by Mona Kakanj
Residency Program and Laboratory
25 July – 7 August 2015
Panemune Castle, Pilis, Lithuania
Corpus Ludus Militaris (CLM) was a Migrating Art Academies laboratory and residency program organized in collaboration between Vilnius Academy of Arts and Institutio Media. Within the framework of this collaboration a series of events, performances, talks, a conference and an exhibition took place in Panemune Castle. A group of art and science professors and participants –graduates and students– from Lithuania and Germany gathered together in Pilis, Lithuania to research, discuss and collaborate on topics associated with the thematic of the program.
As one of the participants I didn’t know and could barely guess how the two weeks of intensive working and living together would turn out. However the trill of the unknown proved to be participants’ mutual ground that regardless of our nationalities and educational backgrounds connected us.
The following text is my thoughts on thematic of violence and war, reflecting the program. Furthermore the text is using various projects, which emerged from this collaboration and were exhibited in Panemune Castle.
War and violence as such, have been the subject matter of countless writings, artistic works, researches, art works and films. Almost every known philosopher and intellectual has written about it or at least addressed it in some settings. The dynamic of war allows us to investigate it by means of different methods in various contexts. It has been studied in vast range of disciplines such as psychology, sociology, philosophy, criminology etc. There are physical aspects to it as well as psychological. In its broad field of manifestations, one thing is certain: war changes the conditions of its subjects (its victims or offenders) temporarily –if not permanently–. This includes not only physical alteration but also psychological changes. War is one of the apparent manifestations of violence. Unfortunately our history hasn’t yet experienced a time period, in which all countries were in a peace-state at the same time. There is always a war going on somewhere. One of the war’s assets is the military. Without the military force no country would dare to start or pursue a war. And one of the complex aims of the military is to prepare soldiers for combat situations. War and combats are inseparable from the notion of violence; the violence of killing others, occupying other Lands, and/or destroying otherness. The question is how could anyone be prepared for such violence? A crucial method to prepare soldiers for violence is to desensitize them towards violence. Ironic enough, the military pursues this aim by applying violence. And repetition is the key to desensitize one towards brutality. Rough physical exercises, breaking’s soldiers’ psychic balance, taking their personal identity and belongings away and place them in harsh situations, are some of the military’s routines. Repetition of these routines changes soldiers’ perception towards their brutal and violence nature. “As its first eruption, violence is always experienced as unique. If given time and repetition, however, it becomes routine, part of the air, and one learns how to breathe it without being asphyxiated. One no longer seeks to eliminate it, nor even to understand it. Episodes of violence may flare up in different places, but each is contained in its local context, where it risks becoming normal.”(1) War-simulation applications are obvious examples of one of the military practices of desensitizing towards violence. They may seem as harmless computer games, yet they haven’t been developed for entertaining reasons. The aim of these simulations is to prepare soldiers mentally for the brutal nature of war. Moreover they prepare the players for combat situations.
Inspired by war games, there was a project of Andrius and Ovidijus, two Lithuanian students of Kaunas University of Technology (KTU). They designed an interactive application, in which one of the Castle’s striking towers were simulated by 3D programming. However the viewer (the player) could destroy the tower –the 3D simulation– if he decided to press the button with a note “Do Not Press!”. The project was a fine indication on human’s curiosity and furthermore addressed our history of ruination of cultural and historical monuments. Andrius and Ovidijus’ interactive application was not the only project, inspired by the castle’s architecture. The background of the place as well as the history of the Castle Panemune and its architecture affected most of the concepts. The peaceful and sheer nature of the environment, contrary to its brutal history evoke some critical works, which were solely realized in a dialogue with the location.
As a note to repetition and desensitization another Lithuanian artist Emilis created a dazzling video projection. Yet unlike conventional projections, the pictures were directed at the viewers, so that the viewer’s body turns into a screen. Emilis’ work took a critical approach towards mind numbing mainstream culture. By projecting an example of every day Lithuanian TV broadcasts on the viewers’ body, Emilis dealt with the topic of media. As the projection was directed straight at the audience, it also had the blinding effect of looking directly into a light source. Hence not only the pictures were dazzling the viewer, they also turned him into a projection surface.
One cannot overlook how the media can influence our perception on various events happening around the globe. On the thematic of war, it’s also critical to concern the effect of fear and how media operate with it. Violence needs justification, and fear seems to be one of the most employed reasons for that matter. Politics and media deliberately employ fear to justify violence such as war and terror. An obvious example of it was the War of Iraq in 2003. As the United States accused Iraq of possessing weapon of mass destruction, this accusation and the fear of Iraq invading western countries, was applied by USA’s government to justify invading Iraq first. The angst of possibly being invaded created itself one of the bloodiest episodes of 21st century. For sure there is a correlation between notions of violence and fear. One could give raise to the other, and it works in both ways. Followed by the Iraq war, were the widespread invasions of the USA and some European countries in the Middle East and North African countries. The uprising fear of terrorist organization such as ISIS, gave reasons (justification) for these invasions. However one cannot ignore the chain effect of violence followed those wars. Those invasions held in the name of safety and security, eventually have led to more fear and angst not just in the Middle East but also in Western countries. The correlation of fear and violence can be studied in almost all of the 21st centuries wars. Discussing violence it is inevitable not to consider the complex relation (or connection) of violence to notions of power and fear.
Illusion of Security was the title of Ekvilina’s project, which also breaches the correlation of safety, power and fear. Ekvilina created a room installation in the basement of the castle. By hanging a satin fabric from the ceiling, the installation dived the room into two spaces. Standing in front of the curtain or behind it gave a totally different viewpoint of the dark and cold basement to the viewer. In the entrance of the room there was a ladder and a flashlight pointing at the basement’s wall. Viewers were allowed to use the ladder and take a closer look, where the light of the flashlight was projected. However by standing behind the curtain one barely could see what was happening in the other half of the space. The installation encouraged viewers to risk their safety by climbing up the ladder. However, as the risk would lead to finding a treasure on the lit up surface of the wall, the work remained ambiguous.
As mentioned, violence causes a chain effect. One may apply violence to put an end to an already existing violent experience. The unfortunate fact is that the cause and the effect of violence could both be the same. However raising awareness to prevent violence brings optimism for future generations. It seems that human beings are more than ever conscious about the vicious nature of war. There is increasing number of organizations all over the world, which try to apply various strategies to help preventing violence. It may seem that our contemporary history have been affected by various wars, hence attempts to eliminate violence as such or condemnation of it also seem to increase more than ever. CLM was also an attempt to raise awareness about nature of the military, war and violence. Almost all topics discussed in the conference and most of the artistic projects took critical approach towards manifestations of violence. Furthermore the background of the castle and the political history of the region inspired many site-specific projects.
As one of the participants I guess I wouldn’t be the only one, who felt blessed to be part of the program. Some genuine friendships were formed between participants and some wonderful ideas and inspirations were conceived for further works. Corpus Ludus Militaris gathered us all together in a small village in Lithuania and yet our concepts, projects and our friendships exceeded any borders. Like every other thing, this program came to an end. The inspirational and effective result of it however would continue hopefully following us in our further projects.
(1) Lawrence Bruce, Karim Aisha | On violence, A reader | Duke university Press| USA | 2007| P.5