Hayek, an important source for Friedman’s work. 6. Indeed, the term has been employed, for instance, by David Harvey in Spaces of Global Capitalism: Toward a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development (London: Verso, 2006). One art-­history benchmark that instructively employed Harvey’s and Neil Smith’s theories—and critiqued them from a feminist vantage point—is Rosalyn Deutsche’s chapter “Men in Space,” in Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics (Cambridge, MA: mit Press, 1996), 195–202. notes 285

7. See Neil Smith, “Toward a Theory of Uneven Development I: The Dialectic of Geographical Differentiation and Equalization,” in Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), 132 ff. 8. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York, 1955), 13; and Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I (New York, 1967), 451 and 397. Cited in Smith, 150 and 153. 9. See Arundhati Roy’s account of such crisis and resistance movements in India in Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers (Chicago: Haymarket, 2009); and Judith Butler, “For and Against Precarity,” Tidal: Occupy Theory (December, 2011): 12–13, 10. For an analysis of these global financial institutions, see “A Critique of Corporate Globalization” in John Cavanagh et al., eds., Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World Is Possible: A Report of the International Forum on Globalization (San Francisco: Berrett-­Koehler, 2002), 17–53. As Smith notes in the “Afterword to the Third Edition” of his text, “The Gini coefficient of inequality [in the U.S.] measured 0.35 in 1970, but rose steadily to 0.47 by 2001, higher than in Russia, China, or India. The pay of chief executive officers (ceos) in 1982 in the United States was 42 times that of wage workers, but over the next quarter century it has risen to an astonishing ratio of 364:1. In 2006, four ceos in the rarified equity and hedge fund companies took home an income of over $1 billion while the top twenty such ceos averaged $658 million each—a cool $2.75 million per working day of the year. The unequal share of wealth (rather than income) is even more intense, having returned to pre–World War II levels” (Uneven Development, 262–63). 11. See David Harvey, “Neo-­liberalism and the restoration of class power,” Spaces of Global Capitalism, 7–68. 12. Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine:The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Holt, 2007). 13. Ibid., 16. 14. For an extended argument regarding the recent attacks on the public commons, see Michael Hardt and Toni Negri, Commonwealth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009). 15. Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). 16. See K. D., Looking for Headless (Stockholm: Goldin + Senneby, 2007–2010), 176. 17. See Angus Cameron and Ronen Palan, The Imagined Economies of Globalization (London: Sage, 2003). 18. For more information on Acéphale, see Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939, trans. and ed. Allan Stoekl (Minneapolis: Univernotes 286

sity of Minnesota Press, 1985); and Georges Bataille et al., The College of Sociology (1937–39), ed. Denis Hollier, trans. Betsy Wing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988). 19. Shaxson also deals with these contexts in Treasure Islands. 20. See also Mark Lombardi, “The ‘Offshore’ Phenomenon: Dirty Banking in a Brave New World,” Cabinet 2 (spring 2001); and Bureau d’études, www.bureau 21. See, for instance, Nicholas Shaxson, “10 Reasons We Should Tax Corporations,” Guardian (March 15, 2011); and (last accessed July 2012). Departure C: Zones of Conflict 1. While the Obama administration has brought an end to the most egregious of Bush-­era exceptional measures (such as the practice of waterboarding, and rendition flights to secret cia detention centers), it continues to prosecute the war in Afghanistan (pressing as well into Pakistan), and with drone attacks on “terrorists” it has expanded the practice of extrajudicial targeted assassination inside sovereign states. Meanwhile, as of July 2012 the prison at Guantánamo Bay remains operational, and figures like Army pfc Bradley Manning, the alleged leaker behind many of the WikiLeaks revelations, remain imprisoned and in solitary confinement, constituting instrumental torture. The “War on Terror” is far from past, even if the rhetoric has changed. See the Nation editors’ essay, “Obama’s ‘War on Terror,’” The Nation, March, 28, 2011. 2. While the political and cultural analysis of the Arab Spring and its effects is still emerging, recent contributions include: Toby Manhire, ed., The Arab Spring: Rebellion, Revolution and a New World Order (London: Guardian Books, 2012), and Lin Noueihed, The Battle for the Arab Spring: Revolution, Counter-­Revolution and the Making of a New Era (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012). 3. On the dubious legality of drone warfare, its questionable effectiveness, and the deathly assault on innocent bystanders, see the consistent discussion of the topic on Glenn Greenwald’s blog: 4. Paul Virilio, “Impure War,” in Pure War (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2008), 7. Also see Zones of Conflict: Rethinking Contemporary Art during Global Crisis, the series of research workshops I organized (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council), during October 2008–Februrary 2009: _of_conflict/ (last accessed July 2012). 5. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: Penguin, 2004). 6. See Gabriella Blum and Philip B. Heymann, Laws, Outlaws, and Terrorists: Lessons from the War on Terrorism (Cambridge, MA: mit Press, 2010). notes 287

7. Retort, Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War (London: Verso, 2005). 8. Also see Faisal Devji, Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity (London: Hurst, 2005). 9. Tariq Ali, The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (London: Verso, 2002). 10. Paul Virilio, War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception (London: Verso, 1989), 6–7. 11. Tom Keenan examines fundamentalism’s tendency to reject negotiation and dialogue, both in Afghanistan and Washington, D.C., in “Where Are Human Rights . . . ?”: Reading a Communiqué from Iraq,” in Nongovernmental Politics, ed. Michel Feher (Brooklyn, NY: Zone, 2007). 12. See Hito Steyerl, “Documentary Uncertainty,” A Prior 15 (2007): 304; and chapter 3 where I examine Steyerl’s videos. 13. Jacques Rancière, Film Fables, trans. Emiliano Battista (New York: Berg, 2006), 158. 14. Cited in Kaelen Wilson-­Goldie, “Walid Raad: The Atlas Group Opens Its Archives,” Bidoun 2 (fall 2004): 20–24. 15. For instance, see the studies of photojournalists in Thorne Anderson, Ghaith Abdul-­Ahad, Kael Alford, Rita Leistner et al., Unembedded: Independent Photojournalism in Iraq (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company [December 2005]); Jim Burroughs, Blood on the Lens: A Filmmaker’s Quest for Truth in Afghanistan (Dulles, VA: Potomac Books, 2007); and Ashley Gilbertson, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Photographer’s Chronicle of the Iraq War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007). 16. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-­Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 269. 17. As observed in the discussion in Between Artists: Silvia Kolbowski / Walid Raad, ed. Alejandro Cesarco (New York: A.R.T. Press, 2006), esp. 69. 18. Mary Ann Doane, “Information, Crisis, Catastrophe” (1988), reprinted in New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader, ed. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun and Thomas Keenan (London: Routledge, 2006), 253. 19. Michel Foucault, “Subjectivity and Truth,” in The Politics of Truth, ed. Sylvère Lotringer, trans. Lysa Hochroth and Catherine Porter (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2007), 152–53. Also see John Rajchman, “Enlightenment Today: Introduction to The Politics of Truth,” in The Politics of Truth; and Michel Foucault’s chapter “Truth and Power,” in Power: Essential Works of Foucault, ed. James D. Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley et al. (London: Allen Lane, 2001).

notes 288

Chapter 7: Out of Beirut 1. On the history of Ashkal Alwan, the Lebanese Association for the Plastic Arts, founded in 1994, see Christine Tohme, “Under the Volcano,” Artforum (October 2006): 245. 2. See Catherine David, ed., Tamáss: Contemporary Arab Representations: Beirut, Lebanon (Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies, 2002). 3. See Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) on the facts of the war; and Rosemary Sayigh, Too Many Enemies: The Palestinian Experience in Lebanon (London: Zed Books, 1994). Fawwaz Traboulsi, in his book A History of Modern Lebanon (London: Pluto Press, 2007), appropriately uses the term the wars of Lebanon to describe the conflicts between 1975 and 1990, rather than reduce that history to a single logic or struggle. 4. For further details, see Walid Raad’s response to the 2006 war, “‘Oh God,’ he said, talking to a tree . . . : A Fresh-­off-­the-­Boat, Throat-­Clearing Preamble about the Recent Events in Lebanon: And a Question to Walid Sadek,” Artforum (October 2006): 242. 5. Tohme, “Under the Volcano,” 245. Also see the presentation of Lamia Joreige, “What Are We Left With,” at InIVA on October 10, 2008: _of_conflict/image_wars. Joreige writes, “I could assert now what I had always believed: that in fact, ‘the war’ never really stopped. Today’s conflict was simply a continuation of it, after a long pause.” Joreige reflects further on the war of 2006 in her video Nights and Days (2007). 6. See Sune Haugbolle and Anders Hastrup, “Introduction: Outlines of a New Politics of Memory in the Middle East,” in The Politics of Violence: Truth and Reconciliation in the Arab Middle East (London: Routledge, 2008), xiii. On truth and reconciliation processes, see Enwezor et al., Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and the Processes of Truth and Reconciliation: Documenta11_Platform2, ed. Okwui Enwezor et al. (Ostfildern-­Ruit, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2002). 7. See Sune Haugbolle, War and Memory in Lebanon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). 8. See Saree Makdisi, “Laying Claim to Beirut: Urban Narratives and Spatial Identity in the Age of Solidere,” Critical Inquiry 23, no. 3 (1997): 661–705; and Saree Makdisi, “Beirut, A City without History?,” in Memory and Violence in the Middle East, ed. Ussama Makdisi and Paul A. Silverstein (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 204. The Central District’s transformations were also discussed in Tony Chakar’s artist-­led collective walks in the area during Ashkal Alwan’s Homeworks, 2009. 9. These factors are discussed in Mohamad Bazzi’s account of the conflict in notes 289

