Consuming War: How Consumer Culture and Media have Influenced the American Perception of War

0 Posted by - November 3, 2007 - Blog, Installations, Visual art

Consuming War is a provocative collection of artwork and installations by artists exploring how consumer culture and American media have influenced the perception of war in the United States.

“The artists were chosen,” explained curator Barbara Koenen, “because they have been compelled to address the war in their practice. They had to shift what they had been doing because they could not continue production without addressing aspects of the growing dilemma.”

The exhibition includes work by Lynda Barry (yes, the same Lynda Barry with a syndicated comic strip), Wafaa Bilal (who earlier this year allowed netizens to shoot at him in his studio with a remotely operated paintball gun), Mary Brogger, Adam Brooks, Burtonwood & Holmes, Michael Hernandez de Luna, Fred Holland, Harold Mendez, Michael Rakowitz, Ellen Rothenberg, Edra Soto, Paula White and Dolores Wilber (see below for artists bios).

Despite the show’s provocative stance, public response to the idea of the show has been surprising. “Many people have expressed gratitude or relief to me that an anti-war show and its related events are being presented,” said Koenen.

The show opens November 4, 2007 at the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago.

Keep reading for artists’ bios…

Artist Bios

Wafaa Bilal was born in Iraq in 1966 and lived through the rule of Saddam Hussein, arrested and tortured for his political artwork before escaping to Kuwait, where he was imprisoned again, eventually making his way to the U.S. He is now a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. For his recent project, “Domestic Tension,” Bilal lived in a room at Flatfile Galleries for a month under constant surveillance of a live webcam hooked to a paintball gun that could be aimed and fired by anyone online. Bilal received over 60,000 paintball hits, millions of web hits, and the attention of international media. For Consuming War, he will present Al Qaeda R US, “a visually poetic exposition of United States intervention in selective parts of the world between 1948 and the present.” Wafaa appears courtesy of Flatfile Galleries.

Mary Brogger’s practice includes sculpture, installation, and design. The recipient of several distinguished arts fellowships, nominations, public and private commissions, her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago). In 1993, in response to the first Persian Gulf War, Brogger created a floating carpet, actually a Persian rug made like a jigsaw puzzle out of cut sheet steel, each piece teetering on fragile pins. A decade later, “All of it/ Everything” from 2006, a car chassis strapped to oil drums resembles a raft, with more sober connotations of floating and rescue.

Adam Brooks, of the duo Industry of the Ordinary, has for many years used text as his medium to survey the landscape of political thought. Soliciting public input, he has compiled the Freedom Wall in River North, papered the streets of Chicago with historical quotes on politics, created soapboxes for pronouncements, and diagrammed political contributions for a recent Illinois gubernatorial race. Look for his signs on the CTA Red Line trains and all buses going to Hyde Park. Brooks teaches at Columbia College.

Tom Burtonwood & Holly Holmes produce work that challenges mainstream ideas about warfare and consumerism. Large scale installations “bring the war home” to audiences, illustrating the consumptive aspect of warfare and defining “materialism” as an integral part of the global economy. The collaborative team’s prints, sculptures and installations juxtapose advertising flyers from local grocery stores with the products of global weapons manufacturers. For CW, Burtonwood & Holmes have produced the ultimate float for the Thanksgiving parade. What is it? You will have to come and see… Courtesy of GardenFRESH, Chicago.

Beat poodle Fred Milton’s brilliant tirades against the war, and specifically against George Bush and Dick Cheney are the creation of cartoonist and author Lynda Barry. Milton’s rants are direct and cathartic. Although several of the “alternative” publications who carry Barry’s comic have threatened to censor her Fred Milton strips, you can see highlights from 2001-2006 in this show.

Michael Hernandez de Luna makes and mails stamps, subverting the iconic representation of our culture, playing with the attentiveness of the US Postal Service, asserting the voice of the artist and activist in the face of Federal persecution/prosecution. Courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago.

Edra Soto Fernandez has exhibited and performed in her native Puerto Rico, as well as Paris, Australia, Spain, Russia, New York, Miami, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. A recipient of the Alfonso Arana Fellowship and a Skowhegan residency, Soto exhibits with POLVO in Chicago. Soto’s One Vision: Hollywood Soldiers is an ensemble of video stills of actors playing soldiers in Hollywood movies. Since the government and the media censor images of real soldiers, real blood and real coffins, America’s enthusiasm for the war is based more on fictitious portrayals from Hollywood and global media, rather than actual events.

Frederick Holland has exhibited in commercial and non-profit galleries since 1978. He is an Assistant Adjunct Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Holland’s rage and cynicism has been close to the surface for years but previously centered on highly crafted objects that aestheticized sexuality and violence. Since the current war, Holland has turned his focus to popular culture – games, advertising, quizzes and educational materials – as his vehicle for critique of the policies and assumptions that mainstream culture takes for granted. Courtesy of Flatfile Galleries, Chicago.

Harold Mendez has exhibited with Western Exhibitions (Chicago), Commerce Stree Warehouse (Houston), vuspace (Australia), the University of North Umbria (UK), and the University of Science & Technology (Ghana). Mendez looks at confinement – corrals, fences – and extrapolates to Guantanamo, to Abu Graib, to the unknown locations extraordinary rendition abroad. Drawing from actual places as well as literary and historical references, his large wall treatments evoke sensations of a different type of consumption – that of abandonment and loss.

Michael Rakowitz has exhibited throughout the US, Europe, and the Middle East, including the 2007 Istanbul Biennial. He is represented by Lombard-Freid Projects in New York and teaches at Northwestern University. Rakowitz’s body of work has presented a range of responses to US consumerism, including building homes for the homeless from trash bags and HVAC vents to recreating his Iraqi grandfather’s import business. He will include versions of two recent works in Consuming War. “The invisible enemy should not exist,” in which archeological artifacts missing from the Baghdad Museum, as documented by the Oriental Institute, are laboriously recreated from commercial packaging, and “Enemy Kitchen” a cooking class based on his mother’s Iraqi recipes.

Ellen Rothenberg’s installations and public projects raise questions of political engagement, historical memory, and social dialogue. Collaborating with writers, cultural geographers, forensic scientists, and other’s Rothenberg’s work often begins with extensive research before unfolding in community or museum settings. In Consuming War, Rothenberg takes a critical look at the adoption of camouflage by the fashion industry — from children’s book bags to haut couture, and employs tropes of propaganda from previous wars to entreat people to turn in their camo-garments for the war effort.

Paula White is a fifth generation textile artist, home healthcare nurse and a student in Northwestern University’s masters program in creative writing. At a July Prostrations for Peace event, prayer flags were made which she has sewn into colorful quilts. Paula is organizing Prostrations for Peace on November 11, and invites you to come, practice yoga and tai chi, make a peace flag and connect with others working for peace.

Dolores Wilber is an interdisciplinary visual artist. Ties that bind us together, our physical bodies, and psychological and social violence fuel her investigations, asking “How do we say what we mean and mean what we say?” Wilber’s Consuming War video projection, Tooth and Nail, combines images of hand grenades, ash, nails, silver-covered teeth and a spinning safety pin. It reflects several years of research on individual acts of violence and the faith that is touted or reflected in suicide bombings, beheadings, acts of humiliation and torture – the overwhelmingly gruesome and personal violence of war.

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