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Le Monde, the Paris-based daily, reports on the censorship problems in this year’s Lianzhou Foto Festival. They estimiate that at least 10% of the approximately 2,000 photographs were censored in the exhibition: Festival de photographie : en Chine, l’art mystérieux de la censure
My solo exhibtion The Theater of War will open on December 1 as part of the 2018 Lianzhou Foto Festival. The exhibition draws on my ongoing investigation of the relation between aesthetics and military violence, nuclear fallout, and Cold War ruins.
In his treatise On War published nearly two centuries ago, the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz deploys the idea of the “Theater of War” to analyze warfare. By the twentieth century, this concept has emerged as a common Western military expression. However, the idea of the theater of war is also an accurate description of war preparation, drills, and even civil defense. From the Cold War arms race to the Gulf Wars, the two military superpowers–the United States and the Soviet Union–often used their restricted military zones to simulate the enemy territories for training and weapon testing. Meanwhile, dramatic scenes of devastation by the enemy were also used in civil defense. In other words, even without a real war, the hostile landscape associated with the enemy had already arrived in one’s own territory. Moreover, these fictional scenes tended to normalize the anxiety, fear, and violence brought about by war, and hence greatly increased the possibility of disasters. Thus, even if the war of mutual annihilation did not occur, many military bases and cities built for war preparation had already become victims. Today, the sense of ruination and desolation is evident in these still active simulated battlefields, abandoned weapons testing sites and related military bases, as well as cities and farmlands destroyed in the process. As if the worst nightmare of war has indeed come true, these devastated scenes resemble that of the post-apocalyptic world.
The May 9 Victory Day parades in the former Soviet republics are strong reminders that many aspects of WWII have been overlooked in Western historiography. In Kazakhstan alone, for example, nearly 2 millions of Kazakhs participated in the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union, defending Moscow and resisting Nazi Germany and its allies. And over 600,000 Kazakhs lost their lives in the process. Yet, those spontaneously organized parades taking place along with the official ones across Kazakhstan seem to point to an even more complex phenomena that demands some attention. Started only a few years ago, this growing popular movement is not so much about anti-fascism or just commemorating the loss. Rather, there is a strong sense of nostalgia that seems to respond to the unease caused by neoliberalism, globalization, corruption, and the failure of democracy. Among other things, these powerful scenes of people holding photos of their ancestors who died in the war seem to reveal a desire for some stable historical references at a moment of profound anxiety and uncertainty. Therefore, in some basic ways at least, isn’t this emerging phenomena not connected to the rise of similar discontents in many liberal democracies today? It remains to be seen how this politics of unease will unfold in the coming years.
In Taiwan, the flourishing of community temples and gods since the 1980s has been inseparable from the island’s rapid economic growth and political transformation. Today, such diverse religious cultures continue to play a crucial role for Taiwanese to negotiate their ever-evolving landscapes of cultural anxieties, geopolitical tension, and economic precarity. Seen here is a temporary altar with mechanicalized gods in an annual temple fair next to a new biotech park in Taipei’s Nangang District.