Date: 30.08.2022 — 06.09.2022
main screening event: 30th of August, 19:00 in etc. gallery, Srajevská 16, Praha 2
online screening: 30th of August – 6th of September 2022
The Politics of Visibility programme will present an essay and four art videos that reassess the act of watching. Phillip Kolychev’s video reveals the seductive nature of conspiracy images, Natálie Drtinová’s essay deals with the queer politics of visibility, a video from The Atlas Group project highlights the Orientalist fetishizing view of the Middle East, and artists Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee demonstrate in a video dialogue how the activity of watching can constitute a fight against terrorist propaganda.
Early last year, an angry mob of Donald Trump supporters turned their fury on reporters covering the attack on the United States Capitol. Activists chased news crews and robbed them of filming equipment. The angry mob kicked all kinds of cameras and lights. They stomped on the equipment, beat it with sticks and poured water on it. Some made a noose out of cables and hung the camera from a tree, while others tried to set the equipment on fire. The rioters also attacked Trump’s favourite news channel, Fox News. This unusual violence against filming equipment seems to represent a revolt against the dependence on media coverage of everyday life. Some of the demonstrators were also people who openly proclaim interpretations of the world that are referred to as conspiracy theories. The distrust in accepting facts leads many people to alternative sources of information found in diverse internet forums, user-generated content sharing platforms and various forms of citizen journalism. The reason for this may be discontent and simmering rage, amplified by the disdain of a part of our society made up of the liberal educated class that prides itself on rationality and views these angry people as fools. Phillip Kolychev’s video Real Eyes Realize Real Lies (2019) allows the viewer to become immersed in a reality based on alternative facts, without judging their creators or viewers themselves. It ponders the questions to what extent paranoia is caused by social conditions and how people suffering from paranoia are socially excluded. The seductive content of the conspiracy images, wrapped in a gamified form, gives its followers the ability to act while explaining the reasons for insecurity. Kolychev shows where their power lies by letting the images work directly without using estrangement techniques.
A fixed gaze that chooses from a portfolio of truths also gives rise to the problem of fixed identities and gender-based objectification. Natálie Drtinová’s text Proti queer viditelnosti (Against Queer Visibility) shows how problematic the politics of visibility, which has dominated LGBTQ+ activism in recent decades, really is. Contemporary art often claims to expose something, to hold up a mirror or to be a sort of magnifying glass focusing on an issue. Conversely, art that insensitively makes anything visible can put representatives of marginalised groups at risk. Whether it is refugees without residency permits or LGBTQ+ people whose visibility leads to increased targeted violence.
Similar to Natálie Drtinová’s description of gender transgressive individuals becoming a spectacle for other people’s pleasure and entertainment, Souheil Bachar’s character in Hostage: The Bachar Tapes (#17 and #31) is also a result of a fetishizing gaze. “They were disgusted by my body, but they were touching me all the time,” Bachar testifies in a fictional recording that is part of The Atlas Group (1989-2004), a project by a Lebanese-American artist Walid Raad, during which he collected documents by fictional authors relating to contemporary Lebanese history. In the video Hostage: The Bachar Tapes (#17 and #31), we see the testimony of a Lebanese captive who, along with five Americans, was imprisoned by Islamic militants during the Lebanese Civil War. His confession shows an Orientalist fantasy in which the fetishization of non-white people is transformed into a mix of repulsiveness and sexualization. The leaked photographs of Iraqi prisoners sexually and otherwise abused by US soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison (in 2004) are but its inevitable continuation.
The image of the Middle East is becoming a battleground between media mediation, conspiracy theories and the propaganda of terrorist organisations. In the series Bottled Songs (2020), in which Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee exchange video letters, the authors analyse the audiovisual propaganda of the terrorist organisation Daesh and the impact of their images. They examine the ways in which the videos are disseminated online, how they are shared, remade, commented on, and how their meaning changes. Seemingly iconoclastic terrorist organizations that destroy cultural sites should be understood as iconophilic communities that also fight on the cultural front line. They create images that aim to manipulate viewers and create fear – the camera becoming a torture device. They achieve this by abusing platforms for citizen journalism, taking inspiration from Hollywood and early revolutionary cinema, and creating dramatic arcs. Even at the cost of further dissemination as an inevitable side effect, Galibert-Laîné and B. Lee present a way to fight these images by countering their emotional assault. A close analysis of such films helps to create a distance and thus prevent them from inducing anxious reactions. After all, as the artists describe, the act of watching brings its emotional, intellectual, aesthetic and ultimately ethical consequences.
Natálie Drtinová graduated from the Liberal Arts and Sciences program at the University College Utrecht, during which she spent a semester at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. She continued her studies with art theory at AAAD in Prague and gender studies at FHS UK. Natálie is interested in the intersection between art and social issues, utopian imaginations, and neo-materialist research. She works in galleries and as an art critic. She also contributes to media such as Artalk, Flash Art, Fotograf Magazine or Artyčok.TV and occasionally curates. Between 2019 and 2021, she was the fine arts editor in the cultural fortnightly A2. Drtinová is a member of the Czech association ABCD dedicated to art brut and manages the archive of Anna Zemánková.
Philipp Kolychev is a multimedia artist based in Prague. He is a graduate of the studio of new media at the Academy of Fine Arts. In his work, he deals with the social responsibility of the artist in times of humanitarian crisis and environmental collapse.
The Atlas Group was a project undertaken by Walid Raad between 1989 and 2004 to research and document the recent history of Lebanon, with particular emphasis on the Lebanese wars of 1975 to 1990. Raad found and produced audio, visual and literary documents that shed light on this history.
Chloé Galibert-Laîné is a French theoretician, researcher, and filmmaker currently working at the Lucerne School of Art and Design in Switzerland and teaching film and media theory at several European universities. In her work, they primarily focus on the intersections between cinema and online media, video essays, and desktop documentaries.
Kevin B. Lee is an American filmmaker, media artist, and film critic. He graduated from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and in his practice most often uses the form of a documentary. His works often criticize the film industry and the medium of film itself. Lee regularly works with Chloé Galibert-Laîné and their films are presented at many film festivals around the world.
This project was sponsored by Video Data Bank and financially supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic and Prague City Hall.