press release

This new international group exhibition at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York gathers together artistic reactions to the ways in which media representations of violent conflict and identity are increasingly rendered through an individualized, and even banal perspective.

In this age of seemingly permanent global warfare, the experience of violent conflict is continually restaged in visual culture. Films, documentaries, mainstream journalism, and user-generated media serve as the ideological, consensus-building theater of conflict. Seen most clearly through the intimate renderings of soldiers, agents, and politicians, the identificatory power of the personal overwhelmingly occludes the broader constructs of the political. The artists in AN I FOR AN EYE foreground this complex politics of attachment, detachment, and affect in their counter-representations of conflict.

The exhibition was curated by Stamatina Gregory and the Austrian Cultural Forum's departing director, Andreas Stadler; the opening will mark the first event presided over by the Forum's new director, Christine Moser, who will be taking over in September. The show features artists working in different regions and from within different contexts, all sharing a particular focus on personal and distributed media, the cinematic, and the contemporary culture of spectacle. Using a number of strategies, these artists deconstruct—and contest—the affective means by which violent conflict is presented, imagined, experienced, and consumed.

Many of the works shown in AN I FOR AN EYE comment on the process of detachment by performatively manipulating contextual frameworks, or doing away with them altogether. In a video by German-Slovakian duo Anetta Mona Chisa and Lucia Tkáčová, two chatty teenage girls subject world political leaders to judgment, reducing their relevance within a global political context to attributes of physical attractiveness. Similarly, the Austrian collective G.R.A.M., in a series of photographs, portray individual members of parliament involved in fictional skirmishes. The decontextualized images parody useless yet ubiquitous tropes of legislative reportage. Palestinian artist Sharif Waked explores the industry of amusement in his video, Gaza Zoo, referencing an incident in which animals in a zoo in Gaza perished during Israeli attacks, only to be replaced by an enterprising zoo owner who painted donkeys to look like zebras.

Other artists employ the irreverent, deadpan, and parodic in their works. The two images from Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour's controversial short sci-fi film, The Nation Estate (2012), offer a clinically dystopian, yet humorous approach to the deadlock in the Middle East, suggesting a vertical solution to Palestinian statehood in the form of a single colossal high-rise skyscraper. AN I FOR AN EYE also includes a sculpture by Austrian Christoph Weber, consisting of a series of identical cracked concrete slabs that are actually made of an acrylic resin—symbols of destruction through brutal force turned into something absurd. Three drawings by Gerhard Rühm literally place the banal within a formal structure of high culture, with commentary on Austria's violent past scribbled onto music staves. A commissioned installation by Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal features neon signage which playfully exposes the simplistic ways in which societies make assumptions about cultures different from their own.

The Palestinian identical twins, Tarzan and Arab, raised on bootleg DVDs of Hollywood films, produced, directed and starred in the short film Colorful Journey. The film portrays factional infighting within Gaza and its political, social, and personal cost. In their Gazawood series of posters advertising films named after Israeli army operations, the brothers both employ and subvert common cinematic tropes to comment on the violent situation in the occupied territories.

AN I FOR AN EYE also includes works by artists who employ self-reflexive strategies of performance and appropriation, such as Lebanese artist Rabih Mroué. With his meticulously deconstructed video reenactment of Syrian snipers shooting directly at civilians who simultaneously point mobile phone cameras at them, Mroué searches for the possibility of human connection in the midst of an alienating civil war. British-Spanish filmmaker Isabel Rocamora's film, Body of War, dissects hand-to-hand combat between soldiers, revealing the ambiguity that arises between brutality and love as reflected in the intimate act of waging war. The series of deadpan images by photographer Ad van Denderen depicts anonymous Dutch army recruits assigned to peacekeeping (or war-extending) activities. In contrast to strategies of recent war films, the portraits withhold heroics, pathos, or any means of identification with their subjects, interrogating the abstract figure of "occupation" itself.

Other artists confront the perpetual emotion machine of contemporary visual culture by proposing historical counter-narratives and providing perspectives unrepresented in the media. Vietnamese photographer An-My Lê, who came to the U.S. as a teenage refugee in 1975, knows the Vietnam War mainly through media sources. With her series Small Wars (1999-2002) documenting Vietnam War battle re-enactments in rural America, she questions how we remember, glorify, and imagine war after the fact. In Austrian artist Anna Witt's film, The Eyewitness (2011), a group of young children is confronted with Reuters news images. Detached from their respective contexts, the images are reinterpreted from a childlike perspective, allowing for a completely new reading. New York-based artist Dread Scott's commissioned series of screen prints on paper feature subtle portraits of a variety of drones in an unidentified sky, highlighting the invisibility and media silence on drone surveillance.

Artists: Wafaa Bilal, Anetta Mona Chisa & Lucia Tkáčová, Ad Van Denderen, G.R.A.M., An-My Lê, Rabih Mroué, Isabel Rocamora, Gerhard Rühm, Larissa Sansour, Dread Scott, Tarzan & Arab, Sharif Waked, Christoph Weber, Anna Witt

About the curators Stamatina Gregory is a New York-based independent curator and art critic. Gregory participated in the Whitney Independent Study Program (2005/06), and was the Whitney Lauder Curatorial Fellow at the Institute of Contemporary Art at UPenn (2007/09). She is co-curator of the national pavilion of The Bahamas at the 55th Venice Biennale, and is organizing exhibitions for the Wende Museum, Culver City, and The Jewish Museum, New York. Gregory is also a PhD candidate at CUNY, working on a thesis titled "Strange Terrains: Photographing the Militarized Landscape in the United States."

Andreas Stadler is a diplomat who served as the director of the Austrian Cultural Forum New York from 2007 to August 2013. During his term, the Forum mounted around 20 international group exhibitions, which included artists such as Marina Abramovic, Matthew Barney, Thomas Hirschhorn, Rashaad Newsome, Ed Ruscha, and Cindy Sherman, and also exposed New York audiences to Austrian trailblazers such as Maria Petschnig, Hans Schabus, Matthias Herrmann, Zenita Komad, and many others.

About the Austrian Cultural Forum New York With its architectural landmark building in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, the Austrian Cultural Forum New York hosts more than 200 free events annually and showcases Austrian contemporary art, music, literature, and academic thought. Fall 2013 marks the inaugural season for new director Christine Moser, who will be the first woman at the helm of Austria's flagship cultural outpost.

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Counter-Representations of Geopolitical Conflict

Wafaa Bilal, Anetta Mona Chisa & Lucia Tkacova, Ad van Denderen, G.R.A.M., An-My Le, Rabih Mroue, Isabel Rocamora, Gerhard Rühm, Larissa Sansour, Dread Scott, Tarzan & Arab , Sharif Waked, Christoph Weber, Anna Witt

Stamatina Gregory, Andreas Stadler