2006 in “Lebanon’s Bloody Summer,” The Nation, July 10, 2007; and in “People’s Revolt in Lebanon,” The Nation, December 20, 2006. Also see Youssef Choueiri, ed., Breaking the Cycle: Civil Wars in Lebanon (London: Stacey International, 2007). 10. On Lebanon’s “memory culture” and its political aspects, see Sune Haugbolle, “Memory as Representation and Memory as Idiom,” in Breaking the Cycle: Civil Wars in Lebanon, 30–40; see also the editors’ introduction to Haugbolle and Hastrup, The Politics of Violence, Truth and Reconciliation in the Arab Middle East; and Sune Haugbolle, “Counter-­Publics of Memory—Memories and Public Testimonies of the Lebanese Civil War,” in S. Shami, ed. Publics, Politics and Participation: Locating the Public Sphere in the Middle East and North Africa (New York: Social Science Research Council, 2008). 11. See, for example, Linda Williams, “Mirrors without Memories: Truth, History, and the New Documentary,” Film Quarterly 46, no. 3 (spring 1993): 9–21; and Shoshana Felman, “In an Era of Testimony: Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah,” Yale French Studies 79 (1991). 12. Joreige, “What Are We Left With,” n.p. Also see Lamia Joreige, “Object Lessons,” Artforum (October 2006), where she writes: “It is the role of the artist to testify, to raise untimely questions; it is the role of the artist to propose an alternative critical discourse on history, to supplement those produced by politicians, journalists, and historians. However, I do not hope to discover the truth. I want to point out the impossibility of such a thing” (241). 13. In addition, intellectuals such as Fawwaz Traboulsi and Elias Khoury have suggested that, in some cases, violence must be repressed in order for people and society to live peacefully together, thus questioning the validity of the unqualified ambition to recall everything about the war. See Anja Peleikis, “The Making and Unmaking of Memories: The Case of a Multi-­Confessional Village in Lebanon,” in Memory and Violence in the Middle East, ed. Ussama Makdisi and Paul A. Silverstein (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 145. 14. Haugbolle, “Memory as Representation and Memory as Idiom,” 128; and Haugbolle and Hastrup, xiii. 15. Lebanon’s political system since the country’s independence in 1943 has been based on sectarianism, with its unwritten National Pact requiring that its president be Maronite Christian, its speaker of the parliament a Shiite Muslim, its prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the deputy speaker of parliament a Greek Orthodox. That political arrangement consolidated the power of Christians; however, since then it is widely agreed that Muslims have become the majority, yet no official census has been allowed to establish the facts on the ground, which would challenge the existing system of political representation. notes 290

16. Joreige, “What Are We Left With.” 17. Suzanne Cotter, “Beirut Unbound,” in Out of Beirut, ed. Suzanne Cotter (Oxford: Modern Art Oxford, 2006), 30. 18. Jalal Toufic, Distracted (New York: Tuumba Press, 2003), 85. Also see Jalal Toufic, Over-­Sensitivity (Los Angeles: Sun and Moon, 1996). 19. Toufic, Distracted, 86. 20. On Lebanon’s visual culture of postcards in relation to civil-­war memory, see Saree Makdisi, “Beirut, a City without History?,” in Memory and Violence in the Middle East, 201–14. 21. See Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Aida, Save Me (London: Gasworks, 2010), 5, 12. 22. Ibid. 23. Jacques Rancière, “Les films de Khalil Joreige et Joana Hadjithomas,” unpublished manuscript Joreige and Hadjithomas shared with me. 24. As the artists write: “Latency is the state of what exists in a non-­apparent manner, but which can manifest itself at any given moment. It is the time elapsed between the stimuli and the corresponding response. The latent image is the invisible, yet-­to-­be-­developed image on an impressed surface” (Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, “Latency,” Home Works: A Forum on Cultural Practices in the Region: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, April 2–7, 2002, Beirut, Lebanon, ed. Christine Tohme and Mona Abu Rayyan (Beirut: The Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts, Ashkal Alwan, 2003), 41. See also Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, interview with Léa Gauthier, M mouvement: L’indisciplinaire des arts vivants 41 (October–December 2006): 14. 25. Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, “Latency,” Home Works, 41. 26. Toufic, as cited in Hadjithomas and Joreige, “Latency,” Home Works, 45 (without further reference). 27. On the relation of contemporary art (in particular the videos and photography of Sven Augustijnen, Renzo Martens, Zarina Bhimji, Vincent Meessen, and Pieter Hugo) to the ghosts of former conflicts, see T. J. Demos, Return to the Postcolony: Spectres of Colonialism in Contemporary Art (Berlin: Sternberg Press, forthcoming). 28. During a presentation at University College London on October 11, 2010, Walid Raad explained that his Atlas Group project lasted from 1989 to 2004, acknowledging as well that these dates have changed in the past and may still change again. For an overview of the project, see 29. For a detailed account of the media misinformation during and after the Lebanese wars written by an independent investigative journalist, see Fisk, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War. notes 291

30. See Mary Ann Doane, “Information, Crisis, Catastrophe” (1988), reprinted in New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader, ed. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun and Thomas Keenan (London: Routledge, 2006), 253–54. 31. Raad, cited in Kaelen Wilson-­Goldie, “Walid Raad: The Atlas Group Opens Its Archives,” Bidoun 2 (fall 2004): 24. Sylvia Kolbowski discusses this point further in a conversation with Raad: “It is hard to find meaningful an aesthetic contribution [to a culture of political resistance] that does not imbricate the unconscious into the realm of the political—structurally and/or discursively—in a moment of history when mass compliance with demagogic and authoritarian figures is widespread.” Only recourse to unconscious identifications, Kolbowski suggests, could explain such compliance. See Between Artists: Silvia Kolbowski/Walid Raad, ed. Alejandro Cesarco (New York: A.R.T. Press, 2006), 68. 32. See also the discussion of the “symptomatic” by Hadjithomas and Joreige in their interview with Gauthier in M mouvement, 16. The term is used frequently by the Lebanese artists considered here. 33. See Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-­Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 126–55. 34. As proposed by Carrie Lambert-­Beatty in “Make-­Believe: Parafiction and Plausibility,” October 129 (summer 2009): 77n73. Toward the end of her essay she does acknowledge that artists like Raad attempt to “work facts alive” and she cites Bruno Latour’s “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern,” Critical Inquiry 30 (winter 2004), but what this might mean in the case of Raad is never discussed, and the essay seems mostly concerned with the hoax aspect of other examples of contemporary art. 35. Walid Raad, in conversation with Alain Gilbert, Bomb 81 (fall 2002): 40. 36. Caroline Jones, “Doubt Fear,” Art Papers (January/February 2005); Tom Holert, “The Apparition of the Documentary,” in Documentary Now! Contemporary Strategies in Photography, Film and the Visual Arts, ed. Frits Gierstberg et al. (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2005), 165. 37. Makdisi, “Beirut, a City without History?” 206. 38. Raad’s Ph.D. dissertation, written in 1996 for the Visual Studies Program at Rochester Institute of Technology, is entitled: “Beirut . . . à la folie: A Cultural Analysis of the Abduction of Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980s.” 39. Vered Maimon, “The Third Citizen: On Models of Criticality in Contemporary Artistic Practices,” October 129 (summer 2009): 103. 40. That Raad possesses his own displaced background—studying at Rochester, in the United States, during the civil war—explains a lot about his work. 41. The name B018 derives from the address of a studio where the club’s owner, Naji Jibran, resided during the civil war. Following the Israeli bombings in 2006, notes 292

the club remains intact, though the architect’s Bank of Beirut Building in the Lebanese town of Chtaura was damaged. 42. See Laleh Khalili, “Places of Memory and Mourning: Palestinian Commemoration in the Refugee Camps of Lebanon,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 25, no. 1 (2005): 30–45. 43. See Bernard Khoury’s description of B018 at 44. See Toufic’s chapter entitled “Ruins” in Catherine David, ed., Tamáss: Contemporary Arab Representations: Beirut, Lebanon (Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies, 2002), 26–39. Recently, Khoury has turned away from this position and is now a vocal critic of the stereotypes of viewing Lebanese art and architecture solely through the lens of war. As Khoury explains, “My clients today are involved in private ventures driven by finance and commerce, and this is where I operate: Simply put, I build for the rich” (Bernard Khoury, “Waking Reality,” Artforum (October 2006): 239. While the danger of the hackneyed framing of Lebanese art as inevitably related to the civil war is certainly a danger, I do not think one can simply discontinue the analysis of art’s relation to conflict either, especially as the conflict continues and artists continue to make meaningful artwork about it. 45. This point is reported in Thomas Fitzel, “Raving and Remembrance,” Die Tageszeitung (June 24, 2003); reprinted in World Press Review 50, no. 9 (September 2003). 46. See Khalili, “Places of Memory and Mourning,” 33. 47. See Brian Massumi, “The Autonomy of Affect,” Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 26–27. 48. See Jill Bennett, “Trauma, Affect, and Art,” in Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), especially 43–44. 49. Khalili, “Places of Memory and Mourning,” 30. 50. Rancière, “Les films de Khalil Joreige et Joana Hadjithomas,” n.p. 51. For Out of Beirut Mroué performed Make Me Stop Smoking, which I was unable to see. I witnessed Inhabitants of Images when it was performed at the Istanbul Biennial’s opening in 2009, and at bak, in Utrecht in 2010, on the occasion of Mroué’s show there entitled I, the Undersigned. 52. As Mroué expressed it himself in the context of a conversation with Cosmin Costinas at InIVA in London on March 24, 2011. Chapter 8: Video ’ s Migrant Geography 1. Of the numerous news stories, see Dale Fuchs, “Canary Islands Fear Disaster as Number of Migrants Soars,” The Guardian, September 4, 2006; Hannah notes 293

Godfrey, “On a Voyage of Peril to the Mirage of Europe,” The Observer, November 19, 2006); and John Hooper, “More than 50 Asylum Seekers Die in Mediterranean, Says Survivor,” The Guardian, July 11, 2012. 2. See, for instance, Ursula Biemann and Brian Holmes, eds., The Maghreb Connection: Movements of Life Across North Africa (Barcelona: Actar, 2006), which represents a collaborative research project on North African migration, including studies by sociologists and cultural anthropologists, and including an exhibition of videos at the Townhouse Gallery, in Cairo, and the Centre d’Art Contemporain Geneva, organized by Biemann. 3. Ursula Biemann, “Agadez Chronicle: Post-­Colonial Politics of Space and Mobility in the Sahara,” in The Maghreb Connection, 67. 4. Ibid. 5. Biemann explains, “I do see the necessity to liberate the trans-­Saharan migration from its hypnotizing media mantra of captured boat people or victims of a grim trafficking business. The media seem to surrender to every temptation of reducing reality and condensing it into a symbol, thrusting the whole issue into discursive disrepair” (Biemann, “Agadez Chronicle,” 45). Also see Ursula Biemann, “Dispersing the Viewpoint: Sahara Chronicle,” in Ursula Biemann, ed. Mission Reports: Artistic Practice in the Field—Ursula Biemann, Video Works, 1998–2008 (Bristol, UK: Arnolfini Gallery, 2008), 79. 6. See Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s discussion of the diagram in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 145–46. 7. See, for instance, Uneven Geographies: Art and Globalization, the show I co-­ curated at Nottingham Contemporary, running between May 8 and July 10, 2010, which included Biemann’s Sahara Chronicle. 8. Biemann and Holmes, “Introduction,” The Maghreb Connection, 7. 9. Olivier Jobard’s Kingsley’s Crossing (2006) was syndicated by msnbc and is available online at 10. Susan Sontag writes in Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003): “It seems too simple to elect sympathy (as a feeling generated by photographs). The imaginary proximity to the suffering inflicted on others that is granted by images suggests a link between the faraway sufferers— seen close-­up on the television screen—and the privileged viewer that is simply untrue, that is yet once more a mystification of our real relations to power. So far as we feel sympathy, we feel we are not accomplices to what caused the suffering. Our sympathy proclaims our innocence as well as our impotence. To that extent it can be (for all good intentions) an impertinent—if not inappropriate—response” (102). notes 294

11. Biemann’s practice thus shares the ambition of recent attempts to theorize the “autonomy of migration.” As Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson, and Vassilis Tsianos explain, “To speak of the autonomy of migration is to understand migration as a social movement in the literal sense of the words, not as a mere response to economic and social malaise. . . . The autonomy of migration approach does not, of course, consider migration in isolation from social, cultural and economic structures. The opposite is true: migration is understood as a creative force within these structures” (“Autonomy of Migration,” in Escape Routes. Control and Subversion in the 21st Century [London: Pluto, 2008], 202). Also see Angela Oels, “Asylum Rights for Climate Refugees? From Agamben’s Bare Life to the Autonomy of Migration,” presented at the annual meeting of the isa’s 49th Annual Convention, San Francisco, March 26, 2008 (manuscript available at www.allacademic .com/meta/p251088_index.html [last accessed July 2012]). 12. Also relevant are the critical mapping practices of Bureau d’études, Frontera Sur rrvt, Macrolab, Multiplicity, and Raqs Media Collective, which were assembled in Geography and the Politics of Mobility, an exhibition Biemann organized for Vienna’s Generali Foundation in 2003, including an eponymous catalogue. 13. Ursula Biemann, “The Video Essay in the Digital Age,” in Stuff It: The Video Essay in the Digital Age (Zürich: Institute for Theory of Art and Design, 2003), 9. An extension of this hybridity is the multidisciplinary nature of Biemann’s engagement, as she sees the video essay’s “strength” as lying “in the quality of the mediator and communicator between differential cultural spaces,” including art exhibitions, educational settings, and political workshops (8). 14. Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, MA: mit Press, 2002), 307–8. 15. Biemann indicates her debt to Marker’s “post-­structuralist cinematographic practice” in her introductory essay in Stuff It, 8. It is also important to note that Biemann shows her videos and shares her research not only in art exhibitions, but also in activist contexts, including political forums and educational events organized around the subject of migration. 16. Nora Alter, Chris Marker (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 17–20. Also see Timothy Corrigan, The Essay Film: From Montaigne, After Marker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). 17. Jacques Rancière, Film Fables, trans. Emiliano Battista (New York: Berg, 2006), 158. 18. Biemann, “Performing Borders: The Transnational Video,” in Stuff It, 83. 19. This organization was decided at the infamous Berlin Conference, in 1884, which formally partitioned African territories into European colonies, eliminating notes 295

most existing forms of African autonomy and self-­governance, as Biemann notes in The Maghreb Connection, 49. In the chapter “Agadez Chronicle,” she provides further details on the Tuareg, which informs my account presented here. 20. See Mano Dayak, Michael Stührenberg, and Jérôme Strazzulla, Touareg, la Tragédie (Paris: Lattès, 1992). 21. See Anna Bednik, “Nigeria’s Mine War,” Le monde diplomatique, July 6, 2008, She reports that this neocolonial tendency continues with recent Chinese investment: “The indigenous populations in the north (at least 300,000, mostly Tuareg) were not consulted when their ancestral lands were leased to foreign companies. Inhabitants of Tegguida-­n-­Tessoum (to the west of Agadez) were told to evacuate an area of 2,500 sq km granted to Sino-­Uranium. Niger Uranium Ltd., which has begun prospecting in In-­Gall and Ighazer, has forbidden herders to use the cattle wells. Exploration activities by Areva around Imouraren have caused cattle to flee, making herding impossible.” For a wider history of the imposition of Euroamerican economic policy in Africa, see James Ferguson, Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006). 22. In fact, Nigeria declared a state of emergency in 2007 in the Agadez region. Bendik notes that “since then, human rights organisations have counted more than 100 arrests, as well as 70 summary executions of civilians by the Niger Armed Forces (naf) in retaliation for attacks by nmj [the Tuareg-­led Nigerian Movement for Justice]. There are rumours of torture, rape, pillage and the massacre of cattle— the sole source of revenue for most inhabitants.” Such accounts of oppression and mistreatment also led to the rebellion in the north of Mali in early 2012, when the Tuareg group, The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (mnla), declared the area independent. See “Mali Tuareg rebels declare independence in the north,” bbc (April 6, 2012):­africa-­17635437. 23. Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-­Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), 175. 24. Biemann, “Performing the Borders,” Stuff It, 85. Biemann’s reference here is to Michel Foucault’s discussion of heterotopias in his essay “Of Other Spaces,” Diacritics (spring 1986). Compare Agamben, The State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). Agamben, of course, builds his theorization via a consideration of Foucault’s notions of biopolitics and governmentality. 25. See Biemann, “Dispersing the Viewpoint: Sahara Chronicle,” Mission Reports, 89. 26. See Ali Bensaâd, “The Militarization of Migration Frontiers in the Mediterranean,” in The Maghreb Connection, 16–17. notes 296

27. Fredric Jameson, “The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” in Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992), 37. 28. Biemann, “The Video Essay in the Digital Age,” Stuff It, 10. Also see Biemann and Holmes, “Introduction,” The Maghreb Connection: “When it comes to representation of migration, digital and material landscapes have to be thought together. In this combined symbolic practice, the charting of space coincides with the charting of knowledge about a subject that is dynamic and fluid. The geographies that are generated in the process, and I mean both the migratory and videographic ones, are likewise spaces of fluidity, relationality and multiplicity” (47). 29. See Jef Huysmans, The Politics of Insecurity: Fear, Migration and Asylum in the eu (London: Routledge, 2006); and Andrew Geddes, The Politics of Migration and Immigration in Europe (London: Sage, 2003). 30. See Mehdi Alioua, “Silence! People Are Dying on the Southern Borders of Europe,” in Biemann and Holmes, The Maghreb Connection, 99. Also, see Étienne Balibar, who warns of a coming European Apartheid if the trend is not stopped, in We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship, trans. J. Swenson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), x. 31. Biemann, “Dispersing the Viewpoint: Sahara Chronicle,” 91. 32. Jameson, Postmodernism, 51. 33. In this regard, Biemann’s project also shares in Bruno Latour’s attempts to construct a “politics of ecology” that emphasizes “matters of concern,” opening onto an inclusive participatory collective, rather than “matters of fact,” which reassert rigid hierarchies between experts and laypeople. See his Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004). 34. Biemann and Holmes, “Introduction,” The Maghreb Connection, 8. 35. Alioua, “Silence! People Are Dying on the Southern Borders of Europe,” in Biemann and Holmes, The Maghreb Connection, 105. Also see Papadopoulos, Stephenson, and Tsianos, Escape Routes. Chapter 9: Means without End 1. See the description of the project on its website at: 2. These projects are described and archived on 16Beaver’s website. 3. The artists’ “censored” original project, commissioned by the curator Tanya Leighton, was to present “a radio station with programming related to or engaged with 11 September, with responses by figures both within and outside the artistic and cultural community,” as is described on White Box’s website. notes 297

4. These quotes derive from the discussion forum that was hosted on 16Beaver’s website in 2002, archived at / Further responses can be found at 5. The project proposal can be found at 6. In “Project for an Inhibition in New York or How to Arrest a Hurricane”—the roughly fifty-­page “script” (as the artists call it) that in some ways frames Camp Campaign, and is reprinted in the show’s catalogue—Anastas and Gabri write that the camp as a paradigm defines a “generalized set of procedures, which allow the definition and establishment of new sets [of operations] in the relationship between power and the everyday life of man.” Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, Camp Campaign, 11. A primary reference here is Giorgio Agamben’s chapter “What Is a Camp?” in Means without Ends: Notes on Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000). 7. See David Deitcher, “Social Aesthetics,” in Democracy: A Project by Group Material (Seattle: Bay Press, 1990). 8. For further examples, see the catalog for the exhibition at mass MoCA in 2004 (which included the 16Beaver Group), The Interventionists, ed. Nato Thompson and Gregory Sholette (North Adams: mass MoCA, 2004). 9. It thus contrasts with “cultural activism [which] might be defined simply as the use of cultural means to try to effect social change,” according to Brian Wallis’s discussion of groups like Border Arts Workshop, act up, pad/d, Artists Call, Gran Fury, and Group Material, in “Democracy and Cultural Activism,” in Democracy, 8. 10. Anastas and Gabri, Camp Campaign, 16. 11. In this regard, still other models from the 1990s come to mind: insofar as Camp Campaign was organized around a political issue—the question of the camp—in relation to a multiplicity of geographical locations, it might be related to the development in the 1990s of “discursive site specificity” as conceptualized in Miwon Kwon, “One Place after Another: Notes on Site Specificity,” October no. 80 (spring 1997). However, Camp Campaign’s sheer mobility and heterogeneity of forms also signals an obvious rupture from the genealogy of site specificity, making this term seem out of place here. Similarly pertinent is the investment in the “functional site,” that is, “a process, an operation occurring between sites, a mapping of institutional and textual filiations and the bodies that move between them . . . an informational site, a locus of overlap of text, photographs and video recordings, physical places and things,” as developed in James Meyer, “The Functional Site,” Documents 7 (fall 1996): 21. For a recent overview of the history of socially engaged art, see Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (London: Verso, 2012). notes 298

12. These conversations are archived on Camp Campaign’s website. 13. For further information on Bureau d’études and further examples of their maps, see 14. On this trend, see Grant Kester, Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004); and Collectivism after Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination after 1945, ed. Blake Stimson and Gregory Sholette (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007). Recent exhibitions have also directly responded to these imperatives, but the risks are obvious: mass MoCA’s exhibition The Interventionists (2004) brought activist practices into the museum, but thereby potentially neutralized them; meanwhile socially engaged “relational aesthetics” has attempted to create zones of conviviality outside of spectacle, but also reinforce the institutions in which these practices are inevitably staged. On the latter, see Claire Bishop, “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics,” October 110 (fall 2004): 51–79. 15. Brian Holmes, “Extradisciplinary Investigations. For a New Critique of Institutions,” February 2007, More recently, for a critique of critical art’s problematic basis in the politically conservative and economically elite marketplace, see Andrea Fraser, “L’1% C’est Moi,” Texte zur Kunst (August 2011): 114–27. 16. For a countermodel that articulates the art gallery’s politicized space, see Rosalyn Deutsche’s chapter “Agoraphobia,” in her Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics (Cambridge, MA: mit Press, 1996). According to her compelling argument, the photography of Cindy Sherman, for example, is seen to contest the boundaries between the public and the private, beseeching us to “no longer take it for granted that art institutions are secure interiors, isolated from social space” (315). 17. Consider, for instance, the curatorial efforts of Adam Budak, Okwui Enwezor, Charles Esche, Anselm Franke, Maria Lind, Nina Möntmann, and whw, among others. 18. Jacques Rancière, “The Aesthetic Revolution and Its Outcomes,” New Left Review 14 (March–April 2002): 133. 19. Ibid. “The ‘autonomy of art’ and the ‘promise of politics’ are not counterposed. The autonomy is the autonomy of experience, not of the work of art. To put it differently, the artwork participates in the sensorium of autonomy inasmuch as it is not a work of art” (136). 20. Ibid. For a related engagement of Rancière’s arguments vis-­à-­vis contemporary art, see Claire Bishop, “The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents,” Artforum (February 2006) and Artforum’s special issue on Rancière (March 2007). 21. Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-­Garde, trans. Michael Shaw (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 54. notes 299

22. I examine Agamben’s notion of the “state of exception” in chapter 1. 23. Judith Butler, “Guantánamo Limbo,” The Nation, April 1, 2002. On the current operative status of the camp, see David Cole, “Guantánamo: Ten Years and Counting,” The Nation, January 4, 2012, at 24. Anastas and Gabri, Camp Campaign, 21. 25. Compare Ilan Pappé, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: Oneworld, 2006). 26. Anastas and Gabri, Camp Campaign, 10. 27. Ibid. During a public conversation I had with Anastas and Gabri in Beirut as part of the Homeworks iv forum, they described their interest in the camp as both “paradigm and singularity” (April 20, 2008). See T. J. Demos, “Conversation with Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri,” in Homeworks iv (Beirut: Ashkal Alwan, forthcoming). 28. Judith Butler, in conversation with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, in Butler and Spivak, Who Sings the Nation-­State? Language, Politics, Belonging (London: Seagull Books, 2007), 10, 42. 29. Ibid. Furthermore, “If our attention is captured by the lure of the arbitrary decisionism of the sovereign, then we risk inscribing that logic as necessary and forgetting what prompted this inquiry to begin with: the massive problem of statelessness and the demand to find postnational forms of political opposition that might begin to address the problem with some efficacy” (42). In my view, however, this is Agamben’s point as well. 30. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri discuss Butler’s criticism of Agamben with Nina Möntmann in their conversation in “Their Maps vs. Our Maps: A Conversation between Ayreen Anastas, Rene Gabri, and Nina Möntmann,” in Manifesta 7: A Companion, ed. Adam Budak et al. (Milan: Silvana, 2008), 372–73. 31. Ibid. 32. Anastas and Gabri quote Agamben’s “What Is a Camp?” in their essay “Camp,” at 33. During the summer of 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that Guantánamo Bay detainees do have the constitutional right to bring their cases to federal court to challenge their detention (see Linda Greenhouse, “Justices, 5–4, Back Detainee Appeals for Guantánamo,” New York Times, June 13, 2008). Delivering a rebuff to the Bush administration, the Court’s opinion declared it unconstitutional to strip federal courts of jurisdiction to decide on habeas corpus petitions from those detainees seeking to contest their designation as enemy combatants. In response to similar decisions in the past, Congress has amended statutes regarding jurisdiction, sidestepping the Court’s challenges. Writing for the majority most recently, Justice Anthony Kennedy declared: “The laws and Constitution are notes 300

designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” That said, as of 2012—long after Obama’s self-­imposed deadline to close the camp amid political controversy—Guantánamo Bay remains operative, and in fact Obama has sought to legalize many of the Bush-­era procedures and military trials for detainees for which that administration faced fierce condemnation. See Cole, “Guantánamo: Ten Years and Counting.” 34. Giorgio Agamben, Means without End, 6; Mark Danner, “After September 11: Our State of Exception,” The New York Review of Books, October 13, 2011, at; and Glenn Greenwald, “Despite Gitmo Closure and Torture Ban, Obama Admin Converges with Several Bush Policies in So-­Called ‘War on Terror,’” Democracy Now! (February 20, 2009), online at 35. For further recent support for Agamben’s thesis, see Adi Ophir, Michal Givoni, and Sari Hanafi, eds., The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Brooklyn, NY: Zone, 2009); and Didier Fassin and Mariella Pandolfi, eds., Contemporary States of Emergency: The Politics of Military and Humanitarian Interventions (Brooklyn, NY: Zone, 2010). 36. These initials may stand for the communist revolutionaries Rosa Luxemburg and Vladimir Lenin, although in the script R. L. and V. L. are artists and seem to represent the alter egos of Ayreen and Rene. 37. Compare Andy Worthington, “A History of Music Torture in the War on Terror,” Counterpunch (December 15, 2008), at ton12152008.html; and Suzanne G. Cusick and Branden Joseph, “Across an Invisible Line: A Conversation about Music and Torture,” Grey Room 42 (winter 2011): 6–21. 38. Compare Anastas and Gabri, Camp Campaign: “They have attempted in their exhibition to outline the contours of the questions that have motivated them . . . They question their activity, their militancy, their ability to actually raise pertinent questions that could motivate a change” (16). 39. “Five Statements on Art” appears in Anastas and Gabri, Camp Campaign, as follows: “I. Art is the clearest and most familiar configuration of Becoming. II. Art must be grasped in terms of the artists, the creators, and producers, not the recipients. III. According to the expanded concept of artist, art is the basic occurrence of all beings; to the extent that they are, beings are self creating, created. IV. Art is the distinctive ‘yes-­saying-­to life.’ ‘Life’ is not meant in the narrow sense of human life but is identified with ‘world.’ V. Art is more worth than—” (23–24). For the original, see Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche, vol. 1, trans. David Krell (New York: HarperCollins, 1991). 40. This refusal should be understood in the larger context of practices that privilege collaboration above all else. Consider Bishop’s take, which she proceeds notes 301

to criticize: “The discursive criteria of socially engaged art are, at present, drawn from a tacit analogy between anticapitalism and the Christian ‘good soul.’ In this schema, self-­sacrifice is triumphant: The artist should renounce authorial presence in favor of allowing participants to speak through him or her” (“The Social Turn,” 183). 41. Anastas and Gabri, Camp Campaign, 16. 42. See Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics: the Distribution of the Sensible, trans. Gabriel Rockhill (London: Continuum, 2004). 43. In Camp Campaign, Anastas and Gabri explicitly consider these ideas inspired by Rancière, ultimately contesting his celebration of the “emancipated spectator,” because of the perception that his realignment risks the eclipse of the artist’s thought process by collectivist participation and the free interpretation of viewers (45–46). Yet instead of reading Rancière’s text as amounting to an exclusion of the artist, we might understand it as negotiating between Benjamin’s “artist as producer” and Barthes’s “death of the author,” wherein the artist is reborn as one reader—or storyteller—among others. See Rancière “The Emancipated Spectator,” Artforum (March 2007). 44. Agamben, “Form-­of-­Life,” in Means without Ends, 9–11. Also see Giorgio Agamben, Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, ed. and trans. Daniel Heller-­Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000). 45. Anastas and Gabri, Camp Campaign, 9. Destination: The Politics of Aesthetics during Global Crisis 1. In this regard, I have found parallel support, and have participated in the Former West project, a large-­scale, contemporary-­art research, education, publishing, and exhibition project (running between 2008 and 2013), dedicated to investigating the ways globalization has shifted the cultural and artistic identity of the West, following the fall of the Berlin Wall. See 2. For instance, consider the discussions of migration in Linda Bosniak, The Citizen and the Alien (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008); Anne McNevin, Contesting Citizenship: Irregular Migrants and New Frontiers of the Political (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011); Peter Nyers and Kim Rygiel, eds. Citzenship, Migrant Activism, and the Politics of Movement (London: Routledge, 2012); and Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson, and Vassilis Tsianos, Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the 21st Century (London: Pluto, 2008). 3. On the diagnosis of European social apartheid, see Étienne Balibar, We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship, trans. James Swenson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004); on “global economic apartheid” notes 302

