Accepted paper:

Art Under Siege: Perils and Possibilities of Aesthetic Forms in a Globalizing World

Authors:

Patricia Spyer (Leiden University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores two instances of the fate of images in war, foregrounding the relationship between aesthetic transformation and sociopolitical change, the conditions under which images move, and the play of absence and presence in art under siege.

Paper long abstract:

As examples from around the globe show, objects, object worlds, the natural and built environment are--with humans and animals—implicated in violence--unmoored, disfigured, or redrawn by its traces, signs, or denial. Devastatingly transformative, violence often compels a turn to novel forms of expression. This paper explores two instances of the fate of images in war, foregrounding the relationship between aesthetic transformation and sociopolitical change, the conditions under which images move, and the play of absence and presence in art under siege. No Show is a film based on the "Empty Frame Tours" conducted at Leningrad's Hermitage Museum during WWII to thank soldiers for moving collections to secure surroundings via a tour that led them past the empty frames where the pictures once hung. No Show's take on this remarkable history stages the phantasmatic presence of images but also how these treasures' absence operated in the service of presence—that of national Soviet identity emblematized by the Hermitage. Based on fieldwork in Indonesia, the second example focuses on huge Jesus Christ billboards that arose on the ruins of a Muslim/Christian war. For Christians the street images cover over deep anxieties about not being "seen" or protected during the violence—by the Indonesian state, its potential stand-ins like the United Nations or former Dutch colonizer, or more radically by God himself. In contrast to NO SHOW the visual presencing of Christ does not constitute a re-presentation of something assumed to be there but issues instead from a highly unsettling absence.

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