May 31, 2004

Living in a biotech world

In 2003 multi-media Piccinni transformed the Australian pavillon at the Venice Biennale into a home environment for her sculptural life forms:

Patricia Piccinni, We Are Family, 2003, Venice Biennale

Mutant life forms: half human being, half dog. The result of runaway medical science? A genetic version of a nightmarish Frankenstein horror.

Not quite. The work raises questions about the nature of human beings and families in a biotech world that we now live in.

We need to accept, and make sense of mutant life forms created through the intertwining of nature and history through genetic engineering.

Biotech indicates the difficulty of continuing to subordinate difference to identity (the same or similar). We always used to think of difference in relation to what was the same (species). But with biotech mutancy we have to think difference as difference not deformed being or monster.

That is one dynamic. Another is the effect of global warming, which is also caused by human activity. The warming of the earth's atmosphere will result in a masssive reduction of life. Will new mutant forms arise? They have in the past.

A the moment it is the biotech industry and the scientific research labs that are creating the different life forms through cloning. Do we have the conceptual tools to make sense of these different life forms?

Does the idea of Cyborg do the job for the new forms produced by human cloning? Or has biotech left that behind?


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May 30, 2004

Sontag: Abu Ghraib photos#4

In this article Michael Costello considers, and bounces off, Sontag's interpretation of the photographs of Abu Ghraib prison. I will spell Costello's op-ed piece as the article will disappear in the Murdoch archives in ten days or so. He raises the question of photography and truth.

As we all know photographs have always been manipulated, through the darkroom, touch-ups in ads and portraits, photographs that make politicians presidential photographs in advertising and tabloids using photographic trickery to turn the fantastic into the supposedly realistic. We are used to reading the photographs of our visual culture critically.

The assumption of the photographs of torture at Abu Ghraib prison is that were truthful. They have been accepted as saying that these events did happen. They are not seen to be fictions.

Costello begins by asking a question that goes to the heart of the photographs of the torture of Iraqi's in Abu Ghraib prison. He asks:

"How much truth do the photos of torture by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison tell us about the war in Iraq? The British painter, David Hockney, has just pronounced that photographs can no longer be trusted in the digital age when pictures can be manipulated by anyone who has a camera."

Costello says that the Daily Mirror photos were digital fakes. I was fooled. Is this the first example of a digitally manipulated image providing the occasion for a major crisis in the truth-versus-falsehood department: someone creating a fake of something important and getting away with it at first, affecting public opinion?

However, as Costelllo rightly points out the pictures of US soldiers are not fakes. They are real. So how much of the truth do they reveal?

To answer this Costello introduces Sontag:

"In 1977, Susan Sontag wrote the influential book On Photography. She attacked photography, arguing that it limits experience "to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir". But more than 20 years later she revisited and revised her opinions in a new book called Regarding the Pain of Others. She no longer argues that images and photographs anaesthetise the conscience by making terrible events seem less real."

Costello says that Sontag elaborates this insight in the article we have been considering in previous posts:

'She points out, correctly, that there were extensive public reports of torture allegations in the months leading up to the publication of these pictures, but no one took any notice. It was the photos that made the allegations suddenly real and serious... Up to then, the reports had only been words on which doubt could easily be cast and which did not require action. But it is a truism that a picture is worth a thousand words. So maybe it is a case, as Sontag says, that the defining memory of this war "will be the photographs of the torture of Iraqi prisoners in the most infamous of Saddam Hussein's prisons, Abu Ghraib".

If we grant that is so, then we come back to the initial question:

"These photos are real. They do have a devastating impact. But Sontag fails to ask the key question. While the photos are real, just as the images we see on television each night are real, are they the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?"

Was the whole truth and nothing but the truth ever claimed for naturalist or documentary photography?

Hardly. In the earlier post we indicated these photos operate in terms of disclosing what has been hidden from public view. The history of photography in war has been a history of both the changing versions of the conflict between the perspectives of the government and the press and changing photographic coverage. The Pentagon and the government learned from Vietnam that it was dangerous (and a mistake ) to allow press photographers too much freedom. This account says that the press was throttled:

"...during the Gulf War, where photographers were kept away from the combat zone except under tightly controlled conditions. In the Gulf War, virtually no combat photographs were published, so that it was left to images of the aftermath to suggest what had happened — and then a photograph of an incinerated Iraqi soldier caused a controversy because of its graphic revelation....the imagery of war is becoming video images showing cruise missiles and plane-launched bombs, along with official shots of the military in effect "on parade," i.e., in controlled, even staged circumstances, and shots — how ironic that term — of refugees, the casualties of war."

