NO CAPTION NEEDED
ICONIC PHOTOGRAPHS, PUBLIC CULTURE, AND LIBERAL DEMOCRACY

No Caption Needed is a book and a blog, each dedicated to discussion of the role that photojournalism and other visual practices play in a vital democratic society. No caption needed, but many are provided. . . .

October 29th, 2008

For Sale: The Bush Years

Posted by Hariman in visualizing war

With six days until the election, the hope is so strong that I can taste it. Soon the final, mad rush of campaigning and reporting will rise to its final crescendo, and then there will be the day of reckoning. After that, a party or two, but then the sober realization of just how much needs to be changed. Where to begin–with a long, dazed look backwards at what actually happened, or all around to assess just how bad the damage is? What will it mean to take a hard look at where we are and what habits are still in place?

Well, it might mean looking at how artists from around the world have depicted Bush’s America.

This bubble-head figure is from an exhibition by Phillip Toledano entitled “America – The Gift Shop.” Toledano asks, “If American foreign policy had a gift shop, what would it sell?” His answers involve an uncanny fusion of criminal government policies and commercial brick-a-brack. In a stroke, Toledano captures the enormous gap between day-to-day experience in the US and the terror perpetrated by the Bush administration in Iraq. Equally disturbing is his demonstration of how the crimes might be miniaturized or otherwise diminished by those whose lives are defined by retail consumption. I’ve seen many appropriations of the iconic image from Abu Ghraib, but this is the only one that really drained it of most of its moral force. What might be disregarded as merely clever artistry in fact does something much more difficult: it reminds us that human beings can get used to anything.

It is imperative that Americans not become accustomed even in part to the policies of the past seven years. The clock needs to be turned all the way back at the justice department, state department, treasury department–just to name the obvious–and elsewhere, even as the government and the society move forward to do better than that. Until that happens, the change that is needed will be too little, too late.

Bad habits die hard, and there always will be those at home and abroad trying to use them to their own interests. Too many people have made a lot of money or acquired a lot of power off of the War on Terror. All the more reason to turn to those artists and intellectuals who can reveal just how much went wrong and why one can’t assume that wrongs will be righted and habits changed as a matter of course.

America the Gift Shop is an exhibition at The Apartment, a design agency in New York City. Abu Ghraib Bubble-head; moulded resin, 7″, 2008. Regions destablized while-u-wait; neon, glass, 20″ x 30″, 2008. Thanks to Conscientious for finding this great work.

One Response to ' For Sale: The Bush Years '

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to ' For Sale: The Bush Years '.

  1. Michael Carrithers said,

    on October 29th, 2008 at 4:25 am

    You say that presenting the iconic Abu Ghraib image as a plastic souvenir drains it of its meaning, reminding us that people can get used to anything. Well, OK, but I’d add another reading. If I ask where the artistic aha! experience is, I find it at the meeting of safe and blameless plastic mementos of family holidays (connections to each other and a treasured past, greetings from Niagara Falls!, “Made in China” on the bottom) and torturing captives at Saddam Hussein’s prison. You could achieve the same sense, if not the same impact, by exhibiting the digital point and shoot cameras used to take those images in Abu Ghraib: the tool of happy families, intersecting with torment.

Leave a reply


FAIR USE NOTICE: This site contains images and excerpts the use of which have not been pre-authorized. This material is made available for the purpose of analysis and critique, as well as to advance the understanding of rhetoric, politics, and visual culture.

The ‘fair use’ of such material is provided for under U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with U.S. Code Title 17, Section 107, material on this site (along with credit links and attributions to original sources) is viewable for educational and intellectual purposes. If you are interested in using any copyrighted material from this site for any reason that goes beyond ‘fair use,’ you must first obtain permission from the copyright owner.