Posts tagged ‘Politics’

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag (II)

Barbara Kruger, You Substantiate Your Horror
Photo: Mendel, flickr

Could one then oppose war just by looking at an image? Can an image change the world or at least us?

Photographing the pain of others leads us to recognize their suffering, but how is protesting against suffering different from recognizing it only? – Sontag asks. „To nominate a hell is definitely not the same thing as to say anything on how to take people out of that hell“. Images seem to tell us only what horrible things people can do to each other and with pleasure, all over the world.
So Sontag righteously asks: „what is the point in showing such images? Make us feel indignation? Cause sadness and consternation? Help us to mourn? Do we become better by watching them? Do they teach us something? Or do they confirm what we already knew?“

It has been repeatedly pointed out that we are living in a society of spectacle, in which people also aim to transform themselves in spectacle. There seems to be nothing but representations, media representations more precisely. In this state of over stimulation, the hunt for dramatic images which drives the photographic enterprise is, according to Sontag, a mere reflex of a culture in which shock has become the main stimulus for consumption and a source of value.
One of the functions of photography is to improve how things look, and this tends to diminish a moral response to what is showed. Perhaps this is why people often react against images of war and suffering, specially if they are beautiful. And when showed in a museum or art gallery, we often ask ourselves if that isn´t just unecessary exploration of the suffering of others?
It seems that in order to provoke an active response images must shock. But how long does the shock last, Sontag strikingly asks. If we are able to get used to horror in our real life we’re also able to get use to the horror of certain images, the author refers. People often criticize news´ photographers for proffiting commercially from images drawn in scenarios in which they did nothing to help, critics contemptuously call them “war tourists” often forgetting how they´ve risked their life to give us testimony.

It seems thought that our attention is being driven by the attention of the media, of the images, that in a world full with them, the ones which should interest us have hardly any effect on us and that our insensitivity to them is somehow deeply related to the way television works. Sontag sustains, that the multiplicity of images showed in TV favours a light, mobile, slightly indifference to content, for the flux of images in television excludes a privileged one. What matters in television is that we may always change the channel. Sontag also believes that people simply turn off not because they’ve become indifferent to those images but because they are scared. It is because we have the feeling that war, any war, cannot be stopped (even pacifists no longer believe war can be stopped) that people have become less sensitive to its horrors. Symptoms of apathy, moral or emotional numbness are, in Sontag´s view, nothing but full of feelings of rage and frustration.

It is not an unsufficiency that we are not touched enough or that we do not suffer enough with those images, for the way Sontad sees it, it is not photography’s job to repair our ignorance on history or the cause of pain of others which it selects and frames. For the author, those images are but an invitation to reflect, try to learn, examine, etc. in order to finally ask ourselves: is there a state of things which we’ve accepted so far and should be questioned now?

October 3, 2008 at 12:15 pm 1 comment

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag

What to do with the acknowledge of the pain of others? – On the impact of Photography

To state that we are surrounded by all kinds of images – images of war, pain, misery, cruelty, beauty, pornographic or digitally produced images nowhere to be found in reality – and that this is not without consequences for us has become obvious to everyone and a cliché today. It has also been repeatedly argued that this manic flux of images is responsible for a general state of numbness regarding the Other. For this reason, Susan Sontag proposed and battled, in her famous book “On Photography“ (1977), for an ecology of images.

16 years later and still reflecting on the modern use and meaning of images, Sontag comes to admit that the idea that our ability to react to our experiences with emotional freshness and ethical acuteness is hindered by the constant broadcast of common and disgusting images is nothing but a very conservative critique of the proliferation of such images. Focusing on the intersection between information, news, art and politics in the representation of war and catastrophe, “Regarding the Pain of Others” (2003) reexamines Sontag´s former position and admits that neither an ecology of images is doable nor it is necessarily truth that our exposure to shocking images should result in indifference. We do not become necessarily violent by witnessing images of violence.

No doubt, we are living in an age which contemplates the maximum reproducibility and broadcast of images, with few possibilities to control the context in which they disseminate. But for the most of us wo never experienced war, it remains truth that the understanding of war is only possible through the mediation of photography; something can only become real if it is photographed. From Vietnam onward we came to recognize how war images are not stagged thought everybody knows there´s nothing objective about photos which in some cases have even been used both in favour and against something. Which leads us to ask: can an image make us understanding something?

According to Sontag, if there is a year in which the ability of photography to define reality was stronger than any narrative this was 1945, with the images of the first days after the liberation from the concentration camps of Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald and Dachau, and also the images of what happened in Hiroxima and Nagasaqui.
In the fight between word and image – a very old querrel still far from its end – the problem is not, for Sontag, that we might remember events through photographies but that we only remember events through them. It is a problem that remember is no longer remember a story but being able to remember an image.Photographies do not lose their ability to shock but they do not help a lot when it is about understanding.

October 3, 2008 at 11:15 am Leave a comment

I´ve Got Nothing To Say!


