Image Politics – fragments of contemporary history viewed as tragedy.
We don’t know what to say. Representation has been taken over. That’s the frame – we are standing in the picture. We recognize it. We don’t know what to say.
Representations are produced. Representations take form in accordance with the mode of production in society. The visible is produced. The representations are the productions of society, and they produce society. The images create the cohesive social environment. They give us a sense of being part of some collectivity. The representations are produced to make a shattered world seem intact.
The representations are sold to us as ready-to-use packages. They have the nature of the commodity. ‘Branding Denmark’, ‘the Immigration Service’, ‘Self-Service Citizenship’, ‘DirectGov’, ‘www.yourviews’. The commodity has infiltrated all relations. The image is the product. Wars are marketed too.
The representations are maintained by the flow of images that shape the voices that are possible in this flickering environment. Only those utterances that are programmed into the representations can be understood. Only the behaviour that can be represented actually exists. Everything else vanishes. There are no other representations. There is nothing outside.
The images have always broken into life – like desire. The images have always opened up the perspective – like desire. The images have a magical power. That is why there has been a constant struggle to control the image. The representation must be managed. Representation has been taken over.
The images have the power of fire. And its uncontrollability. Fire has been tamed and used to heat our food, just as concentrated firepower can be used to kill. Sometimes the fire breaks loose and everything burns.
Every effort is made to tame the image. Representation is controlled. Representation is all. Power becomes visible. We have no influence on the image, we are only the objects of its break-ins. Over time the break-ins of the image have taken on a quite paralysing effect. Once we have forgotten everything else, paralysis becomes the normal condition. Violence is inherent in the break-in. The bombardment. We don’t know what to say.
Room A Video:
I remember when I drove to Bireh with my friend Mohannad to film the settlement raised high above Ramallah on the West Bank. He said: “This is my favourite place when I want to photograph the settlement.”
I filmed the Israeli settlement from Mohannad’s favourite place. I had already seen other pictures shot from this area with a similar view of the rolling hills of Palestine. So here you have it – a picture of a fortified town situated high on a hilltop which is surrounded by another, more scattered town. An Israeli colony on occupied Palestinian territory.
What we see is a conflict over the right to a territory, although everything appears peaceful and idyllic. The landscape speaks to the senses and to history. Haunted by the landscape paintings of El Greco and Velásquez. It’s actually a picture of a war in ultra slow motion. The border is constantly being drawn, but is never permanent. Yet another image of war.
The settlement, like most settlements, is situated high on the hilltops and looks out over the surrounding landscape. You see the settlement towering high above the town when you move through the streets of Ramallah. It controls the Palestinian landscape with its overview. This landscape picture tells a story of domination and colonization.
This is also a geopolitical image, interwoven with other wars and interwoven with other invasions. The settlement is also related to the Green Zone in Baghdad, to the Danish bases in Afghanistan. Helmand. Danish soldiers lie behind the fortifications and look out at a landscape that is not theirs. A landscape they must control. But we don’t see that in the picture.
And the images of war flicker together with the other images. JVC, Burger King, IKEA. Which we also recognize. The representation of the joy of commodities seems comforting in the light of the images of the horrors of war. But the effect is the same.
The electronic networks mean that the images of faraway wars are transmitted and arrive without delay. The simultaneity of communication is overwhelmingly concrete. The networks form the representation. That is why the images have also become part of the war. The images show us the war as a just war, a humanitarian intervention, ethical warfare. People die.
Maybe it isn’t as strange as it looks. People have fallen silent. The images of those at war. The images from the battlefield. These images that were actually supposed to represent the ultimate reality. Dead bodies, lives torn apart. The voices have fallen silent.
The just war, the peacekeeping effort, the pre-emptive attack. The conception of the good war is on display. There are no other images. The space has collapsed.
