Kamler also asked South Africa's infamous Clinton Fein to contribute. You remember him: last year, his wall-sized photographs re-creating Abu Ghraib torture scenes reverberated like mortar bombs throughout the 49 Geary art complex. Imagine what he could do with a white dove.
"Who says what's officially annoying? Is that a business we really want our government to be in?" -- Clinton Fein, purveyor of the website Annoy.com, complaining about a bill in Congress that would make it a federal crime to "annoy" someone over the Internet.
"It's a stupid law that has slipped in under the radar," says Clinton Fein, a San Francisco-based artist who runs annoy.com, a website that he says offers "unique and irreverent" commentary on politics and culture.
Clinton Fein, who runs the Annoy.com Web site, is also aghast. His site is specifically set up to annoy people through, among other means, anonymous postcards sent through the mail that direct the recipient to read the sender's message at the Annoy.com site. Fein calls the new legislation annoying.
The nation's new cyberstalking restrictions started this month. The legislation updates laws designed to protect people from harrassment. The updated law makes it illegal to use the Internet to harrass someone. But a provision of the legislation also adds the word "annoy" to the types of communication that's illegal.
One of the people who picked up on this new language is the creator of the Web site annoy.com. Clinton Fein calls himself a political artist. He's based in San Francisco. He photoshops irreverant and frequently offensive digital postcards for users to send anonymously to whomever they want--the attorney general of the United States, for example, or perhaps your boss. Fein readily admits to pushing legal boundaries. But he wonders who, under the new law, decides what is legally annoying.
First, we will discover what Section 113 truly means when someone challenges the law. A candidate being mentioned on the Internet is Annoy.com; the site offers a "service by which people send politically incorrect postcards without being required to furnish their identity."
The site owner Clinton Fein has a history of "seeking declaratory and injunctive relief" against the Communications Decency Act of 1996 through which "indecent" computer communication that is intended to "annoy" was criminalized. Fein believes Section 113 "warrant[s] a constitutional challenge."
Annoying someone via the Internet is now a federal crime. It's no joke. Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity.
Clinton Fein, a San Francisco resident who runs the Annoy.com site, says a feature permitting visitors to send obnoxious and profane postcards through e-mail could be imperiled.
"Who decides what's annoying? That's the ultimate question," Fein said. He added: "If you send an annoying message via the United States Post Office, do you have to reveal your identity?"
Civil liberties groups have vowed to fight the legislation in the courts under the First Amendment, claiming that it would make it impossible for whistleblowers to operate without putting themselves at risk.
Clinton Fein, a South African activist who runs Annoy.com, was scathing about the new law.
"It appears that one is guilty of a crime if one were simply to 'utilise' a telecoms device 'with intent to annoy' a person regardless of the content or even in its absence," he said. "A conduct rather than a content crime; perhaps waving a BlackBerry in someone's face."
Fein's counterfeits are not intended to reprise tired debates about originality and authorship. Unlike Sherrie Levine, who rephotographed Walker Evans's Depression-era images, or Thomas Ruff, whose enlargements of Internet images preserve and accentuate the flaws of screen grabs, Fein seized upon despicable amateur images, which unexpectedly had acquired public notoriety and probative value, and re-presented them in enhanced, painterly terms. His invocation of old-master painting, far from summoning up Christian martyrdom as do the Abu Ghraib canvases of Fernando Botero, delivers us to the dark threshold of inhumanity conjured by Goya.
The recent show, titled "Torture," consisted of staged and manipulated photographic images. Fein felt that the low resolution of the pictures taken by the GIs participating in the Abu Ghraib abuses - the images that later appeared in the press - had the effect of muting and veiling the actual horror of the scenes depicted. Only sharp, high-resolution images, he concluded, could convey the full impact of the humiliating atrocities and show what the corrupt leaders of a supposedly civilized nation routinely endorsed.
The hooded prisoner with the electric wires tied to his hands has become the unofficial logo of the present war in Iraq. For the 2004 election, Serra made a poster of this image, and it has also been restaged by Fein. So has the picture of the human pyramid of naked men, an image to which the artist has given the title Rank and Defile (2007). In addition to the photographs that simulated the original snapshots, there were also two entirely fictional C-prints in the show. Crucifiction 1 and 2 (2007), for example, are the artist's imagined views of what it is like to collapse under extreme physical abuse.
Torture of detainees or their rendition to countries with even more abusive torture regimens has become semi-legal under the Bush administration. Fein reminds us, however, that these practices can never be anything less than intolerable. Otherwise, the real war is already lost.
Fein's work goes beyond this empathetic engagement. He features as a prison guard in this exhibition, and so emphasizes the dark side of engaged art-a troubling relationship between artist and subject. This dark side lurks throughout the protest tradition. For example, when Eddie Adams photographed General Loan in 1968, Loan treated the execution as a performance. He led the prisoner towards journalists, as though, without these witnesses present, he might not have bothered to pull the trigger. Watching and witnessing here provoked and defined an execution, and this complicated the morality of looking. Equally sinister is the fact that lynchings were a lucrative business for photographers, who would regularly document them. Some were even delayed until a photographer arrived, and mob, audience, and police officials regularly posed with the corpses. Many images were sent as postcards through the mail to participants' friends and relatives, often with the sender's face marked and a note to the effect of: "This is the barbeque we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe."
