Matilda Singer reviews Age of Terror at the Imperial War Museum.
The latest exhibition at London’s Imperial War Museum explores artistic responses to conflict, in particular works that have been created since the Twin Tower terror attacks on September 11 2001. Split up into sections that each offer distinct viewing experiences, Age of Terror takes you from the morning after 9/11 to contemporary conflict in the Middle East.
Beginning with pieces specifically created as a response to 9/11, the first hall is plastered with newspaper headlines that were printed around the world on September 12th, curated thoughtfully by Hans-Peter Feldmann. Some are scaremongering, others are analytical but many are without translation leaving it up to the viewer to infer what those newspapers wished to convey. A few are noticeably sombre, with only simple text to accompany the iconic image of the towers burning. It prompts you to wonder whether these were editors that had lost somebody in the attack. At the end of this hall is Ivan Navarro’s impressive installation ‘The Twin Towers’. Instead of towering upwards, the neon lights extend into the floor creating the illusion of an infinitely deep hollow cavern.
The next section explores the contentious issues of state surveillance and personal security. Notable works include Ai Weiwei’s ‘Surveillance Camera with Plinth’, an iconic symbol of the way creative freedom is being curtailed under the controlling laws in China. In a similar vein, Jitish Kallat’s ‘Circadian Rhythm’ features miniature human beings being frisked at airport security, highlighting the way our own personal freedom has been altered in the wake of 9/11. However, it is worth asking here, as many have done before, whether our collective fear of terrorism is leading us to exaggerate the actual degree of threat and causing us to lose sight of those places outside the Western world where life-threatening conflict is a daily occurrence.
Closely following this is a section that offers commentary on our complex relationship with weapons. Not only on our use of guns and bombs and combat vehicles but more importantly on how this relationship is evolving as technology develops and traditional firearms are replaced with drones and artificial intelligence. It is clear that there are complex legal, political and social questions shadowing us in the same way that James Bridle’s ‘Drone Shadow’ hangs in a sinister way over the main hall of the museum as part of this exhibition.
The final and most affecting section looks at the way conflict has destroyed people in the same way that it has destroyed places. Places like Damascus, Aleppo and Palmyra. There is powerful film footage of a man repeatedly hammering a small-scale model of the building he grew up in until it turns to rubble, cleverly evoking the widespread sense of devastation. As might be expected, the entire exhibition is a sobering experience that leaves you contemplating what it really means to live in a post 9/11 world long after you have exited the gallery.
Featured image credit: Hans-Peter Feldmann, 9/12 Front Page (IWM)