press release

The Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona and the Universal Forum of Cultures – Barcelona 2004 present the exhibition AT WAR, which will occupy two floors of the CCCB (2,400 m2) from 17 May to 26 September 2004. The exhibition, curated by Antonio Monegal, Francesc Torres and José Mª Ridao, adapts to the principles and aims of the Forum and forms part of its programme under the thematic heading of the conditions of peace.

War forms part of the lives of many people, although many of us have not experienced it directly. Nowadays, the media brings it home to us every day. We are aware of the traumatic experience it represents for the populations who live in its midst, yet we also consider it normal for our children to play war games.

How do wars begin? What’s it like on the front line? What does ‘post-war’ really mean? Over the last one hundred years, the way in which wars are fought has gradually changed, but if we analyse it carefully we see how a similar process is repeated in each case. The exhibition AT WAR takes a look at the experience of war, though it follows a thematic rather than a chronological order, stopping to analyse the different phases of a conflict.

As part of the preparations for war, the themes in question are the socialisation of violence, the construction of the enemy and the causes of the conflict. During hostilities, the exhibition focuses on the experience of soldiers and civilians, and on the action of the combat. And when the war is over, at the moment of victory or defeat, it looks at capitulation treaties, trials for war crimes and, finally, remembrance of the events, reflected in monuments and testimonies.

This exhibition addresses the question of what war is, the different facets of the experience of war, its direct impact on individuals and communities and its formalised representation in cultural products.

To this end, the exhibition combines paintings, photography, film, conceptual art and installations, documents and objects, all from very different sources. The artists signing the numerous works on show include, among others, Otto Dix, Leon Golub, George Grosz, Philip Guston, Alfredo Jaar, Oskar Kokoschka, Barbara Kruger, Mikhail Larichev, Mikhail Larionov, Fernand Léger, Kasimir Malevich, Antoni Miralda, Henry Moore, Robert Morris, Paul Nash, Adi Ness, Christopher Nevinson, Robert Capa, Larry Burrows, John Hoagland, James Nachtwey, Peter Turnley, Gilles Caron, Simon Norfolk, Gilles Peress, Martha Rosler, Gino Severini, Félix Vallotton, Gervasio Sánchez, and Jake and Dinos Chapman.

The exhibition AT WAR is a co-production of the Universal Forum of Cultures - Barcelona 2004 and the CCCB, sponsored by El Periódico de Catalunya and with the collaboration of COMRàdio and Ràdio 4.


1.- The socialisation of violence

Before armed conflict breaks out, we are already used to the idea of war due to its omnipresence in our culture and everyday life. In order to explain the war phenomenon, we therefore have to go back not just to its cultural origins in a remote past, we also have to observe the social institutions and practices around us. There are many ritualised forms of expressing conflict and violence, and starting with children’s games human beings become familiarised with the idea of war, which invades the territory of civil society by means of entertainment, fashion and advertising. The infrastructures required for the organised use of force, such as armies and the arms industry, already exist as instruments of prevention. Before a war is declared, we have all the resources to conceive of it and, most of all, the existence of a culture of war in our collective imaginary.

Works on show: war toys and works by contemporary artists such as Antoni Miralda, Martha Rosler, David Len¡vinthal, Jake and Dinos Chapman and the OVNI collective to denounce the presence of war in our culture.

2.- The construction of the enemy

There is one condition common to all conflicts: without an enemy there is no war. The mechanisms of disqualification, dehumanisation or demonisation of the other are based on culturally established perceptions and prejudices that provide the foundations for the exercise of force. The speeches of leaders and propaganda, the memory of past grievances or the threat of future danger, often with the collaboration of the media, all combine to create a cultural network that conveys the notion of the need for and legitimacy of war to the social environment.

Works on show: various objects manifesting racial prejudice (leaflets, caricatures); audios with political speeches by Goebbels, Castro, Franco and Bush; an audiovisual by Indian director Anand Patwardhan that portrays the nuclear race between India and Pakistan; a mathematical model for predicting war.

3.- Hostilities

The prospect of war leads to a call to arms. The result of this process, often irreversible, marks the start of hostilities as such. This is the central body of the exhibition and also the largest (1,200 m2), devoted to the experience of war both for combatants and for the civil population. It takes as its basis documents and images that bear witness to an occurrence whose complexity defies our capacity for representation, yet which is constantly represented. From here on, we are effectively at war, in the space of organised, collective violence.

3.1.- Seeing the soldiers off and civil mobilisations and protests against the war, brought together in an audiovisual.

3.2.- Waiting for action, the soldiers and the many ways they try to overcome fear: religion, sex, entertainment, superstition...

Works on show: a selection of objects made by hand by soldiers, campaign altars, amulets, audiovisuals of Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope and Marta Sánchez raising troops’ morale...

3.3.- The start of combat reflected in an audiovisual that combines documentary footage with sequences from fictional films.

