Images of terrorist attacks can be seen live, and within seconds they are dispatched via media portals throughout the world. Ten years after 9/11, the artists of the exhibition Seeing is Believing at Kunst-Werke in Berlin investigate the power and status of these images.
Seeing is Believing starts in utter darkness. The main hall of Kunst-Werke on ground level is left completely unlit. As your eyes slowly adjust to the gloom, the contours of a truck loaded with boxes, gas cylinders and mysterious devices start to doom up. However, the black emptiness insists on keeping the shapes hard to recognize.
Phantom Truck (2007) by American artist Inigo Manglano-Ovalle shows a life-size 'platonic model' of a truck, a reconstruction of the mobile bio-weapons labs that Colin Powell presented during his speech for the UN Security Council in 2003. The image of the truck, which became the central argument in justifying the Iraq war is a fuzzy satellite photograph that was analyzed by 'renowned photographic experts' but was later proved to be fake. The piece questions the power of art; can this artistic gesture break the medial superior power and come close to the spiritual reality of terror and violence?
Manglano-Ovalle's strong beginning seems promising, but surprisingly leaves a large part of the exhibit filled with works that either evoke great similarities or are unsuitable for this particular show. On first floor level Tyran Simon's Contraband (2009) and Abbas Akhavan's Makeshift Objects (2008 - present) respectively display a (photographed) collection of confiscated objects on airports such as animal horns, mushrooms, meat and cigarettes and an accumulation of supposedly harmless everyday objects like spoons, razors and combs that are turned into dangerous weapons. Although the works approach the similar theme from a different angle, they both emphasize either the banality or the great eccentricity of the objects in the context of genuine terror and the extreme rigidity reached by current security precautions.
Whenever the artists respond to the blurred boundaries between imagined reality and narrative fiction as well as the moral boundaries between perpetrator and victim, good and evil, and the sexual fetishism of war, they remain trapped in the television lens and the narrow frame of the screen by showing video works that, using the same media, touch upon analogous themes (Adrian Paci, Electric Blue, Paul Chan, Re: The Operation and Kenneth Anger, Uniform Attraction).
In the course of its narrative, the exhibition loses its focus. A working with the concepts of exile and exit play on words of the artist Adel Abdessemed (exit, 2007) or the beautiful but the somewhat irrelevant image archive from Lebanon by Akram Zaatari, (Twenty-Eight Nights and a Poem, 2010) although deriving from crisis regions, leads away from the real issue. The overlapping tones of the various film installations reinforce the blurring of the show.
Seeing is Believing irritates with such a change of perspectives and locations. The U.S. attack on Iraq, the NATO operation in Serbia, the Middle East conflict or the civil war in Lebanon - the manipulation of images is not always the same. The reality behind it even less. Through the often inappropriate contextualisation of many works, what only becomes more prominent is that they are incapable of grasping the show's context which consequently robs them from their political significance. And that's hard to comprehend.
11 September – 13 November
KW Institute for Contemporary Art