The image of a beheading as a global spectacle, like any image, addresses the viewer irrespective of language or culture. The persistent ambiguity of these images today operates in a space of spectacularly ambivalent violence. The representation of the beheading through digital video circulated on the internet (and the mass of accumulated re-mediations) confronts this ambiguity of meaning with one of the least ambiguous and most ancient symbols: the human head . . . severed from its body. In this confrontation develops a rupture and a cross-cultural crisis of interpretation. Beheading is an intervention that not only ends action but one that seeks to advertise the end of action.
My installation interrogates the contradictions and transmutations of messages in the context of global media and it highlights the impossibility of immediate transmission of meaning cross-culturally and cross-linguistically through images or text.
This video is a component of an installation that was an exploration of emerging global media and image technologies. It is inspired by a series of prints made by Francisco Goya two hundred years ago. Goya's prints, titled Disasters of War—in addition to the creative and critical commentary that his work has generated— prompted me to explore the conditions of horror and attrocity in my own times. I began with printmaking techniques (mezzotint on copper plate) as a point of continuity with Goya's project of image dissemination through mechanical reproductions. Turning my prints into a video installation is a response to forms of media and circulations of images predominant in the 21st century.
There are a number of 'plays' in this work. To begin with is the title: Promethean Methods. Prometheus was the Titan who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humans. For this he received the punishment of eternal suffering (doomed to have his liver eaten by an eagle over and over again). Premetheus Methods is the name of a small communications company owned by the engineer Nicholas Berg. Nick Berg died tragically in Iraq in 2004. Unlike so many other deaths associated with the invasion of Iraq, Berg was ritualistically executed and beheaded. The execution was a performance for the world. It was recorded on video and circulated over the internet. Nick Berg's brutal and spectacular death now plays out over and over again through technologies of digital image proliferation.
...to be continued.