Friday, 23 June 2017

Collaboration links archive: Distant Wars 2013 Becky Edmunds & Fiona Wright

Distant Wars 

an installation 
by Becky Edmunds & Fiona Wright 

Becky Edmunds and Fiona Wright have never physically experienced war. They have lived through a Cold War, the Gulf Wars, a war with Argentina and one with Afghanistan. They heard the stories of long ago wars from their parents and grandparents. They have been looking for suspicious packages on public transport their whole lives. But they have never felt the physical impact of a bomb nor had to listen out for the threat of approaching planes. They don’t even know any soldiers. War has been remote to them, kept alive in their imaginations by a steady stream of images across an increasing array of screens.

Distant Wars is a project that responds to impossible questions about the presence and proximity of war and the impact of remote technology when the action is far away and out of anyone's hands

VIDEO 10:40

Notes from an introduction to the Artist Talk 
 written by Fiona Wright
[....] the frame is always de-realizing and de-legitimating alternative versions of reality, discarded negatives of the official version. (xiii)
Is there another way to act on the senses, or to act from them, that resists both sensationalism and episodic outrage at the limits on the visual imposed by techniques of war waging? (xiv)
Judith Butler Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable?
Speak from the present here, even while giving some background and perspective on the brief history of the work. Bring things closer; more focus on the depth and detail.
Move straight into the work itself, the process. Don’t be distracted.
Look back at the making from where we are now. And look to the audience as they listen and look at this too.
The work approaches the audience and the audience approaches the work and we acknowledge this as the collaboration, as much as our own exchange in working together.
The interaction that is our process as artists making Distant Wars has developed and evolved across years. Yet this is our first collaboration that hasn’t been initiated directly from one of our own discrete projects or particular commissions.
When considering an Artist Talk I find myself writing and speaking with the intention of resisting assumptions of biography and modes of self-presentation. An overview becomes all too linear, explanatory, chronological.
History, I do love. Status, I can leave out.
We offer a collection of thoughts around what feels most vital in the piece soon after it is first shown, beginning to tell something of the story of this work.
We were thinking about what it might be to make a work about war, proceeding from our own histories, the similarity of experience that we can recognise in our early personal memories and political consciousness as we became adults. This point of commonality that we have now as women in our late forties – both born in 1960s England and growing up with a sense of war as only ever in the far distance – this becomes the key to the intention and sensibility of the piece.
We lived through the second half of the Cold War and also during several decades of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The threat of possible nuclear war was linked to a distant society, the looming presence of the Soviet Union, while on these islands British troops were only just over the water in Ulster. There were bomb threats from time to time here on the mainland and occasionally near the cities where we were living as children. Some wars were nearer than others and yet from childhood into adulthood we knew a kind of dual logic. There are always wars but we are not living through a war. ‘Peace in our time’ perhaps only ever meant that there was no World War. We were not living in what was called Wartime – a word that sounded as much like the name of a particular place in my child imagination as that historical time period when our parents had been young during a monochrome 1940s Britain.
We say we have never experienced war directly and yet we are both conscious of having lived in more or less remote relationship to several phases of threatened and actual ongoing wars. At different moments over the years, throughout our lives, we have been acutely aware of this country’s involvement in various wars and also at other times aware of our own ability to choose to be quite detached from that reality. Many times we have felt angry and very opposed to Government, we closely followed International crises and marching on demonstrations. During other periods we might well have been so absorbed with our own youthful lives that we could look away and remain quite out of touch with the developments in a far away war zone playing out on the Evening News.
Years ago I stood on stage and a fragment of text in the solo I was performing included these words: I don’t actually know any soldiers.
We look at each other now and agree, we don’t actually know any soldiers and have had limited connection to anyone in the military.
Sometimes it seems we are all ‘gone to war’ whether we like it or not. I also recognise this in the suggestion that we are somehow ‘conscripted’ by the imagery and the framing of war.
Although the frame initiates (as part of weaponry) or finishes off (as part of reporting) a whole set of murderous deeds, and seeks to subordinate the visual field to the task of war waging, its success depends on a successful conscription of the public. Our responsibility to resist war depends in part on how well we resist that daily effort at conscription. (xiii) Judith Butler
Judith Butler brings forward this idea of the ‘conscript’ as including not only the soldier who is headed for the battlefield. Her focus on the frame connects to questions we have about working with and through certain found images that are from, about or around war. So much of the material we are finding is part of the ‘recruitment’ and is gleaned from the stream of Media that forms an ‘assault on the senses’.
A sound recording of a long paragraph from Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? becomes one of the voices in Distant Wars. We want to hold onto the emphasis on bodily and sensory experience.
The apprehension of the precarity of others – their exposure to violence, their socially induced transience and dispensability – is, by implication, an apprehension of the precarity of any and all living beings.
During our discussions one day Becky handed me this book (Frames of War) and I carried it around with me for weeks, along with several others including, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control by Medea Benjamin.
Precarious lives are everywhere, inside the frame and outside the frame.
The audiences’ body is outside the frame.
The threat to bodies who are dangerously caught in potential and actual zones of war continues whether they are visible inside the limits of the frame or not.
My ambivalence about Artist Talks and giving an account of myself with any narrated version of what I’m ‘about’ also collides with the experience of reading and writing and researching for this piece. By this I mean, we had a strong and inspiring process, we are pleased by the work and how it has spoken to people. But throughout the time I was regularly sitting on trains having to close the book or watching a video on the Internet and having to close the laptop. So angry. Reminded of so much destruction that is enacted apparently ‘in my name’.
How will we speak? Are we trying to make sense of this?
No, we say we are staying with the not making sense, the not knowing.
Making a response from a place of not knowing how to respond.
Gathering found material, footage and sound, continues while we make some of our own images. With these few small gestures we place ourselves, as the artists, in the frame. A fragile and seemingly insufficient kind of signature amongst the bold images sampled from the vast and endless resource of mainly online materials.
The physical materials look modest in scale, the small iPod screens, the delicate balsa wood boxes and small table. The subject matter contained within seems impossibly heavy. Yet the effects of editing bring peculiarly light touches and space even for the eye to be drawn to the pleasure of colour, movement and music.
War brings with it body counts. Protests against war also by necessity involve body counts. We struggle to see how some people have come to not count, or not count as much. Many individuals and organisations seek to account for the civilian deaths and many people make it their business and life’s work to count the cost of acts of war.
The remote operator of the drone or UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is often based far away in another country and is not necessarily someone who has ever served in a war zone. They might never have piloted a real plane in combat and yet they will watch a screen, across hours and days in shifts. The operator can see detail at the scene before, during and after lethal attacks that no bomber pilot would ever be able to see. In this way they have a very unique remote experience combined with a clear visual contact.
This was not a piece about drones. Yet all the time we are pulled in that direction.
Drone warfare really has crept up on us.
A possible list for Distant Wars:
counting the miles
counting the thousands of feet
counting the limbs
counting the compounds
counting the missiles
counting the women
counting the vehicles
counting the rifles
counting the protests
counting the soldiers
counting on bad weather
counting on a rainy day or a gust of wind
counting the night flights
counting the missions
counting the bombs
counting the words
counting the hours
counting the shifts
counting the pilots
counting the weddings
counting the minutes
Developed from notes before and after the Artist Talk, 18th October 2013 at Birkbeck School of Arts, London, during Stray Gifts at Dance Umbrella

