5 maart – 23 april 2016
In de tentoonstelling Safe Distance toont Rune Peitersen (DK, 1971) vier series van werken die je brein kwellen. Ze confronteren je met een dualisme waarin esthetiek en inhoud tegenover elkaar worden geplaatst. Peitersen verzamelde online beeldmateriaal van rellen in Turkije, van bominslagen op piratenboten voor de kust van Somalië, van drones die missies uitvoeren boven Afghaans en Irakees grondgebied, en van ruïnes die de oorlogen in het Midden-Oosten in het landschap markeren. Vervolgens bewerkte en interpreteerde hij de beelden om het dualisme aan te jagen en een innerlijke dialoog in gang te zetten. Peitersen bevraagt zijn eigen positie als maker (én die van de toeschouwer) in relatie tot het afgebeelde, met als kernvraag; Wat is onze rol in al deze gebeurtenissen die we vanaf een veilige afstand observeren? Nemen we een actieve houding aan of blijven we onverschillig, en laten we deze beelden van ons afglijden? En dan is er ook nog de rol van kunst ten opzichte van de actualiteit – is kritiek nog mogelijk binnen de kaders van ‘de kunstwereld’, of is de traditionele tentoonstellingsruimte de ultieme ‘veilige afstand’ geworden?
Rune Peitersen studeerde in 1999 af aan de Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunst en in 2001 aan de Masteropleiding van het Frank Mohr Instituut in Groningen. Sinds zijn afstudeerjaar wordt hij gerepresenteerd door Ellen de Bruijne Projects in Amsterdam, waar hij ook woont en werkt. Zijn werk is te zien geweest in internationale tentoonstellingen op uiteenlopende podia. Naast zijn praktijk doceert Peitersen aan de AKV|St.Joost, geeft hij regelmatig lezingen en gastlessen en is hij mede-oprichter en voorzitter van Platform Beeldende Kunst.
and demands action; at the same time he/she is on the receiving consumer side of a spectacle.
In Safe Distance this double sided position of the spectator is of main importance. On the one hand, it addresses a consumerist passivity; while on the other it appeals to one’s ethical standards – demanding morally induced action. The subject matter of the overarching Safe Distance series by Rune Peitersen – which now consists out of four parts in total – deals with our daily feed of news updates by ways of pictures. The series reflects on what is provided to us and highlights certain important, frequently featured imagery. News has become a form of en-tertainment, and thereby is highly aestheticized. This tendency includes turning up the shock value of images, instigating fear and excitement at the same time. As a logical outcome, the process simultaneously made us – the viewers – increasingly familiar and numbed. Boundaries of awe have to be continuously increased to still remain attractive and relevant to the viewer, and to remain able to stand out in the daily stream of images; turning the news into a visual spectacle for the masses. In this process, we – the average citizen – have the ‘privilege of being a spectator’, as Susan Sontag calls it. Safe behind the well secured walls of ‘Fortress Europe’ we are direct, although mostly passive, accomplices to turning near parts of the globe into vivid war zones, signless cemeteries and instant ruins. Exactly this framework, its consequences and the human position, form the subject of Peitersen’s images.
Rune Peitersen is the Operator; the Barthesian maker of a photograph. According to the French philosopher, death is the essence of the photograph. Next to its eternal present tense, death is an intrinsic part of the medium. All due to an eternal nowness that makes one aware of the passing of time, turning the photograph into a visual reminiscence of a moment and/or person. In the Safe Distance series this can be viewed quite literal. The images show moments of sheer upheaval and death, interspersed by remnants of air strikes, protests and haunted genius loci. In the High Grounds series, the decisive moment gains an extra meaning: the moment when someone decides life becomes death. The direct actor determines whether the one perceived will remain alive or seizes to exist.
The direct objects can be called victims of our political actions that are set in place in order to keep ourselves in the safe zone. They do not have ‘the luxury of patronizing reality’ through media. They are the ones confronted with the Light of God – the laser beam that guides the drone missiles, or marking the spots for the allied forces to engage on – and might be vaporized by a mouse-click of an actor who is physically safe behind a screen in Nevada.