Lately I´ve been into collage. And many of these are a reaction to something I´ve experienced myself, read or listened to. Such is the case here. “I´ve Got Nothing To Say!” is a kick out of several situations:
– “Ask me Anything”, a song I really like by THE STROKES;
– as posted by universaljukebox on YouTube, in this excellent version the song is put together with Woody Allen footage
– and the article Douglas Haddow published on Addbusters on July 29th and which annoyed a great lot of people! I´ve been meaning to comment on it for a while now but never really got around to… well, this post is in its way also my response to it, except for in visual terms.

With these collages I am underlying – as it has been stated enough by others before me – that new content can indeed arise from quotation. Let us get over the same old dicussion on how much “stealing” has been done or how much the authors´ rights have been disrespected to embrace the idea that something as touched you in a way that you just have to do something about it! And the greatest thing is, with the tools available today and for the first time, you can do more than just talk to a couple of close friends about your referencies and how meaningfull you think they are, you can really be trigger to respond or react to something creatively!

September 9, 2008 at 10:18 pm Leave a comment

ON CENSORSHIP. “Imaginary Coordinates” at the Spertus Museum / Chicago

Imaginary Coordinates“, an exhibition curated by Rhoda Rosen at the Spertus Museum in Chicago, originally scheduled to be open through September 7 suddenly closed in the end of June allegedly in response to pressure from the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and individual donors. As Deanna Isaacs reported on May 29 on the Chicago Reader: “The Jewish United Fund, a major Spertus supporter, had taken a look and promptly canceled a May 13 fund-raising dinner booked for the tenth floor boardroom. Michael Kotzen, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, says he moved the event after hearing from “a number of people who thought the exhibit wasn’t appropriate” in “content and point of view””.

The exhibition showed maps (including palestinian maps) focusing on different geographic interpretations of the Holy Land some dating back to the 15th century together with contemporary art by nine Israeli and Palestinian women artists, in what appeared to be an effort to open up and reconcile the museum´s permanent historical collection with contemporary art.

Quoted by Lauren Weinberg on June 20th on Time Out Chicago, museum president Dr. Howard A. Sulkin said: “We came to realize that parts of the exhibition were not in keeping with our mission as a Jewish organization and did not belong at Spertus. This exhibition caused pain for members of our key audience who felt it presented anti-Israel points of view.”

The central polemic of the show is that several of the works “implicitly criticize” Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. And pro-Israel supporters object to seeing work that is critical of Israel and supportive of Palestine within a Jewish museum.

Though there has been a refusal to which speficif objects were considered deemed offensive, Museum´s chair and the Spertus board of trustees reject claims of censorship. On one hand they say that “Spertus is not interested in going around and hurting people’s feelings”, and on the other that they are “committed to asking the hard-nosed questions about a lot of things” ?!? – a clear example of “the schizophrenic nature of this conflict” as Richard Silverstein has put it.
As Patty Gerstenblith bluntly writes on the Chicago Tribune on June 24: “It is unfortunate when donors wield more influence over museum exhibits than the museum’s professional staff and that controversial topics cannot be raised because of objections from a local community. Presenting viewpoints that may be unsettling and challenging are precisely the role that museums should play in our modern society”.
This should give us something to think about next time we discuss changing museum funding in Europe to be more like the american private donorship system!

Margeret Ewing, who seems to be the only one critizing the exhibition without political or partidary motivations, refers to the display of maps as adding little to a furthered understanding of the question of how the land of Isreal and Palestine is defined and to the exclusiveness of female contemporary artists as insufficiently explained within the exhibition!! Which is extremely funny, if you think about the polemic the show has raised and that Ewing – a sort of authority in art exhibitions´ critique – dismisses the show as “weak” from the curatorial point of view!

Lynn Pollack of Chicago´s Jewish Voice for Peace gave a very interesting statement to the Chicago Tribune. She said: “These are not fringe Palestinian and Israeli artists. These are mainstream artists who are able to display in their own country. Why can´t this art be seen by American Jews? It´s really a shame”.

On his turn, Richard Silverstein who runs a blog on on politics, culture and ideas about Israeli-Arab peace and world music, asks if the Spertus Museum “must pull its punches by cancelling an exhibit most viewers and artists found well within the consensus of political and artistic discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hasn´t lost the right to call itself and art museum?”.
And goes on to react to the patronizing attitude by Michael Kotzin (executive vice president of Jewish United Fund/ Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago who said that pieces “like those videos lacked context”) saying: “We can think for ourselves, thank you Mr. Kotzin. We don´t need to be protected from dangerous art, art that makes us think”.

Usually I don´t comment on exhibitions which I didn´t see. But, since this one was shut before any of us had the chance to see it, discuss and make an opinion not to mention that the uploaded video of the exhibition is no longer available on the internet and catalogues became extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find (I am lucky enough to have held one in my hands!), I feel my usual criteria shouldn´t apply. For me this is a clear case of censorship and one of great gravity for money and religion overruled freedom of thought, critique and dicussion!