Like Loan's execution and America's lynchings, the acts recorded in the original Abu Ghraib images look like performances for the camera's eye, as though the greatest shame of all was to have the moment documented for an audience, for posterity. And by including himself within the exhibition, Fein engages head-on this question of the photographer's presence at scenes of violence. Perhaps the artist is as sinister a figure as the original prison guard. Perhaps Fein enjoyed making violence as beautiful as this, and now asks us to enjoy it-asks us to take as much pleasure in these scenes as the original prison guards, with their grins and gestures. Perhaps Fein's camera, which demanded of his models full nudity and physical exhaustion, is as aggressive as the prison guard's club.
Several contemporary artists have tried to evoke the grotesqueries of war...But no one else has reached the peculiar extremes to which Fein goes. Using hired models, he re-enacted and photographed scenes of cruelty that were recorded in the notorious unofficial photographs of "detainee abuse" at Abu Ghraib. Fein presents these images as giant panel-mounted chromogenic prints.
To viewers who remember the Abu Ghraib images, Fein's pieces will look both grimly familiar and oddly aestheticized. Two are his inventions.
Encountering them in an art gallery provokes tangled responses: outrage that someone would advance his own ambitions through the degradations the Abu Ghraib photos record; perverse temptation by the opportunity to study the mise-en-scene of the original pictures, safe in the knowledge of seeing simulations; despair that history has again diverted the resources of art away from pleasure and contemplation to bleak and urgent critical functions; and, finally, the recognition that, after all the barriers between art and life come down, nothing insulates our enjoyment of the arts against toxic pollution from our knowledge of real events.
How far should simulation in art go? Will we next have to ponder a re-enactment of, say, Saddam Hussein's execution, or even Daniel Pearl's, merely because these images can be found on the Internet, and because they symbolize the degeneration of American foreign policy?
Clinton Fein usually comes across as a political art guerrilla, putting images of elected officials and controversial figures in digitally manipulated, uncompromising positions (Rudy Giuliani in a urine-filled glass, President Bush on a crucifix, Saddam Hussein as an "I Want You" Uncle Sam), which immeditely freaks everybody out -- especially the government. (His company's Web site, www.annoy.com, features a fine chronicle of the dust-ups.) But the photos from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal gave him all he needed for his latest exhibit, "Torture." There are no loaded juxtapositions and no funny, morbid slogans, merely a faithful representation of the shocking photographs, blown up to mammoth size, which can leave you staggering about the gallery over the horror of it all.
Fein says that he became increasingly desensitized to the images he was creating as he staged more and more shoots, but he didn't lose all sense of the horror. Both he and his models found themselves involved in the physicality of the situation -- they complained of hurt knees, of the unpleasant weight of human bodies in the pyramid scenes -- and that lesson isn't lost on those who view the large-scale photographs either.
Like Stanley Milgram's infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, in which college boys transformed themselves into warring prisoners and wardens with breathtaking speed, Fein's photographs speak to the darker impulses of human nature, the power of context in determining behavior. There's a lot of evidence that the Abu Ghraib soldiers were filling roles designed for them by their superiors.
Clinton Fein makes "art" out of Abu Ghraib. But this quick walk through hell is not so much about Abu Ghraib, nor about America's insane megalomaniacal imprimatur, nor about dredging up yesterday's news. It's mainly about what happens to those friends and acquaintances of Fein who consent to help him re-enact these infamous episodes. You might think that since they know what they were getting into, it's no big deal... or is it? If you're not sure, Fein's got some video you might wanna check out. Suppose someone asked you to participate in such an exercise? Would you? Do you think it would be easy? And how about the original Iraqi unfortunates? How do you think they felt? How do you think they feel today? They had no choice, no inkling, no clue whether they'd be alive one moment and dead the next. Pick of First Thursday.
The vision of Americans that emerges from Fein's carefully crafted, nine-panel Abu Ghraib installation pierces into the heart of the scandal. Fein wants us to grasp the magnitude of a spectacle that stripped prisoners of their human dignity. The mocking of religion and treating prisoners of war as subhumans has become the face of America that won't be forgotten by the estimated 1.6 million Muslims around the world.
In Torture, Fein has synthesized this unwieldy cache of evidence, producing an indispensable and riveting account of the Abu Ghraib nightmare. The compelling imagery fitted to human scale is in our face and is deliberate in provoking a visceral reaction, a moral stand, and perhaps a national discourse that might and can change the course.
The works will be exhibited under the name "Torture;" it could not be otherwise. It is not acceptable to use the euphemism "abuse," as is done in official government statements and by the press, when the reality is that United States carried out the most horrific crimes at Abu Ghraib.