see John Cavanagh et al., eds., Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World Is Possible: A Report of the International Forum on Globalization (San Francisco: Berrett-­Koehler, 2002), 33. 4. The politics of migration has indeed formed part of the Occupy move­ ment’s concerns. See, for instance: -­occupy/. 5. For recent approaches to the commons, see: “The Commons: What Should Be Off-­Limits to Globalization?” in Cavanagh et al., eds., Alternatives to Economic Globalization, 79–104; George Caffentzis, “The Future of ‘The Commons’: Neoliberalism’s ‘Plan B’ or The Original Disaccumulation of Capital?” New Formations 69 (January 2010); and Silvia Federici, “Feminism and the Politics of the Commons,” The Commoner (2011), at On contemporary art and the politics of ecology, see the special issue of Third Text, 120 (forthcomimg), edited by T. J. Demos. 6. In this regard, I would disagree with the implication that politicizing rights and representation can only empower the “postliberal sovereignty of control,” as argued in “The Autonomy of Migration” in Papadopoulos, Stephenson, and Tsianos, Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the 21st Century, 202–21. 7. See, for instance, the special issue of e-­flux, no. 22 (January 2011), edited by Paul Chan and Sven Lütticken, which assesses the destructive effects on the cultural sphere of the recent fiscal policies of right-­wing European governments. On the restructuring of higher education in the United States and the fate of the humanities in particular, see the lecture of David Theo Goldberg, “The Afterlife of the Humanities: Posthumanities and Public Reason,” 2009, http://ichass.illi; and Wendy Brown, “Neoliberalized Knowledge,” History of the Present 1, no. 1 (summer 2011): 113–29. 8. Hito Steyerl, “Politics of Art: Contemporary Art and the Transition to Postdemocracy,” e-­flux no. 21 (December 2010). 9. See Andrea Fraser, “L’1% C’est Moi,” Texte zur Kunst (August 2011): 124: “If our only choice is to participate in this economy or abandon the art field entirely, at least we can stop rationalizing that participation in the name of critical or political art practices or—adding insult to injury—social justice. Any claim that we represent a progressive social force while our activities are directly subsidized by the engines of inequality can only contribute to the justification of that inequality— the (not so) new legitimation function of art museums.” Also see Andrea Fraser, “There’s No Place Like Home,” at /AndreaFraser. 10. Saskia Sassen, Losing Control? Sovereignty in an Age of Globalization (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 63. notes 303

11. On the conditions and meaning of “emergency” as a new political paradigm, see Didier Fassin and Mariella Pandolfi, eds., Contemporary States of Emergency: The Politics of Military and Humanitarian Interventions (Brooklyn, NY: Zone, 2010). 12. See Slavoj Žižek, The Universal Exception (London: Continuum, 2006), 27; and Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, trans. Julie Rose (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999). For a discussion of an emerging “citizenship of aliens,” see Linda Bosniak, The Citizen and the Alien (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).

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16Beaver, xx, 221 Abdul-­Ahad, Ghaith, 129, 173 Abu Ali, Mustafa, 148; They Don’t Exist, 148 Abu Ghraib, 100, 130 accumulation by dispossession, 163. See also Harvey, David Acéphale, 163, 167. See also Bataille, Georges Achebe, Chinua, 262n10 activism, 25, 43, 44, 47, 75, 91, 94, 113, 114, 119, 139, 151, 163, 165, 201, 211, 214, 223, 225, 227, 231, 235, 238, 243, 247; cultural, 226. See also politics Ader, Bas Jan, 5 Adorno, Theodor, 12, 120 aestheticization, 28, 187; of politics, 244. See also aesthetics aesthetics, 28, 124; politics of, 137, 141, 243, 245, 247, 248, 249, 256, 263, 271, 281, 283, 302; social, 226; power of, 243. See also politics affect(ive), xxi, 32, 89, 174, 196 Afghanistan, 169, 221, 223 Africa, xiv, 5, 24, 41, 42, 43, 95, 204, 205, 215, 218, 219, 234, 255. See also North Africa; South Africa African National Congress (anc), 42

Agamben, Giorgio, xiv, xix, 5, 18, 19, 29, 30, 31, 41, 44, 58, 60, 96, 98, 102, 122, 133, 135, 166, 214, 223, 226, 233, 239, 244; Homo Sacer, 58, 89, 223 Agarwal, Ravi, 35, 37 agonism, 174 aid industry, 121. See also humani‑ tarian(ism) Al-­Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, 156 Al-­Durrah, Mohammed, 282n5 Alford, Kael, 129 Algeria, 16, 201, 213 Alioua, Mehdi, 220 Al Jazeera, 206 Al-­Lydd, 234 Al-­Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, 104 Alter, Nora, 211 Al-­Qaeda, 170, 233 alter-­globalization, 246, 262n3. See also globalization Alys, Francis, 10 amnesia, 181, 195; state-­sponsored, 181; naïve amnesia, 195 Anastas, Ayreen, xx, xxii, 104, 171, 172, 173, 221–44; Camp Campaign, 221–44; Strategies of Resistance, 222;

Anastas, Ayreen (continued) RadioActive, 223, 225; 24/7, 223. See also Gabri, Rene Anderson, Thorne, 129 AngloGold Ashanti Limited, 43 anthropology, 23, 42, 55, 145 Antonioni, Michelangelo, 40 apartheid, 18, 42, 44, 50, 163; European apartheid, 18, 297; global economic, 163 Appadurai, Arjun, 23 Arab Spring, 169 Arbus, Diane, 128 architecture, 13, 64, 65, 68, 195, 196, 203, 235, 253, 274, 282, 293, 322; colonial, 195; informal, 64; Research Architecture Programme, 253; slum, 65; utopian, 68 Arendt, Hannah, 2, 101 Art in General (exhibition space), 221, 239 Ashkal Alwan, 177. See also Lebanon; Tohme, Christine As-­Sahab, 170 Atlas Group, 118, 191, 193. See also Raad, Walid Auguiste, Reece, 61. See also Black Audio Film Collective Auschwitz, 79, 237 autonomy, 20, 29, 30, 31, 91, 93, 127, 154, 196, 208, 246; as mode of experience, 232; of migration, 295n11 Azoulay, Ariella, 122, 141, 277n41 Azzellini, Dario, 209 Bakhtin, Mikhail, 6, 12 Bakri, Mohamed, 147, 148; Jenin, Jenin, 148–50, 159 Balibar, Étienne, 18 Baltimore, 234, 236

bare life, xiv, xviii, 29, 30, 41, 50, 52, 96, 98, 100, 135, 143, 151, 229, 233, 236. See also Agamben, Giorgio; state of exception Barrada, Yto, xiv, xv, xviii, 95–102, 129, 160; A Life Full of Holes—The Strait Project, 95–102 Barthes, Roland, 140 Basualdo, Carlos, 36 Bataille, Georges, 163, 164, 167, 168 Batniji, Taysir, 104 Bazin, André, 211 beauty, 187 Bedouin, 97, 124, 130–36, 140–45 being-­in-­exodus, 102 being-­with-­others, 50 Beirut, 177–200; Central District, 181 belonging, 8, 11, 12, 52, 71, 83, 123 Benjamin, Walter, 1, 2, 12, 19, 28, 79, 137, 244, 270n23 Bennett, Jill, 196 Berlin Wall, xiv, 23 Bhabha, Homi, 2, 9, 12, 260n43 Bhimji, Zarina, 38 Biemann, Ursula, xv, xx, xxi, xxii, 16, 17, 161, 171–72, 201–20, 251, 259, 294– 97; Black Sea Files, 202; Europlex, 202; The Maghreb Connection, 219; Performing the Border, 202, 210; Remote Sensing, 202; Sahara Chronicle, 201–20; Writing Desire, 202 Bin Laden, Osama, 170 biopolitical, xxii, 30, 41, 46, 89, 134 biopolitics, 41, 45, 237, 248 biopower, 99 bios, 30 Bishara, Azmi, 113 Bishop, Claire, 298n11, 299n14, 301n40

index 324

Black Audio Film Collective, xvii, 5, 6, 7, 9, 38, 60, 61, 75, 144; Signs of Empire, 7, 8, 9; Handsworth Songs, 5, 268, 306; The Last Angel of History, 60 Bois, Yve-­Alain, 117 Bollywood, 66 Bombay, 63, 65, 66. See also Mumbai Boullata, Kamal, 124, 135, 138–40 Brakhage, Stan, 50 Bretton Woods accords, 22 Bureau d’études, 161 Bürger, Peter, 232 Bush, George W., 170, 233; post-­Bush years, 237 Butler, Judith, 137, 142, 226, 233, 236 Caffentzis, George, 303n5 California, 229 Calle, Sophie, 106, 117 Cameron, Angus, 167 camp, xxii, 41, 150, 151, 227, 237. See also Agamben, Giorgio; Anastas, Ayreen; bare life; Gabri, Rene; state of exception Canary Islands, 203, 204, 205, 208, 217 capitalism, 1, 7, 10, 11, 22, 23, 162, 163, 168, 215; free market, 109. See also disaster capitalism; globalization; multinational capitalism; neoliberal(ism) censorship, 224 Center for Constitutional Rights, 237 Chad, 213 Chan, Paul, 303n7 Chandigarh, 63, 68 checkpoint, 71, 111, 113, 179 Chevrier, Jean-­François, 142, 281n44 Chicago School of Economics, 162 cia (Central Intelligence Agency), 229

