Artist: Monika Anselment
This work consists of a series of photographs that I have been taking in front of my television set. The photographs are all the same size (57cm x 80 cm). They are lambda prints made from 24/36mm negatives or slides, and have been mounted on dibond with gloss lamination.
The photos depict acts of violence in various countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Palestine and the United States. The majority of the images have been photographed from news programs, while others have been taken from documentary reports. I have chosen television as a medium for this project because it is universally and internationally understandable. As we have all been exposed to so many similar images, anyone who has a television can understand these photographs and knows that they depict acts of violence.
We are regularly served these wars on television in a miniature and easily digestible form at dinnertime. The extent of this military violence has been reduced here to its smallest possible expressive form – t o a n i m a g e.
My photos all share one thing in common. They are all very beautiful – some are even kitsch. In this series of television images, we are no longer able to distinguish unambiguously between “good” and “evil.” The fascination with violence radiates simultaneously from all of the photographs.
On a purely phenomenological level, we can recognize various elements in the individual photos. In one, we see an explosion over a city, in another, a colorful burst of light. Here, we find a sunset, there, a column of smoke in the mountains.
I find the landscapes in these photographs aesthetically stimulating – they are literally beautiful. They remind me of the genre of landscape painting. When we look at the photos, we immediately perceive that they are beautiful, but we know at the same time that they are representations of death. This ambiguity prevents us from immersing ourselves in the incredible beauty of these landscapes.
The photos present the fascinating side of political violence. It is a fascination that we experienced as children when we knocked over play towers or detonated explosions with chemistry sets. Here, however, it occurs on a scale of which we never dared to dream. Now we are confronted with this fascinating violence as a reality, as an apparently legalized reality. Only upon reflection do we realize that the bright lights and the fire mean destruction and death. Yet despite this reflection, the images retain their fascination.
The effects of war on the world are always destructive. At home in our apartments, however, they are presented on our television screens as beautiful, as a colorful fireworks located far away and with a beauty that is supposed to fascinate us.
Because the fascination of these spectacles is so powerful, it is only with great effort that we are able to draw an intellectual connection between these images and the bloody, deadly consequences of the violent acts they depict. Even when we are presented afterwards with images of dying people, the real human suffering remains abstract and removed.
In my photographs, we see that political violence in the media is staged as a spectacle. In Afghanistan, columns of smoke and exploding bombs form a dramatic stage set before towering mountains. In Iraq, we are presented with a sky full of fireworks and balls of fire. In Yugoslavia, we see not only refugees (whose fates are supposed to convince us of the war’s justness) but also burning refineries and the illuminated night sky. In Palestine, balls of light shoot across the sky. In New York, where the best-staged spectacle occurred, the tallest skyscrapers in the world collapsed after being hit by two flaming airplanes.
Television works exclusively with the medium of film, i.e., television viewers see moving images. Photographs, however, are still images. The photographs presented here have been congealed from moving images on television. In television news, the images change quickly. Over the course of just a few minutes we are confronted with a vast diversity of issues and events. The images race at an incredible velocity from one issue to the next, and we have no time even to gasp for air or to recover from the shock in any way. Images of starving or freezing refugees are directly followed by images of the goals scored at the latest football matches.
When these moving pictures are reduced to still images – photos –, we are suddenly able to sit back and exhale. We have time to look at what we are being shown. We are allowed to pause for a moment, to observe, to register, to reflect and to question.
When television images are brought to a standstill in the form of a single photograph, they become less sharp. We see that the image consists of individual dots that are created by the impact of electrons on the television screen. By reducing the camera speed, I have increased the lack of sharpness in the photographs. Both of these effects lead to an estrangement. In addition to the individual colored dots (which again is a play upon the tradition of painting, in particular, of impressionism), we see a variety of colored stripes. These estrangements are confusing and disorienting. Television news usually consists of sharp, precise images that symbolize objectivity and authenticity. Now, however, we are confronted with these disruptive factors: stripes, pixels and logos. These disruptions remind us that the images have been produced for a particular purpose, that they are not simply reproductions of reality. The estrangements also make the photos more abstract. We do not immerse ourselves in them; we do not partake, as it were, in their internal life. Rather, through this abstraction, we are held at a distance. This distance enables us, in turn, to approach the occurrences depicted in a new and more reflective way and to raise our own questions about the images.
Abridged version of a lecture at the University of Leipzig on 10/1/2003
Translation by Tom Lampert