Seeing Global: Reflections on representations of domestic violence
Mark Webber, Irm and Ed Sommer, Nitsch; Ed Halter and Thomas Beard, Luther Price, Shelly Winters; Rosa Barba, Jordan Lavi Quellman, The Deteriorationists; Yann Chateigné Tytelman, Eric Duvivier, Concerto mécanique pour la folie (or La folle mécanomorphose); Elena Filipovic, Harald Thys and Jos de Gruyter, Die Fregatte; Electra, Claire Hooper, Eris: The Path of ER.
Listed against the conventions of proper reference, with no dates and no medium, and in order of curator, artist and title, are some works from this year’s LUX/ICA Biennial of Moving Images. All of them contain explicit references to violence towards women.
Although we are now in David Cameron’s era of “calm down dear”, in 2004 the previous government commissioned a report on interpersonal violence which resulted in Sylvia Walby and Jonathan Allen’s Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking. Here is a carelessly chosen passage from this harrowing document:
17% of women and 2% per cent of men had been sexually assaulted at least once since they were 16. 4% of women had been raped and 1% had experienced another type of serious sexual assault since the age of 16, so that altogether 5% of women had suffered a serious sexual assault.
In 2001, it was estimated that nearly half of all women go through some kind of sexual violence, domestic abuse, or are wounded in some way within interpersonal relationships, including instances of stalking.
This prevalence continues, and it is reflected in the art we have seen. Yet the relationship, in both directions, between what is seen in the cinema and what the statistics say is heavily mediated. Of course, artists are free to interpret the subject matter in any way they see fit. In this case, none of the aforementioned works or individuals can be said to try to persuade viewers to abuse. Curators choose works of art based on, among other things, their artistic merit, while audience members give their money and favour according to any number of reasons.
In articles written during this biennial, I have addressed various forms of critical detachment: detachment from an idea of the real within the ‘hyperreality’ of the digital world; detachment from narratives that, in our everyday lives, help us get to grips with how we feel; and detachment through an idea that what is ‘abstract’ or indirect, and has no ability to speak to the real conditions of social life.
This last statement was made in relation to Luther Price’s visually stunning yet difficult work. In the series of his films shown by curators Ed Halter and Thomas Beard of Light Industry, the last film, Shelly Winters, features a soundtrack in which victims and abusers recollect their experiences while a ‘blank’ reel of 16mm stock runs through the projector.
I want to start here, having provided some context with reference to the violent content of many of the films at the first LUX/ICA Biennial of Moving Images – content I was going to call controversial, but, and this is the problem this article addresses, has not been.
While watching 9 Films by Luther Price, I was both uncomfortable and captivated. The cinema became a world, an experience that strategically counteracts cinema’s traditionally immersive image-world on screen. Sat there, I had the thought that if the world was somehow fair, if there was equality, then that world would be as arresting, difficult and sensate as Luther Price’s films. Bad things wouldn’t go away but would instead invade the space of the good. If you took away the barriers that protect privileges and condemn weakness (those barriers currently enforced, but not inherently or originally constructed by capitalism), what you’d get would be a situation that was as difficult and as good as Price’s work. It would also, I would guess, look like Price’s films. Price’s films, then, are in this way noble.
These images of a world – what I would call a “global view” – is not geographic. It does not distinguish necessarily different places and people, but different ways of seeing and states of mind. I mean something specific with the notion of a “global view”’ then: I don’t mean a perspective that accounts for experiences outside those that are hegemonically “western”. I mean, more generally, an attempt to see and represent in a way that is both easy and difficult, and accounts for what is both easy and difficult to account for. This is a refusal of the rose-tinted version of things, but also a refusal of an average, quantified view of things. It is to see from the grey area, rather than see into it, while maintaining the effect of all the horrors and delights there are to see.
Perhaps he’d disagree, but in interviewing Ed Halter, I got the sense of Price as someone “in his own world”. But “being in your own world” has a perverse logic in this context of the global view. Could it not be that an expression of total solipsism represents the actual world better than representations of the world from single, determined points of view? That, taken on balance, the “world in one’s head” is, by an admittedly expansive allegorical leap, closer to the “real world” than the view from one’s head? Cut off in his studio, I imagined that Price could produce a global view. The films do not represent an image of the world but, being hermetically sealed within the materiality of the encounter, they give the audience a direct, disembodied ‘projection’ of solipsism. There is no elsewhere in Price’s films, the space of projection is total. It is this quality that made me think about Price’s films in terms of an extended metaphor for the “real world’, one where all elements are accounted for simultaneously. The film is a vortex: a centrifugal force which throws matter and images across a stream of light. It is as if the whole world has been uprooted and is now presented without distinction between what is good and what is bad. It becomes both, and thus does the experience of watching. And if these films present a view of the world, a global view, then the world is like a film: spinning, as it does, around a great source of light.
What makes us see “locally”, as it were, what blinkers our view from the global, we call ideology. If division is so much a part of vision and if we, as those who should have noticed, cannot actually see the LUX/ICA Biennial could have instead been called (and not necessarily in judgement, though perhaps reductively) “visions of the violation of women”, we can only speculate about what the social world on a global scale is really like. There is no real social account, no “real” idea, of what sexual violence, racism, war, or any other kind of injustice is like outside of systems, which, through means of capitalist relations, are inherently unfair. These injustices, which divide us between the haves and the have-nots, would not necessarily divide us if the system did not flourish as divisive; they’d just be singular facts of human inequity.
In the context of this global vision, violence against women divides those that choose to be affected by its presence and those that choose to remain ignorant. It is a part of the real world that Claire Hooper’s Eris: The Path of ER gave impressive witness to at the biennial. But what Hooper’s and, in a curious way, Price’s work presents, but perhaps the organisers, audience members and critics seemed to have missed, was the global perspective that accounts for this fact in the context of spectacle. We must make the world in our heads and the world outside them more like these artists’ work if we want to be able to address our responsibility and begin to heal: “Keep thy mind in hell and despair not.”