The representations are shaped more and more by blind forces and structures that simply don’t know the difference between war and peace. The representations assign us a visible position in a world on which we have no influence. The image breaks in, and the world of the representations is organized so we can only watch. While we are visible. It is all organized according to the logic of the commodity. The supplier decides the selection – the line of goods. As the customer, you are always right – but you have no other choices.
The images are not simply representations of so-called reality somewhere else. The images produce the reality we have here. The images appear to be dynamic, to create coordinates for the representation. The representation describes the visible. We can’t see anything around us that is not our own image; everything speaks to us of ourselves. The very landscape is alive. The membrane between internal representation and external representation has gone.
Room B Video:
It was an incredibly beautiful autumn day. I walked along filming with my camera on a pole so I could get an overview of the demonstration and the landscape. The shots were to be shown on a countercultural TV channel to ensure more thorough coverage of the action than the other media were likely to supply. I just let the camera run and I was also interested in showing the kind of people who were part of the demonstration and what went on between them.
The action made use of the landscape as its stage. The landscape is usually seen as the stage of nature, but its also the backdrop for war. We have seen the images of the great battles in landscapes in the classic representations. There are many images of this: Waterloo, Normandy, the Gulf.
But the images we see here have a different character. Here we see images of war again. But here the battle is not between national armies, but between citizens. Revolt in the borderline area of democracy. The protesters wanted to destroy the image of the camp. And the police defended that image by all available means. The pictures don’t show a victory – on the contrary, what is shown here is a profound defeat, while the images show what power will do to defend the image of the camp. The image of the camp is still intact. But the images of the war were shown.
The world has taught us that things change. Fear is constantly given new forms. Its face changes expression and appears when we least expect it. Fear is produced and reproduced anew. Is given new forms. The spectre of fear draws the political horizon.
If I said that this uncertainty didn’t exist when I was a child, I would be wrong. The atom bomb hung threateningly over us with images of complete destruction. But the image of the threat that is unfolding now demonstrates a different completeness. There is no east and west. Now there is no alternative. As if fear has become a determining factor for a society that cannot cohere in other ways.
When society separates us through its mode of functioning, and when the only collectivity is the human collectivity of capital, the fear steps in willingly to create cohesion. Fear is a spectre that is conjured up again and again. Images of mad Muslims with murder in their eyes, images of throngs of bodies moving towards our borders, images of foreigners among us who want our annihilation. They are produced again and again. The spectre of the foreign.
And other representations gain new power: images of the artificial collectivity of the nation, images of the self-appointed superiority of western civilization, images of white reason. The world is made smaller to make it cohere. And the fear that is characteristic of our separate lives is used to screen off that very separation.
And the images from the battlefield come home to haunt us. When we see them, the omnipresent threat is manifested again. It is whipped into us. It is transmitted through the electronic networks. The battlefield can unfold outside our windows at any time. It is happening here and now.
And the war has moved in too. Not only outside our windows, but into our homes, in ourselves. It has moved in. Into ourselves. The images from Baghdad and Kabul or Madrid and London are manifested as reality right here and right now. The images of war are war. But the war is staged by ourselves. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Tony Blair, George Bush are ourselves. We are at war with ourselves. We are doing the shooting.
The images from the battlefield keep breaking in. That is why we lose the ability to register what we see. The senses have been reorganized, the bodies have been shaped by the war. We are soldiers. It’s only a picture. It’s only dead bodies, It’s devastated towns. We can see that. But in time that’s the only thing we register: dead bodies, devastated towns. We are doing the shooting. Any nuance that might give an impression of the lives and the deaths we see is drowned out by the quantity and the repetition of the scenarios. We are standing in the middle of it. Experience has fallen in value. History is forgotten. We are doing the shooting.
We never see the whole battlefield, only a part of the landscape. We see only the battlefield we can see over the shoulders of our soldiers. We only see the war from ‘Camp Eden’ and ‘Camp Bastion’. The enemy is only vague shadows. Robes, beards, dark eyes. The enemy is conjured up as an image of inhumanity. So we can set off our own alleged humanity against ‘the others’. The battlefield is an organized landscape. The only violence visible is that of ‘the others’. The suicide attacks in New York, Baghdad, Madrid, Mumbai. We see the pictures again and again.
