26 Days of Peace – a collection of tactical media projects
Since the end of the Second World War, the world has only known twenty-six cumulated days of peace. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Gulf War gave rise to a hope that we could blissfully live in a global capitalist democracy, but this changed with the attacks of September 11, 2001. Slavoj Zizek calls the tragic events “the end of the utopia and return to real history”, in which the revisiting of a state of peace seems distant and highly improbable. Jean Baudrillard argued shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center that they stood as an immoral response to an immoral state of Globalization. In order to assign any type of meaning to such a tragedy, we must renounce Western fantasies of the dichotomy of Good vs. Evil. The existence of one does not imply the defeat of the other, nor do they exist separately, but they emerge together. “Terror against terror — there is no more ideology behind all that.” The carte blanche that the USA government took upon itself to lead the War on Terror gave rise to concerns that the Presidential Administration could be manipulatively using this national tragedy to legitimize its actions for hidden economic or political purposes. However, to publically question the legitimacy of anti-terrorism action was often considered un- American, which called for a need of a critical voice which could not be met by mainstream media corporations.
The war between the USA and Afghanistan has recently passed the milestone of being the longest war in the history of the United States. Although the US combat mission in Iraq was announced to have come to an end, more than one year later the presence of troops in Iraq still results in deaths. The constant threat of a new terrorist attack has lead, according to French Philosopher Jacques Ranciere, to a reversal of the flow of time, from looking towards and end goal to constant reliving of a tragedy that has happened in the past. 26 DAYS OF PEACE documents ten critical voices that use specific tactical media means to militate for a return to a state of peace, by bringing into question the nature of war, good, evil and humanity itself.
1. Perception Of War – An Approximation In Six Fragments
Eduard Freudmann and Ramon Grendene, 2003
Endless debate about the War on Terror fosters confusion through disconnected positions in everybody’s minds. Perception of War- An Approximation in six Fragments is a series of six correlated short films, combining multidisciplinary tactics such as documentary, remix, animation and video montage to bring six different perspectives together, aiming to show the brutal essence of war in a smooth cinematic vision.
2. We Interrupt This Empire…
Video Activist Network, 2003
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmrFaRG4vEA –trailer, 4’ 26’’
http://www.archive.org/details/we_interrupt_this_empire -entire movie, 52’ 16’’
Preventing the use and distribution of Weapons of Mass Destruction is a legitimate reason for starting a war against a country; even if the reason bears truth, there is still a paradox in the concept of using destruction to avoid destruction, trampling justice to reach justice, murdering peace to revive peace!
In the weeks following the United States’ invasion of Iraq, we witnessed global protests against the armed conflict in Iraq. “We Interrupt This Empire…” is a collaborative film made by independent video activists in San Francisco Bay Area, documenting the protests that effectively shut down the financial district of San Francisco after the announcement of the invasion of Iraq. Armed with their own radio transmitters, protesters were broadcasting live for Indymedia about the events in downtown San Francisco, thus making a statement about the corporate media coverage of both the Iraq War and the debate around its legitimacy.
3. Shadows from another place. Baghdad <->San Francisco
Paula Levine, 2004
Proeminent San Francisco Chronicle journalist Herb Caen originally called San Francisco „Baghdad by the Bay”, reffering to the historical and legendary similarities between the two cities. Paula Levine draws from this comparison and uses GPS coordinates marking, information and pictures from the Internet and sounds from the attacks on Baghdad to create a hybrid space. By overlapping the first US attack in Baghdad on the map of San Francisco, the project encourages the viewer to reflect on the cultural and political effects in places that we perceive as „here”, not „there”. What would happen if acts of terrorism and war deployed by us would come back like a boomerang to affect us in the same measure?
4. Cherry Blossoms
Alyssa Wright, 2006
In this work, Alyssa Wright builds on Paula Levine’s Baghdad <->San Francisco art piece. Aiming to raise awareness of the actual number of civil casualties in Iraq, the project brings into question the actual costs of war a. The central element of the work is a backpack bearing a GPS device and a small microcontroller. The device is programmed to download information about recent attacks in Baghdad, the number of victims and the coordinates of where the attack took place, and overlap the location on a map of Boston, daily. If the bearer of the backpack is walking through Boston and reaches an area that corresponds to an attack, the backpack releases an air cloud of confetti, resembling shrapnel, smoke and cherry flowers. The pieces of confetti are printed with the name of casualties of the war and the circumstances of the attack in which they lost their lives.
