Max and Iris Stern International Symposium 11
Topographies of Mass Violence
March 31 and April 1, 2017
Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal
Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel
The Art of Propaganda, “Real Facts”, and the Erosion of Indigenous Human Rights
Marie Lamensch and Kyle Matthews
Conceptualizing Mass Violence
How can the destruction of human lives, this violence that seems to us impossible to understand, be thought about? How can we conceptualize the transmission and impact of such acts? Mass violence has changed significantly since World War II. Today, most conflicts take place within a single State. Furthermore, the perpetrators and victims of mass violence have also changed. Massacres of civilians by non-state groups such as gangs and terrorists are becoming more and more frequent. To study the topography of mass violence, it is important to define and even classify its manifestations. Focusing on the victims targeted and the perpetrators’ intentions, we will discuss forms of mass violence, including genocide, feminicide, war, police violence and terrorism. Using a few examples, we will also briefly discuss the growing role of images of such violence and their short- and long-term impacts.
(in French and English)
Visualizing Mass Exodus
The migratory crisis of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees has not escaped the attention of picture makers. World Press Photo, Pulitzer, Pictures of the Year and the National Press Photographers Association all depict the exodus. But along with these “masterpieces” of photojournalism are “amateur” photos taken by the refugees themselves, pictures that reflect complex itineraries and itinerancies, producing a moving map of the migration (Exodus : Our Journey to Europe, BBC, 2016). Artworks using military cameras for thermal mapping migration flows and patterns are to be considered as well (Richard Mosse, Incoming, 2016). What topography of migration do these three modes of visuality – journalistic and canonical, amateur et diasporic, military and artistic – establish? What global representation of this crisis stems from these visual tropes? Would mass exodus be a source of visual conflict?
Cartographies of Violence
Violence and space are intertwined: Lefebvre (1991) reminds us that both sovereign spaces and the territories outside of the sovereign are produced, maintained, and regulated by violence. Violence, however, is not only an action exercised upon the body and the aftermath of that action. It also involves feelings, emotions, and affects; hatred, fear, or anger take place in space, and mark that space accordingly, becoming a key site of geographical inquiry within contemporary geopolitical context. Looking at the selected photographic practices, I will inquire how citizens and non-citizens are denied (but can potentially reclaim) the space regulated by violence. Relying on gender and postcolonial theory, my talk will address the material aspects of affective/spatial relationships: regulations upon bodies, mobility or gesture, state boundaries, security discourses and border anxiety, spatial planning of refugee camps, as well as emotional cartographies of departure and destination in the condition of forced migration.
Krista Geneviève Lynes
Sites of Upheaval and Transgression: The Material Politics of Grounded Media
The irruption of protests in disparate parts of the globe in the 21st century has invited questions about the role that mediation plays in circulating powerful symbols of struggle. New visual documents by cultural producers and activists have shifted the vantage points of such political struggles from the heights of aerial campaigns to the more grounded perspective of the street, border, or square; material objects have circulated alongside images to constitute the visual repertoire of scenes of crisis; further new forms of witnessing and intimacy have accompanied the circulation of iconic images, prompting also aesthetic strategies for addressing the spaces of violence and struggle. This paper examines the role ‘grounded’ media play in figuring the social terrains of struggle through a reexamination of the role of indexicality and materiality as key strategies of representation. It explores how the work of artists and activists mediate new social relationships and forms of resistant collectivity.
Media as Conflict Zones
As the frontlines increasingly move into the covert spaces of computation and digital abstraction, well beyond the thresholds of human perception and their attendant regimes of publicity, we can no longer rely upon traditional forms of journalism to provide critical vantage points into conditions of conflict. Screen space has multiplied and refracted the “frames of war” into a complex field of sensors, software, and servers that track their targets—combatants, capital, and consumers—across the electromagnetic spectrum. Investigating digitized and automated forms of contemporary violence requires a conceptual realignment in which we learn to attend to the specificity of struggles that are also working themselves out at the level of processing: from translations between file formats, signal latency, compression artefacts, and data remanence to disclosures of metadata. While cameras and media have long ventured into conflict zones, exposing injustice and documenting violations, the expansion of these zones into powerful computational arrangements must bring about new decoding practices if we are to intervene politically in the electronic fields of weaponized data, where algorithms execute and pixels cover up a crime.
The Seen Unseen: Black Sites and Contractual Invisibility
The term “black site” is currently understood to refer to a secret prison operated by the CIA as part of their extrajudicial rendition, interrogation and torture program, active between 2001 and 2009. However, any place that has been temporarily made invisible by (tacit or explicit) agreement to not see something that clearly exists can also be understood as a black site¾including “temporary holding” zones used for extrajudicial interrogation, from Homan Square in Chicago to the Forward Operating Bases deployed by the US military. When a site becomes a black site, a place becomes a non-place. Real buildings, people and territories are rendered invisible through a sort of consensual hallucination. What happens when this process is reversed? When a place begins to insist on its reality, despite the contracts that mandate its existence as nothing more than a rumour, how do those buildings, people and territories emerge from the black? Is it ever possible to look at a former black site without seeing it through the veil of its previous life in the unseen? And how can an image faithfully depict both a place and its past as a non-place, or a place and its position in a web of social and political contracts that make it impossible to know, speak or see the full history of that place? Mariam Ghani will discuss these questions through the project The Seen Unseen, produced in Afghanistan in 2015 as part of her ongoing collaboration with Chitra Ganesh on the experimental archive Index of the Disappeared.
