Artistic Re-Contextualizations of Conflict Images

Solveig Gade, associate professor, University of Aarhus

This project investigates artistic appropriations of conflict images first circulated on news and social media, which render visible and contest the (often diverging) ways in which mainly Middle Eastern conflicts are being framed, visually and discursively. Case studies include Lebanese performance artist Rabih Mroué’s re-contextualization of YouTube videos by Syrian insurgents (“the Pixelated Revolution”) and Swiss theatre director Milo Rau’s use of the so-called “Caesar” photographs –images of people tortured to death by the Assad regime leaked on the internet – in the performance “Empire”.

Both works juxtapose fact and fiction to reflect on the uncertain status of the image as “proof of truth” in today’s global, digital flow of images (e.g., Reinelt 2009, Hoskins & O’Loughlin 2011). To capture the complex interplay between information and misinformation, fiction and reality, images and politics, at stake in the works, the project deploys an interdisciplinary approach combining theory on documentary art (e.g., Martin 2013, Steyerl 2009), theory on warfare in the 21st century (e.g., Münkler 2015, Virilio & Lotringer 2008), theory on the emotional and ethical implications of photographic images (Azoulay 2001, Sontag 2003, Butler 2009), and theory on visual culture and conflict (e.g., Mitchell 2011, Demos 2013).

An important point of investigation in the project will be how artistic re-contextualizations not only serve to challenge prevalent framings of conflict, but also function as invitations to re-imagine the histories and possible futures of these very conflicts.