Art in the Age of…Asymmetrical Warfare


11 September 2015 – 3 January 2016
Opening: 10 September, 2015
Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art

Art in the Age of…Asymmetrical Warfare is part of the exhibition series Art In The Age Of…, developed to mark the 25th year of Witte de With by continuing the institution’s dedication to commenting on the social and political predicament through the presentation of curated exhibitions, symposia, live events, educational programs, and a bold publishing arm.

In this exhibition we ask how does art become a part of permanent war machines? Which ones? And from which point of view? In the age of vertical perspective, a point of view is a matter of life and death. The bird’s eyes view speaks of control and oversight. A tunnel vision indicates underground position. Data stacks vertically divide perception, jurisdiction and cognition. Artists have been invited to show work around the specific circumstances of asymmetrical or postmodern warfare responding to the questions; Is art implicit in conflict, or can it actively intervene to render the covert visible?

The dominance of the mechanical eye is clearly felt in asymmetrical warfare. Autonomous drones, driven by solar power, are the new event horizon. How is the vertical perspective felt? What previous weapons’ technological advantage have been subsumed into the flip side of asymmetry, appropriated by those fighting from the position of guerilla and counter-insurgent.

The military has long used simulation as a training tool, mode for revisiting trauma, and interface for conducting conflict. Recruiting actively at video gaming conventions, and employing ex game designers to their think thanks, the realm between the simulated and real is complex and interwoven. How has the simulated come to stand in for reality, and how do the two bleed?

Wiki-Leaks made tangible the extent to which warfare has become computational. Enormous data sets, created by mechanized surveillance and intelligence gathering, the results of which are trawled by bots, dictate where missile strikes are targeted and special op’s missions directed. Can art intercede to render visible or intelligible the ways in which wars are waged? Can data be diverted, used and analyzed by artists to forensically intervene in situations of asymmetry?

With: Abbas Akhavan, Sven Augustijnen, James Bridle, Broomberg & Chanarin, Crass, Claire Evans, John Gerrard, Terence Gower, Isao Hashimoto, Glenn Kaino, Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Trevor Paglen with Jacob Appelbaum, Mohammad Salemy, Susan Schuppli & Tom Tlalim, Nida Sinnokrot, Thomson & Craighead, and José Antonio Vega Macotela.
Photo credit: Tom Tlalim, Witte de With, 2015

To measure the physic toll of living under the constant threat of terror, the ominous sound of a General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drone is simulated overhead in Susan Schuppli and Tom Tlalim’s Uneasy Listening.