November 23, 2007

Sue Coe

After reading the post about the media specatcle surrounding official and unoffical captured video of Saddam's death by hanging 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:

November 21, 2007

Visual Comm at NCA

I attended one of the Visual Communication panels in NCA last week and I was enthralled by one of the topics that were discussed. I thought this would be a nice platform to share it with everyone. I don’t think there were many visual communication panels presented in the NCA, something I was sorry to see. However this one panel on “Atrocity images, cultural trauma and rhetorical ambivalence” was enlightening. One of the speakers was Barbie Zelizer and her topic- “To Show Or Not: The Hanging of Saddam Hussein.”

Zelizer bases her argument on the traumatic impact of atrocity images upon cultural memory and she discusses the role of media in the creation of rhetorical ambivalence. After Saddam Hussein’s death, the official video released by the Iraqi government, across the mid-east and US after the hanging through late Dec 29 and Dec 30 was a tame and soundless one. It was the image of a man who was rightfully punished. There were no sounds that accompanied the image, the only voice was that of the British news anchor of SKY news that accompanied the video. The footage stopped right before the real hanging. The matter would have ended peacefully there but with the sudden presentation of a Second footage in Arab website and Google videos on Dec 30th changed the issue completely. It looked like an amateur mobile-phone video, and the images were shocking. If one watches the second video closely, it is not "mute" like the first one. It shows the nasty and loud name-calling and taunting that happened seconds before the former dictator was finally killed. It is a loud scene. This was aired on CNN on the 30th of December.

Through a point of simulation (I know I am getting obsessed with it) the effect was dichotomous. The audience was already on the plane of the hyperreal, the real being eradicated. However there was the second video, suddenly cropping up everywhere to deny the reality presented in the first footage. Zelizer now problematizes on the stance that the official media took towards this second footage. It could not be denied since it was practically everywhere. Her entire paper was based on how the news media reacted to the new video- the problems regarding airing or not airing the new footage. I was wondering what you guys have to say about the problems faced by the media regarding such situations. Is the mass media as powerful as it is perceived? What stance should or would the mass media take under such conditions when a second “hyperreality” is also prevalent?

simulation- an example

Here is something on simulation again! All that talk about Disney world and Celebration Florida brought to my mind something I saw in India as well. Jodhpur is a historical city in Rajasthan and it is also known as the Blue City…and it is literally blue. This is due to the distinct tinge of the whitewashed houses throughout the city. The blue houses were originally for Brahmins which differentiated them from the non- Brahmins (one needs to keep in mind that caste system is very stringent social order in India). However, gradually with time, the non-Brahmins soon joined in, as the color was said to deflect the heat and keep mosquitoes away. What is interesting to observe now is how blue tinged houses still sprout all around the historical Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, even though many ways have been invented to keep mosquitoes away.

And this is where probably the idea of simulation comes in. As I said before, Jodhpur is one of the historical cities of India, and the entire city’s revenue is dependent on tourism. Tourist guides in the city talk about these ancient blue houses, but many of the houses in the outskirts are new and still blue; existing houses renovated have still retained the same hue. This reminded of Buadrillard’s concept of the hyperrreal and the imaginary. Just like “Disney land exists in order to hide that it is the “real” country”, this city too creates a simulation of the historical Blue City. For a tourist, who comes to visit this city, standing on top of the Mehrangarh Fort, the array of blue signifies the historical location; he sees these houses as part of the historical artifacts of the area. The people of Jodhpur, I feel have a lot to do with creating this simulated environment. The creation of all the blueness results in a state of hyperreality. For the residents, there is no distinction between the “real” and the “unreal”. It has all blended to create the simulacra.

Coming to think of it this is probably true for eveything that we see and perceive in the 21st century. The real has been substituted by the hyperreal. The distinction between "appearance" and "reality" has gradually faded; what we percieve now is a simulated reality. Perhaps that is why every action we take seems to be a work of "reality by proxy." The action is not of much importance, what it is perceived as, is what makes the difference. Any mass medium uses simulation- there is a wide gap between what is real and what we perceive as real. In simulation, the problem is, we do not even know the existence of that "real."