Critics’ Picks

Renzo Martens, still from Episode 1, 2003.

Renzo Martens, still from Episode 1, 2003.


“A picture of war is not war”

Wilkinson Gallery
50-58 Vyner Street
January 4–February 12, 2006

The impossible distance between the people and actions that make war and those who safely watch is summarized by this show’s title, taken from Hito Steyerl’s piece November, 2004. The work, one of a smartly selected program of six films, describes the transformation of Steyerl’s childhood friend Andrea Wolf into an icon for the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party. Her narrative offers an analogy for the arrival of our “post-October” period—a time when some marginalized social groups have become violent. Set in the new extremes of this restless era, Renzo Martens’s Episode 1, 2003, becomes a grotesque parody of a presumptive, preemptive West. In this film a group of Chechen women in the war-ravaged city of Grozny describe their hardships while assessing the interests of a narcissistic foreigner. With disgust, one woman alleges, “Boy, I think you came here because you are worried about us . . . It’s not like you came here for a health spa.” Challenging the arrogance of pity, Akram Zaatari, a founding member of the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut, confronts the legacy of war from two angles with In this House, 2005. One channel shows Zaatari interviewing a Lebanese militiaman about his role in the civil war, while another observes the dig for an exculpatory document, a confessional letter the man buried during the conflict. Another work, Kamal Aljafari’s Visit Iraq, 2003, is a poignant indictment of war’s negative impact on possibilities of engaged understanding that combines a Jacob Kirkegaard ambient sound collage with the superficial comments of passersby. Together they prove that ignorance is security.