Post 9/11: What Does Art Look Like in the Age of Terror?

Themes of war and conflict prompt the unlikely connection of artists including Ai Weiwei and Grayson Perry.

Everyone remembers where they were on 11 September 2001, when four coordinated terrorist attacks targeted the United States. A day immortalised in collective memory, 9/11 marks a turning point in our recent history, unreservedly altering Western consciousness and triggering a consequential change in the perception of contemporary conflict. We now exist within an “Age of Terror”, a term co-opted by the media to classify contemporary consciousness; the way in which we view the world has changed.

But what space does art occupy in a post-9/11 landscape? How has an altered perception of conflict and the epidemic of terror changed the way art is made and viewed? How can art respond to fear? London’s Imperial War Museum have taken these questions as the curatorial concept for their upcoming exhibition, “Age of Terror: Art Since 9/11“. With 9/11 as its starting point, the exhibition will undergo an in-depth consideration of art’s role in the communication of contemporary conflict.

The exhibition is organised around four themes: the immediate, or direct, response to 9/11; issues of state surveillance and security; our problematic relationship with the weaponry of modern-day warfare; and the devastation, be it interpersonal or architectural, inflicted by conflict. The exhibition features over 40 international artists and their urgent responses to the terrorism of our current climate, and prompts us to consider five examples of what art looks like in a post-9/11 world.

“The Twin Towers” (2011) by Iván Navarro. Copyright the artist. Photo: Thelma Garcia. Courtesy of Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris-Brussels

1. Iván Navarro, “The Twin Towers”

Iván Navarro’s work, “The Twin Towers”, is an installation based on the blueprints of the World Trade Centre. The mirrored boxes of fluorescent light create the illusion of infinitely receding space, creating  void-like structures which serve as a haunting and poignant memory of the buildings that were destroyed in the 9/11 attacks.

“Operation Atropos” (2006) by Coco Fusco. Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York. Copyright Coco Fusco/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York

2. Coco Fusco, “Operation Atropos”

Cosco Fusco’s film explores the harrowing and hostile experiences of prisoners of war. In the experimental documentary, a group of women students are subjected to a series of simulations of hostile situations by retired U.S. Army interrogators, unearthing the traumatic reality of the POW experience.

“Circadian Rhyme” (2011) by Jitish Kallat. Copyright the artist. Photo: Thelma Garcia. Courtesy Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris-Brussels

3. Jitish Kallat, “Circadian Rhyme”

Jitish Kallat’s sculptural work comprises 48 figurines undergoing frisk searches. The work embodies a modern-day paranoia and the urgency of high-level security under the threat of terror. Reminiscent of a contemporary border control situation, the scene is instantly relatable, resonating with the experiences of the viewer, even on entering the gallery.

“Nein! Eleven?” (2012-2013) by Jake & Dinos Chapman. Courtesy the artists and Blain|Southern. Photo: Vincent Tang

4. Jake & Dinos Chapman, “Nein! Eleven?”

This work by Jake and Dinos Chapman is characteristic of the dioramas for which they have become so renowned. The disturbing scene comprises thousands of nazi corpses flung into two twin towers to rot. The piece is an affecting reminder of history repeating itself, paralleling the horrors of past wars with the conflict of contemporary society.

“A Place Beyond Belief” (2012) by Nathan Coley. Copyright Studio Nathan Coley

5. Nathan Coley, “A Place Beyond Belief”

Nathan Coley’s “A Place Beyond Belief” was created in New York after 9/11, but the work is unspecific to any singular context. When installed in different cities, the phrase takes on a new significance, transcending any one fixed definition. The simple, but powerful words ring true anywhere in a world threatened by terror.

Age of Terror: Art Since 9/11” is on display at London’s Imperial War Museum from 26 October 2017 until 28 May 2018

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