So we have different perspectives on, and interpretations, of the war.

Costello loads the deck in this way of the whole truth because he defends the positive aspect of the occupation. He says that although the photos are:

"....real, they are only part of what is happening in Iraq - the newsworthy part. How on earth can you make interesting pictures out of the fact that the education system in Iraq has been rebuilt? How do you make a gripping visual drama out of the fact that there is a free press? How do you make visually exciting the fact that a large number of local elections have been successfully conducted?"

Costello says that you cannot. So although these photographs of torture "are real and a shame and stain on American leadership and its honour, the latent proposition that they are the whole story of the war is false. And it is false not because the particular media outlet is either pro or anti US, or pro or anti a particular war. It is false because this seems to be the nature of pictorial news."
This is very misleading for two reasons. First, as far as I know no one is claiming that these photos are the whole story of the war. Secondly, these are not news photos per se. They were taken by the American soldiers with digital cameras for their own amusement and, presumably, for military pruposes.

Costello then concludes his op-ed by ssaying that if Sontag is right about thje power of these photos to determine what we recall of events, then:

"... if she is right, those memories, those judgments will predominantly be ones of chaos, horror and suffering and will be inaccurate in that they are only part of the tale. It may be, therefore, that a democracy can no longer sustain prolonged actions of this kind because it is the nature of the all pervasive media that it is those images of horror, suffering and chaos that will cumulatively overwhelm the views of any electorate."

That may be say so about democracies. But Costello has forgotten that Australian democracy was divided about Australia going to war with Iraq, with a majority opposing the US intervention without the UN.

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May 28, 2004

Regionalism: Coorong

These images by David Hume are familar to those flying over the Murray Mouth:

David Hume, Coorong, acrylic painting on galvanised steel, 1998, from Beneath the Beyond 2, 2000. (Adelaide Festival of Arts).

Despite the abstraction and beautiful form they represent the particularities of place: Lake Alexandrina at the top and the Coorong wetlands on the right.

The catalogue essay talks in terms of the paintings "suggesting tunnels or shafts with a surrounding vivid blue expanse. Here, Hume seems to be exploring the interior and the exterior strata of the land and their complex interrelationship." What we have is sea, sand hills and fresh water and agriculture that gives rise to a complex hydrology. The Ramsar-listed Coorong wetlands, which are home to migratory birds from Northern Asia, are dying due to lack of water flowing down the River Murray.

David Hume, Younghusband Peninsula, acrylic painting on galvanised steel, 1998, from Beneath the Beyond 2, 2000. (Adelaide Festival of Arts).

More on regionalism here

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May 26, 2004

Sontag: Abu Ghraib photos#3

We can introduce something from Australia into Susan Sontag's endeavours to make sense of the meanings of the photos from Abu Ghraib prison.

This account by Bernie Mathews of Queensland prisons. Brian says:

"To know prison you have to experience the finality of a cell door slamming shut behind your back. You have to realise the futility of hope and experience the humiliation of having to spread your buttocks for prison guards during a strip search. Then you mentally switch off to the kicks and baton blows that rain upon you as you try to breathe through the blood that flows from your nose and mouth. If you have experienced these things you will understand the world of Abu Ghraib."

Graham Young, who commissioned Brian's articles for Online Opinion says that:

"Matthews lays it all out. He talks of his own sexual abuse and sensory deprivation; he lists and explores a number of unexplained deaths; and lastly he looks at the brutalizing transformation of prisoners in the system. Through it all runs the thread of a system that knows the brutalisation is occurring, does nothing to prevent it, and sets the rules so that it is unlikely to be reported on, until it erupts into a royal commission. What a disgrace."

We have no photos of this happening in Australia. It is hidden away from public view. That disclosure is what is significant about what took place in the Abu Ghraib prison.

So let us come back to Sontag intrepretation of the Abu Ghraib photos. She says that:

"...the principal justification for holding them [the prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison] is "interrogation." Interrogation about what? About anything. Whatever the detainee might know. If interrogation is the point of detaining prisoners indefinitely, then physical coercion, humiliation, and torture become inevitable.... in principle, any "information" at all might be useful. An interrogation that produced no information (whatever information might consist of) would count as a failure. All the more justification for preparing prisoners to talk. Softening them up, stressing them out --- these are the usual euphemisms for the bestial practices that have become rampant in American prisons where "suspected terrorists" are being held. Unfortunately, it seems, more than a few got "too stressed out" and died."

