Chanel Zero
by Katerina Gregos

We live within a culture marked by violence, both real and simulated. Acts of violence and references to it, whether pragmatic or fictional, dominate television, film, newspapers, magazines, video games, cartoons, books, and a wide plethora of cultural manifestations. To this excessive proliferation of violent images and texts we react as passive observers. The quantity and frequency of these representations has stripped them of the effect they once had, often neutralizing them and turning them into abstractions. In the society of the spectacle where the image exercises an all-pervasive power and everything tends to be reduced to mere representation, images of violence have become commonplace, yet another product for consumption.

In the post-September 11th era, and the wake of the recent war in Iraq, this culture of violence seems to be heightened, accentuated by the increasingly polarized division of the world into good and bad, ‘us’ and ‘them’. As a result of these events, and the so-called “war on terrorism”, it appears we are increasingly existing in a state of (almost) constant alert; post-1989 euphoria and optimism has given way to cynicism, pessimism and the return of fear as a very real issue. Invisible walls of terror, ignorance and hate have replaced the walls of the cold war.

Within this expanding culture of violence, the relationship between fact and fiction has been conflated, as it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between the two. Real life events involving explicit violence have become the basis of a perverse sort of entertainment in television and the entertainment industry; on the other hand, news casting and journalism have become increasingly formulaic, sensational and less ‘neutral’ and ‘objective’. The barrage and repetition of this kind of imagery inevitably causes detachment and indifference. The fact is, that enormity of tragedy remains largely ungraspable and un-representable as we, the audience, are increasingly ‘experiencing’ the world through the filter of the media. Paul Virilio has called this phenomenon “fin de siecle infantilization”, where the reality of battle, for example, is reduced to the flickering of images on a screen. In fact, there are many who argue that war and other such massive manifestations of violence, no longer exist in real locations but have been reconfigured as electronic artifice, stripped of its traditional trappings, remaining undefinable and technologically mystified (Jean Baudrillard). While this is partly true, depending on where one happens to be residing (in the literal and metaphorical sense), we cannot reduce violence simply to its representation. One could indeed claim is that we are experiencing and perceiving the world in different gears: real, mediated and simulated. But, for some people, reality is VERY real. The current situation in Iraq reinforces this point.

The artists who will participate in this exhibition make art that responds to the culture of violence that surrounds us and explore media representations of violence, and, to a lesser extent, representations of violence in the entertainment industry to analyse, undermine and deconstruct them. They comment on the often-paradoxical ways that violence is represented: its trivialization, banalisation, normalization or its spectacularisation, glamorisation, sensationalisation. They question media strategies and mechanisms of representation. They examine the conflation of violence as both spectacle and putative reality that often occurs in the media in order to point to their social disconnect and their tendency toward excess or oversimplification in their anxiety-driven quest for ratings. In this exhibition one will be able to trace complex strategies of socio-political critique and satire, gestures of playful ambivalence and irony, and insightful reflections and re-presentations on the familiar and the mundane that expose the voyeuristic nature of ‘consuming’ violence. The artists in it are simultaneously engaged in a serious critique of the role of images in our society, at a time when the public seems increasingly immobilised in front of their television sets in morbid anticipation of the next catastrophic event, numb, indifferent and impervious to real human suffering. As a result, one of the key concerns of the exhibition is a reflection on the psychological dimension of how we perceive violence.

However, apart from being fixated with images of violence and catastrophe the exhibition will aim to offer a redemptive alternative, which reflects the ever-increasing desire for a culture of peace and a critique of the current political hegemony. As a result, some works will present a restorative vision, a counterpoint to the often absurd way in which media portray events, attempting to re-install the sense of empathy that has been lost to societies force-fed a diet of daily catastrophology. Through their works, the artists will attempt to comment on, counter and transform the conventions of media and the press, which frequently objectify violence. Such a thematic focus is now even more contextualised in the light of recent events. Some of the artists themselves come from contested territories and are thus in a particular position to be able to understand such complexities and especially the distinction between the real and the re-presented.

To what extent can representations of violence awaken our consciousness? How do artists react, as a new kind of war mongering becomes part of the current status quo? How do they react to the polarized conception of the world that advocates surveillance and control over freedom in return for safety? Sifting through the often-deceptive images created by the mass media, they point to the heavily mediated perceptual field of world events and offer alternative readings of them.

Katerina Gregos