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ROAD TO WAR—The Burning of History Gone Evil onto a Pathetic External Hard Drive


The recent wars with Afghanistan and Iraq didn’t need roads. No "Autobahn" or interstate highway system was necessary in order to secure victories. These were guaranteed by satellite-controlled air forces so dominant that no military other than the U.S. and its allies could compete with it. These days, military, technological, and economic supremacy combined with political arrogance and control of international media depends neither on a ROAD TO WAR nor on a ROADMAP TO PEACE (G.W. Bush). ROAD TO WAR and COUNTDOWN IRAQ were only headlines, used by big TV-news networks for branding in the run-up to the most recent war with Iraq.


Afghan DialogsEmbroidering Politics


All works presented in this exhibition have been created since September 11, 2001. They are mostly made in response to the reactions of the U.S. government and its “coalition of the willing” to these tragic events. When bombs fell over Afghanistan, I wondered what Afghan people might have to tell us. I remembered the unsolicited political commentaries added by the embroiderers to the works of Alighiero Boetti, as well as the traditional Afghan hand-knitted carpets that feature tanks and Kalashnikovs in place of traditional motifs. Inspired by all this, I envisioned <k>Afghan Dialogs<k>, a series of silk embroideries with reactions from Afghans to network logos, headlines, names of conflicts and military operations that we have now come to know for selling, branding, justifying, authenticating and even cheerleading belligerent news content. I encountered Pashtuns from a New York Kebab shop whoas I only later found outstemmed from the tribal area between Peshawar and Kandahar. These very generous people helped me to organize the production of these works. My preparatory materials, including instructions to write in reactions to the network logos, were taken to the embattled region to be produced and then returned to New York City about ten to 14 months later. The first shipment of work returned without any added comments due to miscommunication. The following embroideries returned with individual comments although I was never able to clearly find out who was responsible for each inscription. The last shipment was confiscated by Pakistani custom agents. Although I was asking for any kind of commentpolitical as well as privateI only received political commentaries with no additional elements added. The only exception was a praying hand stitched into one of the margins.


All the reactions I received were the result of an anonymous dialog-work and not my brainchild.#1# The following are all replies in works shown in Vienna; ***note to designer, all the following replies, except words in capitals, are bolded*** AMERICA STRIKES BACKIf America is hurting others, it should first find out how much pain it can take herself; NEXT TARGET?G8 members should make their decisions wisely; NEXT TARGET?Attacking Muslim countries, America should respect at least American opposition; LATEST DEVELOMPMENTSThe life of Pharaoh is a lesson for the world till doomsday; HOMELAND SECURITYThe entire Muslim world is with America against terrorism; AMONG THE RUINSWith the attacks on Afghanistan, did America prove to be a peaceful nation?; AMERICA AT WARTo finish and destroy terrorism, the entire Muslim world is with America; LIVE, LIVE, LIVE …EVILWhat can helpless people do except to pray that the almighty gives us power and strength to bear these difficulties and take care of us. Because the whole world is chasing us you should make some arrangement for our safety.


Before this Afghanistan war was declared over, regional TV-experts with “in-depth reports” were already anticipatingin front of NEXT TARGET? network graphicsthe military steps to come. NEXT TARGET? was superimposed over a map showing Iraq and Iran in its center, illustrating perfectly well the administration’s lust for war-shopping. At the time, embedded reporting was not yet popular. The indications towards Iraq as a NEXT TARGET motivated me to learn Arabic; I therefore extended my <k>Dialog Project<k> to the Iraqi and Middle Eastern situation. During COUNTDOWN IRAQ, as branded by one network, I initiated a ceramic tile project#2# with Iraqi expatriates living in Western Europe.


Iraq DialogsBreaking News, ”Burning Stuff”


In the course of these different <k>Iraq Dialog<k> projects, I have worked with various Iraqis who all had remarkable stories to tell. Aside from one exception, they all hated Saddam Hussein’s regime. The majority of Iraqis had their lives and that of their close family seriously threatened. Some of them expressed fear of Hussein even while living in European countries. My dialog partners also talked about the hardship of leaving Iraq and entering Europe. Some even made the journey via the very expensive and dangerous help of professional smugglers, and then embarked upon the subsequent struggle to make a life in their host country. Over the course of a year, I was able to use most of my invitations for exhibiting in Europe to formulate these dialog pieces, working in each place with different Arab individuals.#3#


The first person I engaged with was ***note to designer, the following name is bolded*** Ghazi Al Delaimi, an Iraqi expatriate who lives in Düsseldorf as a graphic designer, calligrapher and artist. He was recommended to me by the German Arab Society. Our dialog started in the winter of 2002/03, about six months before the invasion took place. We were able to meet and work in an artisan's ceramic studio to produce the works together. While various assistants painted the network logos as laid out by me, Delaimi painted his reactions to them. We finished these works before SHOCK AND AWE was shown on the first night of the war. It is interesting to note that some of Al Delaimi’s reactions dismantled the key argument for the forceful, illegitimate invasion: Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). His reaction to the graphic titles HOMEFRONT SECURITY and COUNTDOWN IRAQ was simply: “A disgusting smear campaign against Iraq built on lies.” Years into the occupation, even <k>W<k> admitted that no WMD's were found and that there existed no direct link between Iraq and the planning of 9/11. But political spin and the media managed to leave an impression on the American public (as polls are still confirming to this day#4#) that linked not only Saddam Hussein with Al Qaedathey were actually enemiesbut even attributed a role in the tragedy of 9/11 to him.


In Utrecht, for a one-person show at Casco, I was collaborating with ***note to designer, the following name is bolded*** Hikmat, an elderly immigrant who moved to the city in 1998. His brother had been killed by Saddam’s#5# security forces for carrying audiotapes with recordings of parts of the Koran. We also worked with a young Iraqi-Kurdish man who participated on some afternoons but preferred to remain anonymous. The men, both living in Holland and from the same country but of different ethnic identities, did not get along very well. Hikmat, too, preferred to only give his first name given concerns about the security of is wife back in Iraq and potential problems with his immigration papers. Both men painted their reactions to the LATEST DEVELOPMENTS in their native country. The Iraqi-Kurdish man repeated on all pieces variations of the same sentence: ”Free Kurdistan.” Hikmat carefully prepared his contributions far in advance and put his heart into non-violent political pressure and U. N. sanctions. His beautiful style reminded me of medieval book illustrations: “IRAK PEACEFUL LIBERATION / from Saddam's dictatorial regime / No war on Iraq / No invasion of Iraq / Serious International pressures / Human Rights Organizations / Amnesty International, Doctors without Borders; Restrictions on Saddam's Regime; World Media - Weapons InspectorsUNArab LeagueISLAMIC CONFERENCE WORLD POWERS. IRAQI OPPOSTION groups, inside and outside Iraq, / DEMOCRACY, FREEDOM, HUMAN RIGHTS / THE COLLAPSE OF SADDAM'S DICTATORIAL REGIME.” These sentences were conceived before the invasion, though our production process began after the falsely declared end of the war. Then, Hikmat’s reactions changed: “Furious. UK and US confusion on not finding any WMD. No case for war against Iraq,” “All US soldiers are mercenaries looting in Iraq,” and “Shame on the USA and UK occupation: killing, destruction, security collapse, demolition of the Iraqi establishment, thieves in day light, American military rule.”


In Bremen, we were able to gain the confidence of ***note to designer, both the following names should be bolded*** Binan Finjan and Ahmet Baban. Baban was born in the Kurdish city of Mosul and immigrated to Bremen in 1982 to escape the Iraq-Iran war. He is now a social worker dealing mainly with immigration and integration issues. Finjan is a businessman who reached Germany in 1992 under dangerous conditions. He belongs to the Christian minority of Mandaeans. Members of his family were killed for political reasons by Saddam Hussein’s regime. The panels in the Bremen exhibition were displayed in a public space, which was not as easy as anticipated. Private property owners all rejected our initiatives. On one occasion we were given permission but it was immediately withdrawn when the owner realized that Arabic text would be displayed. Even installing these works in spaces controlled by the city wasn't easy. The calligraphic part wasn’t painted by Finjan or Baban but by a third party. Here are some examples of their responses made before and after the invasion: Finjan: “NO, NO to terror, yes to security,” “If the Americans had guarded the buildings as well as they secured the oil fields, lootings wouldn’t have happened.” Baban also responded with questions referring to violence in other parts of the Middle East and Iraq sanctions: "In the end, what will the throwing of stones (Intifadha) bring and what will the shortage of medicine and milk for children bring?”


In Vienna, I worked with Baghdad-born art dealer ***note to designer, the following name should be bolded*** Amer Abbas. He came to Vienna to study several decades ago and stayed, though most of his family still lives in Baghdad. His ambivalent reactions were slightly hawkish and optimistic about the invasion but showed some skepticism through the interrogative syntax he employed. “Finally, America dared to march into Iraq. Will they bring an end to fear? Will they become liberators?”, “Shock and Awe, the bomb fire will not exempt children. Rockets choose their targets on their own. These are the times of war, my friend.” “Fighter jets open the path to justice, but victims do not count as the price of war. The looters have first announced the fall of Saddam. Damned coincidence!”


