How Lon­don made a great im­pres­sion

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - THEATRE EVENT -

Age Of Ter­ror: Art Since 9/11 Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum, Lon­don Un­til May 28

The Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum is go­ing through an ex­cit­ing pe­riod of ren­o­va­tion and re­think­ing. It’s al­ways been fab­u­lously in­ter­est­ing, but the spec­tac­u­lar new atrium and a new sense of pur­pose make it par­tic­u­larly worth vis­it­ing at the mo­ment.

A new ex­hi­bi­tion, Age Of Ter­ror, shifts the mu­seum into new and hip ar­eas. It sur­veys the re­sponses of a range of in­ter­na­tional artists to events since 9/11. Artists be­ing artists, you aren’t go­ing to see many gung-ho de­fences of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq here. But in the Nineties we spent a year dis­cussing Mon­ica Lewin­sky. What ex­cited artists were the in­stal­la­tions of an un­made bed and a stuffed shark. Septem­ber 11, 2001, made art po­lit­i­cal again.

In Bri­tain, Grayson Perry con­tin­ued work on the pot he had been mak­ing, its pur­pose now hor­ri­bly al­tered. In Los An­ge­les, Kerry Tribe placed an ad­vert call­ing for ac­tors who looked like ter­ror­ists. The re­sult­ing au­di­tion tapes are trou­bling.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are prom­i­nent in the imag­i­na­tion. Some images have be­come iconic – one of the sol­diers who tor­tured and hu­mil­i­ated pris­on­ers at Abu Ghraib is reimag­ined in a glossy sub­ur­ban kitchen. John Keane paints the un­mis­tak­able or­ange of a Guan­tanamo jump­suit, and Mona Ha­toum places ex­quis­ite glass mod­els of hand grenades in a mid­dle-class dis­play case.

There are plenty of pow­er­ful images, of­ten of de­struc­tion or fruit­less labour. Lida Ab­dul shows a video of her­self white­wash­ing both a ru­ined Afghan palace and a man. Hrair Sarkissian’s paired videos show a scale model of his par­ents’ block of flats in Da­m­as­cus, and the artist de­stroy­ing it with a sledge­ham­mer.

The best of the videos is non­com­mit­tal. Fran­cis Alys shows a pair of screens in a cor­ner of a room. In each film, two sol­diers as­sem­ble and dis­as­sem­ble a firearm. On one screen the sol­diers are Bri­tish; on the other they are Afghan Tal­iban fight­ers. Two chairs are of­fered for the viewer, but each gives more promi­nence to one screen. You have to choose where your interest or sym­pa­thy lies. The fo­cus on the morally neu­tral task, and the far from neu­tral con­se­quences, is com­pelling.

This is an ex­ceed­ingly ma­ture ex­hi­bi­tion. Although vi­o­lence is its in­spi­ra­tion, the art is thought­ful, per­sonal and re­flec­tive, and far from ex­ploita­tive. The world of art in­stal­la­tions and video of­ten ap­pears rather triv­ial. Th­ese well-cho­sen creations show what po­ten­tial such things can have.

Philip Hen­sher

The Twin Tow­ers, by Iván Navarro, 2011

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