Research paper The final research paper must be a well-researched and original contribution to the subject. It must also be well written. This 10-page paper must address a question related to the course. The task is to write it as if you were asked to contribute to a volume that reexamines the history of art and war, and more specifically on the importance of a single work. Keep in mind, for example, the method and scope of Afterall’s One Work series—“a unique series of books, each of which presents a single work of art considered in detail by a single author. The focus of the series is on contemporary art and its aim is to provoke debate about significant moments in art’s recent development” —but do so with an eye to the specific thematic of war and how it recorded/mediated/reenacted through a specific artist’s work. Thus, I encourage you to choose a discrete object or exhibition of study around which you can delve into significant and probing research. Format: Double-spaced, font: Times New Roman, 12 pt. Please include images of all works discussed in the paper.
Chicago style reference
GIACOMETTI MARTHA ROSLER
“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 that is intended to agitate the perceived distance of reality. Martha Rosler is a prominent American artist whose works are 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, the social and the art world. Some of her more recurring art concepts are centered on the media, family unit, environment and architecture. At the beginning of her career, Rosler refused to restrict her practice within the preconstructed notions of the art market and refused to play the part of the artist. In addition, Rosler refused to construct a signature style, to work with the traditional materials and to become part of the commodifying norms in the art market. She concentrated on creating works that are unfamiliar or unusual, otherwise known as the ‘Uncanny’ by Sigmund Freud. Her photomontage Bringing the War Home is a subseries within the House Beautiful series, a collection created from 1967 to 1972, and consisting of 10 montages printed in an underground newspaper that opposed the Vietnam War. These series of montages were not exhibited in a commercial gallery until the year 1993. The montages were displayed 21 years after the final piece of the collection was released thus evading the art market at the time. This paper will examine Rosler’s work in relation to the happenings of the 1960s and 1970s and will focus on the selection of House Beautiful: Giacometti collection. This montage will be Rosler’s rallying point to decry the patriotic message that the United States stands for liberty, freedom and independence, that every soldier will earn the right of passage as men and heroes of their country by representing their country’s military power and strength. The collection will be examined using Freud’s Uncanny Theory. This paper will examine Rosler’s montage Giacometti in terms of Sigmund Freud’s theory of the Uncanny in relation to its construction during the historical context of the Vietnam War.
Rosler as an artist and writer
“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, was defined as a historical memorial till it became exhibited in 1993 where henceforth it existed as art. She asks the age-old question of what art is and how it is defined. Art has evolved throughout history. First, it glorified religion, then it praised the state, and today, neither represents the main purpose of art. Art is done for its sake. 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 and they offer different views depending on what they consider to be artwork. During the Vietnam War, the actions of the government, students, neighborhood community, and the art world could all be incorporated into Giacometti. However, in current times 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 at the time, to help preserve the means presented in the work and their intended audience, the public.
Rosler’s art is intertwined with her words as a writer, complicating the reading of her works. She defines 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 works. 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 the 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 the reality of the war through television news coverages. This coverage illuminated the uncanny reality of war in contrast to ideas about war. Freud defines the uncanny as a juxtaposition of the idealized familiarity in contrast to reality.Rosler succeeded in illustrating this uncanniness through her montage of modern life that was 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 the cruelty of war.
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 by separating antiwar protesters from patriotic citizens of the United States. For some people the new characteristics of war bring forth a reality that has psychological effects. Through the montage, Rosler takes the viewer on a journey of the rising feeling of uncanny. The first stage to identifying the uncanny is characterizing the idealization of war with the contrast of the new revelations brought forth through the television coverage of war. The aesthetic strategies in the Giacometti parallel the emotional struggles of the American people starting before the war and progressing to the heightened emotions about the war when the government became obligated to eliminate a threat, a threat that historians are still contemplating today. The ‘domino theory’ by Eisenhower ignited fear that if one country fell into communists then the entire region would fall too. The anxiety and fear of a threat idealized the Vietnam War as an act of righteousness, a familiar idea that goes back to the foundation of the United States when it separated from England. Individuals supporting the government represented idealized patriotism in America, whereas the progression of the war created an opposition that embraced the uncanny to search the new boundaries and characteristics of war. As the first war to be televised, its impact on how public perception about the war would affect the nation 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 scenes of bombs dropping, flying airplanes, marching of troops and combat, into the average American’s home. While these scenes inspired artists like Rosler to act, there was still distance of space and reality dividing the war and the public that Rosler strived to close with her creation of Bring the War Home. Similarly, to television broadcasting, Rosler’s photomontage used the media to display images that would incite certain emotions in the audiences. Giacometti juxtaposed the familiarity of the home and the war, displaying two different settings and creating a new setting where both exists in the same reality, an 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 loved ones was not welcome to many families. 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 the war.
Giacometti depicts an upscale affluent American home featuring sophisticated modernist art. The home is elegantly furnished with orchids on display as seen in the 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.” As 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 despite their innocent youth. The standard of an American is depicted as being a hero, tall and strong. This was their dream and the expectations before they became 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 hopes of survival, even for just one more 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. She also tries to acknowledge the uncanny.
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”. For the artist Giacometti, space is an illusion he creates through the placement and existence of his sculptures. Rosler varies by using an existing space to mold into her illusion.
