Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin
Divine Violence at MOSTYN, Wales
Rory Duckhouse for Photomonitor
September 2014

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The modern experience of war is mediated through images, in newspapers and on the television, passed through a gatekeeper; we only experience an edited version of events. Divine Violence questions the criteria for the visual representation of conflict.

Broomberg and Chanarin’s The Day Nobody Died introduces the show and its themes. Two strips of photographic paper are displayed on the wall, these non-figurative action photographs appear obscure, their lack of detail at odds with the expected embedded photographer within the army. Another layer is added through the accompanying video piece, which shows the journey through a war zone, transported from military base to base by the British Army, revealing the system in which the media operates. The paper was unfolded and exposed to light on days nobody died, and during mundane events photographers would traditionally record. The resulting documents don’t reveal the process of documenting conflict but offer a critique of the processes and its conventional language.

This obscuring of the conflict image is continued in Afterlife. A series of glass plates sits on a shelf, showing parts of a scene from a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph taken in Iran in 1979. The original image shows the moment of execution of 11 blindfolded Kurdish prisoners by firing squad. The whole view of the scene isn’t presented, instead the installation shows slices to reveal pieces of the image. Through this re-imagining of the scene we are denied the whole view of suffering and our focus is placed firmly on the victims of this atrocity.

At the heart of Divine Violence is Holy Bible, published by MACK last year. Here, the pages of Holy Bible are not confined to the book; instead they are spread out over the walls as a mass of information. Visually they overwhelm as rectangular frames replace the format of the book, creating a new experience of viewing the pages. The work is inspired by the annotations and images found in Bertolt Brecht’s personal Bible, mixed with images from the Archive of Modern Conflict. A copy of the King James Bible is overlaid with images of war, magic, suffering, evolution, biology, consumerism and sexuality from the archive.

Occasionally the text is underlined, such as the re-occurrence of the words ‘cleanse’ and ‘unclean’ on one page to reveal the contradictions and power structures inherent within the text. The mix of text and image relate to a short essay, Divine Violence by the Israeli philosopher Adi Ophir, in which he states God reveals himself in the Bible through acts of catastrophe, such as floods and acts of wrath.
The work leans quite heavily on these influences and makes the themes explicit. However, through their use of images, the artists move past merely illustrating these concepts and create a much more sophisticated model of understanding. The Archive of Modern Conflict contains an array of varied artefacts that have been mined and mixed into Holy Bible. This mix of images forms a new reading of the Brecht Bible, creating new relationships by allowing parts of the text to influence their selection.

In one paragraph of Holy Bible, underlined in red is the phrase ‘evidence of things unseen’ which encompasses the work in the show. The process of conflict imagery is revealed and re-imagined, showing inherent contradictions in the presentation of extreme conflict and suffering.