236 Pender St East,
Colin Campbell, production still from the video Shango Botanica, 1977. Courtesy of Vtape, Toronto.
Until 28 January 2023
07 September–26 November 2022
T. +1 604.683.7395
14 May–18 June, 2016
Curated by: Justin Barski
Karl Burke, Harun Farocki, An-My Lê and the Bureau of Inverse Technology
The Or Gallery is pleased to present Security Theatre, an exhibition featuring works by Karl Burke, Harun Farocki, An-My Lê and the Bureau of Inverse Technology.
Security Theatre revolves around methods of simulation and documentation and their hold on respective truth claims about modern war. Specifically, this exhibition looks at how modern warfare is rationalised, remembered and portrayed across image based media such as electronic games, video and photography. The exhibition examines how these systems manifest and evolve into the 21st century, which sees war increasingly fought by proxy and through remote digital means. While claims of possessing the humanist high ground remain tied to the Western Bloc, they are no longer linked to the policy of deterrence seen in the 20th century, but instead are tied to myths of precision and expedience in a preemptive first strike context. Just as there were efforts in the 20th century to socialise people to the omnipresent threats of nuclearism, so too is there an effort to socialise people to the endless need for conflict underwritten by the ubiquitous threat of terrorist states and actors. This requires the creation of dissociative mental states. While the past mass dissociation of the Cold War addressed the need to prevent nuclear war by preparing for it, today’s dissociation follows the need to prevent terrorism by engaging in it. The technology used and the social conditions required were developed incrementally with the aid of experts in various fields, with the aim of gaining either tacit or explicit endorsement of so-called “security policies” which are largely maintained through obfuscation and manipulation. The artists included use media and techniques that provide an intrinsic sense of objective documentation when making reference to armed conflict and related events, which interpret and manage expectations of modern war.
This exhibition is curated by Justin Barski and is a collaboration between the Critical and Curatorial Studies Program at the University of British Columbia and the Or Gallery. This project is made possible with the support from the Killy Foundation and the Audain Endowment for Curatorial Studies through the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory in collaboration with the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia. Special thanks to Justin Barski’s faculty advisors, Jaleh Mansoor, John O’Brian and Scott Watson as well as the Video Data Bank for their support.
The Bureau of Inverse Technology (BIT) began as a collective of anonymous artists working at the intersection of art and technology. Though their work is publicly available, not much is known about the artists themselves. Formed in either 1991 or 1992 (reports vary), BIT is based in at least three locations: Melbourne, San Francisco and Berlin. BIT’s artist-engineers are involved in design, deployment and documentation of products based on commercially available electronic components such as cameras, radios, networks, robots, sensors, etc. Their stated aim is to be an information agency servicing the Information Age. In 2004 information was released about the founding members: engineer/theorist Natalie Jeremijenko and radio journalist Kate Rich, in addition to artist Daniela Tigani. The anonymity of the Bureau was in part a strategy to reflect on the anonymity of technical production – the diffused accountability and ethnographic anonymity in which information technologies and software are generally produced. BIT works with information technology as its primary material, re-engineering technical systems to address the hidden politics of technology. BIT questions the safety of the corporate imagination and its design upon our technological futures and raises questions of privacy in an increasingly technological world. It presents chilling possibilities of a future reminiscent of George Orwell’s novel 1984, in which unsettling, voyeuristic ways of applying readily available technology erode privacy. Its media products include economic indices, consumer-level network and visualisation devices, as well as videos, sound works, and specialised installations.
