Towards A Critique Of The Rhetoric Of Precisio

March 03, 2016: Øyvind Vågnes, Associate Professor at the Department of Information Science and Media Studies at the University of Bergen


Date & Time: March 03, 2016, 10:15 - 12:00
Location: UiT Tromsø, Room E-0105

In describing the art of the years after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, as well as the cultural moment a decade later, Hal Foster in 2009 suggested that both were characterized by a "precarious condition," and that much contemporary art attempts to manifest, and even exacerbate, a sense of "heightened insecurity." Echoing Judith Butler's reflections on what she described as "precarious life" a few years earlier, Foster described the artistic response to a geopolitical condition of perpetual war.

This paper will explore how this concept of precariousness also can be said to reflect back on aesthetic and stylistic choices in a selection of recent art works that are both self-reflexive and marked by a political and ethical urgency. Trevor Paglen, Omer Fast, George Barber, James Bridle, and Tomas van Houtryve all trouble the boundaries between documentary and artistic practice; my talk will consider the various ways in which these artists have engaged critically with the rise of drones and with militarized vision and violence in their work.

Armed drones are "very precise and very limited in terms of collateral damage," then-director of the CIA Leon Panetta stated in 2009. But as John Kaag and Sarah Kreps observe, "as weaponry becomes more precise, the language of warfare has become more ambigious": "technology itself (the physical stuff or robotic warfare) is neither smart nor dumb, moral nor immoral. It can be used more or less precisely, but precision and efficiency are not inherently morally good.

In various ways, the works I will look at all challenge the rhetoric of precision, and pin techno-cultural concepts against ethical concepts in the way that they employ a precarious aesthetic. What Harun Farocki has described as "operative images" - "images that do not represent an object, but rather are part of an operation" - are infused with moral ambiguity, as the relation between representation and represented is rendered precarious in what Derek Gregory calls "the individuation of killing", or what Butler would describe as the taking of "precarious life."

About the researcher (in Norwegian):
Øyvind Vågnes er forfatter, forsker, redaktør, oversetter og kritiker. Han debuterte i 2003 med Ingen skal sove i natt, og har senere skrevet flere bøker. For Ekko (2005) mottok han Nynorsk Litteraturpris. I 2010 utkom Sekundet før, en roman som tar opp etiske dilemmaer omkring dokumentarfotografering og mediesamfunnet. I 2014 utkom Sone Z, som skildrer et framtidig overvåkingssamfunn. Vågnes har også publisert ei rekkje arbeid om visuell kultur, så som Zaprudered: The Kennedy Assassination Film in Visual Culture (University of Texas Press, 2011) og Den dokumentariske teikneserien (Universitetsforlaget, 2014).

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