consistency and thesis understanding
Rosler construction of anti-war protest
1 “We called this process photomontage because it embodied our refusal to play the part of the artist. We regarded ourselves as engineers, and our work as construction: we assembled our work, like a fitter.” Photomontages are photographs juxtaposed together with skill and intelligence in a way intended to agitate the perceive distance of reality. Martha Rosler is a prominent American artist with her works centered on the public spectrum and everyday life through a woman`s experience.
She works with the metaphorical and the real, the symbolic and the actual, the ins and out of space from the public and private spectrum of everyday life, social and the art world. Some of her more recurring art concepts are centered around the media, the family unit, the environment and architecture. At the start of her career Rosler refused to restrict her practice within the preconstructed notions of the art market. “Refusing to play the part of the artist.” Refusing to construct a signature style or work with traditional materials or become part of the commodifying norms in the art market. Creating works that are familiar yet unfamiliar otherwise known as the ‘Uncanny’ by Sigmund Freud. Her photomontage Bringing the War Home is a subseries within House Beautiful, is a collection created from 1967 to 1972 consisting of 10 montages printed in an underground newspaper opposing the Vietnam War. Conflating images of a domestic interior with that of photographic images of combat aligned with the Vietnam war. This series of montages were not exhibited in a commercial gallery until 1993. Displayed 21 years after the final piece of the collection was released, further refusing the art market. For this reason, this paper will read Rosler’s work in relation to the happenings of the 1960s and 1970s. Focusing on the diesection of House Beautiful: Giacometti, this montage will be Rosler’s rallying point to decry the patriotic message through the uses of the Uncanny by Freud. The message that the United States stands for liberty, freedom and independence, that every soldier will earn the right of passage as men and heroes to their country, to represent their country’s military power and strength. This paper will examine Rosler’s montage Giacometti in terms of Sigmund Freuds theory of the Uncanny in relation to its construction during the historical context of the Vietnam War.
Rosler as an artist and writer
3“So much of my work involved the Vietnam War that it would have been obscene to show it in a gallery. But now, it’s different; it’s important to remember and to enable the young to discover what to some of us is still so present.” In these few lines, Rosler questions the temporality of art, in other words the time frame it exists as art. For instance, Giacometti, is defined as an historical memorial till it became exhibited in 1993 there forth existing as art henceforth. She asks the age-old question of what art is and how it is defined as art. Art has evolved throughout history. First, its glorified religion, then it praised the state, and today, neither represents the main purpose of art. Art is done for the sake of art. However, should artists such as Rosler be able to define aspects of their work, in her case, saying that the photomontage series is not art until the passing of the war? Art historians review works without the intervention of the artists but can offer different readings depending on when they consider artworks. During the Vietnam War, the actions of the government, students, neighborhood community, and the art world could all be incorporated into Giacometti. Today, however, researchers must find secondary resources or old memories to bring life and meaning to the photomontage. Using the testimonies of soldiers and civilians to paint a picture of the emotions and tensions running high to help preserve the means presented in the work and their intended audience the public.
4 Rosler’s art is intertwined with her words as a writer, complicating the reading of her works. She has defined when her works can be recognized as art and what purposes they serve. While it is important to note her views, they do not solely define the reading of the work. For the purpose of this paper, Rosler’s work is read in the context of the period it was made, not considering the historical reactions of present day. Rosler’s House Beautiful series deliberately draws connections and similarities between the people safely at home and those exposed to the war. Americans had a new connection to the war and could witness and experience what the war was like through television news coverage. This coverage illuminated the uncanny reality of war in contrast to ideas about war. Freud defines the uncanny as a class of the terrifying that leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar. Rosler succeeded in illustrating this uncanniness through her montage of modern life interspersed with snippets of war images. As media coverage of the war increased, so did the rise of anti-war protests. Rosler’s montage questions the Americans people idealized perception of war with the brutal reality of death and cruelty of war.
Characteristics of the Uncanny
2 The construction of Rosler’s House Beautiful: Giacometti (1967–1972) reveals more than Rosler’s opposition to the Vietnam War. It also demonstrates the media’s growing influence to separate antiwar protesters from patriotic citizens in the United States. For some people the new characteristics of war bring forth a reality that has psychologically affects. Through the montage Rosler takes the viewer on a journey of the rising felling of uncanny.
