Theatres

19 Febuary 2015

Theatres is an exhibition about sites of violent geopolitical unrest in the world today. It features twelve recent video works by acclaimed international practitioners. It appears across two venues, Hackett Hall at the Western Australian Museum and Moana Project Space, in the Perth CBD.

In Hackett Hall, seven works of cinematic scale focus on conflicted landscapes. The works implicate the troubling position of the viewer, some through disturbing beauty, some with ambivalence, and others are more directly confrontational.

The relationships between the medium of video, the language of cinema, twenty-first century warfare and theatrical spectacle are placed under the spotlight as the landscape of parts of the Middle East, the US, St.Petersburg, Serbia and Ukraine bear the traces of conflict as silent and impersonal witness.

Meanwhile at Moana, artworks explore the diverse and increasingly complicated way modern conflict is technologically mediated.

Part of the 2015 Perth International Arts Festival, Theatres was curated by Guy Louden, Dale Buckley, and Laetitia Wilson.

Artists
Amir Yatziv Israel
John Smith UK
Baden Pailthorpe Australia
Ahmet Ögut Turkey
Richard Mosse Ireland
Hiwa K Iraq/ Kurdistan
Eva and Franco Mattes Italy
Iman Issa Egypt
Laurent Grasso France

Documentation

Resources

Type Title Source
Floorsheet Theatres, Hackett Hall Moana
Preview Facing Down Conflict The West Australian
Web Theatres Perth Festival
Catalogue Theatres, Visual Arts Brochure Perth Festival

Exhibition Exegesis

Theatres is an international exhibition of contemporary video art which examines the landscape of geopolitical conflict and contention. Taking contested terrain as its subject, the exhibition critically examines both literal and ideological battlegrounds as borders, divides and areas of violent exchange. Featuring recent works by a diverse spectrum of acclaimed international practitioners, Theatres interrogates the troubling relationships between the medium of video, modern warfare and theatrical spectacle.

Theatres of war have always compelled people, both by the nature of their intensity and the promised spectacle of death and disaster. Given the devastation wrought by mechanised warfare upon people and the landscapes they inhabit, this compulsive interest in conflict has an unsettling dynamic. A fascination with the images of contemporary conflict has undertones of voyeurism and exploitation, marked by a distance from reality as war is mediated through surveillance footage, drone photography, video games and digital simulations, or through the amateur videos captured by combatants and spectators, and shared online. War is de-politicised, and the consumption of war imagery almost becomes a form of entertainment.

Against this media-rich saturation of images, the artists in Theatres have embraced the seductive and spectacular capabilities of the moving image to create videos of disturbing beauty or shocking ugliness. Works such as Richard Mosse’s Unitled (Iraq) document the spartan and beauty of landscapes depopulated through the sustained application of violence. Filmed on a disused firing range on the outskirts of an anonymous Iraqi settlement, the work depicts the remnants of obliterated targets as expressive sculptural objects in a desert landscape, whose timeless beauty suggests a grim eternality to the ongoing conflict. A dispassionate voiceover intones the names of sites of conflict in Iraq, some triggering a rush of recognition – Basra, Baghdad, Babel – others as disturbingly anonymous as the site itself.

Other works are even more explicit in embracing theatricality – Cyprien Gaillard’s Desniansky Raion is a 30-minute opera which depicts the open wounds of the post-Soviet, post-modern European landscape, and elevates it into an opera with a regressive and ruinous vision. Gaillard glibly pairs footage from a brawl between rival fight clubs in St Petersburg with images of decaying failed housing projects across Serbia and the Ukraine, culminating in the demolition of an apartment building punctuated by coloured light and pyrotechnics. Desniansky Raion reveals the problem of presenting conflict as an aesthetic experience, and attacks the Western conceit of pointless violence and delight in destruction as a form of entertainment.

In counterpoint, works such as Hiwa K’s This Lemon Tastes of Apple record the collapse of filmic unreality in the face of real-world conflict. The video is a document of the artist’s intervention into a civil protest in southern Kurdistan where, accompanied by guitar, Hiwa wades into the crowd and rallies them by playing Ennio Morricone’s harmonica motif from the movie Once Upon a Time in the West. The iconic score is transmuted into a signal of protest, a call to go forth and a song for the unexpressed, but is abruptly brought to an end by salvos of tear gas and live ammunition, which turn the protest into a rout. The resultant video is a play on the contrast between theatrical violence and the realities of a blood- soaked street in contemporary Iraq, which presents rare insight into a brutal conflict during the Arab Spring – largely undocumented and unnoticed by the West.

Timed to coincide with the Anzac Centenary, and in light of ongoing combats across the Middle East, northern Africa and eastern Europe, Theatres is a significant and timely reminder of some of the realities, and bizarre unrealities, which characterise these sites of modern conflict.