Serious Games. War Media Art, curated by Antje Ehmann, is a group show built around recurring topics in Harun Farockis decades-long film practice, which brings to light the war of images lurking behind the images of war in contemporary media.
Heavy black drapery concealing the exhibition entrance gave the impression that one was about to enter the heart of darkness. Fittingly, the first rooms sole light source came from 25 glowing globes in Ingo Günthers Worldprocessor (19892011). In the second room, Afghan War Carpets (19802002) made by anonymous Afghans, display war motifs panzers, Kalashnikovs, rocket-launchers woven into traditional patterns. The carpets underscored the dichotomy between worthy and unworthy victims Noam Chomskys terms for the asymmetry between whom the media chooses to cover and to neglect addressed in several testimonial works, like Lamia Joreiges Objects of War (200306), Wael Shawkys Larvae Channel (2009) or Fazal Sheikhs The Victor Weeps (1998).
While the deaths of millions have been consigned to media oblivion, the Western viewers disenfranchisement was expressed in John Smiths Hotel Diaries (200104). Censorship, like most other things in the free world, has been privatized; the media bias is the result of, not direct interdiction, but corporate consolidation. In the third room, William E. Jones Killed (2009) offered a rare glimpse of a direct act of censorship: the artist retrieved photographic negatives which were decimated by the US Farm Security Administration (193746) and which all display a punctured middle. Not all forms of obliteration leave a trace, however, and the most effective forms of suppression are the positive ones. Serious Games (2010), the eponymous series by Farocki, offers a comment on the alliance between the military-industrial complex and the leisure industry and addresses a long lineage of American war epics, from The Deer Hunter (1978) right up to The Hurt Locker (2008), which crucially bracket out the agony of the local civilian population to focus solely on the pain inflicted on their own protagonists. Also confronting the viewer with the pathos that undercuts Western ethos, Allan Sekulas photographic series War Without Bodies (199196) captures visitors to a military show sticking their fingers down the muzzle of an artillery gun.
The exhibition reached its dystopian climax on a note Walter Benjamin would have recognized: presenting annihilation as a source of aesthetical pleasure in David Claerbouts Vietnam, 1967, Near Duc Pho (2001), a photograph of an aeroplane shot down spectacularly in mid-flight, and in Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarins The Day Nobody Died (2008). While embedded in the British army in Helmand province in Afghanistan, Broomberg and Chanarin unrolled fifty metres of film in the desert to create what they describe as a sunburn reel. The resulting image is a bright white hue, its edges fading into a brownish green.