When first entering the SBC Gallery you are confronted with large, raw plywood cubicles, leading you to a viewing area. A window has been cut out of the wooden structure, and on the far end of the box a video is being screened. You settle in, place your elbows on the window sill, and start watching.
The scene you are confronted with appears – at first – to be mundane. When I first dropped in, I saw a woman in a room, looking out of a window (an echo of myself), onto an urban street scene. Nothing much was happening. Two or three men were loitering at a street corner. And then there were voices, and the tension on the street became palpable. There was going to be trouble. I realized that we were not just watching, but observing. This was surveillance of a war zone.
Emanual Licha’s work lives right there, in the deliberately ambiguous space between film, fiction, and documentary. The scenes screened in his exhibition Why Photogenic? are from his most recent series Mirages and Baghdad, which were filmed at the military training camp Fort Irwin, California. Fort Irwin models the city Baghdad, Iraq and is used by the military to train soldiers to familiarize them with the combat zone. The environment Licha creates is, like Fort Irwin, full of contradictory elements: is this a cinema (the aspect ratio of the screening is the cinematic 16 x 9), is this a surveillance video, am I watching someone else, or am I being watched? Am I the observer or the observed? What part of this is real?
What’s being questioned here is more than our sense of reality, but also our sense of perception on a larger scale: how do we receive and process information, especially information of a political nature? Which images can we truly trust? Who holds the camera? At a time when government, media, and surveillance are becoming increasingly intertwined, Licha’s work highlights some poignant questions: who holds the monopoly on violence, is there such a thing as empirical data, and what role do the media play in informing the public?
While you’re comfortably leaning on a plywood frame in the gallery, you’ll have much to think about.
May 1 – June 19, 2010
(repost from the Belgo Report)