Cicero, 144 citizen(ship), 14, 20, 97, 109, 123, 145, 213, 214, 220, 237, 248, 250; of aliens, 249 civil liberties, 237 Clark, T. J., 129 climate change, 246 CoBrA, 5 Cole, Ernest, 44, 266n28; House of Bondage, 44 colonialism, 23, 24, 47, 74, 161 colonization, 5, 47, 112, 142, 156 coltan (columbite-­tantalite), 21 Cooper, Melinda, 270n24 commemoration, 23, 112, 116, 135, 195, 196, 197; counterhegemonic, 197. See also memory conflict, 169–76 Congo, 21–31, 43, 94 Congo River, 30 Conrad, Joseph, 23, 29, 262n10; Heart of Darkness, 23 contingency, 9, 62, 85, 92, 140, 184 Corbusier, Le, 63, 68 cosmopolitan, 10–11 Cotter, Suzanne, 178, 185 Crewdson, Gregory, 127 Criqui, Jean-­Pierre, 11 Critical Art Ensemble, 226 Dabashi, Hamid, 147 Dabit, Buthaina, 235 Dada, 5, 210; New York, 5; Berlin, 5 Dayan, Moshe, 132 death, 24, 41, 42, 47, 52, 66, 79, 80, 82, 85, 88, 103, 152, 153, 159, 165, 167, 179, 196, 198, 210, 214, 260, 265, 280–82, 287, 302, 317 Debord, Guy, 78. See also Situationist International

index 325

Decade Show, 274n5 decolonization, 6, 142 Deleuze, Gilles, 12, 13, 37, 40, 44, 52, 78, 142, 156, 173, 191. See also movement-­image; time-­image Demand, Thomas, 127 Deneuve, Catherine, 197 depoliticization, 121, 122, 128, 159, 246, 247 determinism, 19, 82, 92; economic, 93 deterritorial(ization), 6, 35 Detroit, 227 Deutsche, Rosalyn, 299n16 Devji, Faisal, 285n28 Dheisheh Refugee Camp, 104 diagram, 206, 217 dialectical image, 79 dialogism, 6, 8, 9, 13; critical dialogism, 8 diaspora, xix, 2, 104, 107, 118; diasporean, 6; diasporic public sphere, 18; Palestinian disaspora, 17; postcolonial diaspora, 12 Didi-­Huberman, Georges, 78 digital, 66, 67, 70, 78, 127, 128, 189, 207, 210, 211, 270, 285, 295, 297, 307 Dion, Mark, 12, 107 disaster capitalism, 163. See also capitalism; globalization; neo‑ liberal(ism) disidentification, 193, 194 dislocalizing localization, 214 Distribution of the Sensible, 28, 159 Doane, Mary Ann, 173 Documenta 11, xvii, 35, 36, 37, 47, 98 Documenta 12, 88 document(ary), xvi, 17, 25, 31, 36, 46, 61, 74, 86, 98, 129, 145, 150, 154, 160, 185, 190, 208, 246, 249; documentary

fiction, xvi, 61, 62, 153; documentary representation, 99; documentary uncertainty, 74, 82, 83, 88, 158; evidence, 190, 197; and fiction, 31, 54, 86 (see also fiction[al] [ization]); near-­documentary, 128; postdocumentary, 127; quasidocumentary, 25; reportage, 190; social documentary, 127 documentation, 16, 25, 28, 37, 50, 55, 99, 127, 139, 188, 195, 203, 222, 234 double consciousness, 10 dream, 58, 61, 66, 71, 152, 153, 156, 240, 242, 243 Du Bois, W. E. B, 2 Duchamp, Marcel, 13 Duras, Marguerite, 40, 75 Durham, Jimmie, 106 effective, 91, 173, 174 Eichhorn, Maria, 165 Eisenstein, Sergei, 78, 81, 82; October, 78 embodiment, 51 empathy, 150, 158. See also sympathy empire, xiii, 6, 8, 14, 35, 182; British Empire, 24. See also imperial(ism) environment, 21, 41, 68, 93, 130, 149, 163, 246; corporate, 165; digital, 210; media, 238 Enwezor, Okwui, 18, 35, 36, 40, 98 Eshun, Kodwo, xviii, 54, 144, 149, 151, 154. See also Otolith Group essay film, 54, 84, 267, 295, 309 essentialism, 9, 11, 41, 91, 123 ethics, 61, 158 ethnic cleansing, 113, 235 ethnography, 8, 25, 126, 150, 160, 202, 266, 317; quasi-­, 202 Europe, xiii, xiv, 14–18, 22, 24, 29, 35,

index 326

95, 96, 101–4, 120, 164, 167, 185, 201– 5, 208, 231, 245 European Union, 96, 101, 247 event, 63, 155, 156, 157 evidentiary, 36, 190 exception(al), 31, 134 excess, 30, 62, 63, 67, 98 exclusion, 4, 9, 13, 15, 18, 19, 30, 31, 41, 43, 52, 83, 102, 133, 160, 166, 208, 244, 246, 249 exile, xix, 2, 12, 17, 103, 114, 115, 120, 182, 206; modernity-­as-­exile, 1; permanent exile, 17. See also exodus; migration; nomad(ism); refugee; transmigration exodus, 46, 47, 101; being in exodus, 18, 102. See also exile; migration; no‑ mad(ism); refugee; transmigration exploitation, 162 faith, 200 false, 191; powers of the, 191. See also Deleuze, Gilles Fanon, Frantz, 6 Farocki, Harun, 60, 75, 144, 209 Farroukh, Mustafa, 185, 186 Fassbinder, Rainer Werner, 74 Federici, Silvia, 303n5 Fellini, Federico, 40 feminism, 74, 156; socialist, 58; Third World, 156 Ferguson, James, 43 fiction(al)(ization), xxi, 31, 153, 154, 166, 191 Fisher, Jean, 6, 9, 52 Fisk, Robert, 289n2 Fluxus, 5 Fogel, Jeff, 237, 244 foreigner, 15, 83, 217 form of life, 3, 30, 41, 91, 220, 244

Foucault, Michel, xiv, 41, 45, 82, 134, 174, 214 Frank, Robert, 128 Fraser, Andrea, 12, 248 freedom, 11, 13–15, 22, 23, 25, 42, 75, 82, 109–12, 121–23, 152, 171, 181, 220 Freud, Sigmund, 190; Freudian, 1 Friedman, Milton, 23, 162 Friedman, Thomas, 22 Fukuyama, Francis, 22 Gabri, Rene, xx, xxii, 171, 172, 173, 221; Camp Campaign, 221–44; Radio­ Active, 223, 225; Strategies of Resistance, 222; 24/7, 223. See also Anastas, Ayreen Gaza, 112, 114, 116, 146, 240 Gego, 5 general intellect, 30 Genet, Jean, xx, 144, 151, 152, 153, 154, 155; Prisoner of Love, 151 geography, 4, 30, 36, 41, 42, 71, 107, 160, 162, 164, 185, 202, 203, 205, 207, 209, 211–19, 233; migrant, 202. Also see uneven geographies ghost(ly), 29, 103, 150, 154, 164, 181, 185, 198, 262, 268, 291, 311, 314, 317 Gidal, Peter, 50 Gilligan, Melanie, 165 Gilroy, Paul, 10 Glissant, Èdouard, xx, 142, 155, 157, 158, 160 globalization, xiii, xxii, 2, 10, 21, 22, 28, 32, 54, 74, 94, 109, 160–68, 169, 205, 215; corporate, 23, 63, 168; crisis, xiii; cultural politics of, xv; myths of, 32; neoliberal, 10, 31, 43 (see also neoliberal[ism]) global justice movement, 25. See also alter-­globalization; globalization

index 327

Godard, Jean-­Luc, xviii, 40, 61, 144 Goldblatt, David, 35 Goldin, Simon, 163–68 Goldin + Senneby, 163–68 Gonzalez-­Torres, Felix, 106 governmentality, 41, 42, 134, 168. See also biopolitical; biopolitics; Foucault, Michel Graeber, David, 261n3 Green, Renée, 12, 107 Greenberg, Clement, 274n5 Green Line, 121 Group Material, 226 group psychology, 194 Guantánamo Bay, xxii, 166, 221, 225, 226, 233, 236, 237, 238, 242, 287n1 Guattari, Félix, 12, 13, 142 Gursky, Andreas, 127 Gwangju, 223 Haacke, Hans, 106, 168 habeas corpus, 237 Hadjithomas, Joana, xxi, 186, 187, 197, 198; Je Veux Voir, 197; Wonder Beirut: The Story of a Pyromaniac Photographer, 186 Hafez, Abdel Halim, 240 Halper, Jeff, 235 Hammons, David, 106 Hanafi, Sari, 121, 122, 277n38, 280n31 haptic, 40 Hardt, Michael, 10, 11, 23, 170 Hariri, Rafik, 181, 198 Harvey, David, 161, 163, 285n5 Hatoum, Mona, 5, 6, 7, 8, 104, 115; Measures of Distance, 7, 8, 115 Hayak, Friedrich, 23 Heidegger, Martin, 2, 242 Heller-­Roazen, Daniel, 268n5 hermeneutics, 193; of doubt, 193

