"SOFT MANIPULATION - WHO IS AFRAID OF THE NEW NOW?"
In cooperation with Casino Luxembourg - Forum d´Art Contemporain
Curators: Zoran Eric, Maria Lind, Enrico Lunghi
Alexandra Croitoru & ST | Köken Ergun | Sagi Groner | Per Hasselberg | Saskia Holmkvist | Andreja Kulunčić | Julia Meltzer & David Thorne | Carlos Motta | Rabih Mroué & Elias Khoury | An-My Lê | Ferhat Özgür | Jenny Perlin | Lisi Raskin | Bert Theis | Måns Wrange | Carey Young | Katarina Zdjelar | Artur Žmijewski
20.03. - 03.05.2009
The exhibition Soft Manipulation is based on the observation that contrary to popular belief, the continuous ﬂow of information to which we are subjected on a daily basis does not actually explain the world but, quite the contrary, serves to veil reality. This circumstance results in a diffuse sense of collective angst, which is purposefully channelled or entertained, despite the fact its mid- or long-term effects on citizens cannot be accurately measured or predicted. Yet our attitude towards information in general, and the complex relations it entertains with reality in particular, is changing fast. Today we are well aware that the struggle for power is also a battle over the control of information, with information losing its innocence in the process.
The works in this exhibition question in different ways the link between information and reality – whether presumed or factual. Addressing a wide array of historical or topical issues in various contexts and shapes – documentary, ﬁction, concrete or poetical interventions... – they provide alternative readings of reality. The artists in Soft Manipulation dismantle, deconstruct or simply unravel the mechanisms behind the manipulation of information, if not manipulating the information themselves. Most importantly they draw our attention to the fact that ignoring the actual causes for the collective sense of fear entertained by the media is more fearful, if not dangerous, than the fear itself.
Text by Malin Barth
Director at 3,14
Foundation 3,14 in Norway is interested and strive to investigate the dynamic and provocative nature of international contemporary art. We want to express our gratitude towards the curators for their willingness to let us take on this project "Soft Manipulation: Who is afraid of the new now?". The exhibition gives us an innate ability to place what is regarded as global controversy in the context of time. The artistic exploration taps into topics of the moment, and the individual artists whose visual articulations are direct and honest, communicate ideas about the pressing issues of our time.
A truly global phenomenon is ruling the day that breeds fear, creates illusion of the need for governmental control and restrictions for each individual. Surveillance of all aspects of society and massive data gathering has become the norm rather than he exception. Governments around the world operate freely and are hiding behind their efforts to prevent and fight criminal activity. There seem to be no end on how much infringement on our personal freedom is put into effect. There are hardly any areas left where we can avoid the almost omni- and ever-present prying eyes of Big Brother. Is there now also evidence that complacency have crept in across the world? This was definitely something happening to the other, not us.
George Orwell’s 1984-ish conditions has moved close to home and kept on growing in immense proportions in our society, yet it has caught us by surprise. There seem to exist a myth amongst us Norwegians that our society is firmly tufted on civil rights, on the principles of upholding privacy while having transparency in governmental issues. Perhaps this myth is cemented by the fact that we have not experienced any terrorist attack, any major corruption scandal by any politicians or governmental administration. Our country’s police forces are not yet carrying firearms as part of their uniform and standard equipment. Last year EU's Directive 2006/24/EC on retaining data generated through electronic communication or public communications networks have now also become a part of Norwegian legislation. The aim of this directive is to ensure that certain data is retained so that public authority can investigate, detect and prosecute criminal activity. It puts an onus on all telecommunication operators to digitally store information on identification, locale, traffic and content. Have we been in a state of collective apathy, without raising the big debates, protests, demonstrations or interpellations. The Norwegian watchdog agency on digital information and surveillance has together with similar EU bodies tirelessly warned about this trend. They are concerned that well established principles for privacy may be lost. Once the all intrusive data gathering and surveillance is in place it becomes difficult to reverse. The line will inevitably be tested and stretched as to whom and for what purpose the information may be made available. The quote from Hamlet: ”There is something rotten in the state of Denmark” has never been more true. The Danes are now spying on their tourists in the airports, the hotels and restaurants by monitoring their use of phones and internet. As from this year a new Swedish act will have immense impact on information contained in Norwegian telecommunications. Most of our international traffic is routed through Sweden. Originally, this law went even further in its monitoring efforts than President George W. Bush managed to concoct with his Patriot Act. This again happened without much public debates, protests, demonstrations or interpellations. Did people really understand the scope of the act?
