The Real War [DAL, Holon]

The exhibition The Real War addresses the battle over the representation and interpretation of reality. It is Sean Snyder’s first solo exhibition in Israel, and one of the few one-person exhibitions staged heretofore at the Israeli Center for Digital Art. Snyder’s works are based on long-term analysis of images produced by amateur and professional stills photographers, photojournalists, and amateur video photographers; flickering as well as static images extracted from diverse databases and media archives. Surveying Snyder’s archive one encounters a world of images originating from different places around the globe, some of them open to the West, while others are closed to it or, rather, closed to a physical encounter, yet broadcast images “to the world.” It is a world of media images, and Snyder is its archivist. He collects, saves, backups, arranges, categorizes, catalogs, and labels the images swiftly passing on screen, which are screened over and over again. For many years he has been feverishly attempting to edit this sequence of images, by examining and re-arranging them to introduce some logic.

A solo exhibition by Sean Snyder. Dates: 29.05.2010. – 14.08.2010

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Snyder’s methods for the images’ labeling and charting employ the media’s own tactics: he catalogs the material based on camera movements (e.g. zoom in and zoom out); films taken on Hi8, VHS, S-VHS; digital photography and photographs taken on cell phones; blackand- white versus color photography; propaganda materials (black propaganda, white propaganda); televised documentation of wars from East and West; Western commercials, Arab commercials, commercials from the (Near and Far) East. The labeling and examination of these materials by various methods and parameters call to mind not only the archivist’s work, but also that of the detective who attempts to solve a murder case, or that of an intelligence agent who traces every detail and piece of information pertaining to the mystery in question. As in the cracking of a murder case, Snyder gathers multiple specimens from his material. He blows up digital frames to the point where the digital grid (the pixelization) or the analog granularity is exposed; he divides the image and focuses on isolated details within a frame, expands the boundaries of digital resolution, while comparing the different resolutions of various media events.

06_afgh_01In Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner (1982), Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a detective trying to track down replicants, sits in front of the screen at home, examining snapshots found at the scene of the crime. He scans a picture, reviews it thoroughly, glossing over its digital surface, instructing the computer, demanding exponential enhancement. With every digital stretch into the heart of the image, more and more details are revealed. He scans a blurred image until he finally finds what he was after—a transparent scale on the android’s face.

Another link to Blade Runner is the image-ridden media world. The film opens with a chaotic scene. Scores of screens fill the futuristic city, broadcasting commercials, news, and reports into the urban space. It is a media world, a universe of robots and androids, somewhat reminiscent of the way in which Snyder explores the media images arriving from North Korea, for example.

The works in the exhibition may be divided into two major bodies. One is Index, which includes forty photographs of the storage hardware USB flash drive, numbered cardboard dossiers, celluloid film, a VHS tape, a DVD, a CDR, all marked and labeled, bearing numbers and letters. The video works which belong to the body of Index works are non-narrative; in other words, they do not recount a continuous story. Their narrative is the study of the development of digital photography. At the same time, the works are not abstract. They refer to historical events which may account for the development of the re-presentation of historical events, the development of observation technology, and to what extent it is associated with political ideologies. As a single body, the works explore digitally transferred analog photographic material or photographs/video taken with digital cameras transferred to photographs taken with mobile phones.

Thus, for example, in Untitled (Index UKR 2797_Orange / RGB) (2007) the camera follows a crowd demonstrating during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine (2004-05). The camera passes over the demonstrators, but the more it scans the crowd, the more blurred the image becomes, until it is reduced to mere orange movement on screen. The imagery is placed through progressive digital compression levels until the image ultimately disintegrates before our very eyes. Those familiar with demonstrations know that documentation is one of the major elements in any demonstration nowadays. Documentation during demonstrations is intended for various purposes, beyond the event’s broadcasting to the general public. The authorities perpetuate the event in order to identify the demonstrators, whereas the latter document it in order to protect themselves from the authorities and the power employed against them. Compression of the photographic material enables presentation of the political event without exposing the participants.

Snyder is one of the most important artists performing research-based projects, emphasizing the exploration and re-presentation of war images, from the Cold War to the conflict in Afghanistan. Rather than a response to geo-political issues, Snyder’s research is intended to study the re-presentation of media-mediated events. In some respects, it is an attempt to study the media as mediators of information and their ability to represent the reality transpiring beyond the television screen and the printed page. This process endeavors to shed light on fundamental questions about representation, while employing examples from the fields of mass media, documentary cinema, urban spaces, and architecture. Snyder harnesses the tools of global media as infrastructure for his activity. The video works, texts, and images function in his systematic investigation as evidence of the journey into the inherent code of the digitally produced and processed image, alongside an overt montage and the use of propaganda techniques, in order to explore the accessibility and transparency of the information. Via test cases of urban planning, architecture and media, Snyder traces the fluctuations in the meaning of the data and its processing as it is translated from one ideological system to another.