I am a writer, critical theorist, scholar of religion, and teacher, and I currently teach artists and designers at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland. My students will tell you I am obsessed with drones.
When I first started paying attention to the revelation that the US is sending so-called unmanned aerial vehicles to countries we are supposedly not at war with, killing people without accusation or trail, and killing anyone else who happens to be in that place, too – I couldn’t stop thinking about the pilots in Las Vegas (or wherever), sitting in small, remote rooms, using images sent back by cameras to bomb the people and places viewed in those images.
Using images to kill is not new. Images have long been central to the justification of violence against “others” – from the series of daguerreotypes commissioned by Louis Agassiz, to the portraits taken by the Khmer Rouge in S-21, to lynching postcards, to the torture photographs from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, to the images captured by cameras in drones. The very same images, however, have also become tools for resisting violence.
When images can be used to kill and to save, what does it mean to be an artist?
I hope ON IMAGES will be a place to investigate questions like this – and a place to explore images themselves – how they function, what they make possible, how they participate in justifying violence, how they offer resources for resisting violence, what they require of viewers.
Being able to kill another human being (or animal or landscape) depends on a way of seeing that human being (or animal or landscape) as “other,” as less than, disposable, not grievable, and my hope is that art might help viewers practice a way of looking that leads to the protection of otherness rather than to its destruction.