 fragments - notes in process by Fiona Wright 2013

imagine a sound of constant buzzing
you have no control
no way to shut out the noise
n way of knowing
if you will be killed
there is n0o where to be sure of being safe
there is no safe
will a missile be fired
or is it just a buzzing
you heard that they are watching

I’m writing this because there’s very likely not much time left
now that I’m old and most of my life has been lived I keep noticing how I don;t expect to die of old age, even though I have reached a very old age

The air strikes are so numerous now
it’s hard to believe we won’t be hit
i remember when they first appeared - UAVs they called them

It’s worse for younger folk - in every way
The fear, not least the noise
I’m awake more than I’m asleep now anyway
they used to say, well, one of the burdens of old age, time to sleep but now it eludes you
but I can’t tell if I would sleep more if I could find a quiet enough place.
Not that it’s such a big noise - just constant, persistent..

when did we stop ever gathering in a group in the street?
no-one would think of standing around a car together for more than a minute - even to ask directions or to repair the vehicle

it’s just automatic behaviour now - simply not doing what was ordinary or natural before... when did it really change? Seems like it just shifted, like weather, not quite noticeable until it catches your attention
so many way we used to do things differently
now every action is reduced, patterned around the safe routes, safe times,
as if anywhere is safe now days..
sheep tracks and desire paths
now we’d just know they are the only path
scuttling about

“It’s continuous, watching us, especially at night [...] You can’t sleep. You can’t watch television. It frightens the kids. When they hear it, they say, ‘It’s going to hit us.’”

We hear tell of of the operators - I don’t know really where the news comes from. Apparently they still don’t last long, not the human ones anyway. It’s well known. Fast burn out. Another kind of casualty. Burn outs and burned up.
No sense to any of it.
Casualties of war - the damage, collateral they used to say..

Soon, in some regions already it seems, but more and more, we are all sure of it, this will become a dilemma solved by the artificials

The ground crews are mainly engineers, not even soldiers
I remember when we first realised...

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