November 23, 2007
After reading the post about the media specatcle surrounding official and unoffical captured video of Saddam's death by hanging www.break.com/index/graphic_saddam_hussein_hanging_video.html i was reminded of the work of New York artist Sue Coe. As an artist, Coe primarily engages in political themes, and has made work addressing politcal themes such as the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the war on terror, as well as numerous other issues that have been identified with the effects of the political administration. The saddam picture and the WTC picture are captivating to me: in the saddam picture, we are offered the movement and unrulyness of the event, and are also given a portrayal of the witness capturing the scene on a mobile phone. In the WTC picture, Coe offers us a compilation of some of the most striking visual images associated with the events surrounding the collapse of the towers. The preferred and iconic images of rescue are contrasted simultaneously with the affective and tragic spectacle of bodies in flight. (There is more to this image that includes street and subway scenes)
I am most familiar with Coe's work addressing the tragedy and suffering that is the effect of the indifference that is endemic to many of our daily habits and patterns. It was after reading 'image-events' a couple of weeks ago that I first thought of Coe, and wondered whether an artist could ever produce an image event. She certainly seems to come close to performing an image event through the display and distribution of her work; she offers us images of scene that we don't have access to: slaughterhouses, meatpacking spaces, animal testing laboratories, etc.
An image event had been diefined by its ability to "transform the way people view their world." My first expereince with Coe's work was in a gallery that displayed dozens of images addressing the machine-like nature of our society's harvesting of 'meat' : factory farms, and as I mentioned above, slaughterhouses and meatpackers.
Though I had certainly had seen numerous photographs capturing these scenes, there was something about standing in a small gallery space being completely surrounded by works of art that was affective. The subjects of these images are facing us. All the animals have their eyes on us as we gaze at the scene in which they are involved. In these last few images, Coe presents us with scenes that we that we ourselves have some role in perpetuating (if we are not vegan), though we never have to confront it. Through her work, Coe brings attention to the cruelty, victimization, and suffering, through visual imagery and representation, offering a voice to the truly voiceless.
We speak much of 'rhetoric' in our study of communication, and acknowledge the struggle of disempowered groups to make their voices heard, by constituting their identies in opposition to the dominant system of things. Much akin to the purpose of Coe's work, the perpetuators of image-events aim to challange the legitmacy of an established and seemingly self-perpetuating system. Coe's work may be related to image-events to the extent that the primary function of each is to challange public consciousness through confrontation. Coe's work doesn't allow detachment. Her imagery is hard, confrontational, and disquieting. Yet, it is art. Which leads me to wonder why many of us have not addressed the work of visual artists during this course, other than for the obvious reason that there is little time to even address that which we do. Visual artists spend their lives addressing visual communication; certainly there is value in keeping the work of these artists in mind as we think about themes pertaining to visual communication and culture.
For work of Sue Coe, please visit: