Om Peter Dickinson på Simon Fraser Universitys hemsida.

Abstract

Picturing Art and War in an Age of Global Disinformation: Rabih Mroué, Walid Raad, and the Transnational Activist Pixel

Seven years into the brutal Syrian civil war, why is the world no longer interested? Or why do we only become momentarily re-interested when mobile phone footage from the latest devastating attack or atrocity is disseminated to us via global media outlets? This lecture attempts to answer these questions by considering the performative work of pixels, those individual units of data that together constitute a digital image, and that enable its processing, storing, transportation, and display. On its own, a pixel is essentially unreadable. But as an element of the overall picture, a pixel participates in the recording of an event taking place. It is, in the words of Judith Butler, part of the invisible, “non-figurable” dramaturgy of the representation of war. I want to begin thinking about what this might mean aesthetically and politically by discussing Lebanese artist Rabih Mroué’s The Pixelated Revolution, a lecture-performance that contextualizes the historical “complicity between war-making and picture-taking” by focusing on a series of citizen videos documenting the violence of the Syrian civil war that have been shot with mobile phone cameras and then uploaded to YouTube. In making transparent the otherwise opaque networked relationship between the unseen hand that uploads through hardware and the unseen hand that downloads through software, Mroué gives us a toolkit of moveable frames that can account for both the overlaps and the differences between recording and seeing, but that also does not get hung up on what may be missing in moving between the two. This is something that Walid Raad has made central to his Atlas Group project, a fictive historical archive devoted to documenting Lebanon’s missing civil wars. In the second half of this lecture, I will thus focus on Raad’s photographic and installation practice, including a recent exhibition this past fall at my own university. In so doing I will offer, by way of Raad, some commentary on the institutional links between the global art market, economic redevelopment, and the military-industrial complex, and what all of this might mean with respect to informed, misinformed, or disinformed spectating practices.