Arab Dialogs ­ “Truth is the Opposite”


With only one exception, all the tiles I used were produced in Sassuolo, Modena, Northern Italy. When I was invited to Modena for a public art project, I immediately decided to work with the factories of the region which employ mainly Arabic seasonal workers. During the Summer of 2003 while working on my <k>Arab dialog project<k>, I spent a couple of weeks living with immigrant workers in a miserable place near the tile factories. The rather non-accommodating environment was in itself worth understanding and observing given the depressing conditions of demanding, underpaid, manual labor. In addition to artificially inflated rents for immigrants, the availability of housing was discriminatory. Locals paid considerably less for much nicer apartments which weren’t even offered to Arab workers.#6# That summer, fierce, bloody fighting in parts of the Middle East began to spread through the region. Europe's Arab population’s identification with the tragic, lethal conflicts throughout the Middle East grew. Though I could have found Iraqi workers in Sassuolo as well, I decided to widen the scope of my contacts and engage with anybody associated with the Arab world. I also altered my "modus operandi" and worked with larger printouts of various materials taken from U.S. network newscasts addressing the Middle East violence. In the preparatory phase I solicited written reactions to these printouts by some of the many Arabs in factories, in the streets, in run-down housing projects and in public transport areas. Almost everybody who participated expressed concerns about negative consequences and joked about "going to prison" for their comments. I was also half-seriously asked whether I was working for the CIA, MOSSAD and so on.


The reactions varied, ranging from peace and hope for a better world to outright anger and hatred: ***note to designer, the following name should be bolded*** Hhadrani Mohamed Hedi from Tunisia responded to the headline news logo CIVILIAN DEATH UNAVOIDABLE with: “I hope for peace for everybody.” #7# A more somber political statement by ***note to designer, the following name should be bolded*** Ali, a Moroccan laborer who preferred not to give his full name was “The war against Iraq initiates the war against all Arabs.” The ceramic worker ***note to designer, the following name should be bolded*** Adil Assouss, a Moroccan, demanded justice when confronted with the headlines POSTWAR DANGERS, MILITARY RESPONSE: “Whatever the political problems between peoples are, children and the civil population are innocent. For this reason the United Nations should bring to justice soldiers who kill children and civilians.” References to Islam were also common, as was the case with ***note to designer, the following name should be bolded*** Ghodbane, a Tunisian worker who wouldn't disclose his full name. His partially defensive reaction to the print out featuring FOX NEWS CHANNEL, WAR ON TERROR, SABOTAGE reads: “Islam = Peace. Allah created people for knowing others, and not for making war and I think that Islam is for peace.” Religious metaphors also played a role in ***note to designer, the following name should be bolded*** Siyam Mohsen’s reply to CNN.COM, ISRAELI MISSILE STRIKE KILLS 1, WOUNDS OTHERS IN GAZA: “Gaza was not pleading in the past and will not do so in the future, nor was David begging Goliath.” Palestinian born Siyam Mohsen is an architect, artist, calligrapher and cultural/linguistic mediator living in Italy for many years. He also replied to CNN’s ID-sentence, THE MOST TRUSTED NAME IN NEWS with one of the most poetic inscriptions: “When snow melts you can see the dirt underneath.” His wife ***note to designer, the following name should be bolded*** Hakjma, an Italian-born woman of Moroccan descent who also works as a cultural/linguistic mediator, wrote, amongst other things (to the objections of her surprised husband): “The real terrorist is not the one who defends his sacred places, his ideology and his land. In reality the real terrorist is the one who attacks, sells, buys all those things he doesn’t possess. … so if the word terrorism signifies the defense of one’s nation and its sacred places, then we Arabs and Muslims, we all are terrorists.” ***note to designer, the following name should be bolded*** Naval, a Moroccan woman who gave her job description as “bar man”#8#, noted in reaction to WAR ON TERROR: “It is proved that all Muslims are terrorists but in reality the real terrorist is Bush, the criminal. He made pregnant women cry, young kids orphans and old people starve.” Last but not least, I want to pick out some reactions that address the media and it's opinion making. In reaction to PENTAGON BRIEFING, RUMSFELD: RECONSTRUCITON OF IRAQ GOING WELL, Siyam Mosen wrote: "Repeating lies, until they (the people) believe you!” For FOX NEWS CHANNEL, THE MOST POWERFUL NAME IN NEWS#9#, the same interlocutor answered in Hegel’s and Marx’s spirit: “Truth is the opposite.”


Gastarbeit—A European Transformation


From all these various results, I made a selection and had those chosen painted onto differently sized and differently arranged tiles with the help of two assistants, Silvano Rutigliano and Siyam Mohsen. The generosity and capacity of the tile factories#10#, and the original intention to lay them out on a public plaza, enabled us to use large tiles and large formats. Very soon, I became interested in trying my hand at painting the tiles, as I ended up having nothing to do manually while everybody else was painting. Like a “Gastarbeiter” of the domain of painting, I started to smear some words and logos onto tiles with paint, while my dialog partners responded in Arabic. This spontaneity allowed us to take headlines as they popped up, while scrolling on Internet portals. I have had no practice or training in painting. These pathetic, clumsy, dilettante graffiti reminded me of some of the smear defacing the buildings and infrastructure in European cities, where people have to deal with racial and inter-cultural conflicts. Falsely described as “culture wars”, these urban conflicts have more aspects of a “class war,” a not-so-useful umbrella term for problems of integration, economic stress, systemic discrimination, racism and ignorance of cultural and religious differences. Ironically though, “globalization” could be the determining factor that made migrant labor necessary for European economies to compete internationally. Today, more then ever, this is true. Guest workers, or "Gastarbeiter" as they were euphemistically called in German speaking parts of Europe, not only rebuilt war-destroyed Europe but also changed it into an open, multicultural society.#11# Europeans started to eat Middle Eastern food, girls dressed in long pants plus skirts (a fashionable imitation of immigrant women), and northern Europeans began vacationing in Turkey and Northern Africa. The demographic decline of the traditional European population is accelerating the necessity for immigration to keep up standards of production, consumption and living.#12#


Until recently in Europe, integration wasn’t seen as an important goal and wasn't fully understood to be a fundamental change, touching the whole society. It is only recently that some people have started to understand that this migration has accelerated the end of the myth of an idealized nation state with a mystical body of homogenous people adhering to the same belief systems and habits. The very image and notion of what a “European” is, looks like and believes in is now changing. A university-educated, Tyrolean-accented, native Austrian citizen with a fine arts career can now be dark skinned or Asian in appearance, addressing his <k>mama<k> in kitchen-Urdu or teenage-Turkish. In my summer class in Damascus, I was studying Arabic next to several German students and professionals who tried to improve their skills in the native language of their parents.


ReligionTruth Claims and Politics


People started immigrating and arrived with more than just their feet, hands and backs. They brought families, foods, dresses, habits, sentimental longings, languages and gods. In spite of considerable resistance by local communities#13# mosques have been built and religious communities are flourishing. Religions help people to organize themselves and create enduring communities. Religious truths claim to teach a concrete way of living, to re-narrate human fates and to reflect them in scriptures, all the while trying to make sense of human life, and life in general. They implicitly and explicitly regulate life through traditions, founding texts and formative tales of virtuous or ideal conduct. Religious practices and religious "Weltanschauungen" form institutions, laws, economies, infrastructures, material manifestations and cultures, intertwined with political decision-making. The very definition of “religion”#14# already divides opinions and shows how powerful are the interests that depend on religious definitions and notions of secularism#15#, something that is increasingly worthy of discussion and critical redefinition. It is interesting to note that in spite of mutually shared lifestyles of second and third generations, very few Europeans became Muslims and very few people converted to Christianity.


The social aspect of religion makes all religions political, i.e. defining and regulating roles between people in relationship to their worlds. In spite of the non-changing nature of wholly ancient scriptures like the Koran, the Torah or the Bible, teachings, interpretations and realities of religious practices are constantly changing throughout history, regions and classes according to needs and politics. The fundamentally political nature of religion shouldn’t be confused with religious fundamentalism. Any belief system can be (and has been) used for disruptive political reasons at some point. Christianization served as a key instrument for genocide in the Americas and all over the world during the period of predatory colonialism. In Europe, the general public has forgotten the religious wars between different Christian doctrines that lasted centuries and amounted to the genocide of a large population of Europeans. The 20th century, with the Jewish Holocaust fuelled by Christian anti-Semitism, has basically been dominated—more than many are aware of, or care to admit—by religious violence. To the category of mass killings that uses religion as a selective marker we have to add the genocide in the former Yugoslavia between three religious denominations. As ideological instruments in the life-long struggle with nature and social realities, religions are often very powerful discourses that resist outside definitions. In fact, the more stress they experience, the firmer the coherence is within a group. The Bible is filled with stories of martyrs who stay very firm in their struggle against the Roman Empire. Today’s Islamic suicide bombers are called—to the shock of everybody else—martyrs.#16#


Fundamentalist religious justifications for suicide missions#17# are strong reminders of how desperation, anger and political strategies can mix with perverted religious arguments to overcome humans’ strongest instinct for self-preservation. But we know from men, women and children who survived or abandoned death-bringing missions that religious arguments or motivation does not push people into fatal annihilating-acts. The promise of a post-mortem celestial reception might be a convenient explanation from an anti-Islamic point of view, but we might be better off if we understand these ultimate desperate acts as driven more by a multitude of complex reasons. Hegemonic arbitrariness, unjust politics, bloody repressions, poverty, general helplessness, and anger—combined with a myopic drive for retaliation without consideration for the consequences—might be some of the other reasons producing these disastrous acts of destruction and self-annihilation.