The first stage of identifying the uncanny is characterizing the familiar of war with the new characteristics brought forth from its television of war. The aesthetic strategies in the Giacometti parallel the emotional struggles of the American people from the start before the war to the confection of emotions of the war. When the government became obligation to eliminate a threat, a threat that historians are still contemplating today. The ‘domino theory’ by Eisenhower being one of these prevised threats, ignited fear that if one country fell into communists then the entire region would follow. The anxiety and fear of a threat idealized the Vietnam wars as an act of righteousness a familiar idea that does back to the foundation of the United States when separating from England. Supporters of the government represented idealized patriotism in America, whereas the opposition were embraced the uncanny to search it new boundaries and characteristics. As the first war to be televised, its effect on the public was unclear however, former President Lyndon Johnson and historian Mandelbaum believed that the United States lost the war because it was televised. The disturbing and ugly realities of war deterred peopled from it. Television brought photographic images and scene of bombs dropping, flying airplanes, marching of troops and combat into the average Americans home. While these scenes inspired artists like Rosler to act, there was still distance of space and reality dividing the war and the public. Which Rosler strived to close with her creation of Bring the War Home. Similarly, to television broadcast Rosler’s photomontage, the media selected and displayed images to incite certain emotions in the audiences. Giacometti juxtaposing the familiar of what the home and war should look like with the intense reality of death and decay. Fathers and sons of the household leaving to become part of the putrefied bodies in the lawn or remembrance shadows left in the minds of their love ones. Likewise, Rosler carefully selected her photos and their setting to illustrate her frustrations with the images revealing the true actions of war shown in the media. Rosler first distributed these montages in an underground newspaper without text to emphasize her reality of the war.
5 Giacometti is a photomontage depicting an upscale, affluent American home, featuring sophisticated, modernist art and elegantly furnished with orchids on display as in Life magazine. In this seamless photomontage, one can almost miss the decaying corpse in the backyard and the fragile, skeleton-like silhouette walking inside the home. One photo in the montage refers to the work featured in the title: Alberto Giacometti’s Homme Qui Marche. The shadow near the curtains in Giacometti is of a bronze sculpture depicting a single man in mid-stride, with his arms hanging loosely on his side. The statue represents the potential of humanity and depicts an ordinary man with humble beginnings. Giacometti is said to have viewed “the natural equilibrium of the stride” as a symbol of “man's own life force.” A symbol of ideal humanity, Homme Qui Marche is allowed to roam the halls of the home. He is the standard and goal that every soldier strives to achieve to become a man where they were once innocent youth. To be heroes, tall and strong like America is. This is the dream and the expectation before they become soldiers. However, this is not the reality. Without the context of Giacometti’s views of humanity, in a public setting, the silhouette becomes a corpse like in the yard: a hunting nomad threatening the safety of the home. The thin, hunched-over figure of the Homme Qui Marche becomes the picture of a malnourished man with no hope of surviving another day. By adding this piece to the work, Rosler challenges the audience to dig deeper beyond its surface. To test the unfamiliar boundaries of war and their realities. To acknowledge the uncanny.
6 Homme Qui Marche was created just five year before Rosler started on her Bringing the War Home series. While this statue may not be the exact statue that Rosler used it is an appropriate shadow befitting of the photomontage Giacometti. The life-size of Homme Qui Marche further ties the audience into the setting of the montage. The sculpture is miniaturization or a shadow of the original, like the setting is a shadow of the home. Furthermore, they are scaled down to become newspaper images. They once existed as part of a space but were distorted through the cutting and pasting of additional images thus, no longer existing in space. “Space does not exist, it has to be created… Every sculpture based on the assumption that space exists is wrong; there is only the illusion of space” noted by Alberto Giacometti in 1949. For the artist Giacometti, space is an illusion he creates through the placement and existing of his sculptures. Rosler varies by using an existing space to mold into her illusion.
7 Viewing Giacometti is in itself a process. For example, in the First Lady montage, the scene in the picture frame is not from the Vietnam War but a movie starring a popular actress of the time. Without this knowledge the First Lady montage during the 1970, can be interpreted as the presentation of Vietnamese casualties displayed for the viewing pleasure Madame Thelma Nixon. The deviation of the rich golden interior to that of the disfigured girl is only the superficial layer meant to criticism of Madame Nixon’s lavish, gold-encrusted lifestyle. While horrible images of the war creep in without her knowledge or approval. She is either naive or complacent with her feelings of the war, and the audience is asked whether they will be the same. The lack of acknowledgement of a suffering girl while still going about their day demonstrates the unwillingness of some people to acknowledge the uncanniness of the situation. Rosler asks the viewer viewer to recognize the uncanny and face the feeling of anxiety and panic to change the unfamiliar back to familiar.
