The Imperial War Museum Stages Age of Terror: Art Since 9/11

By Dirk Vanduffel - Monday, October 30, 2017
The Imperial War Museum Stages Age of Terror: Art Since 9/11

In times of conflict and war, art can play a valuable and important role. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, the world has been undergoing a series of global wars and tensions that are still very much playing out today. Now, the Imperial War Museum in London is staging a major exhibition of artist’s responses to modern warfare. The exhibition features more than 40 artists from around the world including Grayson Perry, Ai Weiwei, Gerhard Richter, Jenny Holzer and Coco Fusco.

The Imperial War Museum Stages Age of Terror: Art Since 9/11

In times of conflict and war, art can play a valuable and important role. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, the world has been undergoing a series of global wars and tensions that are still very much playing out today. Now, the Imperial War Museum in London is staging a major exhibition of artist’s responses to modern warfare. The exhibition features more than 40 artists from around the world including Grayson Perry, Ai Weiwei, Gerhard Richter, Jenny Holzer and Coco Fusco. 

Age of Terror: Art since 9/11 appears until 28TH May 2017 and explores the unique way artists respond to modern warfare through a variety of mediums including film, photography, prints and installations. Highlights include a first-hand documentary film from Tony Oursler, who was in his apartment, just blocks from the World Trade Centre as the attacks unfolded. My Country Map from Hanaa Mallalah uses her ‘Ruins Technique’ of “burning, distressing and obliterating” material to explore a map of the devastation caused to her native Iraq by the wars that have taken place there. David Cotterell also displays a triptych of photographs depicting wounded soldiers as they travel from Camp Bastion in Afghanistan to Selly Oak in Birmingham. A film from Omer Fast titled 5,000 feet is best features conversations between the artist and a former U.S. drone operator.

Artdependence caught up with curator Sanna Moore to find out more. 

Artdependence Magazine: Can you tell a bit about the history of the Imperial War Museum (IWM)?
Sanna Moore: IWM is unique in its coverage of conflicts, especially those involving Britain and the Commonwealth, from the First World War to the present day. We seek to provide for, and to encourage, the study and understanding of the history of modern war and 'wartime experience'. We are proud to be regarded as one of the essential sights of London, Cambridgeshire and Greater Manchester. IWM is a family of five museums: IWM London; IWM North in Trafford, Greater Manchester; IWM Duxford near Cambridge; the Churchill War Rooms in Whitehall, London; and the historic ship HMS Belfast, moored on the River Thames.

AD: How was the idea for this exhibition conceived?
SM: The idea came from several years of research that the museum had conducted which indicated that many more artists have been making work about conflict since 9/11.

AD: Why is 9/11 the starting point and not for example the 1972 Munich massacre?
SM: The curatorial teams at the museum are divided into 4 time periods: First World War, Second World War, Cold War and Contemporary Conflict. Contemporary Conflict covers conflicts since 2001 and we specifically chose 9/11 as the starting point for this exhibition as it was a watershed moment globally. (It’s important to point out that this is not an exhibition about terrorism, it is an exhibition about how artists have responded to conflict since 9/11, often referred to as the Age of Terror).

AD: Does the exhibition also reflect on changing attitudes in human behaviour after the 9/11 attacks and the attacks that have followed?
SM: The exhibition reflects on the continuing state of emergency which we have found ourselves in since 9/11, often referred to as the Age of Terror. This evolving state of emergency has provided a backdrop for artists to explore the use of mass surveillance, the collection of information on individuals, the withdrawal of civil rights, suspension of due legal processes, detention without trial, the revocation of constitutional law and the institutionalisation of violence. The exhibition draws on September 11th as a starting point and features artworks which comment on the War on Terror, subsequent events and consequences including changing state controls, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, developments in weaponry and the impact on people and places.

AD: Some of the works exhibited have a very visible relation to the attacks and some have a more subconscious impact. What are the exhibitions key themes?

SM: The four themes are:
9/11 - artist’s direct or immediate responses
State Control - changes to state control post 9/11, for example increased security and surveillance
Weapons - developments in weaponry since 9/11 and how artist fetishise weapons
Home - work by artists who have been displaced by conflicts and have left their homes as a result. This also includes veterans returning home from war zones.

© Ai Weiwei, Surveillance Camera with Plinth, 2015

The exhibition explores four key themes: artists’ direct or immediate responses to the events of 9/11, issues of state surveillance and security, our complex relationship with firearms, bombs and drones and the destruction caused by conflict on landscape, architecture and people. One of the highlights of the exhibition is Iván Navarro’s The Twin Towers (2011), is exhibited in the UK for the first time. Navarro’s neon light installations recede deep within themselves, creating the illusion of an infinite concave space.

The exhibition also includes Dolls at Dungeness September 11th 2001 (2001) by Grayson Perry, Ai Weiwei’s Surveillance Camera with Plinth (2015), in which the artist memorialises the apparatus of CCTV surveillance by replicating it in marble, and Drone Shadow (2017) – a site-specific installation by James Bridle,  installed on the floor of the Atrium at IWM London.

Jitish Kallat, Circadian Rhyme 1, 2011. © The Artist / Photo Thelma Garcia/ Courtesy Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris-Brussels.

AD: Is this the first exhibition of "contemporary art" in your museum?
SM: Since its inception in 1917 IWM had always worked with contemporary artists, sending artists to war zones and commissioning new work. There are over 20,000 art works in the IWM collection which are a testament to that. Contemporary art exhibitions are nothing new at IWM but this is the largest exhibition we have staged to date.

AD: Was it difficult to bring this exhibition together?

SM: There was a wealth of material available. We looked at the work of around 400 contemporary artists in selecting the 44 artists included in the show. It has been a huge exhibition to pull together in 12 months.

Dirk defines the overall policy of Artdependence Magazine, in addition to conducting interviews. He specializes in valuation and auctioning.

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Image of the day

 Geng Jianyi (1962–2017). The Second State, 1987. 130*196cm Painting, Oil on canvas. Courtesy: ShanghArt Gallery

Geng Jianyi (1962–2017). The Second State, 1987. 130*196cm Painting, Oil on canvas. Courtesy: ShanghArt Gallery

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