"Soft Manipulation: Who is afraid of the new now?" is a project which explores and questions the frequent and willingness of society to trade in freedom for safety, and through that risking to actually losing both. Through the artistic freedom and critical exploration, the artists and curators behind this exhibition challenge the mechanisms that govern and control modern society.
They play an extremely important role through their inquisitive stance on the issue, and can expand new horizons on this global condition. The artists who have contributed to this exhibition are also shedding light on the subject matter from many different world points of view, and through that are providing means to valuable insight.
The Norwegian Minister of Culture, Trond Giske, have very recently encouraged greater visibility of socio-political critical views in the art exhibited on the local art scene. This exhibition, "Soft Manipulation: Who is afraid of the new now?" can be seen as an important contribution to our contemporary art- and socio- political debate.
LISI RASKIN (USA)
As her contribution to Soft Manipulation, the USborn artist Lisi Raskin has devised a performance and installation entitled Tipping Point (2008). Its centrepiece is a specially decorated stand, which served as a platform during the opening. A bodyguard standing at the entrance of the exhibition space suggested an imminent threat. An actress read out a statement written by the artist that deals with theoretical aspects of nuclear war strategy, particularly those relating to the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). A slide projection with charts, diagrams and various other documents illustrated the speaker’s lecture. Raskin’s performance staged the power of discourse – of the staged word, as it were – while clearly alluding to the US military machine. (A text with further explanations is available at the reception desk.)
JENNY PERLIN (USA)
Transcript | Inaudible
Jenny Perlin’s Transcript and Inaudible (both 2006) are a word-by-word transcription of a dialogue between a couple who befriended Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the American couple tried and sentenced to death in 1953 for spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. While the accusation rested mainly on FBI transcripts of the Rosenbergs’ conversations, it quickly appeared in the course of the trial that the recordings were of such poor quality that the agent in charge of the operation was forced to substitute the mention “inaudible” for the numerous blanks – proof, if needed, that the accusation rested on fragile evidence. The Perlin Papers – named after a relative of the artist who successfully battled for the FBI ﬁles on the Rosenberg case to be made public – contain over 250,000 documents, which are now accessible to researchers at the Columbia University Law School.
Alexandra Croitoru (RO) & Stefan Tiron (RO)
Another Black Site
Another Black Site (2006) by the Romanian-born artist Alexandra Croitoru in collaboration with ST (Stefan Tiron) consists of a photographic series of isolated or seemingly disused military or industrial sites that could be likened to the secret detention camps the CIA has been known to have established in various European countries. The existence of these sites was revealed to the general public as a “collateral damage”, so to speak, of the “war on terror”. At the time of discovery Romania was shaken by a controversy, but as so often the truth was buried under the sheer amount of public statements and counter-statements. Appropriating the methods employed by the authorities in numerous supposedly democratic countries, Croitoru’s installation deliberately entertains the confusion by means of a series of documents and interviews on the issue.
Julia Meltzer (USA) & David Thorne (USA)
It’s not a Memory of it: Three Recollected Documents
Julia Meltzer & David Thorne’s documentary It’s not a Memory of it: Three Recollected Documents (2003) sheds a light on various episodes from the Cold War to the present day, which for political or strategic reasons have been kept secret from the general public. Their ﬁlm, which was awarded the First Prize for Best Documentary Short at the Rio de Janeiro Film Festival in 2004, unravels the mechanisms behind the “culture of disinformation”.