The superficial view the Homme Qui Marche in Giacometti has the same connotations, revealing people’s reluctance to accede and process the real scene displayed on television and explore this new boundaries of war. Added to this is the fact that framed photo in First Lady is of a popular actress is similar to Giacometti’s contrasting meaning of behind the sculpture in Giacometti.
8 While I have not been able to find the exact moment of the other photos in Giacometti. The architectural setting displays a wealthy American home. The scattered lifeless bodies were one of the first uncensored types of photography brought to the general public. When before the only view of the aftermath of war where empty battlefield that left the public to imagine their own version and create context to parallel the text included with the photographs.
9 Rosler is literally bringing the war out into the American home. Giacometti like other works from the series, at first glance, shows the normality of the home but with an eerie undertone that creeps up on the viewer through further observations. The seamlessness connection between both photographs is so precise that it is difficult to notes any irregularities.
10 Balloons, for example, communicate a man carrying his napping child after his birthday party. The visual cue of the balloons, the title of the work and a man carrying a baby is processed in the viewer's mind as a sleeping toddler not the lifeless corpse of the baby. The placement of each photograph into the work build the emotional connection in the reader and further contextualized what the viewer is seeing with what they should see. Rosler is guiding the viewer to look closer like they should look closer to the happening in their home. The living room once a place to read and have piece is being filled with war. The media has repetitively brought the images ups so much that they have become common as apart from the living room and everyday life. Becoming displacement and desensitize to its effects.
11 In 1971 while Rosler purse a master’s degree in fine art at the university of California, she became involved in a antiwar groups with her colleagues. The Vietnamese war is considered the last photo journalized war and the first televised war. this is important because the shift in the portrayal war will mean that Rosler's montage of photos will be one of the last influential pieces before the televising of war shifts the dynamic of the illustrations of war. At the start of the war, the media’s portrayal was positive and congruent with the government’s anti-communist stance. Prior to 1965 journalist where welcome and very few people opposed American participation in the war. It was not till the war escalated in 1965 that antiwar protesters became more prominent and media’s outlook changes. The display of massive death counts and gruesome photographs and videos influenced Rosler’s creation of Bringing the War Home.
Montage soviet montage 1920’s
12 Photographs in their entirety are seen as a moment frozen in time that cannot be corrupted to portray a specific ideal. The moment Rosler cut into the living room photo to include the corpses and the silhouette she manufactured her own portrayal of the photograph. There forth adding her own beliefs like how the media started changing their viewing of the war. A photomontage may contain elements that were once real and turns it into the imaginary.
13 In the 1920’s the soviet’s developed the creation and development of cinema through editing. The Theory of montage proposes that films derive their ultimate power and meaning through the way the shots are cut together through: order, duration, repetition, and rhythm. In the process of developing the media, they inexplicably followed the methods the Soviet montage which elicited a response from the population. News stations began airing war images longer creating changes with the sole purpose of bringing the war into the American home. Rosler saw this juxtaposition of the home in America to that of the war in Vietnam and brought this to life. Soviet montage used video as propaganda to further their goals as did the media.
14 Cleaning the Drapes, for example, is a common household image a child would have seen their mother doing and in the background soldiers in uniform are waiting. Both the uniforms and a cleaning mother are parallel in the same space of the living room home. Both are doing their social moral duty to society and the country. The pairing of them together questions the commonality of this scene happening in the 1970s. Mothers are forced to watch as their sons and husbands are drafted into the war as they keep the order of the country and the household. While the pairing of the images today differences in situations of the here and the there. In the 1970’s the image would have incited anger and frustration on behalf of the soldier and families torn apart from the draft. Rather than being a juxtaposition of to images in the media Rosler derived her ideal of the juxtaposition of her life and that of the media portrayal
15 The careful and precise placement of montage provokes and creates emotions from the viewer that is constructed by the engineer. Giacometti is a beautiful montage that hides in plain sight. At first glance the viewers are reassured of the safety of their homes. On a second glance and consequently any other, the viewer is pulled into the dark undertones of the war. The second glance and any after pulls darker undertones into the peripheral of the viewer. The problem is that once the viewer finds the second layer to the photomontage, such as Rosler’s work, they stop looking deeper into the photomontage. By reading into the aesthetical process of House Beautiful: Giacometti this paper continues its conversation with the work. Further widening the understanding of montage and the important how a set of images lead the reader with a clear impression of emotions. The recurring disregard of the process Giacometti will not change the understanding of the Vietnam war for future generations.
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