Exhibition: Edmund Clark: War of Terror

Imperial War Museum, London. 28th July 2016 – 28th August 2017

This impressive and immersive exhibition starts with a double-take on the title: this is about a War of, rather than on, Terror. It is a collection of several projects by British photographer Edmund Clark, all themed around US and UK reactions to the global post-9/11 terrorist threat. It’s about the less obvious aspects of the War on Terror; the parts that governments don’t like to talk about.

Specifically, the works look at three subjects:

  • The detention centre at Guantanamo Bay
  • Extraordinary rendition (government-sponsored extrajudicial transfer of a suspect to another country)
  • Control orders (a form of house arrest or detention without trial used in the UK)

I was particularly impressed with the different methods used to display the works. It’s a combination of audio, video and stills. Alongside traditionally framed prints it includes text-based slideshows describing photos, wall-sized partially pixelated images and physical artefacts such as transit paperwork, redacted letters and handwritten diary extracts.

One of the simplest yet most affecting installations was in the Control Order section the exhibition. The premise is that the subject of the control order is under constant surveillance and denied any real privacy; Clark emulates this with a room filled floor-to-ceiling with every JPG on his memory card from his time at the control order house – to show that there is nowhere to hide, there’s no selective version you can present to others, there’s no covering up anything you’re not happy with.

terror-4

Maybe it’s just me as a photographer, but the concept of having to show every outtake on your camera serves as a perfect metaphor for constant surveillance (I’m not so sure how well this metaphor goes down with non-photography geeks, however).

This was the fourth exhibition I saw at the end of a long day and my expectations weren’t high, but in the end it was possibly the highlight of the trip. Two things really impressed me about Clark’s work, above and beyond the content itself, and strangely enough both aspects remind me of another photographer that I’ve got into recently, Eamonn Doyle.

Both photographers mine a particular subject in great detail – returning to it, taking different viewpoints, diving deeper into particular aspects. For Clark this is the surreal and scary underworld of the War on Terror, for Doyle it is the more down-to-earth streets of the city of Dublin.

The other thing they have in common, as mentioned above, is the variety of presentation methods. Doyle’s exhibition at Arles amounted to a multi-room, multimedia installation in a similar way to the Clark show, and in both cases it really worked for me.

Sources

Edmund Clark: War of Terror http://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-london/exhibitions/edmundclark (accessed 29/09/2016)

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