heterogeneous assemblage, 206 heterogeneous sensible, 152 heteronomy, 29 heterotopia, 214 Heubler, Douglas, 106 Hezbollah, 178, 198 Holert, Tom, 193 Holmes, Brian, 231 homeland, 88, 106, 107, 110, 116–17, 121, 223, 224, 225 homeless(ness), 2, 35, 120, 226, 229 homesickness, 96 Hughes, Langston, 8 Hsieh, Tehching, 5 human rights, 19, 97, 121, 122, 123, 222; beyond human rights, 122 humanitarian(ism), 90, 121, 122, 135, 145, 160, 170, 246; compassion, 160, 208; crisis, 145; paradox, 277n38 Hurricane Katrina, 225 Huyghe, Pierre, 12 hysteria, 190 identity politics, 46 imf (International Monetary Fund), 22, 249 immigration, 14, 71, 246, 249 imperial(ism), 1, 8, 23, 24, 29, 58, 170, 226. See also empire indeterminacy, 33, 35, 37, 39, 40, 41, 43, 46, 47, 51, 53, 91, 93, 140, 141, 169, 170, 172, 190, 214, 232, 238, 243 information, 62, 173, 190, 219, 243; ineffectiveness of, 173; informational-­ present, 62, 72 Iraq, 55, 79, 130, 169, 170, 186, 223 Irish Republican Army (ira), 50 Israel, 2, 4, 16, 97, 101, 103, 104, 106–20, 130–36, 141–56 Israeli Defense Forces (idf), 147, 235

index 328

Jaar, Alfredo, 106 Jacir, Emily, xiv, xviii, xix, 17, 97, 103– 23, 129; Change/Exchange, 106, 108; From Texas with Love, 106, 111; Material for a Film, 106; My America (I Am Still Here), 106, 108; Sexy Semite, 106, 109; Where We Come From, 103–23 Jameson, Fredric, 7, 215, 219 Jenin Refugee Camp, xx, 144, 145, 151, 158; Battle of, 147 Jobarb, Olivier, 207; Kingsley’s Crossing, 207 Johannesburg, 33 Jones, Caroline, 193 Joreige, Khalil, xxi, 186, 187, 197, 198; Je Veux Voir, 197; Wonder Beirut: The Story of a Pyromaniac Photog‑ rapher, 186 Joreige, Lamia, xx, xxi, 2, 171, 177, 180, 185, 189, 194; Here and Perhaps Elsewhere, 179, 180, 181, 183, 184; A Journey, 2; Objects of War, 182, 184 Joselit, David, 90 Julien, Isaac, 5, 6, 8 Kanwar, Amar, 38, 209 Kawara, On, 5 Kazuo, Hara, 75 Keenan, Tom, 288n11 Kerbaj, Mazen, 182 Kester, Grant, 299n14 Khalidi, Walid, 116 Khalili, Laleh, 196 Khoury, Bernard, 177, 194, 196; B018, 194, 196 Khoury, Elias, 290n13 Kimmerling, Baruch, 114 Klee, Paul, 1 Klein, Naomi, 42, 163

Kluge, Alexander, 74, 80; Deutschland im herbst, 80 Kolbowski, Sylvia, 292n31 Korea, 234 Kracauer, Siegried, 85 Kumar, Raaj, 66 Kurdistan, 94 Kusama, Yayoi, 5 Kwon, Miwon, 12, 298n11 labor, 12, 14, 21, 24, 28, 32, 41, 43, 45, 50, 53, 65, 66, 73, 74, 83, 202, 217; immaterial, 63; migrant, 30, 50, 84; precarious, 162; scientific management of, 45 Lacan, Jacques, 82 Lambert-­Beatty, Carrie, 292n34 Lampedusa, 204 latency, 187, 291n24 Latour, Bruno, 292n34 lawless(ness), 24, 156, 215, 217, 233, 236, 244 Lazzarato, Maurizio, 156 Lebanon, xxi, 177–200; civil wars, xxi Lee, Bruce, 79 Leistner, Rita, 129 Lentin, Ronit, 134 Leopold II, 24, 43 liberation, 88, 100, 113, 121, 143, 157, 195, 239 Libya, 16 Loock, Ulrich, 135, 142 Los Angeles, 221, 229 Luhmann, Niklas, 146 Lukács, György, 2 Lütticken, Sven, 303n7 Mahonty, Chandra, 9 Maimon, Vered, 193, 194 Makdisi, Saree, 181, 193

index 329

Mali, 213 Manovich, Lev, 211 Marey, Étienne-­Jules, 44 Marker, Chris, xviii, 60, 61, 84, 85, 144, 153, 211; Grin Without a Cat, 211; Sans Soleil, 60, 211 martyr, 156, 200 Marx, Karl, 162, 263n14 Marxist, 1, 161, 162, 168 Massad, Joseph, 149 Masson, André, 163 Mauritania, 203, 217, 218 Mbeki, Thabo, 42 Mbembe, Achille, 41, 42, 134 McQueen, Steve, xiv, xv, xvi, xvii, 21, 23–32, 33–53, 75, 91, 92, 94, 161; Caribs’ Leap, 46, 47; Catch, 46; Exodus, 46, 47; Gravesend, 21–32; Hunger, 47; Illuminer, 51; Western Deep, xvii, 33–53 Meireles, Cildo, 5, 106 melancholia, 196 memorial(ize), 196 memory, 62, 84, 111, 116, 117, 128, 171– 73, 177, 180, 182, 184, 187, 188, 194, 196, 198; as absence, 187; culture, 182; and forgetfulness, 188; instrumentalization of, 194; memory deficit, 180; politics of, 184; traumatic, 117, 174; work of, 198. See also commemoration Mercer, Kobena, 6, 12 Meyer, James, 11, 12, 298n11 Meyer, Russ, 79; Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, 79 Mexico, 229 Middle East, xiii, 23, 112, 129, 170, 171, 178, 190, 234, 238, 245, 255 MigMap, 259n41 migration, 1–7, 9, 11–20, 71, 79, 113,

171, 202–8, 213, 215–20, 245, 246–49, 254, 257, 259–61, 271, 278, 294–97, 302, 303, 307, 309, 312, 314, 320, 322. See also exile; exodus; nomad(ism); refugee; transmigration Migration Project, 250n41 Migreurop, xv, 14, 204 modernity, 2, 10 modernism, 80 montage, xviii, 5, 6, 21, 69, 72, 79, 80, 81–83, 198, 209, 210, 216, 217, 238; associative, 217; dialectical montage, 72, 81, 82; symbolic montage, 72; Surrealist, 210 monument, 194. See also commemoration; memory Morocco, 201, 203 Mosquera, Gerardo, 6 movement-­image, 44. See also Deleuze, Gilles; time-­image Mroué, Rabih, xx, xxi, 177, 197; Inhabitants of Images, 198 Müller, Christian Philipp, 12, 13, 14; Green Border, 12–14 multicultural(ism), 6, 9, 10, 36, 59, 106, 157; managerial, 157 multinational capitalism, 7, 10, 42, 168, 215. See also capitalism; disaster capitalism; globalization; neoliberal(ism) multiplicity, 16, 17; Solid Sea 03, 16 Mumbai, 94. See also Bombay Muybridge, Eadweard, 44 Nakba, al, 112, 148, 149 naked life. See bare life Nancy, Jean-­Luc, 50, 52 Nasser, Gamal Abdel, 198 National Federation of Indian Women, 59, 66, 156

index 330

nationalism, 2, 5, 12, 68, 71, 72, 121, 123 national identity, xix, 8, 109, 122, 136, 214, 249 Nazi, 1, 120, 237; Nazi Germany, 13, 120 necropolitics, 42, 134 negation, 24, 51 Negri, Antonio, 10, 11, 23, 170 Nehru, Jawaharlal, 68 neocolonialism, 24, 25, 161, 296 neoliberal(ism), xiii, 10, 23, 31, 42, 43, 45, 162, 163, 182, 246, 248, 249, 255, 262, 266, 270, 285, 296, 303, 308, 314, 316; extractive neoliberalism, 42; military neoliberalism, 23, 170; neoliberal globalization, 43, 245. See also capitalism; disaster capitalism; globalization neoprimitivism, 15 New Orleans, 236 New York, 5, 10, 22, 104, 107, 110, 117, 170, 189, 221, 223, 227, 240, 242 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 242 Niger, 16, 203, 213 Nigeria, 203 nomad(ism), xv, 10–18, 107, 133, 213; critical nomad, 12; global nomadism, 12; lyrical nomad, 12; nomadic, 4, 107 Non-­Aligned Movement, xviii, 55, 68, 156 noncitizen, 4, 19, 20, 250 nongovernmental politics, 94, 182, 246 North Africa, xiii, xxi, 16, 205, 245 North America, xiii Obama, Barack, xxii, 169, 287n1 objectification, 143 occupation (Israeli), 115, 118, 151, 236 Occupied Territories, 130, 145, 234 Occupy Movement, 246, 303