RABIH MROUÉ (RL) & ELIAS KHOURY (RL)
In Three Posters (2003), a collaborative work with Elias Khoury, Rabih Mroué restaged a performance based on previously unreleased TV footage. The video shows a so-called “freedom ﬁghter” hours before his suicide attack addressing the camera. This original material, which was found in the ofﬁces of the Lebanese Communist Party, shows that there were three alternate takes of the speech, the “best” of which the terrorist chose for public broadcast.
KATARINA ZDJELAR (RS)
A Girl, the Sun and an Airplane Airplane
For A Girl, the Sun and an Airplane Airplane (2007) Katarina Zdjelar asked Albanian citizens to speak Russian, the language of the long-time occupier. In post-Communist Albania, Russian is progressively abandoned in favour of English and Italian. The interviewees’ silences and “memory gaps” point to the lasting “mental occupation” fostered by the dominating power’s language.
CAREY YOUNG (ZM)
Everything You’ve Heard is Wrong
Carey Young’s video Everything You’ve Heard is Wrong (1999) shows the artist dressed up as a businesswoman lecturing on business communication. As the site of her lecture Young chose the famous Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park, one of the rare public spaces allowing for free and unmediated expression. But in the era of democracy and the “information society”, this venerable institution seems somewhat outdated.
SAGI GRONER (IL)
The Culture of Make-Believe – Part I
Sagi Groner presents four scale models of TV studio settings seemingly ﬁtted for biblical, mythological or historical ﬁlm shootings. The ubiquitous presence of a camera, lighting gear and a blue screen (used for digital image inserts) evidences the artiﬁcial construction of such narratives. The “authoritative character” commonly associated with myths and ancient stories – but also recent lore such as the novel The Wizard of Oz or the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s larger-than-life statue in Baghdad – often makes us forget that they were conceived in a distinct context and with a speciﬁc purpose in mind.
MÅNS WRANGE (SE)
The Good Rumor Project
Måns Wrange’s projects, many of which are ongoing over a period of several years, explore the devices and strategies used to manipulate public opinion, such as public pressure groups, polls and rumours (www.ombud.org). In The Good Rumor Project (since 2006) Wrange has been spreading “positive rumours” in the twin border towns El Paso (USA) and Tijuana (Mexico) relating to the inhabitants on either side of the divide. He subsequently monitored the progression of his rumours in target groups, thus demonstrating the effectiveness with which unchecked information spreads among communities.
SASKIA HOLMKVIST (SE)
Eight Martini | System
In her part-journalistic part-staged documentaries Saskia Holmkvist analyses the complex relationships between authenticity, credibility and mediation. Her video Eight Martini (2004), whose title refers to an expression frequently used by CIA agents to indicate a successful operation, the action seems to have been disconnected from the narrative, as though the language spoken was encoded, effectively undermining any claim of veracity. System (2001) shows a ﬂy crossing the screen while an account of various stories from around the world confronts spectators with the essentially unpredictable consequences of seemingly rational actions.
KÕKEN ERGUN (TR)
I, Soldier | The Flag
The images in Köken Ergun’s two videos are excerpts from original footage of ofﬁcial ceremonies held in Turkish stadiums. I, Soldier (2005) was ﬁlmed during the National Youth and Sports Day, while The Flag (2006) shows celebrations on the Day of the Child (23 April). These painstakingly choreographed ceremonies are a pretext for public speeches and readings of patriotic, if not nationalistic, poetry evoking a sort of timeless “Socialist realism”.
BERT THEIS (LU)
Isola Art Centers | Out for Isola
The Luxembourg-born artist Bert Theis lives and works in Milan, where for several years he has been spearheading the Isola Art Center and the out–Ofﬁce for Urban Transformation, two citizens’ initiatives in a popular neighbourhood threatened by large-scale urban redevelopment plans. Theis’s initiative, which is supported by the local residents as well as numerous local and international artists, aims at devising alternative proposals for the area’s redevelopment, which would allow for keeping its convivial character and quality of life. Various related documents and a ﬁlm by Mariette Schiltz document the highlights of this uneven battle, while Theis’s photomontages underline the nomadic character of his out–Ofﬁce, which in Luxembourg has rallied a citizen’s interest group with similar objectives than those of their Italian counterparts (i.e. ﬁghting for the preservation of a playground in the Weimerskirch district).