She says that the pictures will not go away. That is the nature of the digital world in which we live. It is images that speak to us deeply. They say more than words in reports.

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May 25, 2004

Sontag: Abu Ghraib photos#2

I've been at a public lecture on water and Adelaide's future by Peter Cullen at the Adelaide Town Hall. Since I have little time to post I will pick up where I left off with the previous post.

If you recall Sontag was talking about the meaning of these photographs of torture in Abu Ghraib prison. We left the post at the point where she had observed that "the pictures were meant to be circulated and seen by many people, it was all fun."

Sontag then builds on this by spelling how what this means---the cultural significance of this--- for America as a society. What does understanding photos of torture as fun mean? How do we understand that society that accepts such photos as fun.

"And this idea of fun is part of "the true nature and heart of America." It is hard to measure the increasing acceptance of brutality in American life, but its evidence is everywhere, starting with the video games of killing that are a principal entertainment of the violence that has become endemic in the group rites of youth on an exuberant kick. Violent crime is down, yet the easy delight taken in violence has grown. ....America has become a country in which the fantasies and the practice of violence are seen as good entertainment, fun. What formerly was segregated as pornography, as the exercise of extreme sado-masochistic longings now being normalized, by the apostles of the new, bellicose, imperial America, as high spirited prankishness or venting."

She says that it is likely that quite a large number of Americans think that it is all right to torture and humiliate other human beings than to acknowledge the folly and ineptitude and fraud of the American venture in Iraq. Those who think this way accept an America as a garrison state, in which patriots are defined as those with unconditional respect for armed might and the necessity of maximal domestic surveillance.

She adds:

"Shock and awe were what our military promised the Iraqis who resisted their American liberators. And shock and the awful are what these photographs announce to the world that the Americans have delivered: a pattern of criminal behavior in open defiance and contempt of international humanitarian conventions. Soldiers now pose, thumbs up, before the atrocities they commit, and send off the pictures to their buddies and family."

She says that the torture of prisoners is a direct consequence of the with-us-or-against-us ideology of world struggle. The Bush administration has sought to change, charge radically, the international stance of the United States and to recast many domestic institutions and prerogatives in the name of committing the country to a pseudo-religious doctrine of war, an endless war on terror.

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May 24, 2004

Sontag: the Abu Ghraib prison photos#1

Susan Sontag on the images from the American run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Another photograph here:


Sontag says:

"So, then, the real issue is not the photographs but what the photographs reveal to have happened to "suspects" in American custody? No: the horror of what is shown in the photographs cannot be separated from the horror that the photographs were taken - with the perpetrators posing, gloating, over their helpless captives."

Sontag goes onto say:

"If there is something comparable to what these pictures show it would be some of the photographs - collected in a book entitled Without Sanctuary - of black victims of lynching taken between the 1880s and 1930s, which show smalltown Americans, no doubt most of them church-going, respectable citizens, grinning, beneath the naked mutilated body of a black man or woman hanging behind them from a tree. The lynching photographs were souvenirs of a collective action whose participants felt perfectly justified in what they had done. So are the pictures from Abu Ghraib."

She says that:

"...the meaning of these pictures is not just that these acts were performed, but that their perpetrators had no sense that there was anything wrong in what the pictures show. Even more appalling, since the pictures were meant to be circulated and seen by many people, it was all fun."

America, Sontag says, has become a country in which the fantasies and the practice of violence are, increasingly, seen as good entertainment, fun.

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May 23, 2004

caught my eye


I'm not sure what this building is.

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May 22, 2004


This is the daily sex life of a Staff Assistant, (or "Staff Ass," as the men on Capitol Hill like to say). This is the entry-level job in each Senator's office.

There is nothing about politics on the Staff Assistant's blog. It's about sex. And why not. Sex is always a part of politics, even if politics is what defines those live politics. Even political people need a break and time out to party.

The politics-and-gossip blog Wonkette has all the gossip on the Belle de Hill. (An interview with the person who writes Wonkette is here.)

