Image Still by Annabel Ludovici Gray from a film by Khaled Abdulwalhed 2012

Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others calls it exploitative to look at other people’s pain in an art gallery. She says the Imperial War Museum having evolved from repository for conservation and displaying fine arts of the past to becoming a ‘vast educational institution-cum-emporium, one of whose functions is the exhibition of art. The primary function is entertainment and education…’ (Sontag omits the financial desire, you must pay to see these special temporal ‘atrocities.’ What would Sontag make of Age of Terror?

I wonder if anyone else has faced the same scrutiny as I experienced when viewing the “Age of Terror”, at the Imperial War museum. It’s a good exhibition and I learned many new names of artists responding to the world we are living since 11 September 2001. It is obviously not an easy on the eye nor any other senses, show. It leaves much to contemplate about our existence, as it stands today, and those innocent people who died and others fighting to make the world a safer place.

I arrived with my big Canon SLR camera (since I don’t have an iPhone) to capture new images incase they were useful to my blog and CRP. But I couldn’t hide the camera and snap quietly as with a smart phone. The wall text descriptions with names of artists were not listed in the booklet, and I was promptly told off: there was no photography allowed – hadn’t I seen the notice? No.

Here’s when I began to be made to feel uncomfortable. I had already begun snapping (no flash). I was not sure if I would be interrogated but I had just come away from Coco Fusco’s simulated POW experience film ‘Operation Atropos 2006’. My overbearing security guard was not exactly a Team Delta member but her clicky-heels, blonde hair and uniform made for an unusual experience in an art ‘gallery’ where my challenging authority might not reason. I expected her to demand my images be handed over.

The exhibition content alone is tangible; life-size screens of 9/11 film footage (no simulation here) without the added play of vigilante exhibition security screening you. It is educational to our learning and knowledge of war. Ai Wei Wei was imprisoned in his own country. His squat marble Dalek-like ‘Surveillance Camera’ 2015, talks of power to intercept and obstruct. The power by an inert icy-cool piece of stone was visceral almost tactile. As viewer you are pinned between this target and the official fish-eye behind you. Do I allow my behaviour to conform to the one-way mirror? Self-regulation incites good behaviour in our self-disciplined society. I resist passive intrusive control on my freedom and decide to rebel. I began to play ‘cat and mouse’ with the wandering wardens and aim my lens, fire and the shutter lens noise blows my cover.It’s not worth letting Panoptes, that hundred eyed Greek God, get in the way when we are on the same side of the fence, I decided. I am not a disobedient citizen but this gesture to reject and undercut authority I felt was my little victory in the face of unnecessary authority and control.

“… in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life. That art is something which is specialized or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?”
― Michel Foucault

Below my images – Ai Weiwei, Walid Siti, Jenny Holzer

Would Foucault consider my part in this rebellious gesture to resist as an example of art related to an individual’s life? Although I had no audience, bar the surveillance cameras, I would like my ephemeral presence to be read as a performative piece of art responding to the times we are made to live.

Annabel Ludovici Gray