Inspired by Primo Levi's work, the artist duo exhibits work reacting to genocide in Rwanda and the Afghan war
Artists Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin are currently showing their work in ‘Moments of Reprieve: Representing Loss in Contemporary Photography’ at east end gallery Paradise Row. Dazed Digital found out a bit about what’s in their beautiful minds.
We'd make terrible detectives. We're disorganised, dishonest and would prefer the guilty to go free
Dazed Digital: Tell us about your work in 'Moments of Reprieve’?
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin: There are two works. One piece was made in Rwanda a few years after the genocide. We visited many of these ad-hoc memorial sites set up after the genocide, some of them horrific, with hundreds of bodied lined up head to foot. Photographing this spectacle felt futile, even wrong. What would an image like that tell us about genocide, about all the horror and pain? We did take pictures, but have never and will never show them. So, we chose to exhibit a number of discarded images we found in a local street-portrait studio. In Kigali, the way they take any official portraits, or passport photos, is to take a full body, straight-up image of the subject and then proceed to cut out everything except for the head and shoulders. We collected the debris of the process.... This act, disconnected as it was from the genocide seemed to resonate with its legacy. We chose to only show these images.
DD: What's the second piece?
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin: Another work exhibited is from our series 'The Day Nobody Died', which was made while embedded with the British military in Helmand province in 2008. This was, actually, mostly a performative piece, an act of resistance to making the banal images you were required to make once you had signed the embedding consent form when engaging in the Ministry of Defence. They grant you unprecedented access to the frontline of war but in return you grant them full access to your images and its making-processes. Embedding is an ingenious, quite surreptitious system of controlling what images have come out of Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. We wanted to critique and analyse this system, so instead of cameras, we just took a 50-meter length of photographic paper and co-opting an armor vehicle, which we turned into our darkroom, we produced a 6-meter long photogram instead of a figurative image every time we were told there was an event 'worth' photographing.
We've both read all of Levi's work. Ironically moments of reprieve seems the least appropriate title. It's a collection of his favourite splices of literature. Private moments of respite for him from his haunting memory and guilt
DD: Although the exhibition is influenced by Primo Levi's work, what about his work did you find inspiring?
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin: We've both read all of Levi's work. Ironically moments of reprieve seems the least appropriate title. It's a collection of his favourite splices of literature. Private moments of respite for him from his haunting memory and guilt. I would have preferred a quote of his from "if this is a man,” I think which goes someone thing like "To argue with a dead man is embarrassing and not very loyal"
DD: Why did war become such a large focal point of your portfolio? What other topics do you explore?
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin: Conflict is just one side of our practice. It's a particularly potent place where politics, representation and human vulnerability meet. It is a good place to look at human behavior and the forces, which work on defining that behavior.
DD: Looking at your work feels like looking at the evidence of a detective, what do you reckon?
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin: We'd make terrible detectives. We're disorganised, dishonest and would prefer the guilty to go free.
DD: New plans and projects?
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin: We're heading to Mexico to dig up a B52 bomber that was used then buried on the set of Mike Nichols Catch 22. It's an archeological dig for a plane that was used in the war, then in a fiction film about the war and then buried and forgotten. We'll let you know if we find it.
Moments of Reprieve, Paradise Row Gallery, 74a Newman Street, London W1T 3DB, July 27 - September 22, 2012