Towards a New Visualization of Secrecy?

Trevor Paglen, “Quincannon,” from Missing Persons (2006)

I’m going to moderate a panel in Amsterdam on Saturday March 24, under the title “Towards New Visualization of Secrecy?” The conference includes Tariq Ali among many others, and it looks very interesting – almost exactly along the lines of “Extradisciplinary Investigations” (below). My panel includes Jordan Crandall, Meta Haven, Naeem Mohaiemen and Trevor Paglen. The focus is on the procedures and the effects of artistic visualizations of clandestine military violence, in which category I would deliberately conflate al-Qaeda bomb attacks, CIA extraordinary renditions as documented by Trevor Paglen, IDF targeted assassinations, the abuse of Iraqi civilians, combatants and prisoners by American military personnel, the disappearances of Muslim-American citizens recounted by Naeem Mohaiemen and the Visible Collective, and the much broader militarization of American imperial subjectivity that Jordan Crandall has been exploring in his work for over a decade. The specific questions could begin with the following: how this kind of art is made, how it produces effects in both intimate sensibility and the public sphere, and what artists, institutions, critics and viewers can do to make it count for something more than just another gruesome curiosity of the present.

Some will no doubt feel offended or at least suspicious about the conflation of different forms of violence, when I lump together police, military and guerrilla/terrorist actions. As citizens and intellectuals we are constantly asked to distinguish between these categories, so as to determine what is legitimate or illegitimate, intolerable or unavoidable. Each of our judgments must be carefully weighed, we are individuals, it’s our right and duty to say what we mean in public. However, consider what happens when you are awoken as I was this morning by a ring at the door. You sign a registered letter, performing an act that inscribes you within the system of transparent, fully verifiable contractual obligations that constitutes normalcy in our present democratic societies. You believe you know fairly well what you are signing onto. Later in the day you look at Trevor Paglen’s website and you come across three signatures. The same individual’s name, three clearly different persons signing on. A legal, transparent, contractual relation, with a black hole of identity at its center. These signatures represent the legal obligations of non-existent (or at least, non-identifiable) directors of companies managing the airplanes used for the extraordinary renditions. A chasm is opening up in the society you take for granted. The one who signs, each time, commits what for an ordinary person is a crime, but has little to fear from the police – because these “missing persons” are part of a force that trumps the police, the courts and even Congressional oversight. The judgment of certain individuals has more a lot more effects than others. The power of certain organizations, hiding behind the signature of individuals, has become decisive in the present-day United States. The reality of democracy everywhere is thrown into question. To make the new relations of power visible is a beginning. Making that visibility effective is, in my opinion, the real problem that we will be discussing next Saturday.

One Response to “Towards a New Visualization of Secrecy?”

  1. patrice Says:

    What I find so remarkable about those three unremarkable signatures above is that they are so American (USA). Only americans (usa) sign this way, and it makes american (usa) signatures so imitable. Hence I’d say these signatures are ‘true falses’, bit like the French controversy on the ‘vrais faux passeports’ …

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