Washingtonienne says that "the blog is really about a bunch of nobodies fucking each other. I still can't believe people care. I mean, I thought it was pretty typical. Most people I know, that's a typical week." Washingtonienne, or rather Jessica Cutler who used to work for Republican Senator for Ohio Mike DeWine adds:

"Most of my living expenses are thankfully subsidized by a few generous older gentlemen. I'm sure I am not the only one who makes money on the side this way: how can anybody live on $25K/year?? If you investigated every Staff Ass on the Hill, I am sure you would find out some freaky shit. No way can anybody live on such a low salary. I am convinced that the Congressional offices are full of dealers and hos."

Sad she was ousted.

There is a sequel Washingtonienne blog: imitation fiction

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May 21, 2004

existential desires

Below is an image of a television set of the X Files. It was shot during the filming of the final season in 2002. John Divola says that this body of work deals with the literal manifestations of existential desires.

John Divola

I watched the X Files on free-to-air television a while back but I never really clicked with the series.

This blurb says that the:

"...X Files is a division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation devoted to unsolved cases that appear to have some unexplained, paranormal element. The files take their name from the filing cabinet where they were kept - originally filed under U for unsolved, they grew to big for the drawer and were moved to the less populated X cabinet."

This is the X cabinet on the set:

So we have well done photographs of the set.

From memory the television programme was gender bending--trangressive of the strict gender codes of masculinity and feminity. Agent Scully is rational, empirical, and competent in her dual role as scientist and FBI agent. She is gender-coded as masculine. So Scully is an independent woman as a cybercop and forensic investigator. Hence the claim that this was groundbreaking television. We are a long way from Baywatch, but is not Scully the woman scientist still the object of the male gaze? I vaguely remember her body being mutilated.

All the stuff about the conspiracy at the heart of the government is easy to accept, since our Governments are always lying and hiding something. Hence uncovering the secrets of public and private power is a staple of investigative journalism, political campaigns, and the everyday lives of citizens.

All that stuff about the aliens trying to take over the planet was hardly disturbing or subversive. It was standard sci-fi fantasy without much in the way of a pardoy of television.

What I don't have much idea about is the way our existential desires and the X-Files connect. Would that be existential anxiety?

What I did see was that the X-files played on our own paranoiac fears, which are themselves partially a media creation---of 'hyped' news coverage.


Is that image a representation of existential anxiety? Paranoia?

I can appreciate that the narrative of conspiracy is big in the US---eg., the assassination of President Kennedy in the 1960s----and that the cultural logic of paranoia stems from a loss of faith in political authority. The logic of conspiracy is attractive in many different areas of American culture and it has become a part of the cultural logic of late capitalism that is dominated by the simulated spectacle.

Is that the existential desire in the X-Files?

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May 20, 2004

Brand Australia revised

Another image of Australia:
Bill Leak

This is a conservative Australia that locks up refugees and asylum seekers in mandatory detention centres. A fortress Australia that defines itself as engaged in a war of civilizations.

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May 19, 2004

tourism: Brand Australia

Brett Whiteley was a much loved painter of Sydney in the 1970s.

Brett Whiteley, The Balcony 2, 1975

Now his work is being used to redefine, and sell Australia's international image for the international tourist market. Brand Australia is no longer people in shorts standing around the shrimp on the barbie with a glass in their hand.

The object is still the same. Selling Australia as a holiday destinaton.

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May 18, 2004

the male gaze again#6

This is quite interesting in the light of the previous posts on the male gaze.

Don Anderson is following a line of argument that is

'...directly confronting is the long-standing idea that the male gaze is inherently sadistic/active while the feminine is passive. This style of theorizing derives from and is most often associated with Laura Mulvey, who in her article, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” outlines a model that fails to account for the female spectator's gaze while relying on the male’s sadistic gaze for its criticism. "The man controls the film phantasy and also emerges as the representative of power in a further sense: as the bearer of the look of the spectator, transferring it behind the screen to neutralize the extra-diegetic tendencies represented by woman as spectacle"'.

He adds that the reason for making the rupture is because the sexual politics of narrative cinema as well as those within Bataille’s story [Story of the Eye] are too complex for a phallocentric framework.

previous start

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May 17, 2004

Nick Berg video: the sacred

This post was suggested by Guido in comments at public opinion.

Caravaggio's painting of the beheading of John the Baptist bears an uncanny similarity to the still images of the beheading of Nick Berg by Islamic extremists:

Caravaggio, The Beheading of the Baptist

I was told about this stuff when a child by the Catholic nuns. Christians were always sacrificing themselves was the script. Well, that was before the priests got to run society and right order was established.