Whether suicide bombers are Chechen woman in Russia, kids in Jerusalem or men in Mosul, Falluja or Baghdad, these desperate people wouldn’t blow themselves up if they had other means for fighting their asymmetrical wars. I’m sure they would prefer satellite guided missiles, attack helicopters or functioning armies. Throughout history, total warfare has been carried out not only through the mobilization of material and human resources to the point of self-destruction, but also through ideological resources, including religious ideals and truth claims. I am not suggesting that these terrifying acts, which are referred to as terrorist incidents, aren’t to be condemned. I am just trying to understand the complexity of such phenomena and the many perspectives that inform, direct and provoke such acts. In violent conflicts, there are always two perspectives. The winner, as the stronger party, describes their own version of events, which differs to that of the losers. It therefore comes as no surprise that “embedded reporting” allows journalists to travel along with invading armies. It also shouldn’t be surprising that, from time to time, journalists and media offices are the targets of bombings, accidents and collateral damage, as well as having restrictions placed on them that make journalistic work impossible.


New York Times Drawings—Tracing the World onto Paper


The globalization of powerful technology, satellite media and cheap mass-transport links migrant communities with the origin of their culture. Nowadays, political and ideological changes in migrant's countries of provenance immediately play an influential role in their host countries and show impacts on second and third generations. This fact played a crucial role in the resurgence of assertive religious formations all over the world. Paradoxically, media played a large part in the renaissance of religious awakening.#18# Religious habits overlapped with ideological formations have informed some immigrant groups who are now demanding legal and cultural changes in their host countries. The most radical demands#19# so far have culminated in hate crimes, like the murder of Theo van Gogh in 2004. He was killed during the morning hours in Amsterdam for having co-produced the ten-minute film <k>Submission<k>, which is critical of physical punishment, sanctioned by the Koran, of disobedient women. A few years earlier, because I had become an avid newspaper reader, I started tracing newspapers (and have been doing so ever since), beginning with a biography of a young student from the prestigious London School of Economics. He first volunteered in war-torn Yugoslavia and then became a terrorist who masterminded some of the most spectacular killings in recent years. The shock of Theo van Gogh's assassination led me to start tracing articles on his murder: two of my <k>New York Times<k> drawings address that issue directly. The drawing <k>Militant Muslims Act to Suppress Dutch Film and Art Show, New York Times, 1/31/05<k>, with the highlighted insert “Can Islamists change the Netherlands’ open attitudes?,“ and <k>Fear of Islamists Drives Growth of Far Right in Belgium, New York Times, 2/112/05<k> are articles, along with the layout and surrounding headlines, traced with an ink pen. The Times OP-ED <k>Our Friends, the Torturers, Bob Herbert, 2/18/2005<k> is also remarkable: it addresses the outsourcing of torture under the name of extra-ordinary rendition. In one such unfortunate case, as referred to in this article, a Canadian Citizen changing flights in the USA was taken off the plane, imprisoned, and sent to Syria for a one-year interrogation nightmare, in which he was tortured before being let go without any charges brought against him.


In the summer of 2002, when Iraq became Washington’s main obsession (just as Syria and Iran are now), I decided to trace all the New York Times articles leading up to the war. It took a bit longer than anticipated and I stopped this laborious project early on, with only a small number of articles traced. I felt like "Don Quixote" with a 0.05-thin ink pen trying to keep these stormy moments in our memory. The reporting itself turned nasty as the conflict went on. During the actual war, I stopped reading The New York Times.#20# Nearly two years later, during the phase branded by Fox News as COUNTDOWN IRAQ , an editorial appeared in The New York Times criticizing the paper and its reporting on Iraq. I couldn’t ignore tracing this article: ***note to designers, please bold the following title***From The Editors, The Times and Iraq, 5/26/04<k>:

But we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged—or failed to emerge.#21#


News Paintings—Grisly Harvesting between the Sublime and the Pathetic


When I finished my <k>Afghan<k> and <k>Iraq Dialog<k> series, the violent conflicts didn’t just come to an end. Media images worsened and fighting intensified and turned more and more asymmetrical: insurgents with roadside bombs and suicide missions opposed occupying forces at one end while concentrated, ferocious reactions by the invading powers destroyed Falluja and other places#22# at the other. On the Middle East's Mediterranean coast, Israel stepped up its effort to stop terror with targeted killings and violent incursions into the occupied zones, leaving scores of mostly innocent people dead. Terrorist bombings also occurred outside the region—in Turkey and Spain—that took the lives of hundreds. Thus spectacular orgies of destruction appeared daily (and still do) on our screens and in news outlets. From these online news sources, I started printing out articles, exporting digital information onto a non-electronic surface, i.e. paper. The media "down stepping" continued by passing these printouts of atrocities, sold as news, to assistants#23# who painted them onto canvas with acrylic paint according to instructions. Here too, my main concern was to freeze-frame these constantly changing hybrid texts/graphic/images with their pop-up menus, flash graphic ads and scrolling headlines.#24#


The results of these <k>news paintings<k> are pathetic in every sense of the word. Pathetic, from the Greek word ‘pathos,' is not only defined as “provoking or expressing feelings of pity” and sadness,#25# but also as “so inadequate as to be laughable or contemptible.” This ridiculous aspect brings to mind Karl Marx’s casual reinterpretation of Hegel’s predicament of history as repetition. Hegel stated in 1830 in his <k>Lectures on the Philosophy of World History<k>:

What experience and history teach is this—that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.#26#

In <k>The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte<k>, Karl Marx sloppily rephrases this statement with his famous “pathetic” twist:

Hegel says somewhere that all great events and personalities in world history reappear in one fashion or another. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.

In the dawning age of media and the spectacle of information, to which Marx was more susceptible than Hegel, Marx seemed to have anticipated farce as a promiscuous force in relationship to distancing irony and calculated cynicism. Eventually farce, cynicism and entertainment will enter an obscene ménage#27# with indifference and calculated mass-ignorance. The sublime distance of an "interessenloser," un-invested, disengaged, “objective” media industry is by de facto opaque, veiling their own material and ideological interests. It is quite ironic that Bush’s generals named the initial phase of the attack on Iraq in 2003 SHOCK AND AWE. In the <k>Critique of Judgment<k>, Emmanuel Kant redefines the sublime as defined by Edmund Burke, who stated:

Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the idea of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the <k>sublime<k>.#28#

Kant started to strip the sublime of its terrifying qualities, discussing it in relationship to the distancing mind and its aesthetic judgments that can keep overwhelming power and destructive terror at bay. Today, sublime has become a meaningless adjective. With 9/11, the theoretical framing of the sublime, i.e. the safe distance between conflict and reception through the superiority of mind and sublimation, collapsed. It therefore comes as no surprise that the military-recruited SHOCK AND AWE is a reminder of the original meaning of the <k>sublime<k> as laid out by Burke. The night of the initial attack, SHOCK AND AWE decorated the TV an amazing ten minutes before the action started and was broadcasted live for a primetime TV audience in the USA. This cynical branding of Bush’s military judgment soon proved to be a total misjudgment resulting in the death of tens of thousands—and many more crippled and blind—as well as the destruction of resources.#29#


History Paintings—Headline News and Commerce Embedded in the WWW


As with the contents of my New York Times drawings, these stories are incredible and deserve to be preserved in a format that has a history in historio-graphic image making. The genre of “History Painting” was introduced in the 17th century in France and was considered ahead of all other genres as the supreme achievement in fine arts, right up until the middle of the 19th century. This type of painting is preoccupied with idealized and allegorical interpretations of historical subjects as well as with classical literature, mythology and biblical scenes, stressing their moralizing and heroic qualities. It is quite interesting to note, as mentioned above, that some of my Dialog partners made references to the biblical history of David versus Goliath or Moses versus the Pharaoh. But not all subjects were as “universal and historical” at the time as they look today in the Louvre. For example, Eugène Delacroix painted <k>Massacres at Chios (Scio)<k> only two years after the massacre was committed by Greek nationalists with broad support by European volunteers and intellectuals in the name of Greek independence from the Ottomans.#30# On Chios, 20,000 islanders were “hanged, butchered, starved or tortured to death. Untold thousands more [were] raped, deported and enslaved.”#31# As a teenager visiting smaller museums in northern Italy, I was quite moved and shocked when I encountered 19th-century paintings that showed the fight of Italian partisans#32# versus the well-dressed Austrian army who mercilessly executed these young patriots fighting for their independence. In these paintings, the resisting energy of the nationalists as they challenged the hegemonic, arrogant Habsburgian army was quite well preserved. Classical history paintings disappeared with the arrival of more powerful media, which conveyed history at the moment of its unfolding: photography and film.#33#


In the case of my “history paintings,” the templates include not only telling photos of specific conflicts, but also commentaries and all the delirious stuff proliferating on Internet pages. Alluding to recent war reporting, my selected articles and illustrations are “embedded” into today’s Internet landscapes. News has become a commodified spectacle up for sale. Highly complex conflicts get reduced and stuffed into often-biased headlines comprised of about five words that may be found scrolling anywhere we turn. Little public space and barely any electronic gadgets are spared. The selection and frequency of these simplified, circulating items are of political importance. For quite some time I’ve actively followed the politics of display of political news content on, a very popular portal. I came to realize that headlines like “Five U.S. Soldiers Killed in Roadside Bomb” appear on the screen but rotate very quickly into designated areas, demanding active clicking, whereas stuff like “Molestation Case Outlined at Jackson Trial” stays posted as a permanent headline throughout the day. Interestingly, and more often than I like, I find myself lost in reading and surfing links that are pure seductive noise while actually looking for something else. These carefully selected and specially phrased info-lines constantly drop on us like medicine on sugar cubes. Thus, this info-decoration plays an important role in the construction of our world view and is therefore a subtle (mostly unconscious) element in the art of opinion engineering.


News Economics and Web Portals


Running texts are chopping up the world into info-bytes with automatic word counts. They are often an integral part of TV design and other media packages. Due to the fact that the news industry is mainly financed through advertisement, the actual news surface often covers not much more than 50% to 70% of a page surface. In The New York Times, news content in relationship to the actual page can be as low as 20%, without counting pages filled with only paid ads. But ads are informative, beautiful and seductive in themselves. The ads for insurance, universities, cars, and love, next to logos and elements linking to other stories, information and businesses, are aging as fast as the news content. They are not only important for their visual attraction—this is their job—but also for historical records.#34# Accompanying material on the Internet is even more distracting than in print media since it is an interactive functional gateway that lures visitors to click their way in all directions. Compared to city space, where red light districts are often in proximity to “passages” and railway stations, on the Web, pornography and sex are only a few clicks away.



In the Arcades of 19th-Century History, 20th-Century Theory and 21st-Century Technology


Myriads of offers on info-portals render even department stores#35#, shopping malls, schools, banks and brothels obsolete and anachronistic. Today’s flâneur doesn’t play with his door keys in his jacket but has his fingers caressing a mouse pad. It is interesting to revisit the perspectives gained from studying the beginnings of industrialization and the subsequent commoditization of the world. Walter Benjamin describes the Parisian arcades ("les passages")—already a place in the street to be walked through—as the precursors of department stores and shopping centers. Arcades were home to early-industrial luxury goods where alienation could be consumed and enjoyed. Benjamin read "les passages" as a miniaturized world that helped to construct the unconscious. Today, I see the world partially through the organizing principals and interfacial functions of computers. I wish I could have “undo” and "search" functions in daily life, and “zoom into things” and “copy and paste” my days. Apple’s recent ads suggest that we should learn and enjoy life through i-pods’ “shuffle” function, a machine-generated randomness. The panoptical of products is described as “Wunschbilder,” (desirable ideals), and is part of a larger phantasmagoria that imbues the city and thus becomes the instrument of power for the rising bourgeoisie. On the Internet, commodities, services, information and people are all imploded into attractive images, fascinating flash animations and now even phantasmagoric video clips that don’t demand the defilement of the masses passing through arcades of displayed products.#36# To access commodities and services of all kinds online you only need to click—if they haven't already flooded you with spam or unsolicited schemes that try to catch your attention randomly, by zip code or even via intricate models of calculated taste-formations guaranteed through cookie-aided and data-mining analysis of your traced consumer behavior.


World exhibitions were arranged periodically since the mid-19th century as national manifestations of industrial pride. Nations presented their early products for sale as fetishes which minimize their use value, opening up phantasmagoric excitement that made alienation, manipulation and distraction sweet and desirable. On the World Wide Web, no yearly pilgrimage to a world fair is needed anymore. The world is for sale 24/7 throughout the year, without national or linguistic barriers since major shopping sites offer their services in multiple languages with regional adaptations. Utopia and the dream of a classless society detected by Benjamin in the commodity displays of the 19th century has also perversely tripped many people up who put their money and dreams into an internet stock bubble that was pushing the economy past “irrational exuberance” and over the edge. Students, house-wives, house-keepers and even the unemployed turned into day-traders, with borrowed money, investing in firms that had no business plan and no products or services to market. The bubble burst but this didn’t stop the technological revolution in shopping, learning, reading, writing and living online.#37#


The <k>Arcade Project<k> is a very unusual book. It is mainly a hybrid-accumulation of heterogenic fragmented materials, articles, quotations, and various other textual and visual pieces. All this is harvested, excavated, rediscovered, transcribed and collected meticulously over an extended period of time from newspapers, letters, books, archives, libraries, museums, department stores, police departments, clinics and other places where knowledge leaves traces, trash and residues. Today, a novice to the business of the information industry might get the feeling that this book is just the result of using Google’s search engine and a laser printer for an afternoon. In the book, Walter Benjamin expresses interest in the popular panorama paintings and sees in them not only the taste of spectacle but also the advent of photographic and cinematographic imaging as they showed paradigmatic and chronological sequences, as well as art and technology and pastoral themes, all expressing a new "Lebensgefühl" or a new feeling for life. The new "Lebensgefühl" of today would best be translated as digital lifestyle with permanent connectivity to the Internet and its peripheral gadgets like PDAs, picture-taking and transmitting mobile phones, i-pods, playstations and so on. It is quite interesting to look at these Web based <k>news paintings<k> of mine as also “panoramic” in the sense that they are "printed out," "saved as" moments clicked upon and selected from an endless stream of information touching every aspect of life. The presentation and display of these <k>news paintings<k> in Vienna will therefore take a very unusual form: a selection of about forty individual paintings will hang in two tight rows from the ceiling of the museum and therefore give the visitor the impression of a series of “open windows” to be closed.


Search Machines and “Human Intelligence”


I have always been interested in the graphics, language, architecture and organizing principles of computers, the Internet and their interfaces. This is not only expressed in my <k>news paintings<k> but also in the wall painting <k>Searching ‘terrorism’ on<k>. The search engine presents “22,200,000 results for terrorism in 0.22 seconds.” The first 10 or so results are exported—a term often used in computer programs—into another medium; in this case, the actual wall space of the museum. This work brings to the forefront two industries that only came into existence in the last decade or so: online search engines and the security industry, another kind of search machine for humans with special distractive intentions. Both industries seem to be expanding at a great rate and are about to change our lives. With the world literally converting to digital format, new ways of orientation are necessary to navigate. In this world of clicks and keystrokes, which all leave electronic traces and map user activity, we can be monitored and are subject to profiling, screening and data mining. Of course, analyzing the masses of moving people for potential terror threats is not only performed digitally. Intelligence services rediscovered that digital and satellite assisted searches are not enough and express their need for human intelligence: in particular, they seek people who understand and speak foreign languages.


“With all your languages, you could work for the CIA.” This is one of many comments I get when people address my language-learning projects. My American roommate in Damascus, who worked on a doctorate in Middle Eastern studies at an Ivy League American university, told me that quite a few people in these departments are actually engaged by the security industry to fulfill their overwhelming need for translators and interpreters. It is interesting to point out that the level of suspicion amidst everybody associated with Arabic studies is currently so high that it is nearly impossible to completely free oneself. Even though my roommate held views on the Middle Eastern conflict that I considered bordering on anti-Semitism—he rejected it and added that one of his parents is Jewish—I cannot completely rid myself of all the residues of suspicion that he might somehow be involved with some extra-curricular service for the DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY. On the other hand, as I mentioned earlier, people also suspected the same of me. Someone even suggested—half seriously, half jokingly—that my “unorganized” appearance makes for a good cover-up.#38#


Bildung—Domestic Sublime and Transcending Fantasies


In the first half of the 19th century when emphatic history paintings with orientalist subjects were commissioned in France—for example, Baron Gros’ <k>Defeating the Egyptian Army at Aboukir<k> and <k>The Battle of Nazareth<k>—the greatest painter of the sublime in Germany was Caspar David Friedrich who initiated a refocusing of the gaze towards subjective spaces. Although observers of the paintings, directly put in the picture, are still staring at ruins and out to sea with ships on the horizon, Friedrich's intentions are not belligerent, conquering, colonial or directed at a distant object of potential profit. Germany, at the time industrially backward and not yet active in predatory imperialism, constructs a romantic subjectivity that revolts through inner reflection, illustrating Kant’s version of the sublime. Friedrich’s romantic and educating gaze, directed at ideally constructed landscapes at the last moment before their disastrous exploitation, shifts indoors with the next generation of "petit-bourgeois" painters. Friedrich’s <k>Woman in the Window<k> is a good transition to a new class of painting that has "Bildung" and education as their subject in an era of endless waiting and heavy political repression. In particular, I think of Carl Spitzweg's <k>The Poor Poet<k>, <k>Scholar in the Attic<k>, <k>Reading<k>, <k>Bookworm<k>, <k>Writer<k> and the studying man in the painting entitled <k>A Visit<k>. His subject matters in the paintings <k>The Intercepted Love Letter<k>, <k>Postal Service<k>, <k>Arrival of the Postal Carriage<k>, <k>Custom Watchman<k>,#39# <k>Patrol<k>, <k>The Eye of the Law<k>, <k>Praying Woman<k>, <k>Oriental Woman with Rosary<k>, <k>Flight to Egypt<k>, <k>In the Harem<k>, <k>Sitting Turkish Man with Red Carpet in Front of Him<k> and <k>Memnon-Colosse in Egypt<k> are all remarkable and telling for his time. Here, the self-taught painter replaces the sublime with pathetic realism and sarcastic humor at the very beginnings of the formation of a police state, in which information not only becomes the elitist and exclusive "conditio sine-qua non" for the leading class but also the daily business of the representative and executive branches of the newly born or about-to-be-born nation states. The "Bildungsbürgertum", a meritocratic society based on educational and economic success, started competing and even out-performing the aristocracy and was a major force in the formation of the nation state. The university, together with museums and other cultural institutions, played a big role in this. The dramatically expanding exploited class of impoverished workers—called proletariat by Marx—was left behind without any possessions or share in the production process. The oriental subjects in Spitzweg’s paintings—he is only one example of many—show to what degree orientalist fantasies played a role even in Germany, even though the country was only exercising an academic involvement in the Orient and Africa. The painting <k>Scientist in the Tropes<k> is a good example of this.


Orientalism—Basics in Representational Politics


Foreign-language learning has been part of my life since I was a child. Obligatory school classes in English were a nightmare, and cost my parents extra money for extra help to put me through school. However I soon discovered a function of language acquisition that was not disciplinary but pleasurable and turned me into an autodidact. It was the freedom to communicate with other people beyond linguistic and national horizons that excited me more than scooters, motorcycles and cars. I tried “moving away from my mother tongue,"#40# something I am still in the process of doing. Encountering the critical writings of Edward Said, Stuart Hall, Gayatri Spivak, Frantz Fanon and others on Eurocentrism and orientalism made me look at my language learning in a more political and ideological way.#41# In the early 1990s, I started learning languages as part of my art practice, beginning with Japanese, followed by Korean, Modern Greek, Chinese and finally, with COUNTDOWN IRAQ, Arabic. <k>Homeland Security I—V<k> is a series of video clips in which five different sentences are repeated in eleven different languages I have been learning, beginning with Arabic and ending with English. Filmed as police mug shots, and reiterated as in a language lab, I translate the following sentences across my linguistic spectrum in front of an <k>Afghan Dialog<k> piece featuring CNN and LIVE; “I’m not a terrorist,” “I’m not a religious fanatic,” “I don t give money to terrorist networks,” “I don’t know how to build bombs” and “I’m not downloading dangerous information from the Internet.”


The writers mentioned above thoroughly taught me that representing other people and their cultures is highly complicated, and political. Representational politics is at the very nucleus of my artistic intensions. This is why I started to learn languages versus just going out into the world shuffling pictures. This is why most of my representational ambitions circle quasi-narcissistically over my head as a learning subject, a clumsily moving linguistic interface, trafficking in languages as the epistemological doorway for trans-cultural and inter-personal understanding. This why I try to stay “boring in appearance” and quite “constructed” and “theoretical” when directing a camera on something other than my relationship to learning. This is also why my focus has been to create platforms for those who have been left out. It also explains my exporting and copying of media representations, i.e. big-voiced “power-faces” with megascopic outreach. Finally, this is why I observe interfaces of all kinds; technological as well as human ones. For me, language is the medium and doesn’t need to come with a message. Language is a necessary interface for communication, an essential condition of knowledge that navigates us through the world. Of course, to a certain degree I am terrified by all these media representations of Far- and Middle-Eastern conflicts that are converging into a show. I am afraid that I might have just reconfirmed all these undifferentiated negative representations that are so characteristic in western media and consequently in our heads. All these pictures can be read in at least two diametrically opposed ways: confirming the negativity of the Middle East region with its inhabitants or creating an outcry over the conditions and the negative representations the media foster. My language studies, which I try to keep politically neutral in appearance, are ways to escape this dilemma. Spending hundreds of hours with foreign language studies usually affects people and develops sympathies. Learning Arabic has created an interest that goes beyond the capital letters of headlines and the pixelization of violence.


Basic Arabic ­ Studying by Numbers and Hours


In early attempts to address my work theoretically, I referred to many of my language-based art works as by-products because my ***note to designer, please bold 'study sheets'*** study sheets were to begin with just scrap paper used while studying. The same applied to my video tapes with binding titles that forced me to quantify my studious and often arduous endeavors: <k>My First 500 Hours Basic Arabic, My Second 500 Hours Basic Arabic<k> and so on. Calling these works by-products expressed some of the unease I had with creating representations. Frustration doesn't only come from of the demanding and time consuming production of these works, i.e. learning process. Frustration comes from many sources; the near impossible task of viewing hundreds of video tapes stacked in commercial boxes with little labeling; study sheets written in characters nobody can decipher; endless fixed-camera videos showing very little, but mostly things you don't want to see. I was at first quite concerned about the “narcissistic over-determination” of these works. However, it very quickly became clear that the helplessness and toddling stagnancy interrupted, by sporadic scratching (even nose picking) and weird eye movements, turned the viewer into a voyeur eves dropping on a practical, senseless or sometimes embarrassing phone conversation or other non-scripted event. It is therefore no surprise that some people get nervous seeing such videos, or even aggressive as they prefer the artist to be more “in charge,” and less lost or distracted. With nearly 100 hours of tape-recording from a Damascus language school, with many of them in a class room shared by six to eight, or sometimes more, people, the degree of embarrassment is quite pathetic and I wish these tapes would never be shown—at least, not when I am around. Currently, I‘m working on <k>My Second 500 Hours Basic Arabic<k>.


<k>Basic Arabic, (Study Sheets)<k> are works on paper that resulted from writing exercises while studying. As visual documents they show the slow progress of the study, the calligraphy and words, the texts or conversations I’m focusing on, and the mindless scribbles and visual extras that end up on my study sheets during the never-ending hours of engagement. Due to the precarious political situation, I added dramatic headline news of the day and scribbled them down on paper. While I was spending some weeks in Damascus, Israel claimed responsibility for the assassination of a Hamas member in Damascus who had been living in the city for more then a decade. They killed him with a car bomb in the middle of the city during the day, endangering the lives of several bystanders.#42# This happened within a mile or so from where I was staying. It looked as if it was retaliation for some holiday resort bombing in Egypt a short period earlier that killed, along with many others, Israeli tourists.


<k>Basic Arabic (Photographs)<k> is a series of images that don’t include any violence or allusion to it. These images are not media representations but consist of photographs I took in Syria, juxtaposed with sentences I borrowed from my Arabic study manual handed out to me in the school in Damascus. This material plays with the idea of study manuals which usually use illustrations that are often quite patriotic in scope. In my pictures, the relationship between text and image is never quite clear or explicit since I prefer gaps and the possibility of getting lost. For the photographs chosen, there is no real operative principle at work, though I have had some pleasure confronting bits of my study material with images that met my intuitive selection criteria of the moment. Anecdotal and associative qualities of these images are not denied but also don’t need to be spelled out. These photographs are part of my <k>Basic Language Photographs<k> and justifiable through the framing of my language learning material.


Please, Teach Me Arabic ­ Tourism and Writing Home


Another way of how I have addressed language issues, and everything that encompasses it for more than a decade, is with a special on-going postcard project. Whenever I travel to a country where a different language is spoken I send out over 100 postcards to friends with a rubber stamp soliciting them to teach me the language spoken there, though most receivers don’t know the language themselves. ***note to designer, please bold the following sentence*** Please, teach me Korean; Please, teach me Swedish ; Please, teach me Creek; Please, teach me Greek etc. This project is never affiliated with any institution and leaves nothing behind for myself except the costs of the large amount of postcards and their postage. While in Syria, I found postcards depicting a statue of Saladin, the Arabic hero from the Middle Ages who stopped the crusades to the Middle East, for my <k>Please, Teach Me Arabic<k> project. During my time in Damascus I was invited to a group show in Bayreuth with the title “Was ist Deutsch?” (What is German?), a quote taken from a famous anti-Semitic text by Richards Wagner, which was to be reinterpreted. For the first time, I modified the <k>Please, Teach Me … (Postcards)<k> project and sent various cards to Richard Wagner himself, regardless of his biological status. I became exited with the idea of not confining myself to just friends and people who are still among the living and started to send another 80 or so cards to ***note to designer, please bold 'famous Germans*** famous Germans. I expanded this idea to some other countries, including Austria.


For this exhibition, The Museum of Modern Art in Vienna received 56 cards addressed to ***note to designer, please bold ‘famous Austrians’*** famous Austrians c/o MUMOK. This list includes, along with the usual show-off Austrians like Sigmund Freud, Mozart, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Arnold Schwarzenegger, bad ones like Adolf Hitler and Karl Lueger (who pushed through an anti-Slavic, anti-Semitic right wing agenda in late 19th century). The list also includes people who are directly related to the Middle East: Leopold V, the Austrian crusader; Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism and spiritual father of Israel; and Muhammad Asad (born Leopold Weiß), who converted from Judaism to Islam and was a journalist, writer, scholar, politician, diplomat, and translator of the Koran, plus an early influential critic of Orientalism.#43# Every person addressed in this project has an interesting biography and a smaller or bigger relationship to the Arab world. The smallest might be zero, but more often then not some relationships—which are sometimes surprising ones—might be found. This postcard project reverses some of the standing logic, a few of which have been addressed above. Another reversal consists of the fact that most of the addressees are themselves “monumental,” with monuments in place and sometimes postcards made of them. A different kind of upside-down logic is related to the official Syrian stamp used in this project, which depicts the former president Hafez Al-Assad. In 1982, Al-Assad ordered the Syrian city of Hama be destroyed as a reaction to its religiously motivated, rebellious stand. Up to 40,000 civilians were massacred.#44#


Freedom Fries—In the Mail Box


A different postcard project involved unofficial U.S. Postmaster stamps and tourist postcards with New York City landmarks on them. After 9/11, the Twin Towers were edited out of movies and TV-series but survived very well in the postcard business, thereby commercializing them—sometimes together with patriotic reminders—in the streets of the Big Apple. I organized the postcards in different sets of twelve, with each set carrying its own printed message by me, which reflected on the politics in the WAR ON TERROR: ***note to designer, please bold the following messages, up to the end ?*** Why do they hate us?; dirty people, dirty business, dirty money, dirty wars, dirty bombs; Freedom Fries; “Either you are with us or with the terrorists”; Welcome To America, You must be fingerprinted and photographed; Empire Building; You give me oil, we give you freedom & democracy!; Basic Politics: Spinning; Use a Bicycle and ?. The postage was fabricated with the help of digital imagery and photographs taken from a series of ball-point pen drawings featuring characteristic and frequently-used terminology that filled the air after the traumatizing events, dropped from the sky upon this city: ***note to designer, please bold the following messages, up to Operation Iraqi Freedom*** 9/11; Al Qaeda; War on Terror; Evil Doers; Axis of Evil; Afghanistan; Operation Enduring Freedom; Enemy Combatant; Homeland Security; Patriot Act; Weapons of Mass Destruction; Old Europe; Freedom fries; Shock and Awe; and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The postcards are arranged on a grid and paired with cards showing the front side. Thus, one notices that not all cards arrived due to the irregular postage.#45# The use of a ball-point pen was not only inspired by its beauty and bureaucratic non-artistic qualities but also by the warplane drawings of Alighiero Boetti. This catatonic and nervous practice releases an esthetic charm that borders on madness. For me, ballpoint pens create intensities and build psychological profiles in the way leftover coffee, when dried and sedimented in a cup, is interpreted by some.


Damascus Bicycling—A City in the Cross Hairs


<k>Bicycling Damascus<k> is a video-bicycle performance. Without holding the handlebars, I cycled against the traffic while filming. For 90 minutes I rode around the ancient city videotaping straight ahead across the handlebars, as if rendering them into cross hairs. This carried me through a variety of different neighborhoods and places that offered a surprising cityscape. The risky and unlawful engagement with the bicycle, the city and my camera creates an anti-gravitational epic of traffic jams, busy people and colorful Middle Eastern streets, all alive in a country that will hopefully remain peaceful and not be pulled any deeper into a regional conflict.#46# The video images do not show any conflicts other than me dealing with a half broken bicycle that was difficult to steer without hands, and oncoming traffic. Like studying, risky cycling is a personal involvement that serves as a justification for the production of these fleeting images.


The bicycle is not only my vehicle of transportation, but it also serves as an urban eyeglass—as extension of my visual and acoustic organs and a social urban interface. I'm a cyclist since early childhood. The first birthday present I remember is a bicycle. I have never stayed in a place for long without a bicycle, including Tokyo where I was harassed on a daily basis by the police (I was considered a bicycle thief). Since 2001, I have used unlawful and risky cycling as part of my work. <k>Bicycling Damascus<k> is connected to <k>Bicycling Tirana, 2003<k>, <k>Bicycling New York, 2003-05<k>, and <k>Bicycling Hong Kong, 2005<k> as part of a series that has more mobile cityscapes to come. The danger that is associated with riding against a flux of cars without holding onto the handle bars is enforced through the danger associated with negative media images relating to the authoritarian political regime of Syria and its links to groups carrying out terrorist acts. Syria is also accused of aiding the Iraqi insurgency.


These days, the Bush administration suspects WMDs#47# to be hiding in Iran and terrorists to be hiding in Syria.#48# President Bush’s second inauguration speech#49# reads as a “road-map to war” and repeats in lofty, ideological phrasing what his preventive war doctrine spelled out in his first term in office: “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” This leads to the conclusive formula of his aim: “the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” The language is ideological on paper, biblical on TV and apocalyptic in reality—worst of all, it is militaristic on the ground and in the air. It also reads like an amendment to the constitution although it’s “Realpolitik” is unconstitutional. It definitely is a speech that resonates with the strategic papers of the neo-cons, as published in The Weekly Standard and the Project for a New American Century. Long before 9/11, the government laid out the total re-mapping of the world. In the middle of the 1990s the clearly named objectives were not HOMELAND SECURITY and FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY but control over the world’s most important resources and geo-strategic positioning. Implementing AMERICAN STYLE JUSTICE#50# and American style democracy may be profitable for petrol-chemical industries, big contract firms#51# and the U.S. security industry but it has proved disastrous and bloody for the Iraqi people. Death is becoming more and more "a master of American making", with a U.S. and British accent. It is also touching Americans troops, who alone lost over 1,500 so far, with over 10,000 officially counted as (seriously) injured. These numbers do not include the bodies of contractors, hired by the troops for military deployment. The real number of deaths and destruction are all higher than those reported, and difficult to come by.#52# But there is barely an image on TV or in the papers from the region that doesn’t have ruins as a backdrop. If we consider the ongoing waves of terror and the low-intensity civil war that has touched Iraqi sand, we must really wonder whether all this talk of freedom—now switched to liberty—and democracy is nothing but cynical. Does this formula of destruction now have to be applied to Iran and Syria?


Sky Levels Versus Eye Levels


Finally, I want to point out that the idiosyncratic hanging and installation of this exhibition is inspired by my Pashtun friends who seem to have returned to their homeland. When I was invited to visit their home in New Jersey I was totally surprised by the way they hung their pictures and clocks on the walls. Everything was either directly touching the ceiling or resting against the wall on the floor. It had a deep effect on me since it “opened up” their blue-paint space as an abstract void and made me think of my unquestioned hanging conventions that organize wall space in a Descartian way at eye level. Using “sky level” gave their hanging objects a different and more marginal importance and redefined my relationship to them as being more removed and therefore more respectful. To a certain degree, I will try to follow the same principal in Vienna, by placing most things on the floor or by hanging them high up on the ceiling, or near the ceiling. Overcrowding the space is a highly desirable effect: it not only creates a vision of the media overkill I attempt to address in my work, but also evokes the beautiful chaos of oriental bazaars and carpet-seller shops. It also reminds me of the fascinating oriental department at the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna before it was renovated and synchronized to the taste formations of today’s art-loving public.#53#


Rainer Ganahl, New York, March 2005.





1 I therefore do not automatically agree with their meaning. I don’t defend them and I don’t reject them, I only consider them as results of this dialog-work. Some results were insultingly anti-Semitic or directly hatred inciting and therefore unsuitable for my purposes or for publishing in this context. I also received such reactions while working on <k>Iraq Dialogs<k> and <k>Arab Dialogs<k>. Unfortunately I have heard similar hateful and anti-Semitic comments all over Europe, even by respected artists and educated people with remarkable and influential careers.

2 Petrification or “Burning Stuff”Ceramic tiles, invented in the Middle East, are commonly used there in public spaces and religious institutions. Over the past 4,000 years, mud, dust and water have been turned into clay, then glazed and fired under high temperatures (if I may reduce such a complicated process to these simple steps). Some of the oldest, most beautiful and amazing remnants of tile work can be seen at the Ishtar Gate in Babylon, made in 575 BCE. Unfortunately, widespread looting of museums and archeological sites right in front of the eyes of the U.S.-lead invasion team has hurt such artifacts. Bombings have reduced some back to dust. The word ceramic is traceable to Sanskrit and means “burnt stuff”. “Burnt,” i.e. fired, tiles don’t deteriorate if left untouched. They could possibly endure the heat of a nuclear explosion. Their longevity is unlimited if they are unbroken. Their extreme durability when handled and installed correctly, and their relative fragility if handled carelessly, is almost a metaphor for the situation on the ground. Glazed tiles share similar features and qualities with glass. (In the last four years, we have witnessed, through the translucent glass of TV screens, two wars and several regions burning. Unfortunately, while I write this, the news still features violent confrontations between, on one side, stone-throwing kids, teenagers, women and suicide bombers (who reduce themselves and others to dust), and on the other, near-invulnerable high-tech warriors with armored vehicles and helicopters.) These fired surfaces, resisting natural decay, served perfectly well as a medium for communication. The earliest writings known to man were produced on clay tablets around 3000 BCE by Sumerians in ancient Mesopotamia, today’s Iraq. Because of the interactive aspect of this dialog-work, painting and subsequently firing the tiles felt like burning information onto an unusual external hard drive. Ceramic tiles are seldom used in the field of fine arts but are quite often used in tourist shops and other memorative enterprises we associate with "kitsch".

3 The production of these complicated works was guaranteed by organizers of various exhibitions across Europe, who generously helped me produce these works. I would like to thank the following:

***note to designer, the following name is bolded*** Second International Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art, Albisola: ceramic studio—Ernan, Albisola; painting assistance—Alida Sini and Gianna Vacca. ***note to designer, the following name is bolded*** CASCO, Utrecht: ceramic studio—Brigitte; painting assistance—Evelien van Dongen, Lisette Smits, Maureen Kok, Elmer de Gruijl, Marscha Teune, Dino van der Heide and Maaike Gottschal. ***note to designer, the following name is bolded*** Kunstbüro Wien, Vienna: painting assistance—Amer Abbas and two students from the Art Academy who don’t want to be named. ***note to designer, the following name is bolded*** Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst, GAK, Bremen: painting assistance—Okay Altinisik, Franz Ammann, Karine Fauchard, Lia Gulua and Kalina Hristova. ***note to designer, the following name is bolded*** Going Public, Modena and Sassuolo: produced by Marco Scotini and Amaze (Claudia Zanfi,); ceramic studio—Forme2000; painting assistance—Siyam Mohsen and Silvano Rutigliano. I am highly indebted to all the people and various parties that have helped me with material, financial and logistical support. But my greatest thanks go to all my dialog partners who engaged and bore with me during this complicated process.

4 In answer to the question “Is there evidence that Saddam Hussein worked with the 9/11 terrorists?” in an April-May 2004 poll, 25.2% said “yes,” 28.3% “I don’t know” and 46.5% “no” (the correct answer). “Is there evidence that Saddam Hussein worked with Al Qaeda?” was answered as follows: 39.3% said "yes", 30.7% "no" and 29.9% "I don't know." The poll reflects a random telephone sample of 513 people in the U.S. and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5%. See

5 It is interesting to note that the international press was on a “first name” with the former Iraqi President and Dictator Saddam Hussein.

6 See my detailed and illustrated text on these conditions: Going Public ­ Modena and Sassuolo, 2003 (

7 Most translations into Italian, English or French were provided by the contributors themselves. Translations from French or Italian into English were done by me or Siyam Mohsen; Mohsen also translated the Arabic sentences into Italian or English.

8 Meaning “coffee bar” worker during the day.

9 Fox News corporation has meanwhile changed their logo from “The Most Powerful Name in News” to “Balanced and Fair.”

10 Special thanks go to VIVA for generously providing us with tiles and to Dario Brugioni, from FORME 2000, for his magic ceramic highway ovens and his generous assistance with know-how, colors, logistics and space.

11 This needs to be compared to the fascist uniformity of the first half of last century, culminating in genocide and the Holocaust. In order to be more precise about the absence of multiculturalism in Europe before WWII, it needs to be pointed out that the Austrian empire and Vienna in particular constituted a multi-cultural society but larger parts of Germany and today’s Austria were not. Partially due to the anti-Slavic and anti-Semitic politics of Karl Lueger, as pointed out elsewhere in this text, Vienna’s multiculturalism was perceived as negative and a malaise.

12 Migrant labor was first solicited through active recruitment programs in Turkey, Yugoslavia and other cheap-labor countries. Today, Europe is looking for intelligent labor and is suffering a considerable brain drain in science, technology and medicine. In many fields, European talents prefer the USA to Europe because of more flexibility, greater possibilities and higher pay. Another interesting aspect of “demographic politics per fiat” is best illustrated with a quote by an orthodox Israeli interviewed over the Ghaza withdrawal ordered by his current government: “They [liberal and non-orthodox Israelis] have puppies and dogs, we [the orthodox, conservative group] have children”. The interviewee is a father of twelve. Though I can’t find the exact quote in The New York Times anymore, the sentence sticks in my mind. This demographic argument is also most certainly applicable to Europe, where relatively conservative religious minority groups are having far more offspring than the liberal and secular majority. David Frum, former White House speechwriter who coined AXIS OF EVIL for G. W. Bush’s state of the union address in 2002, even went so far as to explain the demographic drop of traditional populations in Europe as a result of religious decline and secularism (Alexander Kluge und David Frum, <k>Antiamericanism-Antieuropeanism-Antisemitism<k>, Goethe-Institut, New York December 6, 2004).
13 Certain towns have tried to oppose Islamic centers with unconvincing arguments, ranging from poor parking and construction laws to Islamic radicalism.

14 Marx’s famous and utterly hostile definition of religion as the “opium of the people” is only one of a multitude of ways to define religion. He proposed historical materialism as a lens through which we could see the causes and effects of early industrial exploitation and misery. Twice a day for five years during high school I passed a row of beautiful 19th century mansions (Villas) in the heart of Feldkirch. With the exception of one—which belonged to the catholic bishop of Vorarlberg—they all displayed the glory of the textile industry.

15 Talal Asad, <k>Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity<k>, Stanford University Press, 2003. Asad’s book gives a critical account of secularism and tries to show how secularism itself is an ideology, a political doctrine that is more than just the separation of state and religion.

16 The day after the election in Iraq, American officials suggested that the victims of violence on that day should be called martyrs. See: commentary to photograph, The New York Times, January 31, 2005, p. 1.

17 The conservative network FOX NEWS refuses to use the word “suicide bomber.” It refers to these attacks as “homicide bombings.” This completely dehumanizes the attacker and eliminates any possible sympathy one might feel for people who commit suicide.

18 Since religious orthodoxy is associated with anti-modernity and technological ignorance, an interesting paradox is created and shows how this awakening is more the flip side than the reversal of modernity and post-modernity. Awakening is a term claimed by anybody who is religiously busy, including Christians and Muslims, e.g. or

19 Paradoxically, thanks to the democratization and mass access of powerful media and info-technology—broad-band internet, mobile phones, text messaging, satellite and cable TV—some forces defy the power of mainstream media, democratic discourses and modern reasoning based on a notion of secular politics.

20 I kept my New York Times subscription but didn’t touch the papers. I still have the entire pile of New York Times papers covering the official phase of the Iraq war. It functions like a sacred art object that can’t be touched or thrown out. Due to shipping costs, we cannot include this “piece" in the exhibition at MUMOK.

21 The Web site lists numerous examples of its failed reporting.

22 What I never understood was what happened to all the young civilian men who were not allowed to leave the city and who were separated from their fleeing families at a point where it was pretty clear that everybody encountered in the city was considered an insurgent during a time of full war. Here soldiers shot dead wounded, unarmed, vulnerable Iraqis inside mosques in front of TV cameras. One case broadcasted by mistake was certainly no isolated incident.

23 I mostly found my assistants online with a “looking for painter” posting. In most cases a phone conversation about their studies convinced me that they could do the job and would show up again with some results. In several cases I was wrong and people just pocketed the advance payment without delivering anything. Also, some of the results would probably not have passed a painting commission but for my purpose they all are fine.

24 For this daily-depressing news harvesting, I visited main stream Web-site info-portals with disregard to their reporting style: Fox News Channel, CNN, ABC, New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and others.

25 From the Microsoft Word built-in dictionary.

26 Hegel’s quote can be found in a British anti-war blog entitled “What Experience and History Teach” (

27 Thomas Hirschhorn brings this aspect to a point when he mixes media fragments of war crimes with pornography. In my wall paintings—as mentioned in the text—porn and censured soft-porn is only a click away via links.

28 Edmund Burke, <k>A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful<k>, Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 36.

29 See

30 The Greek War of Independence (1821—1832) was the first nationalist war initiated by purely ideological and literal forces coming from outside the country at war. It was a war in which the poet Lord Byron and other romantic intellectuals volunteered. Only European powers were finally able to defeat the Ottomans, clearing the way for further attacks and the final fall of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. The first King of the Helens was, tellingly enough, King Louis I of Bavaria, who was chosen during a conference of European powers in 1832. He was so unpopular and incompetent that a military coup undercut his actual power. Louis I of Bavaria was the brother of the romantic King Ludwig II of Bavaria who commissioned Wagner’s operas. Doesn’t this sound similar to what we see in Afghanistan and Iraq? Greece was some kind of “German Orient,” and one of the reasons why I studied Modern Greek for a period of time (check Google: “history of Greek Independence Wars”). This Greek episode is an almost-forgotten chapter in a long history of "Culture and Imperialism," which is also the title of a book by Edward Said.

31 “The Greek War of Independence has already started. Now the islanders on Chios are asked to join the rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. Their decision is a difficult one but, within months, they find they have run out of time. Both the Greek revolutionaries and Constantinople regard the wavering as a betrayal and around 20,000 islanders are hanged, butchered, starved or tortured to death. Untold thousands more are raped, deported and enslaved. The Greek word "<k>katastrofi<k>"—also meaning 'destruction' and 'ruin'—is usually used to describe these events. The island itself is devastated and the few survivors disperse throughout Europe in what is now known as the Chios Diaspora.” <k>The Massacre At Chios<k> by Eugène Delacroix was first exhibited in 1824, two years after the massacre, and bought by King Charles X for The Musée du Louvre in Paris (see This surprising information about the timing of Delacroix’s painting and the ferocious massacre are only two reasons why I wish to carry an Internet search machine with me when visiting places like the Musée du Louvre.

