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[- Looking to Kosovo to see Iraq

Author: Trebor Scholz

Topic: war, web-based art
Keywords: war, Kosovo, Iraq, media coverage

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79 Days (English version) is a networked documentary hypermedia project by Trebor Scholz that looks at the media coverage of the wars in Iraq and Kosovo. 79 Days

Images of media coverage of the Kosovo war in 1999, interviews with Kosovars and Serbs in 2001 and live image search results for the war in Iraq are brought together. The title of the work refers to the duration of the war in Kosovo. The piece consists of 3000 files, 40 minutes of streamed video, and an ever-changing number of live generated Google image search results.

The piece starts off with a military and economic glossary of these war(s) to which users can contribute on the site.

My interest in the Balkans goes a long way back. Born in East Berlin, I moved to London after the implosion of East Germany in 1989 and made friends in the Balkan communities. In 2000, now living in the United States, I facilitated Kosovo: Carnival in the Eye of the Storm, a large scale program involving artists, scholars and human rights activists reacting to the lack of (art) activist responses to this war. And in the same year, together with Nomads and Residents, I facilitated an event at PS1 Contemporary Art Center in New York about the aestheticization of war with Leon Golub, Ivo Skoric, Tom Keenan, Martha Rosler, Emily Jacir and others. Shortly thereafter and with the help of an Artslink grant, I traveled in Kosovo and Serbia. Materials recorded then are part of 79 Days.

The urgency to work about the Kosovo conflict came from the fact that I was stunned by the non-response of artists and activists at the time. As reasons for this creative (or productive) silence were the gray zones, the complexities of the region with its thousands of years of histories, written differently by each fractions involved. Who has the time to study all this, to know all the fact before putting out an educated opinion. And then, of course, there were the human rights disasters: the claim for a humanitarian intervention by NATO in Kosovo, the genocide we witnessed starting in Rwanda in April 1994, and the massacre in Srebrenica in 1995.
The media reported the horror of the war with aestheticized, entertaining and mesmerizing images, which in no way even attempted to represent the experience of human suffering, of what was actually going on. The media coverage of these seventy-nine days of the Kosovo crisis took on the sanitized video game aesthetic that was first fully developed in the Gulf War in 1991. Four military officials moved into the editorial office of CNN directing the coverage, orchestrating this pictorial discourse of the Balkan sublime. And if we think of Rwanda or Srebrenica- the media were there but still there was no intervention by the UN or NATO. Even thousands of cameras could not represent the experience of war. There is the question of corporate media ownership and the way that determines what is shown and in which way. Who holds the camera for whom and with which purpose? The experience of war, in any case cannot be represented. I can learn about the experiences of others but I have not gone through this. I would hope that the navigating user of 79 Days ends up with a feeling of the impossibility of representation of war.

In the Kosovo war we received our information through dense, elaborately manipulated visual sequences, which turned situations that are uniquely horrible into something remote and mundane. Any suggestion that war kills and injures was censored. Viewers could "tune in" live to scenes of war where as often as not nothing happened in camera range. 79 Days reflects this mediated spectacle in which entertainment and commerce were conflated with trauma.

Virillio’s notion that the history of battle is primarily the history of radically changing fields of perception holds true for both wars. When navigating through 79 Days the user encounters live images of war reporting, from CNN or MSNBC with so much information cramped into a screen that it is hard to fathom even parts of it.
It is an information war in the McLuhanian sense and the data flood battles us down. The TV facilitates public participation in war, also according to McLuhan, and it successfully desensitizes the viewers.

The coverage of the Kosovo war was close to that of the aesthetic of the Gulf War. We gazed at these empty beautiful images and the ads that followed. On March 22 this year Donald Rumsfeld reminded us that

“…what we are seeing is not the war in Iraq; what we're seeing are slices of the war in Iraq.” He continued “We're seeing that particularized perspective that that reporter or that commentator or that television camera happens to be able to see at that moment, and it is not what's taking place. What you see is taking place, to be sure, but it is one slice, and it is the totality of that that is what this war is about.”

Like Mr. Rumsfeld says, the coverage of the Iraq war was different altogether: search engines like found ways of excluding independent news reporting and reporter were now “embedded” and in uniform. And whose bodies did we see on that TV screen? Al Jazeera in Iraq functioned similar to the many news sources during the Kosovo war when Serbs in Serbia with Internet access posted deeply emotional live war reports to listservs. The Kosovar Albanian minority had no Internet presence and neither did we hear anything from Iraqis in Iraq during this more recent war.

If you go over the slices of images in 79 Days you see protest images, and the mainstream coverage of the war. “Shock and awe” was conceptualized by psychologists in the military as much with the idea of awe-inspiring images of sovereign violence as actual physical destruction.

The Kosovo war is long in the past and the very recent war in Iraq moves to the back of news magazines. 79 Days functions as a reminder insisting not to give up historical memory. Talking to artists like Gordana Stanisic in Belgrade or Sokol Beqiri in Kosovo about their memories of the war I was moved by the fact that of course they counted the days of the bombing, 7-9 days. Every day meant a night of bombing, followed by days of uncertainty and fear. Gordana showed us the bomb shelter in her house in New Belgrade, not even shoulder height, in which the four families living in the building were hiding. Kosovars talked about the war very differently: hesitant they talked about their relief when they heard the first bombs dropping in April 1999. They saved their lives.

The anywhere and nowhere of the Internet may be in harsh contrast to the concreteness of the reality behind 79 Days. I think the piece starts to work for the user after a few minutes of following its navigational threat and there is in fact a descriptive text linked to the piece but I don’t want the piece to follow the imperative of corporate or activist design usability. This is particularly important as the project exists on the World Wide Web in a surrounding that is not artistic and dominated by corporate interests.

The hand icon displays the movement of your mouse; navigation through within the piece is non-linear. The politics appears in the juxtapositions, in the linking, in the ways in which you create your individual navigational spatial collage of writing, texts, images, sounds, and video.

79 Days inserts witnessing, memories, voices into the noise of distorted war reporting, reminders of destruction, faces and memories of those effected by the war on both, the Kosovar and Serbian side. But these images do not have a fixed meaning. What they mean to us is negotiated through interpretive battles. It is important to say here that neither my photographs, taken in 2001 in Serbia and Kosovo nor the official images representing the war(s) are any more truthful.


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Submitted by TreborScholz
Posted on Mon Jun 23, 2003 at 8:39 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME

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