Then it was heretics who were sacrificed by the priests.

And consider this:

Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath

And this:

Caravaggio, Salome with the Head of the Baptist.

Sacrifice is a part of our Christian culture.

Is not Chritianity structured around sacrifice? It is the very core of its culture? Christ on the cross sacrificing himself us for our sins? We human beings are sinful by nature, therefore sacrifice is needed for our atonement?

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May 16, 2004

going political

This is not a political blog. It is a cultural one that engages in cultural criticism of our visual culture with a political intent.

But these guys really annoy me. They have blood on their hands. So some black humour.
Steve Bell.

They--the Bush Administration---- knew what was going on in Abu Ghraib prison. They set the interrogation methods up. The grunts just did what they were told.

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May 15, 2004

Sacrifice: another iconic war image

A still from the video of the decapitation of Nick Berg, an American civilian in Iraq, purportedly carried out by Al Qaeda:

More pictures of the beheading here and here. The video can be found here though not at work. More extensive links to the video can be found here.

What puzzles me is that Nick Berg is wearing an orange jump suit. Is that not standard US prison wear at Guantanamo Bay?


What does that signify? I have no idea.

How are people trying to make sense of this beheading. John Quiggin's comments are here.

Catherine Lumby tries to make sense of the "horrific images from Abu Ghraib, the United States-run military prison where Iraqi prisoners were tortured and humiliated by their Western captors" by going back to Goya's Disasters of War, where Goya set down the unspeakable cruelty and suffering that attended the 19th-century Spanish uprising against Napoleon I's occupation of Spain.

Lumby refers Hannah Arendt's "the banality of evil" to make sense of the shock:

"The truly shocking thing about these images is that ordinary people took them with the apparent intention of showing them around, perhaps even emailing them on to friends or family.They are, in some primal sense, a bizarre inversion of all those smiling partygoers and contented couples who populate billboards advertising the joys of having a camera in your mobile phone."

The significant point is that perpetrators of the prison torture were ’normal’ people, ordinary human beings. Lumby adds that:

"...we would all do well to remember that these images show ordinary people behaving under the extraordinary pressures of war. They are images of what men and women can do. And, in this sense, they are images which implicate us all. That, after all, is the urgent truth of Goya's etchings: human beings are capable of terrible things; there's nothing metaphysical about evil."

Suprisingly, Lumby makes no mention of the images of the video depicting the decapitation of Nick Berg:


When we do, we make contact with the practice of sacrifice, human sacrifice. Ritualized human sacrifice as with the Aztecs or the Catholic Church (witches). So it is tied up with the sacred. I appreciate that to modern sensibilities the immense level of human sacrifice in both of those societies seems an abomination. But we can have a disturbing and confronting conception of the sacred: the sacred realm as a realm of danger: of eroticism, sacrifice excess.

Bataille enable us to understand this conception of sacrifice as he associates the sacred with excess: that which in some sense exceeds the rational social, political and economic structures constructed to contain excess. The sacred is to be found in the violent, transgressive, excessive, cruel domain, that has to be socially repressed or controlled. One way of control was designed by the Aztecs. Those captured in war by the Aztecs were sacrificed in place of the individuals of their particular culture. An immense symbolic tie was created between the victim of the sacrifice and those for whom the victim was a substitute.
There is more on Bataille and sacrifice over at philosophical conversations.


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May 14, 2004


I've just surfaced. As expected it was a hectic few days.
John Divola,Isolated Houses (High Desert)/ From Four Landscapes Portfolio / Isolated House #5, 1990/92

This is very conceptual work. In the artist's statement for this series Divola says that:

'"Four Landscapes" is a portfolio of twenty 18"x18" black and white photographs. All prints are details from high speed 35mm negatives and are as a result very grainy. These images are organized into four groups with five photographs in each group. The four groups are to be exhibited sequentially and the complete portfolio is designed to function as a coherent installation. '

He then talks about the content of the series:

"California has been represented as culture in a natural paradise (mountains, desert, sea). In this environment, culture has now effectively enveloped the natural; yet, we are still driven to get outside, or beyond, the cultural. People wandering in nature, building houses in the desert, taking boats out to sea - these are the literal manifestations of this desire.Within the contemporary urban reality the natural has become emblematic of transcendence and the vague destination of a general desire to get "outside" or "beyond."

