War and Visual Culture
From the aerial views provided by army hot air balloons to the synchronized camera/machine-guns of World War I to the contemporary sensing operations of military drones, perception has always been linked to destruction. As Paul Virilio wrote, “the function of the weapon is the function of the eye.” Militarized nation states understand this keenly, which is why a vast array of visual media, including photography, film, television, advertising, and video games have been deployed to help shape public perceptions of war, death, and atrocity. Today, as the war on terror creeps into its third decade, war has become simultaneously omnipresent, highly mediated, and yet in other ways routinely hidden from public view. How can we understand the relation between war and visual technology, experience, and culture?
In this class, we’ll read a variety of theoretical work and examine cultural objects, case studies, and artist projects as we dissect the many intersections between war and visuality. We’ll begin by tracing a genealogy of the martial gaze. We’ll ask: How did fantasies of sensing, imaging, and mapping give way to modern techniques of remote sensing and targeting? What is the relationship between technologies of modern weaponry and those of image production? Then, we will examine how modern warfare is rationalized, remembered, and portrayed across image-based media such as electronic games, video, and photography. How do methods of simulation and documentation transmit truth claims about modern war and security? How has the virtualization of war refigured links between technology, politics and violence? Finally, we’ll explore the political and ethical possibilities that have emerged through seeing, circulating, and reproducing images of war as evidence. Readings may include works by Judith Butler, Derek Gregory, Caren Kaplan, Ella Shohat, Lisa Parks, Nicholas Mirzoeff, Ariella Azoulay, and W.J.T. Mitchell, among others. We will also look at artistic works by Harun Farocki, Hajra Waheed, Jananne Al-Ani, Rabih Mroué, and Hito Steyerl.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
March 02 — March 23, 2021