“Please Lie to Me,” (PDF invitation) features an exciting mix of globally diverse artists, including the Gao brothers, a duo of extraordinarily talented, highly controversial Chinese artists, with whom I had the pleasure of spending an evening trading censorship stories in Beijing in 2007 while I was exhibiting Torture with New York's Michael Petronko Gallery.
Torture is a series of staged and digitally manipulated photographic images that recreate the infamous torture scenes from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, transforming the diffuse, muted and low-resolution images into large-scale, vivid, powerful and frightening reproductions. I focused on the choreography and sexualization of torture, which included images of prisoners stripped naked, wearing hoods or sandbags as they're forced to stand in excruciatingly uncomfortable positions, simulate sexually degrading acts, are plastered with feces and subject to egregious humiliation.
In spite of the horror, the images, stylized with fashion-photography lighting, radiate a profound beauty and eroticism that is all at once seductive, disturbing and unsettling.
The series, unfortunately, is as relevant today as it was during the Bush administration that inspired, enabled, condoned and justified the torture perpetrated in America’s name. President Barack Obama has refused to deal with this issue seriously and hold those responsible accountable. That the orders came from the top are no longer theories, but chapters from the books of Dick Cheney and other players who not only admit to their illegal. globally condemned, human-rights-violating, trickle-down torture policies, but vow they would do it again. This blight on America’s moral standing remains, and will continue to. Dirty, ugly and embarrassing.
Euphemisms like “enhanced interrogation techniques” for torture and “looking forward” as an excuse for a failure to prosecute war crimes doom us to repeat the same mistakes down the road. And render any attempts to promote democracy around the world nothing more than a waste of time, effort and money. Until Dick Cheney and his cohorts are at down in handcuffs before a court, whether in Nuremberg, Johannesburg or Baghdad, America’s ten year adventure in Iraq will prove the costliest and deadliest public relations disaster in American history.
The coverage of the Torture series was quite expansive, and included interviews and explanations as to what inspired the show and what was learned as a result. I have included a few for those who haven’t seen it or been exposed to it.
Art Mûr is located at 5826 rue St-Hubert , Montréal, Québec, and the show runs from November 5 – December 12, 2011.
Additional artists include Lois Andison, Simon Bilodeau, Dominique Blain, Susan Bozic, Renato Garza Cervera, Cooke-Sassville, Clinton Fein, Sarah Garzoni, Karine Giboulo, Dina Goldstein, Nicolas Grenier, Jonathan Hobin, Guillaume Lachapelle, Cal Lane, Nadia Myre, Jennifer Small, The Gao Brothers, Diana Thorneycroft, Barbara Todd, and Colleen Wolstenholme.
Fein's counterfeits are not intended to reprise tired debates about originality and authorship. Unlike Sherrie Levine, who rephotographed Walker Evans's Depression-era images, or Thomas Ruff, whose enlargements of Internet images preserve and accentuate the flaws of screen grabs, Fein seized upon despicable amateur images, which unexpectedly had acquired public notoriety and probative value, and re-presented them in enhanced, painterly terms. His invocation of old-master painting, far from summoning up Christian martyrdom as do the Abu Ghraib canvases of Fernando Botero, delivers us to the dark threshold of inhumanity conjured by Goya.
The recent show, titled "Torture," consisted of staged and manipulated photographic images. Fein felt that the low resolution of the pictures taken by the GIs participating in the Abu Ghraib abuses - the images that later appeared in the press - had the effect of muting and veiling the actual horror of the scenes depicted. Only sharp, high-resolution images, he concluded, could convey the full impact of the humiliating atrocities and show what the corrupt leaders of a supposedly civilized nation routinely endorsed.
Peter Selz, Professor Emeritus of Art History at UC Berkeley, founding director of the Berkeley Art Museum and former curator of New York's Museum of Modern Art, Clinton Fein at Toomey Tourell, Art in America
Like Loan's execution and America's lynchings, the acts recorded in the original Abu Ghraib images look like performances for the camera's eye, as though the greatest shame of all was to have the moment documented for an audience, for posterity. And by including himself within the exhibition, Fein engages head-on this question of the photographer's presence at scenes of violence. Perhaps the artist is as sinister a figure as the original prison guard. Perhaps Fein enjoyed making violence as beautiful as this, and now asks us to enjoy it-asks us to take as much pleasure in these scenes as the original prison guards, with their grins and gestures. Perhaps Fein's camera, which demanded of his models full nudity and physical exhaustion, is as aggressive as the prison guard's club.
Several contemporary artists have tried to evoke the grotesqueries of war...But no one else has reached the peculiar extremes to which Fein goes. Using hired models, he re-enacted and photographed scenes of cruelty that were recorded in the notorious unofficial photographs of "detainee abuse" at Abu Ghraib.
Fein presents these images as giant panel-mounted chromogenic prints. To viewers who remember the Abu Ghraib images, Fein's pieces will look both grimly familiar and oddly aestheticized. Two are his inventions.
Encountering them in an art gallery provokes tangled responses: outrage that someone would advance his own ambitions through the degradations the Abu Ghraib photos record; perverse temptation by the opportunity to study the mise-en-scene of the original pictures, safe in the knowledge of seeing simulations; despair that history has again diverted the resources of art away from pleasure and contemplation to bleak and urgent critical functions; and, finally, the recognition that, after all the barriers between art and life come down, nothing insulates our enjoyment of the arts against toxic pollution from our knowledge of real events.
For more reviews, see http://www.clintonfein.com/torture/media.asp