3.4.- The real vanguard. There is a qualitative difference between the representation of war by the artist who is also an eye witness to what he is representing and the idealised reconstruction of the historic event. This extraordinary yet little known backdrop of war art generated by immediate experience is quite different to the epic staged art that hangs in museums. The physical proximity of horror and the deadliness of the battlefield give these artists a moral authority that is hardly extendible to other artists who explore the same contents without having experienced them. The fact that much of the art to have directly reflected modern warfare is unknown merely corroborates the fact that a characteristic of any war is the anonymity of most of its protagonists.

Works on show: works by unknown military artists stand alongside others by the historical avant-garde (Léger, Vallotton, Malevich, Kokoschka, Dix, Grosz, Picasso...) and photographs (Capa, Natchwey...).

3.5.- The effects of the combat: dead, wounded and prisoners.

3.6.- Refugees

3.7.- Urbicides. No approach to contemporary war can be reduced to the viewpoint of the combatants, as by definition war is now at the expense of and against non-combatants, infringing the most basic principles of international law. Up until World War I, the mortal danger lay at the front. But since then it has been the civil population that suffers, as victims or hostages, which it has been in besieged cities and throughout the Cold War. Today, approximately seventy-five per cent of deaths in war are civilian. Today, the front is the city. The concept of urbicide suggests another side to the culture of war: the traumatic upset of everyday life in all respects. And it reminds us that war is not so remote after all – it comes home to visit city-dwellers.

Works on show: Audiovisual about bombed cities, the amateur video of the slaughter in the market in Sarajevo, the blitz in London seen by Henry Moore, the siege of Leningrad, Simon Norfolk’s photographs of the ruins of Kabul, children and war in their drawings, holocaust and genocide, cold war...

4.- Victory and defeat

Wars do not always end clearly and decisively. In most contemporary wars, precisely the opposite is true; it is very difficult, not to say impossible, to mark the definitive conclusion. By way of contrast, the exhibition highlights some of the cases in which the end is more obvious, with the signing of a surrender or a treaty, when the end of the war is announced and celebrated. This marks the moment as of which the after-effects of the war can be described and shows that this is not necessarily an end to violence, suffering or conflict. Reprisals, suicides or exile, trials for war crimes and the mass graves in which the truth is buried, the scars that mark individuals and entire peoples indicate the continuing consequences. Victory and defeat are not clearly opposing categories; sometimes they merge or are inverted, or both sides may declare themselves the winner.

Works on show: front pages of newspapers proclaiming the end of wars; signings and treaties of surrender, images of celebrations and the entry of triumphant armies, reprisals and trials for war crimes; medals and trophies...

5.- Memory

The remembrance of wars, of victories and defeats, is a prime act of collective affirmation of nations. Monuments, cemeteries and stories are constructed, and these processes of commemoration serve to construct the identity of individuals and peoples. The aim of reflecting on the function of remembrance is to present a closed cycle: the discourse on war inscribed in collective memory in the form of monuments and commemorations, and in the history books used to educate children form an integral part of the system of socialisation that makes war a constant in human culture. Future wars often have their origins and justification in past wars and the possibility of waging war is derived from this ancestral memory.

Works on show: various contemporary art installations about memory, including a work by Alfredo Jaar about the genocide in Rwanda, the oral testimony of eight protagonists in eight different 20th-century conflicts, the landscapes of famous Spanish battlefields by the artists Rosa and Bleda.


This exhibition gives rise to a series of activities related to the theme of war: a cycle of lectures organised in conjunction with the CIDOB, a fiction film cycle organised by the Filmoteca de Catalunya, the Zeppelin Festival featuring anti-war musics, a cycle of documentaries, the theatre production Morir a Bagdad (Death in Baghdad), debates and one of the main sections of Kosmopolis’04. International Festival of Literature.


On this occasion the catalogue goes beyond the scope of the exhibition to include works and articles by various authors under the following headings: Introduction, The representation of war, The socialisation of violence, The construction of the enemy, Hostilities, Victory and defeat, Memory and The future of war.

Authors of the texts: Antonio Monegal, Francesc Torres, Hélène Puisieux, Manuel Delgado, Robert Sala, Eudald Carbonell, Joan Esteban, José Maria Ridao, Joanna Bourke, Jon Lee Anderson, David Perlmutter, Michael Walzer, Jeremy Black, Jay Winter, Andreas Huyssen and Chris Gray.

only in german

Kuratoren: Antonio Monegal, José M. Ridao, Francesc Torres
Produktion: CCCB und Forum Barcelona 2004

Künstler: Robert Arneson, Umberto Boccioni, Chris Burden, Salvador Dalí, Otto Dix, Tsugouharu Foujita, Leon Golub, Natalija Gontscharowa, George Grosz, Philip Guston, Renato Guttuso, Alfredo Jaar, Oskar Kokoschka, Barbara Kruger, Michail Larichew, Mikhail Larionov, Fernand Léger, David Levinthal, Roy Lichtenstein, Kasimir Malewitsch, Antoni Miralda, Henry Moore, Robert Morris, Paul Nash, Adi Ness, Christopher Nevinson, Simon Norfolk, Gilles Peress, Leni Riefenstahl, Martha Rosler, Peter Saul, Gino Severini, Félix Vallotton, Jeff Wall ...