The Death of the Clinic: Surgical Strikes and Spaces of Exception
A space of exception is one in which people are knowingly and deliberately exposed to death through the suspension of legal provisions that would ordinarily protect them from violence. The modern battlefield is such a space, where military violence is regulated by the activation of international law (“the laws of war”). It also contains an exception to the exception⎯the hospitals that care for the sick and wounded who are hors de combat and who may not be attacked⎯and yet the wars in Afghanistan, Gaza, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere have shown that this immunity is being systematically undermined. This presentation traces the longer history of the weaponization of medical care, and through a close analysis of air strikes and the geographies of trauma care in Afghanistan and Syria shows what is at stake in these new attempts to weaken and even dissolve international humanitarian law’s capacity to limit episodes of mass violence.
Nuria Carton de Grammont
Violence, Narco Culture and the Geography of Fear
The study of the culture of violence associated with the war on drug trafficking in Mexico has basically analyzed the drug culture as a cultural expression of the lower classes. Various manifestations, such as the narco-corridos (drug ballads) have been interpreted as forms of resistance “from below,” denouncing a State corrupted by the drug trade. But narco-culture as counter power has also been absorbed into a powerful and profitable transnational industry that markets narco-telenovelas (narco soap operas), narco-films and even “narco-literature.” Big capital, organized crime and the State are thus complicit in the neo-conservative reproduction of stereotypes that naturalize daily violence as intrinsic to the masses, an ideology that cultivates insecurity and motivates a geopolitics of fear, violence and control of both physical and social space.
Spectral Topographies: Fosses, Aesthetics and the Politics of Truth in Mexico
In the last decade, hundreds of clandestine graves have been found across Mexican territory, reshaping the topography of violence derived from the so-called “war on drugs.” However, human remains and forensic excavations are the visible tip of an iceberg composed of thousands of absent bodies, nonexistent juridical instruments and evasive governmental accountability. Combined, these ingredients produce a sort of spectral violence against civil society, in which the lack of traces activates in the social body a permanent state of terror, turning violence into a somatic dispositive of systemic massive fear. In my talk, I will discuss the role of social memories, spontaneous artistic demonstrations and visual culture in the articulation of what I call the performative dimension of human rights, that is, the “de-somatization” of spectral violence by means of politico-aesthetic machines. By confronting antagonistic case studies, during my presentation I will make sense of the politics of truth in post-Ayotzinapa Mexico.
Territories of Dispossessed Identity
When the collective memory of a people is erased and their own place names are taken away from them, they are also deprived of their social, political, cultural and spiritual references. This presentation addresses contemporary Indigenous issues through a personal topography that is based on the intrinsic need for self-affirmation and positions itself in opposition to the cultural and physical genocide of Indigenous women. It is a sharp critique of the colonial and industrial powers that have stripped Canada’s First Nations of their ancestral lands and continue to relentlessly persecute them through ghettoization to this very day. Cultural privilege is a concept that shifts between loss of the past and construction of the future, becoming a source of dichotomous identity. Sculptural and pictorial monuments then take on the aspect of archaeological sites that bear witness to feminicide, but also to resilience, supporting an approach that moves beyond the consequences of the past.
Revealing the Ontology of Land through Indigenous Visual Narratives of Memory, Knowledge and Living Histories
In this talk, Julie Nagam will reflect on contemporary Indigenous artists such as Rebecca Belmore, Robert Houle and Jeff Thomas who reveal concealed geographies in the spaces of Toronto and other major urban centres in Canada, through interventions that draw upon Indigenous stories of place and concepts of Native Space. Nagam is interested in dialogical aesthetics and its ability to transform the narratives of history, heritage, culture, archaeology and geography to imagine the possibility of space. Her research and practice are grounded in the principal idea that art can create the epistemological, critical and phenomenological conditions to analyze and challenge officially constructed linear histories with stories of place by directly engaging in a dialogue with the archaeology and geography of the space.
Necropolitics of the Architectural Imagination
Entitled “The Architectural Imagination,” the U.S. Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Biennale of Architecture exhibited “new speculative architectural projects commissioned for specific sites in Detroit but with far-reaching application for cities around the world.” According to the curators of the Pavilion, these projects demonstrated “the power of architecture to construct culture and catalyze cities.” “The Architectural Imagination” was itself imagined during Detroit’s post-emergency management restructuring in which Detroit was “catalyzed” by urban austerity policies yielding large-scale displacements of working-class and disadvantaged communities of color. How does the architectural imagination as staged in the U.S. Pavilion relate to the architectural imagination that produced those displacements? How do these imaginations of architecture relate to the necropolitics of austerity urbanism in Detroit? What right to the city is formulated in these architectural imaginations? And how could this right be understood otherwise.