October magazine, 90, 92 offshore, 161–68 Oiticica, Hélio, 5 Oliva, Achille Bonito, 11 oneiric, 153 ontology, 2, 31, 41, 79; open ontology, 59, 79, 159 opacity, 145, 149, 150, 155, 158, 159, 164, 208, 229, 247, 250 operative image, 159 Ophir, Adi, 280n31 optical, 40, 67 Orozco, Gabriel, 10, 12 Osifuye, Olumuyiwa, 35 Osodi, George, 129 Otolith Group, xvi, xvii, xix, xx, 17, 32, 54–73, 75, 82, 91, 92, 94, 97, 144–59, 160, 209; Nervus Rerum, xx, 144–59; Otolith Trilogy, 32, 54, 144; Otolith I, 55–63; Otolith II, 55, 63–66; Otolith III, 69–73; Preparations, 66–68 Ottinger, Ulrike, 35 Palestinian, 16, 17, 103–23, 124–43; right of return, 110 Palestine cinema, 147, 148 Palestinian Liberation Organization (plo), 195 Pallywood, 146, 157, 282n5 Papadopoulos, Dimitris, 284n27 Papastergiadis, Nikos, 256n5 Pappé, Ilan, 135 parafiction, 191 Pasolini, Pier Paolo, 70, 223; Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, 223 past potential future, 58, 155 Patwardhan, Anand, 60, 144 Pessoa, Fernando, 144, 151, 152, 153; Book of Disquiet, 151, 152 picture, 127

index 331

Pinochet, Augusto, 162 Piper, Adrian, 106 Pliny the Elder, 68 politics, 4–6, 8–10, 15, 19, 25, 28, 30–31, 38, 41–46, 50, 61, 63, 71, 72, 82, 83, 90–94, 101, 102, 106, 119, 121, 124–27, 134–38, 141, 143, 156, 157, 158, 169, 171, 174–79, 181–89, 191, 193, 194, 197–201, 206, 217, 220, 223, 227, 229, 231, 232, 237, 243–50; aesthetics and, 91, 124, 127, 138, 229, 231, 232, 238, 243, 244, 260, 314; documentary, 197; governmental, xix, 94, 121, 247; identity, 157, 258; imperceptible, 284n27; nongovernmental, 94; postrepresentational, 271n13; of representation, 208; spatial, 171; xenophobic, 220. Also see biopolitics, necropolitics postcolonial, 5, 6, 10–12, 23, 35–38, 45, 55, 65, 66, 74, 157, 216; studies, 157 posthistorical, 61, 63 postindustrial, 65, 162 postmodern(ism), xxi, 6–9, 65, 74, 191 postnational(ism), 19, 23, 71, 101; postnational sovereignty, 23 potential(ity), 53, 58, 60, 75, 159, 160, 172 poverty, 35, 37, 42, 129, 133, 163, 218, 234, 247 Power, Nina, 161 precarious, 25, 29, 35, 50, 65, 131, 137, 143, 162, 178, 182, 203, 217 Prince, Richard, 127 privatization, 23, 162, 247, 248 Raad, Walid, xx, xxi, 37, 38, 117, 171, 172, 173, 177, 188, 189, 191–94; Hostage: The Bachar Tapes (Tapes #17 and #31), 191–94; My Neck Is Thinner

than a Hair, 117; Secrets in the Open Sea, 117; We Can Make Rain but No One Came to Ask, 188. See also Atlas Group Rabah, Khalil, 104 race, 5, 9, 61, 68; race industry, 9 Ramleh, 234 Rancière, Jacques, xix, 28, 29, 62, 63, 72, 75, 84, 85, 92, 93, 122, 142, 152, 153, 187, 197, 212, 227, 232, 239 Ray, Satyajit, 69, 71, 72; The Alien, 69 Reagan, Ronald, 162, 226 realism, 30, 141, 148, 211 real(ity), 45, 153, 154, 210, 219, 220 rebellion, 214 reciprocal extraterritoriality, xix, 18, 101, 122 refugee, 1, 2, 13, 18, 97, 101, 245; illegal refugee, 16 Renais, Alain, 40 Renov, Michael, xvii Research Architecture Programme, 253 Ressler, Oliver, 209 Retort, 23, 75, 170 Rodchenko, Aleksandr, 88 Rodowick, David, 46, 284n22 Rosler, Martha, 106, 266n31 Roy, Arundhati, 286n9 Sabra and Shatila massacre, 113, 153 Sadek, Walid, 185, 189; Love Is Blind, 185 Said, Edward, 1, 2, 3, 6, 12, 17, 29, 107, 112, 120, 149 Sagar, Anjalika, xviii, 54, 55, 59, 144, 149, 150, 159. See also Otolith Group Sagar, Vidya, 69, 72 Sahara Desert, 203, 208, 213, 214, 245 Salgado, Sebastião, 129

index 332

Saneh, Lina, 183, 184 Sands, Bobby, 50 Sankofa Film and Video Collective, 38 Sassen, Saskia, 249 Sayeau, Michael, 161 Schengen Agreement, 13, 96 Schiller, Friedrich, 93, 232 Schindler, Oskar, 119 Schlingensief, Christoph, 15; Please Love Austria, 15 Schlöndorff, Volker, 74 Schmitt, Carl, 134 Shaxson, Nicholas, 161 Scott, Ridley, 71; Blade Runner, 71 security, 13, 14, 43, 83, 88, 107, 118, 134, 162, 163, 182, 196, 205, 215, 216, 233, 236; homeland, 88, 223, 224–25; paradigm of, 134; paranoid, 238 securitization, 248 Sekula, Allan, 37, 267n31, 278n3 Senegal, 203 Senneby, Jakob, 161–68 sensation, 40, 196; embodied, 196 Seoul, 223 service economy, 162 sexual, 10, 83, 86, 89, 193, 202 Sharon, Ariel, 113, 114, 132 Sherman, Cindy, 127 Shibli, Ahlam, xv, xix, xx, 97, 124–43, 160; Goter, 124–43; The Unrecognized, 124–43 Sholette, Gregory, 271n7 singular(ity), 18, 19, 101, 155–57, 171, 177, 185, 196, 209, 236, 237; becoming-­multiple, 155; as exception, 157; refuge of the singular, 19 site specificity, 107 Situationist International, 5 Smith, Neil, 161, 162, 286n10

Solidere corporation, 181 Solomon-­Godeau, Abigail, 46 Sontag, Susan, 294n10 Soueif, Ahdaf, 284n19 South Africa, xvii, 25, 33, 35, 42, 43, 44, 50, 51 South Asia, 72, 245 sovereignty, 23, 29, 30, 101, 141, 214, 220; sovereign power, 236 Sovereign Trust, 166 Soviet Union, 14, 23, 101 Spielberg, Steven, 71; E.T., 71 Spivak, Gayatri, 11 Star City, 55 statelessness, xiii state of exception, 52, 101, 134–37, 143, 145, 156, 160, 166, 214, 226, 233, 236 state of oppression, 135 Stephenson, Niamh, 284n27 stereotype, 17 Steyerl, Hito, xv, xvi, xviii, 32, 75–89, 91, 92, 94, 158, 209, 248; Die Leere Mitte (The empty center), 83–85; Lovely Andrea, 85–88; November, xviii, 32, 75–83; Red Alert, 88–89 storyteller, 63, 200 subaltern, 46 subjugation, 46; double act of, 46 surpassing disaster, 186, 187, 194. See also Toufic, Jalal surrealist, 210 surveillance, 203 sympathy, 294n10. See also empathy symptom(atology), 190, 191 Tabar, Linda, 121, 122, 277n38 tactical media, 106, 226 Taiff Accords, 181 Tarkovsky, Andrei, 65; Stalker, 65, 71 TauTona Mine, 33, 38

index 333

Teague, Ryan, 152; Sex Preludes, 152 temporal(ity), 1, 17, 35, 42, 44, 46, 54, 55, 60, 63, 67, 69, 101, 112, 154, 169, 209, 237 Tereshkova, Valentina, 59 terror(ism), 13, 14, 17, 71, 72, 88, 110, 114, 156, 169, 170–71, 194, 216, 230, 233 Thatcher, Margaret, 5, 63, 162 Third Reich, 134 Tillim, Guy, 25, 173; Leopold and Mobutu, 25 time-­image, 40. See also Deleuze, Gilles; movement-­image Tiravanija, Rirkrit, 10, 12 Tohme, Christine, 177, 178 Toufic, Jalal, 186, 187, 188, 195 Traboulsi, Fawwaz, 290n13 Transit Migration, 259n41 transmigration, xxi transparency, 155, 156, 158 traveling image, 76. See also Steyerl, Hito Trinh T., Minh-­ha, 283n15 truth(ful)(ness), xvi, 46, 78, 82, 98, 99, 128, 130, 154, 174, 184, 191, 193, 206, 212, 219; crisis of, 46; as fiction, 191; naïve claims of, 128; paradox of, 78; politics of, 174; representability of, 212; telling, 207 Tsianos, Vassilis, 284n27 Tuareg, 213, 214, 219 U.K. Uncut, 168 uncanny, 44, 92, 120 undocumented, 213, 260; persons, 213 uneven development, 161, 162, 245, 285, 286, 321. See also Harvey, David; Smith, Neil uneven geographies, 65, 161, 162, 168,

181, 245, 255, 285, 286, 294, 310, 321. See also Harvey, David; Smith, Neil United Kingdom, 161, 168, 206, 247 United States, 86, 104, 114, 171, 173, 182, 193, 221, 223, 227, 233, 234, 236, 237, 247 universal(ity), 19, 78, 97, 121, 158, 184, 236 universalize, 19, 78 unrecognized, 124, 126–29, 131–45, 160, 182, 235; village, 243 unrepresent(ability), 35, 145, 149, 172, 206 utopian, 2, 63, 66, 68, 109, 112, 114 Van Kesteren, Geert, 129 vérité, 98 victim, 3, 17, 29, 46, 122, 130, 142, 151, 159, 172, 197, 246 video essay, 16, 78, 79, 87, 94, 171, 209– 12, 216, 219 Viénet, René, 81, 82; Can Dialectics Break Bricks?, 81. See also Situationist International Vietnam, 72 Virilio, Paul, 169, 170, 171 Virtual(ity), 18, 34, 38, 39, 40, 51, 52, 67, 70, 78, 123, 149, 156, 163, 213, 215 Wall, Jeff, 37, 127, 128 war on terror, 134, 169, 170, 171, 194, 225, 233, 237. See also terror(ism) Weibel, Peter, 13 Weizman, Eyal, 145 Wenders, Wim, 75 Whitney Biennial, 274n6 West Bank, 16, 104, 111–15, 133, 235 White Box Gallery, 223 Wikileaks, 173 Wilson, Fred, 106

index 334

Winogrand, Garry, 128 World Bank, 22, 249 World Trade Center, 223 World Trade Organization (wto), 249 Xiaoping, Deng, 162 Yes Men, 165, 226 Young, Carey, 165

Zaatari, Akram, 188, 189; Saida June 6, 1982, 188 Zionism, 120, 132, 135, 149, 198 Žižek, Slavoj, 10, 19 Zobaidi, Quais il, 148; Away from Home, 148 Zoe, 30

index 335