Artist: Robert Wiens
Venue: Susan Hobbs, Toronto
Exhibition Title: –
Date: 19 May to 2 July, 2016
In her groundbreaking text, The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry defines war as a contest, a contest whose main purpose is to out injure your opponent(s). Each of these interior facts about war seems self-evident. And yet, both are methodically undermined and suppressed by a military apparatus that has increasingly become a synthesis of state-power, mainstream media, and mega-corporate interests. The centrality of these two, self-evident, facts tend to slip from view, displaced by the theatricality of representation. Rather than focus on the massive horror of injury and pain that contests of war produce and enable, modern warfare is staged as twin spectacle of power and technology ― a simulacra that sublimates evaluation.
Throughout the 1980s and into the mid-1990s, Robert Wiens produced work that deconstructed the simplified imagery of war in combination and the toy-like appeal of advanced weaponry. Both subjects continue to assert resonance and are exemplified by the remote video-game technology of drones and the reductive ideological binary continually enforced to separate East from West. Two seminal works from this period are Little Boy (1986) and Desert, Jet (1994). Named after the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the root of the former is located in 1945. While, no doubt, this event signaled Japan’s surrender in WWII, it also precipitated the nuclear arms race between the USA and Soviet Union – a conflict in which Canada played an important role, particularly via financial support to develop guidance systems for long range cruise missiles. Wiens encapsulates this contest within his bomb-cum-roadster. An ironic and outsized embodiment of the fantasy implied within the playthings of our youth, the sculpture examines the quixotic appeal of constant innovation and accelerated progress.
In Desert, Jet, Wiens’ fabricates post-Cold War power relations as miniaturized diorama. With this work, we wade through the massive sociopolitical fallout that the first Gulf War heralds. Following the collapse of their corresponding superpower, this techno-TV-war demonstrates America’s continued willingness to assert their—now unparalleled—strength on an international arena. With growing insistence, we watch military, political, and economic interests converge. We begin to realize that ongoing conflict is a necessary condition of power. We recognize this condition’s artificiality. We understand that the media plays an explicit role in propagating this delusion. And yet, as viewers, the pleasure we yield from visual representations of warfare produces a latent relationship in which we willingly suspend belief, preferring deception to moral confusion. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we try to believe what we see. We watch it happen. And then we watch it happen again.