Vika Kirchenbauer, Untitled Sequence of Gaps, 2020, HD video, color and black-and-white, sound, 12 minutes 31 seconds.

Vika Kirchenbauer, Untitled Sequence of Gaps, 2020, HD video, color and black-and-white, sound, 12 minutes 31 seconds.

Vika Kirchenbauer

In her 2014 essay “Infrared Dreams in Times of Transparency,” Vika Kirchenbauer argued that the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles such as medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drones may render drone operators “much closer to their ‘targets’ than any ground combat soldier.” Although modern warfare is frequently portrayed as incisively asymmetrical, advanced information technology exposes personnel to the encumbering experience of effecting and witnessing air strikes while simultaneously remaining physically detached in an operational environment that has been repeatedly likened to a computer-game arcade. Contributing to this fundamental restructuring of the phenomenology of armed conflicts via an uneasy topological inversion of proximity and distance is infrared imagery, which renders visible bodies and objects that might otherwise go unnoticed. Kirchenbauer observes that the clinical callousness often associated with drone-operated warfare exists despite its reliance on thermal radiation, which leaves operators acutely aware that their targets are warm, living beings.

If technology, as the artist proposed in this essay, is itself “always value-neutral and only defined through human use,” her exhibition “Violet but more radical” was intended to reimagine the range of applications for thermal imaging in particular. Essentially omitting military connotations from her art, Kirchenbauer has instead adopted infrared as a medium for her filmmaking, using it to explore simultaneously enhanced and schematized visualizations of the human body. She Whose Blood Is Clotting in My Underwear, 2016; Mood Management, 2017; and Shame/Humiliation, 2018, are short single-channel videos whose sensual yet ambiguous imagery resulted from a combination of close-up infrared footage and rhythmic music. Rendering concrete interactions that are otherwise cognitively inaccessible, these works highlight thermal imaging’s ability to accentuate the ordinarily invisible reality of bodily sensitivities. As a result, the dynamics of proximity and distance reemerged as the exhibition’s major formal and metaphorical resource.

A pair of longer videos, more essayistic in style, ventured deeper into the conception of the world as a realm of forces constantly “felt, but never seen,” as the narrator’s gentle, husky voice explains in Untitled Sequence of Gaps, 2020. Light waves either too long (infrared) or too short (ultraviolet) are referenced in this piece as physical analogues for the severe but invisible impact of traumatic experiences on victims of violence. That the artist herself might number among them became most obvious in The Capacity for Adequate Anger, 2021, installed in a small back room. Centered on Kirchenbauer’s return to her home village in southwestern Germany after a decade-long absence, and referencing a range of visual material—from childhood drawings and photographs to found anime footage—the video reflects on the artist’s desire to overcome affects of shame associated with her past and to express anger instead.

Spanning from the exploration of infrared’s entanglement with global geopolitics to the use of video as a much more personal and biographically informed space of reflection, Kirchenbauer’s project amounts to a searching probe—sometimes subtle, sometimes unsettling—of manifestations of violence both visible and invisible.