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 of Madame Thelma Nixon. The deviation of the rich golden interior to that of the disfigured girl is only the superficial layer meant for the criticism of Madame Nixon’s lavish, gold-encrusted lifestyle. The horrible images of the war creep in without her knowledge or approval thus illustrating her ignorance of the war and her willingness to overlook and ignore it. 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 demonstrates the unwillingness of some people to acknowledge the uncanniness of the situation. Rosler asks the viewer to recognize the uncanny and face the feeling of anxiety and panic to change the unfamiliar to familiar. The superficial view of 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 to explore these new boundaries of war. Added to this is the fact that the framed photo in First Lady is that of a popular actress similar to Giacometti’s contrasting meaning of behind the sculpture in Giacometti.
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 viewers 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.
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 note any irregularities.
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 a lifeless corpse of the baby. The placements of each photograph into the work builds the emotional connection in the reader and further contextualizes what the viewer is seeing compared to what they should see. Rosler is guiding the viewer to look closer like they should to the happening in their homes. The living room, once a peaceful place to read is being filled with war. The media has repetitively brought the images so much so that they have become a common part of the living room and everyday life. In this case, the viewer becomes desensitized to their effects.
In 1971, while Rosler was pursuing her master’s degree in fine art at the university of California, she got involved in an antiwar group with her colleagues. For some time now, the Vietnamese war has been considered to be both the last photo-journalized war and the first war to be televised. This is important considering that the shift in the portrayal of war will mean that Rosler's montage of photos will likely become one of the last influential pieces. Prior to televising of the war, such pieces could shift the dynamics of the illustration of war. However, at the start of the war, the media could portray a positive and congruent picture of the war with the government’s anti-communist stance. Prior to 1965, journalists were allowed to cover proceedings of the war and few people were opposed to America’s participation in the war. It was not until the war escalated in 1965 that anti-war protesters became more prominent and the public outlook on media changed. Consequently, the display of massive death counts and gruesome photographs and videos by the media influenced Rosler’s creation of Bringing the War Home.
Photographs in their entirety are seen as a moment frozen in time that cannot be corrupted to portray a specific ideal. At the moment Rosler cut into the living room photo to include corpses and the silhouette, she manufactured her own portrayal of the photograph. Further still, she added her own beliefs on ways through which the media began to change its perception of the war. This notwithstanding, a photomontage may contain elements that were once real, but later turn them imaginary.
In 1920’s, Soviets adopted the creation and development of cinema through editing. The Montage theory proposes that films should derive their ultimate power and meaning from the manner in which shots are cut together through; order, duration, repetition, and rhythm. In the process of developing the media, Soviets inexplicably followed the method “the Soviet montage” which elicited a response from the rest of the population. News stations began to air war images for longer durations and in the process creating changes with the sole purpose of bringing the war into the American home. Consequently, Rosler saw this juxtaposition of the home in America to that of the war in Vietnam and brought this to life. During the war, Soviet montage used video propaganda to further their agenda as did the media.
Cleaning the Drapes, for example, is a common household image that a child could have seen their mother do and in the background, soldiers waiting in uniform. Both the soldiers in uniform and the cleaning mother represent two parallel events within a single living room space considering that both are rightfully undertaking their social moral duty to society and by extension, the country. By pairing them together, it raises questions on the commonality of the scene as it happened in 1970’s. in the scenes, mothers are forced to watch as their sons and husbands are dragged into the war as they are left behind to ensure that there is order in both the country and their households. Whereas pairing of images in the present day could differ from place to place, in 1970’s, such paired images would have elicited anger and frustration among members of families that had been torn apart by the war, by the forceful dragging of their sons and fathers to the warfront. As opposed to being a juxtaposition to the images in the media, Rosler opted to juxtapose her life and the manner in which it was being portrayed by the media.
The careful precision in the installation of montage provokes and creates an emotional response in viewers of uncanniness where issues that were once considered to be familiar take unfamiliar turn of events with different characteristics. Out of such twist of events, a state of uneasiness ensues, and this is what Freud characterized as uncanny. In essence, Giacometti is a beautiful montage that ‘hides’ its unfamiliar aspects in plain sight. At first glance, viewers are reassured of safety of their homes and the eventuality of returning home as a great husband or son. On a second glance and thereafter, the viewer is pulled into dark undertones of the war and its harsh realities of false promise of heroic worshipping. The subsequent glance inflicts darker undertones into the periphery of the viewer, nurturing the feeling of uncanniness that may be cemented on the viewer. The major challenge is that, once viewers find the second layer, they are required to make a decision as to whether they had rather remain unfamiliar to the war and stop looking deeper into the photomontage or accept the reality of war in both their own homes and in Vietnam. By reading into the aesthetical process of House Beautiful: Giacometti, this paper adds to the conversation on the work. It further widens the understanding of montage and the importance of understanding how a set of images may equip the reader with a clear impression of emotions. In conclusion, persistent disregard of the process Giacometti will not change the understanding of the Vietnam war even in generations to come.
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GIACOMETTI MARTHA ROSLER
I read the entire paper. The paper is incredibly well written! For the life of me, I could not find a substantive edit or improvement. Well done and good luck!!
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