At first sight, this piece of art held incredible awe for the visitors. A beam of light is radiating through the exhibition room. The installation is big and has small cords from the light bar. I thought this was done in order to mimic a light garland. Then it hits me; it is an aesthetical display of the impact of a bomb attack. To be specific: a drone strike in 2012 in Miranshah, North Waziristan in Pakistan at the border of Afghanistan. This information is given on a yellow information tag. It’s placed behind the visors when you face this piece. The yellow tag plainly informs the visitors with the following information: “Report prepared for the UN Special Rapporteur (UNSR) for Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights. Presented at the UN General Assembly, 2013.”
I’m confused. Is this a report? Why is this exhibited in a museum? And why is it beautiful? What did they present at the UN General Assembly? This installation? I continue reading:
“Buildings were the most common targets in the CIA secret drone assassinations campaign in Waziristan. Despite official denial, thousands of civilians have been killed. The area is under physical and media siege. Both the Pakistani military and militant groups prevent the transit of electronic paraphernalia – including navigation equipment, mobile phones and cameras – into the region. The consequence is a media blackout where very few photographs and eyewitness testimonies are available, creating the ideal conditions for the secrecy and denial involved in drone warfare.”
This is very disturbing information.
“On 30 March 2012, a drone strike hit a market area in Miranshah/Pakistan killing four people. A rare video, 43 seconds long, was smuggled out through siege lines. Reconstruction the room in real scale, we noticed that where the fragments are in lower density, it is likely because people absorbed them and their bodies got printed on the wall.”
On their website, they explain the aim of this piece: “One of the most under-researched aspects of drone warfare has been spatial; that is, the territorial, urban, and architectural dimensions of these campaigns. Forensic Architecture has investigated several issues relating to the spatial mapping of drone warfare; for example, the geographical patterns of strikes in relationship to the kind of settlements (towns or villages) targeted and types of buildings targeted. Our aim was to explore what potential connections there might be between these spatial patterns and the numbers of casualties, especially civilian casualties.”
Mournful, sad or distressed does not even cover how unfortunate these events are. However, I think that many of the visitors – like me – were confused to find this kind of installation in a museum. For me, it brought Nato Thompson’s book Seeing Power to mind. In his book, the curator-author elaborates on the complications of visual correlation between art and activism. Thompson examined whether ambiguity or didacticism is favoured in art and activism. He states that in art, a certain level of opaqueness is encouraged, just enough to feed speculation. In activism – however – clarity is preferred. This is why most socially engaged art fits somewhere in between ambiguity and didacticism. It should be didactic to an extent that it is legible enough to impart ideas and engage the viewer in a level of ambiguity in order to explore the work for the viewer.
This work of art is clearly intended to be an activist piece. If there would be a bar of didacticism and ambiguity, this piece would point clearly to the former. And therefore it could be confusing since most contemporary art is more or less pointing in a certain amount of ambiguity. But for the reason they aestheticized activism, they were able to capture the viewers in another way.
This piece is part of MACBA’s exhibition: Forensic Architecture – Towards an Investigative Aesthetics and is on view until October 15, 2017.