You can replace California with Australia. We often talk about wilderness here but culture has enveloped nature. Even when you stand on the southern cliffs, and look out across the southern ocean, you realize that even this wilderness has been enveloped in culture:
John Divola,Boats at Sea #3, (Pacific Coast), 1991/92
The southern ocean is a playground for those who love boats and fishing. Parts of it have become marine protection areas.

The southern Fleurieu where we have our holiday shack, is now a marine protection area.

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May 11, 2004


I'm going to be very busy the next few days and so I will not have any time to post. It is budget time in Australia. A federal election is looming. I will probably surface sometime Friday.

A picture within a picture.
John Divola, Zuma series, 1975

The Zuma (1975-79) series is a set of interior views of an old beachfront property with a single, central window opening onto the Pacific, like a picture within a picture. In a highly picturesque manner, Divola recorded the house's gradual destruction at the hands of local vandals, occasionally joining his own marks to theirs, thereby bringing into question the documentary status of the undertaking.

John Divola, Zuma series, 1977

John Divola, Zuma series, 1977

This is something you see a lot of along the beach houses along the coast. Vandals have a great time because the holiday places stand empty most of the year. Many are trashed.

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May 10, 2004

John Divola

I'm rather busy at the moment.
John Divola, Blue Cone #2, Maui 1985.

His work seems to have a cinematic focus and to be concerned with memory.

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May 09, 2004

Beach House: California dreaming

Now this makes sense of something that puzzles me about the grand modern beach architecture that's popping up all over the coast line and replacing the fibro shacks of yesterday.

It is not about regionalism in architecture. It is all about the fantasy of living the Californian lifestyle. So the architects produce machines for dreaming in:
Architecture BeachHouse1.jpg

The influence is back to
Craig Ellwood and his cool, open-plan steel, timber and glass sun-filled houses. That is one
strand of Californian modernism.

The modernist beach house comes late to Australia. Pretty much in the last decade. Why so long?

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May 08, 2004

sexual ambiguities

Andres Serrano's History of Sex (Christian and Rose):
SexVH1.jpgSerrano's History of Sex was shown in October 1997 in Melbourne.

At the same time Andres Serrano's controversial Piss Christ was shown in another exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).

If you recall, the Piss Christ, like this piece, was held to be offensive as it failed to take into consideration general (community) standards of decency in the US. Conservative Christians in Melbourne sought to exclude the art work from the public realm on the grounds that Serrano had profaned a sacred object. Serrano, they might consider, has in effect pissed on God. Serrano was deemed to have transgressed the sacred with the ultimate profanity of pissing on Christ (ie., God)

At the time showing the Piss Christ in an art exhibition at the NGV was deemed by conservative Catholics to be a symbol of the excess of secular liberalism.

Serrano considers his work to be religious not sacrilegious. His earlier abstract compositions used urine, blood, semen and milk.
Andres Serrano, Blood and Semen II

Piss Christ is a religious symbol depicted in the first of these fluids.

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May 07, 2004

treated worse than a dog

It just gets worse:

A photograph obtained by The Washington Post shows a naked detainee at the Abu Ghraib prison, near Baghdad, tethered by a leash to prison guard Army Pvt Lynndie England.

This is a powerful image. It shows that Iraqi's are treated worse than dogs. It shows sadistic jailers, not liberators. It reinforces the common belief in the Middle East that the Americans are occupiers.

Images are powerful. Far more so than works. They can evoke very violent responses.

This one will probably become an iconic image.

Remember that iconic image from the Vietnam war? The image of South Vietnamese police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan putting a pistol to the head of a Vietcong captive? This summary execution on the streets of Saigon was interpreted by many to have captured the abject immorality of the Vietnam War.

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May 06, 2004

slowing down

What seems so monotonous from the confines of travelling in a car, can open into a different world, once you get out and start walking and looking.

Edward Weston, Rocks, Point Lobos

It may even be a simple act of kicking off your shoes and feeling the earth with your bare feet.

It shows how we are cocooned by our technologies.

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May 04, 2004

another language

From Zone Zero
James Lauritz, Sand Dunes

James Lauritz, Snow gums

I'm reminded of a poem by Judith Wright. I think it was called 'Falls Country':

"Listen. Listen,
latecomer to my country,
sharer in what I know
eater of wild manna
There is
there was
a country
that spoke the language of leaves."

In our technological mode of being we have have lost that language.

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May 03, 2004

Orientalism: a definition

The British responses to the Iraqi prison scandal have been a tad self-righteous. No British were involved in the abuse. It was the US military. The British are the good guys.

The Daily Mirror reports that British soldiers have been abusing Iraqi prisoners.

The caption says that a ' British soldier urinates on an Iraqi prisoner in a vile display of abuse. The captive was beaten and hurled from a moving truck. Army chiefs are investigating.

If the photographs are genuine, not carefully staged fakes, then they embody a graphic working definition of Orientalism. In her article in the Sydney Morning Herald Margo Kingston says, "Recently, a British officer said the US troops saw the Iraqis as "untermenschen", a term Hitler used to describe Jews, gypsies and other "racially inferior" groups...."

The above photo indicates that the mentality of orientalism is alive and well in the British military.
News reports today say that these photos published in the Daily Mirror are fakes. Fabrications.

The Daily Mirror is saying that the government had not produced incontrovertible evidence the pictures were faked, and that the pictures accurately illustrated the reality about the appalling conduct of some British troops as highlighted in the reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International.

This is a convincing illustration of how photos are not just pictures of reality and the way the war is fought through the media. There is a war happening on the ground in Iraq. There is also a struggle over war that is being fought in the UK through the media.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 02, 2004

the counter Enlightenment

The contradictions abound. And I struggle with them.

The image below is of an Iraqi person being tortured by the US in the Abu Ghraib Prison in western Baghdad, Iraq. The Americans are discovered to be torturing the Iraqi people in the same place that Saddam tortured them.

It's an image that links back to mediaeval times and it has traces of the images of the Spanish Inquistion.


The image is a screen capture taken from the 60 Minutes II broadcast. There were others.

What do these images mean?

This is not the practice of a few out-of-control army privates who've lost their way and wandered over to the dark side. It is a practise of the military-intelligence arm of an imperial nation-state, which says it embodies the enlightenment, that now justifies its invasion of Iraq by saying the country was under a dictatorship, and that it is out to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi Arab public.

Juan Cole reports that the Arab mediais interpreting the photos in a religious way. He says "Al-Wafd's (Cairo) headline referred to the American prison guards at Abu Ghurayb as Zabaniyat al-Ihtilal, the Punishing Angels of Occupation. The zabaniyah in Islamic lore are the angels who "thrust the damned into Hell" and then torture them. Actually I suppose we might call them dark angels or even demons in the West. "

There are other ways to interpet the images. One suggestion is along the lines of democracy plus torture within an apocalyptic framework. This apocalyptic framework traditionally reads like a morality play that calls on heavenly powers ( the US) to judge the (Iraqi) people, reveal the future (of Iraq) and offer the ultimate salvation (of liberal democratic and market freedom). This traditional moral formula (the US as messiah) is inverted as the only reward for piety and sacrifice is pestilence, torture and death.

The images do bring life to the thoughts many think but would never dare to say. If the Enlightenment is embodied in the Geneva Conventions, then the US is breaking them. No question. John Quiggin says demolish the Abu Ghraib Prison.

And the unspoken thought? The images look more like the counter enlightenment than the enlightenment.

Riverbend's reaction. The background on the systematic prison practices are here.

How can we make sense of the contradictions? There are deeper layers than Margo Kingston's bringing the troops home.

My suggestion is that we have the marriage of religion and politics. I cannot but help be reminded of Dostoevsky's "The Grand Inquisitor" scene that exposed the corruptive powers of the church as well as the twisted, irony of human nature.

That scene is one where the flames were crackling round the heretics being burned by the Inquisition in Seville, Spain. The Catholic Church had asserted its divine rule over the people, and it maintained this power by burning its opposition, the Protestants, at the stake.

Instead of the Church we have the violent Republican US asserting its rule in the Middle East, and maintaining its power by torturing its opposition.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 09:26 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 01, 2004

politics and media

The bottom figure is John Howard, the PM of Australia. The middle figure is Alan Jones, the king of breakfast radio in Sydney. The top figure is Professor David Flint, Chair of the regulator, Australian Broadcasting Authority.

Alan Moir

Cosy inner relationships huh? From the political end of the relationship it's called media management.

The cartoon exposes the way that Professor Flint is the modern partisan authority chairman. It shows the political reality behind the appearance of a neutral regulatory authority that is independent of government and acts to protect the public interest against the self-interest of media corporations.

More here and here.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 02:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack