War Mediated: Arts Magazine

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

The Terrible, Beautiful Images of War
Two MAEP exhibitions showcase four artists whose visual works provoke contemplation of war.

By Tamatha Sopinski Perlman

THE SIMULTANEOUS Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) shows on view from August 31 through October 28 in the MAEP galleries deal with war through its visual manifestations. All four featured artists appropriate images from a variety of sources. By recreating media images in pencil and paint or altering photographs and historical interpretations, these artists cause us to pause and ponder the barrage of information coming to us every day through televisions, newspapers, and the Internet. The speed with which we receive these war images can make it easy for us to maintain a psychological distance from the actual events. But here, creative hands transform visual images into meditations on war, and force to the surface Americans’ relationship with war. “War Mediated” features three artists who explore issues of military representation. They examine the correlations between patriotism, fear, and the way war is delivered to our homes through the lenses of government and popular culture.

Megan Vossler’s graphite drawings follow anonymous soldiers and refugees as they trudge through nameless frontiers in lonely fields of white. Culling inspiration from Goya’s Disasters of War series and the U.S. Army Web site, she has created drawings that focus on the aftermath of war—the period of displacement, when refugees file out of their homelands while soldiers move in. The figures—defined, yet indistinct—are sorrowful and resigned. Vossler’s moving and thoughtful drawings reveal the human costs of war.

Camille Gage pays homage to fallen soldiers in “War Redacted,” a series of government photographs manipulated to underscore their most elemental forms. Gage appropriated images, which had been officially suppressed by the Pentagon, picturing military casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan arriving at Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base in flag-covered caskets. Released through the Freedom of Information Act, these photographs are now in the public domain. Gage blacks out areas of the photos, mirroring censoring techniques used by the U.S. government before releasing sensitive documents. This is her way of bringing the hidden back into view.

Justin Newhall’s large, color photographs examine America’s need to shape and connect to the past. His latest series, Axis & Allies, is an exploration of the culture and practice of World War II battle re-enactments. Through confounding and beautiful photographs taken at private “tactical” events such as the Battle of Stalingrad (staged at Rosemount, Minn.) and the Battle of the Bulge (at Joliet, Ill.), Newhall’s work poses questions about the relationship of re-enactments (and re-enactors) to the wars in which we find ourselves today.

The second gallery features Megan Rye’s solo exhibition, “I Will Follow You into the Dark.” Offering a backseat view of the Iraq war, Rye’s large-scale paintings trace her brother’s experience as a U.S. Marine, where he supervised the regional detention facility in Fallujah and transported Iraqui detainees within the Sunni Triangle. Rye’s source materials are culled from more than 2,000 photographs her brother took during his tour of duty. She uses these photos to create paintings that mix abstraction and realism, revealing an up-close and personal point of view in the daily life of a soldier at war. Many of the paintings depict routine military night-operations, such as a Humvee ride, but the first-person perspective and desert lighting merge beauty with the ominous threat of the unknown.

Tamatha Sopinski Perlman is MAEP Program Associate at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Citation: Tammy Sopinski Perlman, "The Terrible, Beautiful Images of War: Two MAEP exhibitions showcase four artists whose visual works provoke contemplation of war," Arts 30, No. 4 (July/August 2007): 16-17.