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The Mass Media

…Out of Here: The Veterans Project at the ICA

...Out of Here: The Veterans Project at the ICA
…Out of Here: The Veterans Project at the ICA

You enter into a bare, void of a room meant to represent a warehouse. The only light comes from a series of “windows” which are projected high on the walls. Through these dingy portals we catch glimpses of a world outside, just beyond our grasp and view. At first, the audio is day-to-day interactions, casual conversations of friends and neighbors. Children are playing soccer and the sky is clear. You can tell by the language you are in another country and, though most of the audience will not understand what is being said, the mood and setting can still be derived from the tones of the voices, the mix of ages and sexes and the bursts of laughter.

Then you start to see the presence of war, a helicopter in the distance and the voices of American soldiers. Eventually the scene deteriorates into gun fire and distant explosions as you hear shouts of “man down” or the disturbing wail of a dog that has just been shot by an irritated soldier.

The artist, Krzysztof Wodiczko, is known world wide for his large-scale video projection pieces. His works deal with pressing social and political issues and in 1999 he won the Hiroshima Art Prize for is artistic contributions to world peace. Until March 28th 2010 you can view his latest work, …Out of Here: The Veterans Project, at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA).

With this new piece Wodiczko is attempting to bring some of the destruction and chaos of the war to those removed, living their lives untouched at home. He shows how everyday life in Iraq turns into carnage as well as illustrates the confusion and ambiguity of situations. He aims to show the public that environments of stress, where one is unsure of the safety of themselves and their friends can incite inhuman reactions.

I felt the work was both contrived and forced. The audience does not connect with affects of war, instead we are still helpless bystanders in an oddly sterile space, only able to react to sounds and visual aids such as bullet shattered glass. The visuals themselves made me feel like I was in a live action video game or watching some war movie in a theater.

The whole thing seemed staged and there was no emotional connection with human beings, individuals with whom we can empathize. As I am not a veteran, I cannot speak to the validity of situations depicted, but Wodiczko did work with servicemen to compile a composite scenario of their personal experiences.

Wodiczko spoke with medics, soldiers and refugees from the current conflict in Iraq in order to capture a bit of the horror of a war zone. Despite their stories being used, the individuals themselves are absent. Instead we are left with the artists computer generated images alone. Such control over what the audience see just opens the door for bias and pushing personal political agenda to infiltrate the work. Perhaps my critique will become more clear if we look at some of Wodiczko’s earlier projects.

Before entering the exhibit there are three TV’s where you can view other Wodiczko projects. dealing with veterans issues. One of theses works was Veterans’ Flame, which, when compared with …Out of Here: The Veterans Project stands in stark contrast. The pieces is a projection of a flame that moves with the voices of veterans.

The flame is simple yet it hold such symbolic and cultural meaning that the audience can interact with. Then, over this image we here the voices of veterans, speaking about an event from their time in combat. The flashiness of CGI is striped from the picture and instead we are left with the raw emotion of the voices. We are forced to listen to what they say, as we stand transfixed by the flickering flames. This allows the audience to better understand the devastation of war on all parties evolved.

Despite my problems with the piece it does open up an important dialogue that the world as a whole needs to address. We so often turn a blind eye to the wake of devastation created by conflict. Refugees and returning veterans hardly ever receive national attention, let alone those left to pick of the rubble and carnage of their destroyed country. I hope that Wodiczko project will highlight these issues. and allow for the once trampled and stifled voices to rise up and gain the attention they deserve.