Necessary torture: George.W. Bush. 2009 (modified for HD 2012)
Digital media projection, no audio. Duration: 1:40 min.
2009 CCAS Manuka Members Show
2013 CCAS Gormon House, BAD GIRLS, 8 Feb - 16 March
Necessary torture: George.W. Bush was created in 2009 as a reaction against the idea that any form or torture is necessary. At the time the US Military was continuing to defend forms of torture against detainees as indispensable tools in the ‘war on terror’, and the former Howard Government, who involved Australia in this controversial war, was still under scrutiny for its own appalling treatment of asylum seekers and suspected terrorists.
This work was primarily inspired by Susan Sontag’s essay, ‘Regarding the torture of others,’ (New York Times, 23 May 2004) where she contemplates the culture of torture through the now infamous ‘trophy’ photos taken by US soldiers violently abusing their Iraqi prisoners through acts of torture. Her essay critiqued the Bush Administration’s attempts at damage control, their efforts to avoid the word ‘torture’ through thinly veiled semantics, and the justification of the use of torture. Despite the PR spin, as Sontag predicted, those disturbing photographs will last as the defining image the American invasion of Iraq because, ‘photographs have an insuperable power to determine what we recall of events.’
I was interested in Sontag’s views on fetishistic nature of photographing torture and its public reception, the complex role of the individual in this act, and our role in being observers through media culture – particularly considering that in the digital world the most personal and private moments of peoples lives are increasingly captured and publically disseminated for all to see. In her analysis of those photos of naked, sexually humiliated and physically degraded Iraqi men, Sontag equates the abuse with pornography and sadomasochism in that, ‘perhaps torture is more attractive, as something to record, if it has a sexual component.’ Sontag’s essay highlights the contradictory reaction of shock and revulsion, titillation and intrigue and then ambivalence and detachment that such confronting images of torture and violence can create.
In making this work I didn’t want to further sanction these ‘iconic’ images of torture and I believed that by appropriating them further removed the viewer from experiencing the full emotional affect these images initially created. Instead I employed a series of images that suggest women trussed and gagged in Sadomasochistic positions, overlaying them with actual quotes from President George,W. Bush that reveal his conflicting views, initial denial and then growing defense of the use torture between 2003 to 2009. In using these images and text I intended to juxtapose various notions such as perversion and torture, fantasy and entertainment, secret and public, sport and violence or victim and perpetrator. Because this work firmly positions our gaze in role of the spectator and voyeur, I also hoped that it could ultimately emphasise the ridiculous notion that any form of torture (real or imagined) against anyone could ever be rationalised as necessary.