32 Today, these “resistance fighters” and “liberators” would be referred to as “insurgents” and “terrorists”.

33 In the 19th century, when historical scenes became more realistic and less removed from time—e.g. Jacques-Louis David’s <k>The Death of Marat<k>—painters went to battle fields as observers. Horace Vernet—traveling with Napoleon—is said to have refused the emperor’s demand to have a certain general removed from his painting with the reply: "I am a painter of history sir, and I will not violate the truth" (

34 This brings to my mind a meeting I had with an Austrian immigrant living in Harlem who listened to classical music he taped in the 1970s from FM radio, including all the ads and sales pitches for now obsolete products and companies.

35 Today’s article in The New York Times confirms my assumption that department stores are becoming obsolete, closing down or drastically transforming themselves into multi-experience, multi-purpose entertainment and lifestyle malls with music playhouses, cine-plexes, community halls, restaurants and upscale living. See “No Longer the Belles of the Malls, Department Stores Try Makeovers,” The New York Times, March 1, 2005.

36 Walter Benjamin’s comments on the sex appeal of non-organic commodities apply even better to images that move.

37 Even writing has been changed with translation machines, thesauruses and complete books available online. Many references are immediately recallable online and make physical books nearly negligible. This text itself will first be available online before it appears in print. I prefer finding data concerning my own works and my own biography on the Web.

38 This fact of language acquisition and intelligence services was clearly brought to my mind when a proof reader and editor for a well-respected, critical left-leaning US journal told me that she was paid for years by the government to study some—at the time—“obscure sounding” language which today is the focus of attention of the intelligence community. I have lost all contact with her but I am quite convinced that she is obliged—maybe more then she might have imagined when signing up to these study contracts—to do some work in that field. She suggested I do the same. Just to make it crystal clear: I never did but I did entertain the idea for a while, lured by money, the opportunity to study, and the bizarre idea of experiencing this kind of “studying for sale” attitude. This predated 9/11, after which the real meaning of government-paid language jobs was turned inside out: questioning, interrogating and spying on thousands of civilians with "legal alien" status in programs that are unconstitutional, inhuman and will be entered into the history books the same way the Japanese detention camps of WWII were.

39 Postal services were developed and regularized like national languages and border controls in order to create and assure the unity of the newly formed nation states. It is no coincidence that HOMELAND SECURITY—more than only a border control agency—is intercepting our electronic mail and telecommunications as well as overlooking our travel movements in the name of national security. ATM’s, GPS-sensitive mobile phones, credit card transactions as well as visits to libraries or Internet sites are only a few things that leave electronic trails behind. ESCHELON, for example, is a U.S. National Security Agency that records and screens nearly all conversations leaving the country, making them automatically available for security as well as commercial data-mining. and numerous sites of international newspapers make their indexes and archives electronically available.

40 “Moving away from my mother tongue” is the title of an interview published in the catalog of the Venice Biennial published in Austria in 1999. The text is also available on

41 In 1978 Edward Said published <k>Orientalism<k>, a crucial study that shows how academic and cultural formations have been directly influenced by political and geo-strategic realities. A few years earlier, Talal Asad had already edited a collection of influential essays with the telling title <k>Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter<k>, Ithaca Press, London, 1973.

42 “Car bomb kills Hamas operative in Syria, Israel claims responsibility; Hamas vows revenge,” The Associated Press, September 26, 2004.

43 Muhammad Asad’s pamphlets and books—<k>Islam at the Crossroads<k>, 1932, <k>The Road to Mecca<k>, 1954, and others—have been very influential in the Islamic world and beyond. Some of his critics even see connections between his early writings and contemporary Islamic fundamentalism, which he later came to reject. Asad (1900­1992) drew direct connections between the crusades of the Middle East and contemporary Imperialism, which he experienced (amongst many other things) first hand with a six-year imprisonment. His critics condemned the writings of western Orientalists for their misrepresentations of the Orient and Islamic life. Asad also influenced the writing of the Pakistani constitution and represented Pakistan in New York at the United Nations. His son, Talal Asad, has been quoted earlier in this text and is himself a critical and academic authority.

44 To make sure that nobody escaped, former president Hafez Al-Assad is said to have employed cyanide poison-gas generators. Google “Hama massacre 1982“ and you will find numerous results from a large spectrum of media outlets including respected news papers that will make your blood freeze. While in Damascus, I met Syrian Kurds who told me quite vividly of recent political crackdowns ending in unnecessary repression, death and destruction. I was also surprised by a young student who told me how his neighbor and friend was removed from high school, imprisoned, and his finger nails pulled out for having bad-mouthed the sitting president. As a tourist and student, life in Damascus is incredibly pleasant, stress free, relaxed and beautiful. The idea of having it invaded by Americans and their coalition-of-the-willing because of Syria’s alleged support of terrorism is horrifying and can only bring more repression and destruction. I would also consider it hypocritical since the USA engages with Syria in what is known as “extra-ordinary rendition,” i.e. harsh investigation, also called torture.

45 Looking at this do-it-yourself stamp project in a purely artistic and conceptual way, it touches on free-speech issues and interpretations of legal boundaries. I purchased from the U.S. postal service the same amount of stamps required for sending these cards through the mail. These official stamps are invalidated on separate sheets of paper that accompany the artworks and now serve as certificates of authenticity. This should underscore that it has never been my intention to defrauding the U.S. Postmaster.

46 Nowadays, Syria is defined more and more as a rogue state orchestrating terrorism. The assassination of the popular Lebanese anti-Syrian leader Rafik Hakiri and a suicide bombing in Israel that soon followed are both attributed to Syria though no proof has been delivered to date. Protests in Lebanon and accusations by Washington make the current Assad regime in Damascus look more and more like an obstacle to America’s idea of democracy in the region. The real reasons are probably similar to those that brought about the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq: Geo-strategic importance as a neighbor of Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt; control of resources—oil and water—most desirable in the region; the opening of a large consumer and financial market; and a stubborn dictatorial regime that the current State Department doesn’t want to deal with anymore. But given the very complex demographics and repressed nature of the country, an invasion of Syria would be nothing but a repetition of the mistakes made in Iraq, multiplying the number of people offering their lives (in the form of suicide bombings and other attacks) to inflict wounds and scratches on an overpowering enemy. It could also destabilize the region even more and reignite civil war in Lebanon and beyond. Also, the Kurds of Syria are an important factor and considered a threat to the central government of Iraq, as well as Turkey. If plans laid out by the think tanks Project For the New American Century or The Weekly Standard are to be implemented, Syria would be ripe for regime change “made in the USA.” Unfortunately, people associated with the biggest U.S. military and security contractors in the world, Bechtel and Halliburton, are willing to take on the risks. It also can’t hurt the interests of the oil producing business community, which includes the Bush dynasty. Since W’s wars have been underway, the price of a barrel of oil has more than doubled. Israel too might favor an invasion of Syria and take on the risks since many Palestinians are living in Syrian territory. An invasion could also help to resolve open questions concerning the Golan Heights, which were half conquered by Israel for its water resources. Finally, it would make president Sharon look like a winner, even though he risks ending up at a European tribunal for crimes committed in Lebanon two decades earlier (James Bennett, "Israel Rejects Belgian Court Ruling on Sharon," The New York Times, February 14, 2003). The Syrian presence in Lebanon was a big obstacle in defeating Hezbollah, an organization that opposes Israel. Last but not least, one shouldn’t forget that it was the Syrian military that finally halted the sectarian civil war in Lebanon and brought peace to the region. In spite of my condemnation of a violent regime change in Damascus carried out by outside forces, the fact still remains that Syria is a very repressive regime. It should be brought to an end, or a drastic change in domestic and international politics is needed—but not via AMERICAN STYLE JUSTICE.

47 The New York Times of January 9, 2005 reports “Up to 480 Atomic Weapons still kept in Europe, Study Says”, with a scary little paragraph clearly indicating who is really willing to use WMDs against others: “The senior military official in Europe would not discuss which countries or targets the weapons could be used against, but military officials in the past have left open the possibility, however remote, of using nuclear arms against targets in so-called rogue nations, including Iran and Syria, if they threatened to use unconventional weapons.”

48 A smaller dialog piece was made with the logo NEXT TARGETS? The calligrapher Ghazi Delaimi answered, like a seer in January 2003: Iraq, Iran, Syria (as a next targets).

49 President W. Bush’s Second Term Inauguration speech, 2005:

“We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time.

So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”


50 This image is part of <k>My Private War Archive<k>, a work that consists of hundreds of TV images taken during the two recent wars and presented as permanent online slide shows. The Iraqi version of <k>My Private War Archives<k> is projected during the exhibition.

51 For example, Dick Cheney, current vice president of the United States, was the former CEO of Halliburton. This indispensable firm belongs to one of the most profitable and most reckless enterprises in U.S. history. See the blog:

52 Counting war casualties and “collateral damage” is difficult and highly political: my numbers are backed up by and See also: Todd Pitman, “U.S. Troops Deaths in Iraq Top 1,500”, The Associated Press, March 3, 2005.

53 I utter these associations, fully aware that they transport me into the problematic proximity of aesthetic Orientalism.





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