Curated by Elena Sorokina
Siemon Allen, Ross Cisneros, Larry Deyab, Yevgeniy Fiks, Alia Hasan-Khan, Jesal Kapadia, Cristobal Lehyt, Les LeVeque, Basim Magdy, Carlos Motta, The Speculative Archive / Julia Meltzer and David Thorne
The exhibition Enemy Image investigates mechanisms of how the notion of the enemy is constructed in the United States and elsewhere.
Most societies perpetually construct an enemy image in order to affirm and define their own identities. The controversial philosopher Carl Schmitt claimed that the “friend-enemy” distinction is not only formative but constitutes the core of political existence. Yet from the psychoanalytic perspective of Freud, the enemy isn’t the opposite of friend, but instead a mere manifestation of the self. For Freud, creating an enemy allows an easy escape from a problematic encounter with the self, translating an internal conflict into an external obstacle.
These theories do not neatly coexist, and the works presented as part of Enemy Imagereflect that complexity. Moreover, acknowledging the spectacular changes that the image of the enemy has undergone during the last decade, the artists comment on the enemy’s difficult re-defining. Immediately after the end of the cold war’s “red threat,” the US had no clear image of an enemy for more than a decade. But now we find ourselves in a period of dynamic image building, dominated by a logic of unqualified difference.
The artists presented in this show find the enemy image in print media, in cinema, and in political rhetoric. Several of the artists capitalize on today’s definitions of the enemy and the US’s relationship to specific enemies; others emphasize historical dimensions, drawing on the official imagery and propaganda in the United States during times of war and political conflict. Yet it may be those artists who engage with images from our media saturated lives who find the most troubling ways in which the enemy (and its antithesis, the inviolable hero) becomes a natural and unquestioned part of our culture. The exhibition not only directs our attention to the complexities of these constructions, but also to the current struggle for a new canon of extreme antagonisms and the new escalation of official enemy images.