Narratives of violence – void of bodies

This audiographic installation challenges the representative power of photographic images as conveyors of factual violent events in crisis and conflict areas. By presenting the social, environmental and political context of crises in text, and then introducing a soundscape that resonates with this context but decouples it from its graphic representation, the descriptive powers of the image is challenged. The viewer is left factually stranded, while not being able to penetrate the image surface into the verbal-aural world that is curtailed. Hence, the image is impotent, powerless, in not depicting the expected, while viewers remain blind in front of a visual narrative.

The project engages in societal criticism in general, and (visual) media criticism in particular in that it challenges the rules of a media landscape saturated by visual representations that are available in or near real time. It challenges the potentialities of depictions of different forms of graphic violence brought by new technologies (cf. continuous censoring of social media platforms) and the ensuing voyeuristic aspects of human plight.

Furthermore, it underscores the impotence of images also by questioning the relationship between the viewer and the distant mediated sufferer (cf. Chouliaraki 2006, Borer 2012), be it a fellow human, entire communities, the environment or other bodies. These images do not necessarily bring about action and change; instead, depictions of violence on these bodies have a potentially traumatising effect (cf. Broderick & Traverso 2010). This project explores whether the ‘the wounds of the world’ can be made visible by conveying narratives of violence and relating to traumatised bodies in a more constructive and empathetic way.

The project is a contribution to the working group/study circle called Narrative and violence (more comprehensively) of the Nordic Summer University and its Summer session 2020, held online and in micro meet-ups in the Nordic and Baltic countries. (The Call for contributions to the study circle downloads directly into your destination folder.)

On the evolution of this work do read the blog that accompanied the preparation of the project (you may want to start from the first post).

On 31 July, I presented the Impotent images project online to a small but dedicated audience. In the following, you find a few excerpts taken from the recorded session, which expands on the above explanation.

Audiographic image: concept

The combination of image, word and audio and then coupling or decoupling them to various degrees can be used for a variety of audiographic projects, with different objectives. In this project, Impotent images, the intention is to expose the limits of visual representations. However, the concept can be applied to, for example historical images combined with present-day sounds, thus evoking alternative interpretations and emotions of the work. The accompanying text may guide the viewer.

I use audiographic installation when the image, text and audio is built into a physical environment as an exhibit, whereas audiographic image is related to the concept regarding the relationship between the three elements and its application.

This clip covers the concept of audiographic image and some related uses of the word (1min 46s).

Impotent images: background and logic

The topic of Impotent images came to me some three years prior to building the installation and presenting it online. When pondering how to articulate the key point in this topic the more general concept of audiographic image took shape. This helped me conceive Impotent images as an installation, benefiting from both the presentation space and the presentation modes.

The heart of the matter for embarking on this project, however, is this:

This clip presents the drivers for developing the project Impotent images and elaborates on the relationship between image, text and audio (3min 08s).

Research, practice, personal

The project resonates with academic research in questioning the impact of images both in terms of viewer action and well-being. In practitioner field, there is since long a debate on how to describe situations and needs, and how to address an audience. The project also had a personal dimension in that I was confronted with thousands of photographs I have taken over 20 years, which brings into question the impact and value on memories on our identities.

This clip refers to research into the empathic impact of images, its implications in practice, as well as the creative process from a personal perspective (2min 47s).

Funding from the Study circle/Nordic Summer University for the purposes of the presentation and from the Swedish Cultural Foundation for the physical installation is gratefully acknowledged.

The presentations held online and IRL during the NSU Summer session 2020 were called traces. A trace is the outcome of a study circle, it is documented and can be archived or presented as a form of evidence of the contribution.

My online presentation involved a tour of the installation, with a camera (mobile phone) working as a satellite to the main session held in front of the computer screen. How to operate the devices, switching between the live views, still views and the devices themselves while avoiding echoes and other nuisances was not all that evident. In the spirit of video production nowadays also the above clips are accompanied by an extra!

This self-revelatory clip shows the technical challenges in preparation for my online presentation held the following morning. There is a first time for everything. (1min 34s).