UnderFire 3

UnderFire 3 for the biennial BIACS2, International Biennial of Contemporary Art, Seville, Spain. Co-organizer with Jordan Crandall.


UNDER FIRE is an ongoing art and research project that explores militarization and political violence. It delves into the structural, symbolic, and affective dimensions of armed conflicts: the organization, representation, and materialization of war.

At the structural level, UNDER FIRE foregrounds the structural conditions of violence. It addresses issues of economic production, territory, and operations of power. It looks to the history of the western military-industrial complex and its expanding network of extraterritorial enclaves and communications infrastructures. It looks at the rise of the privatized military industry and the global commercialization of arms, espionage, security, and military force. It looks at the production of militancy and its construction of the enemy other. It understands acts of violence as symptoms or effects of structural conditions, and situates cycles of conflict within the workings of a global system. In this way it probes the nature of power and its resistance. Yet, at the same time, it also aims to understand the intersection of space, system, and power in non-socioeconomic and semiotic terms. To this end, it draws from the physical sciences, philosophy, and science studies to incorporate recent theories of emergent organization and the ontogenic, nonlinear generation of behaviors and forms.

At the symbolic level, UNDER FIRE looks at the representation of violence and the role that images play as complex registers of symbolic meaning. It aims to decode media using the tools of semiotic analysis, focusing on the social and cultural construction of knowledge. In this way it furthers development of a critical spectatorship. Yet at the same time, it explores non-linguistic-based networks of interpretation. Here representation is understood less in terms of a discrete visual artifact and more in terms of a dynamic, processual assembly – or what could be called a media ecology.The image becomes a malleable, reproducible, and re-frameable event, produced by a multiplicity of human and technological applications.

Such a media ecology involves not only perception but sensation. It operates at the symbolic, imaginative, and affective levels. It necessarily incorporates material, intensive realities that resist symbolization, but which in every case play a powerful role in shaping consciousness and the belief systems that motivate action. Following from this, at the affective level, UNDER FIRE does not simply focus on meaning but on the affective and motivational realms of human experience. These include the embodied qualities, sensations, magnitudes, and textures that form the substrata of communication, argument, and judgment. In other words, on par with the content of a particular message, equal attention is given to the quality of embodied resonance it engenders. UNDER FIRE explores the ways that affects are harnessed and molded –through drill, routine, and symbolic ritual – in the training technologies of war, marketing, and religion. It therefore explores the role that affects play in the production of collective identifications, aggressions, and “militarized subjectivities.” As such, it explores the politics of affect – whether in terms of the politics of fear, desire, or otherwise. It positions the affective realm as a biopolitical frontier. It seeks to understand how power operates at the level of the affective, and, in turn, how the affective becomes political.

This leads to important questions. How, then, is politics is constituted in this space between affect and discourse? In other words, how is politics constituted between ineffable states of embodied expression on the one hand, and larger rhetorical strategies on the other? UNDER FIRE follows this line of questioning. It asks: When is expression or action rendered intelligible as a political force? When does expression cease to simply turn around and around itself, and instead erupt into the arena of the political? What are the operations of power that determine its legitimacy? What is the role of the imaginary? What is the difference between violence and politics; when does violence become political? How are new political spaces opened or invented? And in turn, how is subjectivity constituted therein – in terms of self-affectivity or discursive construction? In terms of the repetitive, embodied internalization of expressive acts, or symbolic insertions into the public arena?

Addressing these and other questions UNDER FIRE inquires into the status of political speech and moves toward what could be understood as a performative politics – a politics that can incorporate a multiplicity of somatic and symbolic registers, filtered by cultural fictions, imaginaries, intensities, and arts of the self. A performative politics that has the potential of inventing a new form of public speech and existence.

UNDER FIRE brings together a diverse cross-section of artists, media makers, educators, activists, political analysts, media researchers, writers, performers, cultural theorists, social scientists, architects, organizers, networkers, and other scholars and practitioners who are interested in contemporary media culture, political violence, technology, power, social movements, and global politics.