DIATRIBE & FAN
digital video, sound, color
“One of the distinguishing features of modern life is that it supplies countless opportunities for regarding (at a distance, through the medium of photography) horrors taking place throughout the world. Images of atrocities have become, via the little screens of the television and the computer, something of a commonplace. But are viewers inured -- or incited -- to violence by the depiction of cruelty? Is the viewer’s perception of reality eroded by the daily barrage of such images? What does it mean to care about the sufferings of people in faraway zones of conflict?”
Susan Sontag “Regarding the pain of others” 2003.
A better introduction to understand Karl Ingar Røys’ video installation Diatribe & Fan would be hard to find. In ‘Diatribe’ he exposes us to an anonymous man-hunt where people are being slaughtered by a state of the art equipped combat-helicopter. ‘Diatribe’ is an authentic horrifying document where Røys has only added the title, which is to be understood as ‘a thunderous verbal attack’. By using this as his title he plays with the underlying contradiction in the communication between the helicopter pilots and the base, their totally controlled, inexpressible attitude to what they actually are causing. We, as an audience experience this as an abstract bloodbath, where we never actually see the blood as it is an infrared-recording with no sound from the actual battle-field, but we still get a close-up of people’s desperate fight for survival, their suffering and their imminent death.
Karl Ingar Røys exhibit ‘Diatribe’ together with the video work ‘Fan’, a second video where we meet ‘our self’ represented as a 3D doll trying to learn the art of relaxation, a reference to the media presented justified urge to search for individual happiness. An inviting voice leads us into a world of hypnosis where the doll, this young masculine perfect male represent everything we should want for ourselves. Scenes of an abducted kneeling child and three kidnappers, similar to the Middle-East beheading videos released on the internet, are cross edited into ‘Fan’ where the kidnappers are wearing Palestine scarf’s to hide their identity. At the same time our helpful therapist’s voice is promising us a relaxing night: “Let me be responsible for you to go to sleep tonight”. The ‘leading’ kidnapper then pretends to cut of the victim’s head and the video fades out to digital noise with children’s laughter in the background.
I have to admit that this video makes me furious. Even when I know it is only children playing a game and that it is all staged by a filming adult, not so different from my childhood photos where we play "Cowboys & Indians". But as I am obviously influenced by the recent situations in Iraq, it makes it hard to look at this as only a game. Karl Ingar Røys knows this, and he knows how to use the means of the Media to reveal its structures and political measures. Focusing on the on-going discussions in the media if it is right or wrong to communicate videos of violent and politically motivated beheadings and the mass-medias cynical exploitation of sensations, we see that Røys here want to show us something else.
I see an honest and sincere presented cynicism, a suggestion on our relationship with violence and how we deal with cruelty. Our mechanism of suppression and our methods of dissociation are not so unlike the way the pilots in the helicopter deal with the horrible sterile situation in ‘Diatribe’. In June 1938 Virginia Wolf published ‘Three Guineas’, (as S. Sontag writes in her book ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’) “her brave, unwelcome reflections on the roots of war”, where she after a long discussion concludes: “No ‘we’ should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people’s pain”. Woolf argumentation for saying this lies in her divide of the sexes but also in the differences of attitude towards life. This is also how I expect the reception of Røys videoinstallation will be, divided.
But Røys has had this in his mind when he offers us an intricate solution; one of the videos will always be shown inside the seat of a chair which can be used to sit on, when watching the other video projected on the wall. It is therefore impossible to watch both videos at the same time and by exhibiting the work in this manner he actually manage to lure the audience into taking a personal stand. Røys does not moralise but shows us what we face every day through media. But one thing he really does is to lead me into reflections on how it is to be a human, confronted with inhumanity. Unaffected by digital media Viktor Hugo (1802-1885) said: “Between two servants of Humanity, who appeared eighteen hundred years apart, there is a mysterious relation….Let us say it with a sentiment of profound respect: Jesus wept, Voltaire smiled. Of that divine tear and of that human smile is composed the sweetness of the present civilisation.” We still live in an age divided by tears and smile, where the tears are bitter and the smile unkind.