July 21, 2008 at 5:23 pm 2 comments

Time for Some Campaignin’

A musical satire of the US presidential campaign by

July 18, 2008 at 7:17 am Leave a comment

Freedom of Thought

I just saw Into the Wild, directed by Sean Penn, and realized that all that I´ve been writing and thinking about lately has got to do with the search and meaning of freedom.
Except, as S. pointed out, freedom is such a vague concept. Most people tend to confuse it with being able to fulfill one´s wishes, which would make us fall into a discussion about happiness. It is impossible to use words as such today, without a context. The only sure thing is that there are people deprived of freedom, but again being in prison for instance, doesn´t necessarily mean you´re not free.

“Rather than Love, than Money, than Fame, give me Truth” Thoreau

Into the Wild is based on a true story, that of Chris McCandless, who left everything and everyone behind and went North. He was searching for trueness as a resistance and heroic act against capitalism and consumerism, which in his case seems to have been an excuse to rebel against his parents in the first place. Despite this, one´s admiration for his action doesn´t diminish. Though some did call it plain stupidity, for Chris died alone and in pain in Alaska, and according to the mountain patrol if he had had a simple hiking map with him he would have known that there was a bridge just a couple of miles away from where he tried to cross the river to get back to civilization.

His personal quest was about finding truth and freedom, and it involved getting into the wild, only to find in the end that there´s no point in happiness if you cannot share it with someone else.

This made me think. For my conception of freedom doesn´t involve getting back to nature and experience wilderness. But again, people keep telling me that I have absolutely no sense for nature. And it might be true… This week, I found out that my orchidee is dying from excess of water and, meanwhile taking a walk in the woods last weekend, I kept complaining about the smell of wild garlic, which is all over Leipzig this time of the year!!

For me, freedom means freedom of thought, to be able to surpass one´s apparently given limitations (educational, the condition´s one was brought in, the part of the world one was born in, life´s experiences, etc). At a certain point, in The Dogs Bark, Truman Capote interestingly says:

„the perils, the dooms of not perceiving and accepting the limits of one´s supposed identity, the classifications imposed by others – a bird that believes it is a dog, Van Gogh insisting that he was an artist, Emily Dickinson a poet. But without such misjudgments and such faiths, the seas would sleep, the eternal snows remain untracked“.

And that´s exactly on the point. For me, freedom of thought is the synonym for freedom itself. And it happens when you keep breaking out of the cage other people, and also yourself, imprison you in. Its a constant search for improvement, not settling for the role others attribute you or, you condemn yourself to.

When your mind is set in achieving freedom of thought, you are truly in a process to fulfill your potential.

February 27, 2008 at 11:59 am 1 comment

ON CLEMENCY – On the reevaluation of values

»Götter, wenn zum Regieren ein hartes Herz nötig ist, nehmt mir entweder die Macht oder gebt mir ein anderes Herz.«

Composed in 18 days and premiered on the 6th of September of 1791, „La Clemenza di Tito“ was Mozart´s last opera before he died on the 5th of December that very same year. As usually happens with final works, this opera was regarded as an inferior effort, for everyone praises the ingenious music but the plot has always been the subject of delicate contempt.

The libretto, adapted by Caterino Mazzolà, was based on a former textbook by Pietro Metastasio from 1734. Its central character, Emperor Tito, has been the source of all controversy, for he forgives everyone around him, which has been seen as an unusual and incomprehensible behavior for an emperor.

When the woman he decides to marry tells him that she loves someone else, he forgives her, when someone admits having attempted against his life – the ultimate crime – he shows mercifulness and so on and so forth. He says, that if the world wishes to accuse him of anything, it can charge him with showing too much mercy rather than with having a revengeful heart. As a re- conciliator, he wants to rule without victims. In the end, he finds himself completely alone.

Some have read Tito´s mildness as a revolutionary attitude offering a new perspective, one of forgiveness, against the vicious circle of violence and brutality taking place during the Ancient Regime. Others, less positive, have classified Tito´s amnesty acts as a feint, as if he would only forgive so that the people are touched and he continues to rule, and this would make him a sort of tragic hero clinging on to an epoch due to to be over. On the contrary, there are also those who have pointed his ability to forgive as a sign that he is only human, no longer invested with the act of forgiving through a sacred higher power, thus stressing a secular and progressive aspect to the plot in syntony with the forthcoming Enlightenment.

I happen to find all this very interesting. On the one hand, who is to say that Mozart wasn´t only fulfilling a commission, his interest being the music in itself and not the plot. I sometimes think that narratives are overestimated – but one would have to research more to find it out. Second, what is interesting about Tito´s character is that one cannot decide if his idealism is either good or bad. Or perhaps that´s the point, that we are left to judge if standing alone is an obligatory price to pay for one´s idealism or, a definitive sign that it makes absolutely no sense to be good-hearted in this world.

One thing is for sure, we are forced here to reflect if our traditional values are still operational or not; we are asked if revenge is a good strategy; if one should stick to one´s ideals passionately (which would justify revenge) or, instead choose not to disturb nor destroy or as Tito, to reconciliate; we are left to wonder the price to pay for one´s own idealism; if it is a good strategy, even if it sometimes implies uttermost loneliness.

February 15, 2008 at 6:35 pm Leave a comment

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