We never see the pictures of those who are hit by the Hellfire missiles in the villages in Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia. Nor do we see the arenas for the missile strikes of the remote-controlled drones in Yemen or Pakistan. This is a backdrop that is not shown anywhere. But the violence here is merciless, and it is our violence, the just war, the humanitarian intervention, the ethical warfare. The torture chambers of Guantanamo or Baghram do not exist. The networks control the representations. And that is why the flow of images has also become part of the war. Certain images do not exist. Certain representations would ruin everything. The small corner of the veil that was lifted when we saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib revealed that. Everything was burning.
Room C Video:
The city has become a foreign place. The space of the city insists on telling you that you have no business being here. But just as the city has traditionally been the stage for democracy and the bourgeois order’s eternal sorting of bodies, the city is also the stage for the collapse of this drama.
The prevailing order is melting away. The bodies are moving in different patterns. They are not being directed around by the coercion that determines behaviour on an everyday basis. No job, no consumption, no specific aim. The everyday order has ben replaced by a different order. The waste containers are burning, and the coordinates of the familiar order are falling away.
There are scattered glimpses of powerlessness becoming power. The shadows that don’t exist are suddenly becoming visible. The voices that are not understood set the scene on those nights. The rationale of power once more showed that it is unable to understand language that is not its own.
Other worlds become visible when the night falls and the sharp rationality of the light disappears. Chaos breaks in – like desire. The inhabitants of the uninhabitable city wake up. The city becomes the stage for the conflicts it produces itself, its own chaos. And every effort is made to keep it down. But the chaos bears witness to what happens when the superficial membrane of control is ruptured. Students, immigrants, workers – the residents of the city – suddenly begin to create a shared space. Everyone produces a new space. The city is on fire.
This warfare, this regime of the image, this gnawing fear testifies to a system that is breaking down. A system that is afraid of itself. The population is dangerous. A system that is falling apart. The human collectivity of capital is in crisis. That is why we use so many means of concealing our defeat.
The political powers-that-be are well aware of the power of the image as well as its uncontrollability. They only have their bureaucratic and technological tools of power to control the image with, so the voices we hear and the faces we see are produced by the ice-cold calculations of this machinery. We are presented with speeches about ‘democracy’ and ‘victory’ against a backdrop of smiling soldiers, but we know very well that the war has just begun, and that the word democracy only covers up yet another outrage. “Nope, nothing wrong here...”. The images produced by the states are bureaucratic and technological tools of power, which in their paradoxical lifelessness contain the seeds of their own destruction. But only the monologues of power can be heard. The political space has gone, leaving only the police.
We are witnessing a self-reinforcing collapse. Society is destroying itself under cover of a drama with dialogue that constantly includes the words ‘security’ and ‘democracy’. Look at the pictures from Kabul, Baghdad, London and Mumbai. Look what can happen, says the Prime Minister, but the dead bodies he points at are his own work. With the fear came the paralysis.
The images present themselves as the world. The representation presents itself as the world. The images don’t just stay out there, they break in, and sink into consciousness. The representation is our own, and is reactivated in the encounter with the next image. The difference between the internal and the external representation does not exist.
The war is a representation we live in. We don’t know what to say. There are no arguments. Only confrontation. The face of power keeps getting clearer. The images from the battlefield are used as arguments for violence everywhere. The images from the battlefield legitimize the way politics have become the administration of security. Police. The enemy is on the battlefield, but the battlefield is no longer a faraway landscape. The war has moved in amongst us. We are soldiers. Everything is visible. The images from the battlefield are used as arguments for letting society destroy itself. Society is destroying itself, and there is no way back. It’s just a matter of time before everything is in flames. When the house burns, the underlying architectural problem is revealed.
Jakob Jakobsen 2010