The intense and direct influence that is felt through mediating screens is highly underrated. Their means to mediate reality, despite the safe bodily distance, does not exempt the viewer-actor from mental distress: distance does not equal detachment. Aside this direct PTSD causing involvement, on a media level, according to Sontag, our chronic voyeuristic relation leads to ignorance due to repeated exposure, and our culture of spectatorship neutralizes the moral force of photographs and its content of atrocities.
Similarly, those who are labelled as pirates are done away with ease. It is only justified to blow them up, while we look through our camera phone lenses or at our laptops and TV screens. Related, ruins remind us of the grandeur of a world long gone. For those who glance swiftly at the pictures, it might seem an approaching army of battle droids at Naboo, a herd of strolling Strandbeesten at Scheveningen beach, or Constant’s New Babylon from afar – the latter two being highly possible in the The Hague context. However, the ruins depicted by Peitersen are recent. The footage used shows the almost completely erased airport at Gaza, Palestine by means of the Israeli army. The specific location does not really matter here, as the works address a common image that creates an interchangeable scenery. The pictures include a sense of generic universality, and therefore also include an archetypical aspect. This could be any day, anywhere – except here. So in that sense it could have been the archaeological site of Samarra, as much as Sir John Soane’s Bank of England depicted as a ruin by Joseph Gandy (1830). Or The Abby in the Oakwood (Abtei im Eichwald, 1809-1810) by Caspar David Friedrich that indicated the end of the German culture during the Swedish invasion. Both paintings deal with the splendour of the past and poetics of the picturesque. The ruin suggests the relentless passing of time, and the nostalgia attached to it. A Piranesi-like picture that puts affront a ‘melancholy that comes from reflecting on the decayed magnificence’ as William Shenstone calls it.
Among such art historical references it is important to realize that history itself is not the subject in Peitersen’s work. He examines real time information transfer. The screen mediates a distance: an emotional, ethical and time-based lap. At the same time the works address the idea of the two dimensional surface as a window on the world. In the series, the viewer is confronted with places where misery has happened, or is happening still – additionally taking into account Barthes’ eternal present. As domination is disseminated through representation, as Stuart Hall says, it is highly important to take notice of the consumerist side of image circulation. The sense of non-reality in the images, due to its distorted nature, still entails a reality. However partially fictional, it forcefully taps into the expectations of the viewer annex consumer, and his/her relentless hunger for ominous spectacle.
In previous works, Peitersen focused on the way our eyes process visual information. In Safe Distance his aim is to confront us with the images that are presented to us. Especially those that (over time) make us indifferent to suffering. The disturbed nature of the way we deal with imagery and the severe outcomes this could have, was described by Alfredo Jaar in The Sound of Silence (1995). The Chilean born artist here unravels a narrative about a picture by Bang-Bang club member Kevin Carter who visually captured dreadful events and afterwards being criticized for his non-involvement in the direct situation. The ‘weight and seriousness’ together with the stringent comments and actually being a firsthand witness of such sinister affairs eventually lead to the suicide of the South African photographer.
Rune Peitersen uses atrocious material himself too. It consists out of found footage from online sources among which YouTube is most prominent. The vernacular source as input for an art practice to reflect on modern media and the construction of our visual culture is part of an important line within artistic heritage. The derived (digital) images of police, private and military violence, carry remnants of physical spaces loaded with memories, references and meaning. Eventually Peitersen aims to merge the studium and punctum. The studium denoting the cultural, linguistic, and political interpretation of a photograph, the punctum implying the wounding, personally touching detail which establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it. Alike Carter, Peitersen does not only aestheticizes misery, he also engages with the truth. Be it with a considerable and safe distance, he aims to simultaneously depict and displace someone’s real-time perspective and thereby provoke a connection and sincere reaction with the spectator; resulting in identification and the creation of a human connection. Stories then might have two sides: according to Peitersen, the object and subject should be equally affected: In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni (We Go Round and Round in the Night and are Consumed by Fire).
Vincent van Velsen
Writer, critic and curator;
currently a resident at the Jan van Eyck Academy, Maastricht