✓✓ Read Receipts: Endless War Art

An etching of a wounded German soldier. The man stares at the viewer and screams in horror. His flesh seems to melt off his body and into the mud.
Otto Dix, Wounded Man, 1916.

When does it become apparent that you’re in the midst of an endless war? How do you define the start and end, particularly when the fighting is diffuse and irregular. Nobody at the beginning of the Eighty Years’ War could have understood the immensity of the myriad conflicts that started and stalled for nearly three generations. The collective name we’ve come to know this series of conflicts by shows that it’s only in the aftermath, through the malleable processes of interpretation and creation of texts and art, that war has happened—or not.

  • Scranton and his peers occupy the twisting strands of literature and war that we can trace as far back as we’ve bothered to record history. In fact, if we go back far enough, any distinction between the disciplines nearly ceases to exist. The Never Ending Book of War in the LA Review of Books. When I was first reading on postmodernism I couldn’t understand Baudrillard’s comment that, the Gulf War did not take place, today I see it as an immensely insightful and desperately necessary interpretation.
  • Most Americans would never actually see this mom bomb that was lobbed in their name over a country they have been bombing for sixteen years. With the sort of glib sleight of hand that permits America’s perpetual war, the initial video that was released to American cable news networks was from a previous test of the bomb. Bomb Envy: How Trump learned to be loved by Rafia Zakaria in The Baffler. Zakaria’s tearing apart of Trump’s senseless attack on Afghanistan gets to the empty core of this bombing mission. It was nothing but a symbolic display of strength for the sycophants across the narrow American political spectrum. A snuff film for that evening’s dinner topic.
  • In 2003, I argued that Iraq was the right war with the wrong commander in chief. I had it nearly backward. It was the wrong war—for which history will forever blame Bush—but with the right commander in chief, at least for the noble if narrow purpose of creatively honoring veterans through art. Bush Nostalgia Is Overrated, but His Book of Paintings Is Not by Jonathan Alter on The New York Times. This is what the normalisation of fascism looks like. Not simply the acceptance of Trump’s actions, but the shifting of historical frames; Bush goes from war criminal to kindly if misguided granddad. Alter should be banned from writing.
  • A soldier collapses diagonally across the picture plane, dissolving into a gray textured surface punctuated by stark patches of black and white, with sprays of acid spots surrounding the figure. One Hundred Years of World War on Hyperallergic. Otto Dix seems to be, along with Goya, one of the few artists capable of expressing the horror of war without using this baseline of terror to affirm the bravery and resolve of its actors. Dix’s work is being shown alongside that of August Sander at the Tate Liverpool in June, I’ll be reviewing it for The Double Negative.
  • If you compare Gassed with the German depictions of war victims (by artists like George Grosz and Otto Dix), then its relative understatedness might seem to verge on the timid. But Sargent was never going to paint like Dix. If one considers it as an official government commission, then it is difficult to think of a precedent for its plain presentation of the human price of modern war. The Disasters of War by James Fenton on The New York Review of Books. Like Fenton, I was surprised to find the First World War referred to as America’s forgotten war. This of course, simply demonstrates how conflict can be written out of history if it doesn’t fit the narrative of the American Twentieth Century. An experience known too well to Latin American and East Asian countries, but rarely afforded to Europe.
  • ‘What brought you two to North cape?’ - ‘A command.’ ‘Don’t you feel cold? ‘Chilled to the bone are we.’ ‘When will you two go home?’ ‘When this snow ends.’ ‘And how long will it snow?’ ‘Eternally.’ War Primer by Bertolt Brecht, republished by Verso Books. I’ve been waiting to get a copy of this reissue since it was announced and hopefully it should be arriving this month. Here, Brecht turns his didactic method to reading photography, pairing news clippings with short four-line poems he named photo-epigrams.
  • Suffice to say every camera dehumanises. In rendering the body into two dimensions, a photograph is lossy and reductive. But our familiarity with this property of the image has caused us to quickly forget and come to terms with the image and its compromises, accepting the trade off of the arrested and flat image for its portability. Richard Mosse: Incoming by Duncan Wooldridge on 1000 Words. Mosse was recently awarded the Prix Pictet for Heat Maps, the series of still landscapes from this cycle of work which are now exhibiting at the V&A, London. I wrote my own response to Mosse’s work after visiting Incoming at the Barbican, to be published soon.
  • Before the revolution, artists were working with the bourgeoisie so they wanted to talk about the legacy of the past. Then after the Bolshevik revolution there was a drastic break and they looked to the future. Today, we still have a nostalgia for a future that we can’t see. The Imagery of the Russian Revolution Married Ideology, Politics + Progressive Graphic Design on AIGA Eye on Design. I wanted to end this list on a positive note. With 2017 representing the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution it’s worth using this year to reflect on the potential that can still be found in the unity of its artwork and politics.