Life During Wartime: On ‘9 Scripts from a Nation at War’

Curator's Note

Video — as is widely known — has become, as John Baldessari once predicted, “just one more tool in the artist’s toolbox.” Indeed, Documenta XII, the 2007 version of the international exhibition of visual art that takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany, included dozens of videos, by Yael Bartana, Haroun Farocki, Martha Rosler, and many others. Among the most compelling and complex was the multichannel video installation 9 Scripts from a Nation at War by David Thorne, Katya Sander, Ashley Hunt, Sharon Hayes and Andrea Geyer, which interrogates the language of war and the production of wartime subjects: soldiers; enemy combatants and their legal representatives; war correspondents and bloggers writing from the theater of war; and others. In the video “Script: Veteran,” a former soldier rehearses, and delivers, a speech about joining the National Guard as a girl just seventeen years old. “Everybody [else] goes out to war, and you stay here and guard the nation,” a recruiter told her, but she was, inevitably, deployed to Iraq. The words of soldiers and other figures appear throughout 9 Scripts, sometimes in their own voices, as in “Script: Veteran,” sometimes displaced, as in “Script: Detainee,” in which nine actors read from the transcripts of military tribunals held at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base. Foremost, the work reveals the costs of war on individual and nation. As well, it challenges authorial conventions. According to Jacques Rancière, in a 2004 lecture recently published in Artforum, “an emancipated community is in fact a community of storytellers and translators.” In that light, 9 Scripts from a Nation at War is not solely attributable to Geyer, Hayes, Hunt, Sander, and Thorne. With formidable elegance, they have translated and retold the stories of soldiers, bloggers, counsel, detainees; some known, some anonymous, others as yet unknownable.

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