ANDREJA KULUNČIĆ (HR)
Proposal for a new prison
During her ﬁrst stay in Luxembourg Andreja Kulunčić turned her attention to the construction plans for the new penitentiary in Schrassig. The artist then set out to initiate a dialogue between the inmates or former inmates and the architect in an attempt to broaden the scope of the debate and ﬁnd solutions for improving the detainees’ conditions and eventually raise their prospects of successful social rehabilitation. The successes and shortcomings of this process are documented through a series of drawings, plans, letters and interviews as well as a work marking the outlines of an “ideal” prison cell on the ﬂoor of the exhibition space.
AN-MY LÊ (VN)
Though An-My Lê was denied permission by the US administration to document military operations in Iraq, she eventually was allowed to photograph American troops exercising for the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Her black and white photographs, in which the landscape plays an important role, are reminiscent of pictures from the War of Secession. They show faithful reconstitutions of war scenes, in which American soldiers are seen playing the role of Iraqi troops whose barracks are smeared with anti-US grafﬁti.
PER HASSELBERG (SE)
Between 1964 and 1974 the Swedish Social Democratic Party was deeply divided over the issue of whether the country should produce its own nuclear bomb. At the heart of the debate was the heavy water plant R3, originally devised to provide the heating for the Stockholm agglomeration. Per Hasselberg’s installationretracing this controversy comprises numerous related articles and documents as well as two interviews. The ﬁrst of these sees Hasselberg talking to Bengt Göransson who at the time suggested a compromise to the Prime Minister Olof Palme, the other being a sound recording of an interview with the journalist Christer Larsson who in 1985 asked that Olof Palme make the records on the Swedish nuclear programme public.
ARTUR ŽMIJEWSKI (PL)
For Them (2007) the Polish artist Artur Žmijewski invited two groups of four people each to take part in a creative workshop. The artist’s intention was to create a context in which the groups’ conﬂicting, unyielding and partly intolerant ideological positions could fully express themselves. His video recording of the workshop sessions lays bare the mechanisms of aggression and self-defence, while questioning the potential of art as a tool for mediation and dialogue.
CARLOS MOTTA (CO)
SOA Cycle | Memory of a Protest
In SOA Cycle (2005-2007) the Colombian-born artist Carlos Motta investigates the School of the Americas, a series of institutions on the Latin American continent sponsored by the USA, which formed generations of soldiers and military strategists who would later serve the interests of Northern America. This project investigates the construction of an ideology of power and domination through rhetorical tactics, field education and economic dependence developed during and after the Cold War. Motta’s installation comprises mural paintings and a newspaper with information on the SOA. Memory of a Protest (2007) is a video documentary that takes place during a street protest organized by Chilean human rights organization Kamarikun- held on the streets of Santiago, Chile in November 2006 against the infamous US sponsored military training school the School of The Americas. This video highlights the importance of the school within US foreign policy, emphasizing its involvement in the training of torture techniques -fundamental human right violation.
FERHAT ÖZGÜR (TR)
I Love You 301
The exhibition closes with a Japanese-style karaoke, in which visitors are invited to sing to the tune of the Turkish Constitution. Ferhat Özgür’s I Love You 301 (2007) features a mantralike melody to the lyrics of the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish constitution, which outlines the penalties for “denigrating Turkishness”. The work’s ironical undertone points to the paradoxes of globalisation, which stipulates the free circulation of goods and aims to unite people under the smallest possible common denominator.
Jenny Perlin, Transcript
Rabih Mroué, Three Posters
Carlos Motta, Memory of a Protest
Kõken Ergun, The Flag