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<nettime> text for Under Fire
Dan S. Wang on Fri, 8 Sep 2006 10:40:01 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> text for Under Fire

Below is a short text I wrote to accompany the latest iteration (in the form
of an exhibition) of the Under Fire project. According to the project
website, 'UNDER FIRE is an ongoing art and research project that explores
militarization and political violence. It delves into the structural,
symbolic, and affective dimensions of armed conflicts: the organization,
representation, and materialization of war.' In the text below, I'm
basically providing an answer to the questions 'what might be the usefulness
of this project?' and, very simply, 'why are we doing it?'
--Dan S. Wang

_There is a War Going On._

By the 1980s, the deindustrialized cores of the cities dotting my native
American Midwest were so often described as 'bombed out' and resembling a
'war zone' that one had to wonder: why does it seem that everyone but the
nation's fathers tells us these are zones of hot conflict? For if there
exist momentary and recognizable likenesses between parts of Belfast and
parts of Gary, parts of Mogadishu and parts of Detroit, then perhaps the
aesthetic commonalities indicate substantive, material underpinnings. I find
it reasonable to view these landscapes as the product of the same general
phenomenon, war. Once we do, we see that a theater of ongoing armed conflict
persists on American soil, in which the citizenry wages a chaotic but
low-level war on parts of itself. At the same time it is both mitigated and
worsened by a vast and well-funded security apparatus. The American
citizenry is armed and waging war at home, neither in an overly organized
fashion, nor with much thought given to strategic goals. The incoherence of
this unnamed conflict is more evident than ever in the society's overseas
wars -- wars that, because of their vast deployments of state-mobilized arms
and diplomatic powers, may unleash exponentially greater degrees of turmoil.
Anybody with a good sense of how violence permeates American life inside its
borders sees the irrationality and mayhem of the American-led War in Iraq
without much surprise.

_Choose Sides._

Around the world, armed conflicts create an astounding range of horrific
effects. Bodies without limbs, mass murder, acute and general environmental
devastation, imposed economies of starvation and disease-these are only some
of the modern horrors of war. The horrors are also affective and immaterial,
and no less consequential. Depression, despair, and post-traumatic disorders
are commonly produced by the loss and violence of war. A class of extreme
affects, including an ever-proliferating variety of rage and hatreds, thirst
for blood and revenge, are not only produced in conditions of armed
conflict, but are used as standard weapons by those who learn to channel
them. The obvious analysis says that because the entire affective realm is
one mediated by symbols, images, and language, which transmits as part
knowledge (ideology) and part feeling (aesthetics), artists and cultural
workers occupy a special place in the geography of affective conflicts.
Whether this is true or not, it must be recognized that a matrix of first
world privileges ensures that the temptation to rank the affective realm as
the primary terrain of conflict, or to divorce affects from the material
world with which they are wholly intertwined, remains strong among cultural
workers in the developed world. This is a tendency that must be resisted.

_Battle the Feelings_

Considering the material/immaterial terrain of conflict and the ubiquitous
but irregular reach of war, we can see that the continuum of conflict
intensity, going from entirely unarmed to wholly militarized, maps an uneven
distribution of violence rather than a scale of morality. Therefore the
question of violence is neither the only, nor the most important, moral
problem. We also know that conflicts do not exist as binaries; 'you are
either with us, or against us' is the language of fascist states. Armed
conflicts always involve more than two mutual antagonists, struggles exist
within struggles, factions and stakeholder groups overlap. But every
contested situation, no matter how complicated, presents a question to those
who consider themselves invested in its outcome: for what and with whom do
you stand? Such are the saturation levels of bloodshed that this question of
allegiance -- to whom and/or to what, and with what degree of loyalty? --
rather than of violence (is it justified, etc.), is the main moral challenge
facing potential partisans. Because each conflict presents its challenge of
allegiance differently and according to unique circumstances, potential
partisans (i.e., all of us) may find the new geographies of armed conflict
and war illuminating. When we map the intersections of war zone affects and
military hardware, wartime ideology and security state architecture,
consumer surveillance and contractor profiteering, or any other conjoined
sets of wartime social practices, we may better calibrate interests and
commit to allegiances. This is the urgency embedded in all creative and
critical representation of war.


Other nettimers made this happen. The overall project was conceived and
initiated by Jordan Crandall. Ryan Griffis coordinated this month's
exhibition at I-Space in Chicago and related programming on the UIUC campus.


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