Designed like a strategy game in which the audience has to impersonate the president (Uncle Sam or Aunt Samantha) of the USA, the task of the player is to decide how to distribute public spending among military/ business, social spending and foreign aid. The leader receives constant feedback from the media, allies and the American population, also having the option to instruct the members of the population that display a more patriotic spirit to join the National Guard or to go abroad and fight suspiciously close to an oil platform. Ultimately, the game cannot be won: spending too much on social aid determines the business class to find a more suitable leader to protect their interests; spending too much on military results in the president’s assassination. The piece thus makes the viewer reflect on the futility of war and the economies of politics and power that underlie the state of warfare.
6. September 12th- a toy world
Gonzalo Fresca, 2003
With this project, Gonzalo Fresca coined the term “newsgame” as a genre of video game defined by their creation in mere days from an important event, as a means of participating in or sparking of a public debate. As stated when accessing the application, September 12th is not a game to be won or lost, but a simulation. The player finds himself in a position in which he can choose to fire or not fire a gun on the streets of Baghdad, populated with both terrorist and civilians. By aiming at a terrorist and choosing to shoot, he or she swiftly finds that this cannot be done without civilian casualties. The player thus finds himself or herself in a situation that closely reminds us of zugzwang, the term used in chess to describe a situation in which the player is put is a position of disadvantage by having to make a move. The piece is a reflection on the nature and consequences of war and the absurdity of the idea of fighting terrorism with terrorism.
Gonzalo Fresca, 2004
Also a part of the Newsgames initiative, Madrid was launched online just two days after the tragic terrorist attacks on the 11th of March, 2004 in Madrid. In a time of deep mourning, the player is presented with a crowd of people wearing city-branded T-shirts and holding candles. By clicking on the candles and making them shine brighter and brighter, this game can actually be won, as opposed to September 12th. The message of the piece is that of taking the time to mourn a tragedy that is taking global proportions- terrorism can happen everywhere in the world. Faced with this new reality, there is nothing left to be said, but one can only hope for a future in which peace is no longer just a distant memory.
8. Dead in Iraq
Joseph de Lappe, 2006
With Dead in Iraq, Joseph de Lappe takes a different approach to using video games for the purpose of sparking debate. Three years after the start of the Iraq war, he accesed the online US Army recuiting game (a first person shooter), America’s Army. Using the user name dead-in-iraq, he would not participate in the game, but use the game’s text messaging system to type the names and information of all militaries from the US Army who have died during the war, as reported by icasualties.org. Once killed in the game, he would access it again and resume the typing. Since all the players in the game can see what the messages of the other players, the project is effective in making young people who are thinking of enrolling to explore the very real possibility of not coming back alive, but also that war results in real casualties, a matter in which the use of a first person shooter game is presented as a misleading PR action from the American Army.
9. New York Times Special Edition: Iraq War Ends!
The Yes Men, 2008
The work of hundreds of writers, artists and activists, this project is the result of more than six months of work, resulting in the delivery of 1.2 million copies of a special edition of The New York Times, dated July 4 2009, announcing the end of the War in Iraq. Along with the delivery of the papers throughout US cities by thousands of volunteers (recruited through the site BecauseWeWantIt.org), the creators also launched a spoof site with a digital edition of the newspaper. Although they tried to remain anonymous, the minds behind the piece were identified as the Yes Men group, who also run the BecauseWeWantIt.org site. The delivery of the newspapers came a few days after Barack Obama, who repeatedly used the concept of hope throughout his campaign, was elected president of the USA. “”We wanted to experience what it would look like, and feel like, to read headlines we really want to read. It’s about what’s possible, if we think big and act collectively” .(Steve Lambert, project organizer and newspaper editor)
10. Dictionary of War
Annett Busch, Jan Gerber, Susanne Lang, Tom Lamberty, Sebastian Lütgert, Florian Malzacher, Anke & Heike Schleper, Florian Schneider, Bernhard Schreiner, 2006
Dictionary of War started as a collaborative platform aiming to create and theorize 100 war- related concepts that had to the point either been neglected, had yet to be created, or just concepts that held a very important role in the discussion of war. The initial plan was for the concepts to be generated in two days of events held in Berlin, Graz, Munich and Frankfurt. The events consisted of 20- minutes long presentations centered arounf one concept, reuniting speaers from different fields. The presentations were video-recorded and published online, along with an alphabetical list of the concepts generated. Since the projec’s debut, the event took place in ten different locations (adding New York, Trondheim, Bolzando, Taipei,Gwangju, Novi Sad) and more than 170 concepts have been generated. The project calls for careful analysis and deconstruction of the idea of war and the power structures that result from it, in a new world worder that seems to forever include war within it. (It’s interesting to note that there is no entry for “peace” ; there is one, however, for Peace-for-War).