This is not the first time that Clinton Fein has sparked controversy, or that the issue of Abu Ghraib has been dealt with; pictorial works by Colombian Fernando Botero have also spotlighted the misdeed. Fein however focuses on the choreography and sexualization of the torture, working with the images of naked prisoners, men forced into contorted positions, inmates made to simulate degrading and humiliating sexual acts. The artist pokes away and it exposes the dark side of a war that the American people were tricked into by their own government, and one in which hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been slaughtered.
The jolt of Abu Ghraib impacted the consciousness of many when the pictures were published in April 2004, and will have a continued impact through "Torture" by Clinton Fein.
It is a necessary reproduction because it is indispensable that the wave of indignation grow more powerful and systematic in order to do away with those who conceived, organized and ordered the execution of the war against Iraq.
As much as Clinton Fein's photographs in his show at Toomey-Tourell (49 Geary St, San Francisco) are about torture and politics, they are more captivatingly about reversing what we see imbedded in the images. Certainly Fein is drawing viewers into a political debate on the abuse of prisoners in the Iraqi prison, Abu Ghraib, by re-presenting those now infamous images first published in April 2004. However, by re-photographing them with stylized, hyper-real clarity Fein is giving the viewer permission to look at what was shunned in the originals: the details and the psychology revealed in them.
His use of stylized, dramatic lighting indeed amps up these perversions to bring that agenda to the forefront and draws our attention directly to it. He has intentionally conflated aesthetic experience with shocking imagery. One could argue that Fein has aestheticized the grotesque with this approach. One could also argue that he simply intended to present an uncensored version. However, his intention is as blurred as his images are sharp. After all, he did include fictionalized re-staged scenes in this exhibition.
Ridiculously, artists that have chosen to reflect the systematic abuses at Abu Ghraib have come under fire.
Clinton Fein’s ingenious reconstructions of the Abu Ghraib crimes drew criticism for many selfish reasons (an unwelcome return to problematic images despite their obvious construction, a project of a sadist, a re-opening of a cultural wound?). The intelligence of Fein’s project was that it challenged our premature numbness to the original Abu Ghraib photographs and forced a renewed pathos toward a subject that we’d never known anyway.
RANDOM COMMENTS & RESPONSES CULLED FROM EVERYWHERE
Clinton Fein, has recreated scenes from Abu Ghraib to bring home the consequences of the Bush administration's torture policy. Do not click if you are squeamish.
The stylized qualities that cause the pictures to look like inventions naggingly remind the viewer that real events spurred Botero to make them. Unlike Clinton Fein, the San Francisco artist provocateur who restaged before his camera some of the incriminating Abu Ghraib photos, using live models, Botero imagined his scenes of torment after immersing himself in reports of the scandal, both written and visual.
Context is everything. I also can't help imagining the different experience the photographers must have had. In one case an appalled documentarian taking pictures to show the world how cruel soldiers can be to prisoners. Shocking stuff. The other photographer a man re-creating these scenes, yet surrounded by healthy, willing male bodies, that he paints with mud and fake blood. Pretty sexy stuff. Clinton himself poses in one photograph as a cruel guard. He really looks scary, but it helps to know him, and to know that he is in fact embodying the role, rather than in fact being a cruel person. The difference between the enactment and the reality is everything. I found this exhibition beautiful and haunting. Horrible and beautiful. Exciting and terrifying. See it.
I've been hostile to Hostel's (and similar films') attempts to dress up their splatter in the clothing of social critique--I've been doing this without having seen them, granted, but it just seems to me like anyone could watch The American Nightmare and say "yeah, me too."
These photos by Clinton Fein, on the other hand, are another story.
I still feel there's a certain narcissim posing as bravery in only speaking to evil when it's going on in your own backyard, but regardless, another story entirely.
Well, you can't seem to go to a gallery without hearing Hieronymus Bosch mentioned in a usually pretentious tone, but there were some amazing pieces by Clinton Fein that had a visceral and post-modern relevance to Bosch. The exhibit was at the Toomey-Tourell Gallery and was entitled Torture.
Id overheard people in nearly every other gallery discussing Clinton Feins Torture, (a cringe-inducing series of photographs staged to recreate the Abu Ghraib abuses using models and fashion lighting) but by the time I reached Toomy Tourell (toomey-tourell.com) to see the show in person, the throng inside the gallery seemed more intent on discussing dinner destinations than the sexual perversion inherent in Americas torture practices.
Why have you made these images, why are you exhibiting them?
If your answer has more to do with personal fulfillment, then do as Nightprowlkitty said, whatever your mind projects.
But if you sincerely want to bring the issue to the minds of your viewers, so as to cause change (however minor the change may be), then you must balance your expressiveness with the practicalities of conveying messages.
Torture is the most disgusting of all human abilities, a crime worse than murder. Perhaps, in your raw expression of torture victims, you've struck that balance.