Martha Rosler: Bringing the War Home
Emory University, September-October, 2008
“I always want to remind people of two things. One is to reconnect the here and the there, and say that they are both parts of our world. But the other is to say: ‘look how easy this is…you could do it…’ —which is what I want people to feel about my work.”
This exhibition couples related but distinct bodies of work by the widely acclaimed artist, Martha Rosler. The earlier series, Bringing the War Home (1967-1972), responds to the American war in Vietnam, and the later group, Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful, New Series (2004), approaches the current, unremitting American war in Iraq. In both cases, Rosler archly joins war and advertising photography from the popular press into powerfully volatile images, each a puzzle of allure and depredation, glamour and trauma. Rosler slits and shifts and recomposes her source images (just what we ourselves might encounter daily, weekly, habitually, occasionally) to address what can only be called a normalized civilizational crisis. A scrupulous bandit with scissors and glue, flicking wrists and grimace-begotten winks, she raids the always-replenished image-store of our desires and our aggressions, our cravings and our viciousness. The resulting montages goad whatever generous vision we shelter of ourselves as a people who understand war.
Rosler gives us questions more than proclamations—questions that glower and sometimes bluff, questions whose luck is to be barbs on which to hang further questions. Partly her preoccupation is an American fascination with what might be called the carnal sublime—the human body as a violated marvel—whose totems in popular culture are the hypersexed feminal object, and the disquieted corpse. Partly Rosler speaks to America’s terrifying innocence, not just the gamy politics of militarism in American life, but the delusion that our savagery is not really savage, that the calamities we bring to distant corners of the world are not so calamitous, and anyway can be flattened to “news” of paper thinness. What does evil’s banality consist in, she offers, if not a culture’s wont to transfigure what is truly shocking into forms of play? Most of all, she asks how, at this point, we begin any estimation of ourselves as an ethical society. If our media culture is our mirror, and a collective self-reckoning is the least that we owe to fortune—what, then, is it to be implicated in our own image? Whose homes do our wars not touch, and who is never their witness?
Visual Arts Department, Emory University
The Visual Arts Department extends special thanks to Sue and John Wieland, who generously loaned “Bringing the War Home (1967-1972),” and to the curator of their collection, Rebecca Dimling-Cochran. The Program also thanks Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery, New York, for their loan of “Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful, New Series (2004).” This exhibition was made possible by a grant from Emory’s Center for Creativity & Arts, with additional support from Emory’s Art History Department. Finally, the talents and energies of Mary Catherine Johnson, the Visual Arts Program and Gallery Coordinator, made this exhibition and programming possible.