Friday, May 19, 2006

Trophy Art

Can art only be made by those that call themselves artists? In the ongoing argument of “what is art”, I often find myself leaning towards the concept that art is a representation of life whether it is an exact reproduction or a vague expression of concepts as they relate to personal experience. Saying that leads me to also believe that “good” art and “bad” art are still both equally qualifying as art. This approach allows me to appreciate various forms of conceptual work as well as more traditional painting mediums.

I know, first-hand, that a common practice among our soldiers, in Iraq, is the taking of visual trophies in the form of home movies and photographs of dead Iraqis. My initial response to this revelation was disgust. Where is the humanity in recording death and keeping it in a photo album on your coffee table? Where is the ethical maturity in video-taping actual battles in a war and running them through your Mac to edit-in music for a slick MTV-style presentation to share with your friends?

Having said all that… in its own sick and twisted manner – is this documentation art? The photos and videos are representations of actual personal experiences of the soldiers. Furthermore, the videos are explicitly edited and revised with the intent of public exhibition (even if it is a small audience). Andy Warhol’s “films” were little more than mindless porn, yet they are still often listed as “art”… is there much difference? Hollywood has repeatedly proven: sex and violence are inexplicably bound – consider that influence when looking at the homo-erotic undertones of the Abu Ghraib torture photos.

Is taking photographs of the dead enemy as despicable as I initially believed? I still think so. As an American hunter with a deer mounted above my living room kiva (fireplace), I have trouble thinking of the trophy as art. Furthermore, I have a problem justifying taking a human as a trophy. However, with contemporary trends in art leading to a blend of conceptual representation, I believe it possible in a hundred years, these current soldiers’ “documentation” could easily be viewed as art:

1. Although war is a continuous and eternal part of humanity, future generations will feel removed from the present experience.

2. I believe these soldiers in many instances are recording the experience of war (via the recording of death) as a form of self-medication. Hence, the recording of these events (however troubling) is a representation of how they cope with their unique experiences.

"You are who you spend time with, so you have to pick your friends wisely." – actress Maxine Bahns

The above quote comes from low-budget film actress Maxine Bahns (films include: She’s the One, Brothers McMullen). I have never thought much of Ms. Bahn’s acting ability, but I must admit that her quote really rings true; despite its basic appearance. Sometimes missing out on that kind of basic truth can affect an entire lifetime of a person or even a generation. - DN

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