Christo­pher Allen

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

For most of us in the pros­per­ous na­tions of the de­vel­oped world, the re­al­ity of war has be­come some­what re­mote. The last cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions have been im­mensely for­tu­nate in be­ing spared the blight of the global con­fla­gra­tions that dec­i­mated our fore­bears in the 20th cen­tury. When we en­counter war­fare, it is usu­ally on tele­vi­sion news, and even if when it in­volves our own troops, the num­bers are small and the theatre of ac­tion is some­where far from home.

We have not ceased to be fas­ci­nated by war, how­ever: it con­tin­ues to be the sub­ject of count­less films, and most re­cent mass-mar­ket pro­duc­tions have pur­sued ever more vi­o­lent and ex­treme spe­cial ef­fects in or­der to ap­peal to an au­di­ence de­sen­si­tised by ex­ces­sive stim­u­la­tion. Even more po­ten­tially wor­ry­ing is the ef­fect of ex­treme video gam­ing: bru­tal vi­o­lence is stan­dard and there is one pop­u­lar game that prom­ises its play­ers “in­fi­nite war­fare”.

Quite apart from the ob­scen­ity, even the in­san­ity, of sug­gest­ing that “in­fi­nite war­fare” could be an at­trac­tive propo­si­tion, there is some­thing in­her­ently wor­ry­ing about the de­re­al­i­sa­tion of ex­treme vi­o­lence and its im­agery in a vir­tual world without con­se­quences or re­spon­si­bil­ity. If we al­low minds to be trained through count­less hours of re­hears­ing vir­tual sav­agery and bru­tal­ity in a state of solip­sis­tic in­tro­ver­sion, we can­not be sur­prised if those minds are dam­aged in var­i­ous ways.

If we can de­velop a fa­mil­iar­ity with the thought pat­terns of for­eign lan­guages through re­peated ex­po­sure to read­ing and con­ver­sa­tions, if we gain mas­tery of a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment or a craft with hun­dreds of hours of rep­e­ti­tion, and if pi­lots prac­tise the skills and re­flexes of fly­ing planes on flight sim­u­la­tors, can we re­ally be­lieve that what are ef­fec­tively war sim­u­la­tors, train­ing play­ers to kill and maim without com­punc­tion and without re­flec­tion, have no ef­fect on our in­stincts and feel­ings? The sug­ges­tion is even more im­plau­si­ble when we con­sider the po­ten­tial ef­fect on young and un­formed minds.

Those with a com­mer­cial in­ter­est in the gam­ing busi­ness ar­gue that there is no pos­i­tive proof of an as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween vi­o­lent games and the ac­tions of thugs, mass mur­der­ers, ter­ror­ists and oth­ers who dis­play psy­cho­pathic be­hav­iour. But the onus of proof is not in this case on those who sus­pect a link: it is on those who would counter-in­tu­itively claim that in this one case, un­like ev­ery other we know of, re­peated ex­po­sure to stim­u­lus and re­sponse pat­terns and sys­tem­atic habit-build­ing have no ef­fect on ac­tual be­hav­iour.

War and war­like be­hav­iour are not things to be tri­fled with. War is one of the most ex­treme hu­man ex­pe­ri­ences, in which peo­ple are faced with ter­ri­ble choices, ul­ti­mate re­spon­si­bil­ity for them­selves and oth­ers, and ir­re­me­di­a­ble con­se­quences. There is noth­ing more ap­pallingly se­ri­ous than ex­pos­ing one­self or those un­der one’s com­mand to the pos­si­bil­ity of death, as all sol­diers and of­fi­cers know or soon learn.

The Na­tional Gallery’s ex­hi­bi­tion, one of sev­eral that dif­fer­ent mu­se­ums across the coun­try have been hold­ing to com­mem­o­rate the rolling cen­te­nary of World War I, has been put to­gether un­der the di­rec­tion of David Hansen, a pro­fes­sor in the Aus­tralian Na­tional Uni­ver­sity’s depart­ment of art his­tory, who has been as­sisted by a num­ber of his re­search stu­dents. Artists of the Great War Na­tional Gallery of Aus­tralia, un­til June.

The re­sult­ing col­lec­tion of work, al­though com­pact and fit­ting in one large room, in­cludes many un­fa­mil­iar im­ages and il­lus­trates the full range of the in­volve­ment of artists in the process of war, from en­cour­ag­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion to doc­u­ment­ing life at the front, evok­ing mourn­ing and com­mem­o­ra­tion, and even pro­vid­ing the pre­cise anatom­i­cal im­agery re­quired for re­con­struc­tive surgery.

In ev­ery case it is strik­ing that draw­ing and paint­ing re­main ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing much more than the cam­era. In some cases — the anatom­i­cal il­lus­tra­tions, for ex­am­ple — we can see that draw­ing and wa­ter­colour can make much clearer dis­crim­i­na­tions than pho­tog­ra­phy. In oth­ers it is be­cause of the artist’s abil­ity to cap­ture, re­call and syn­the­sise hu­man ac­tions, at­ti­tudes and ges­tures. These gave the world away Eter­nal wait­ing Lewis gun­ner Aus­tralian of­fi­cial war artists 1916-1918 To­day the Ger­man Mon­ster threatens the world with blood­shed, slav­ery and death Gal­lipoli

Dyson; Ge­orge Ben­son; Ge­orge Coates; by Nor­man Lindsay; by David Barker, be­low right (1917) 1915

From left, (1917) by Hilda Rix Ni­cholas; (1917) by Will (1919-20) by (1920) by

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.