Karl Burke (b.1969) is an Irish photographer living and working in Dublin, Ireland. His interest in photography started in 1987 while studying at Trinity College Dublin, from which he graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Law. After completing his professional qualifications in 1993 he became a full-time musician in an alternative rock band. He travelled to Berlin and lived there between 1994 and 1995, concentrating on painting. Returning to Ireland he then practiced as a lawyer for several years, finally leaving the legal profession in 2002 to set up a studio writing music for film, television and commercials. Burke departed the studio in 2008 to return to photography on a full-time basis. He won the Grand Prix prize at Fotofestiwal Łódź in 2013 for his project The Harvest of Death v2.0. His work has been exhibited in Ireland, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Argentina and the USA and has been published by The Washington Post; Diário Económico; The Sunday Times; The Irish Times; The British Journal of Photography; Lens, the photojournalism blog of The New York Times; and others. His work aims to explore the underlying threads connecting science, the self, and notions of reality, with a particular interest in the impact of technology on human behaviour.
The German film director, screenwriter and media artist Harun Farocki was born in 1944 to an Indian father and a German mother, in Nazi controlled Czechoslovakia. Farocki studied Theatre, Sociology and Journalism in West Berlin in the 1960s. Influenced by Jean-Luc Godard and Bertolt Brecht, Farocki gradually developed his unique style of non-narrative filmmaking concerned with understanding, reflecting and confronting modern society. Since 1966 Farocki produced, wrote and directed more than 100 short and feature-length films for television and cinema, mostly documentaries and essay films that analyzed social realities with a precise use of moving images, and always included the political and sociological context involved in the creation of imagery. Since 1996 Farocki had numerous group and solo exhibitions in museums and galleries worldwide, including New York, Vienna and Paris, followed by retrospectives of his films in London and Warsaw. Farocki’s participation in the prestigious documenta in 1997 and 2007 is an indication of the huge impact that his films and video installations have had in the art context and in the film world: six of his films were presented in the “Forum” of the Berlin International Film Festival and two more films won awards at the Locarno International Film Festival in 2003 and 2007. In 2009 the influential French magazine Cahiers du cinéma named Farocki’s and Andrei Ujica’s celebrated masterpiece Videogramme einer Revolution (1992) one of the 10 most subversive films ever made. Farocki’s life included writing about film and teaching media. As a teacher Farocki had a significant cinematic and intellectual influence on the development of the acclaimed “Berlin School” film movement. He co-wrote five celebrated feature films with its most prominent member Christian Petzold, who used to be his student and assistant. Harun Farocki died at the age of 70 in July 2014 in his home near Berlin.
An-My Lê’s photographs of landscapes transformed by war or other forms of military activity blur the boundaries between fact and fiction and are rich with layers of meaning. Born in Saigon in 1960, she came to the United States in 1975 as a political refugee. Much of Lê’s work is inspired by her own experience of war and dislocation. From black and white images of her native Vietnam taken on various return visits in 1994 to pictures of Vietnam War battle re-enactments in rural America, her photographs straddle the documentary and the conceptual, creating a neutral perspective that brings the essential ambiguity of the medium to the fore. In her series 29 Palms (2003–2004), Lê documents American soldiers training in a desert in Southern California before their deployment to Iraq. She focuses her camera alternately on young recruits and the harsh terrain in which they practice their drills, lending an obvious artificiality to the photographs that invites speculation about the romance and myth of contemporary warfare. Currently, Lê is documenting the U.S. military’s presence at sites around the world where personnel are undertaking training missions, patrolling international waterways, and offering humanitarian aid. An additional series in progress explores the ongoing ties between Vietnamese nationals who have migrated to southern Louisiana over the past twenty-five years and their homeland in the Mekong Delta.
An-My Lê received B.A.S. (1981) and M.S. (1985) degrees from Stanford University and an M.F.A. (1993) from Yale University. Since 1998, she has been affiliated with Bard College, where she is currently a professor in the Department of Photography. Her work has been exhibited at such venues as the Museum of Modern Art, New York; MoMA PS1, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Dia: Beacon; the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; TATE Modern, London; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among many others. In 2012, Lê was awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in recognition of her accomplishments as a photographer and her contributions to the evolution of the medium. Recently she has had major survey shows at the Baltimore Museum of Art; MK Gallery, UK; MAS I Museum aan de Stroom, Antwerp; and Hasselblad Center, Sweden.