14. Januar 2016
symploke, Volumne 23, Numbers 1-2, 2015
Published by the University of Nebraska Press
Brad Evans, Henry A. Giroux
Intolerable Violence
Gottfried Helnwein is one of the most important artists alive today. As Kenneth Baker has noted, the artist’s works not only “mirrors of dark times but counterthrusts to the aggressive reach of so much contemporary culture” (Baker, n.d.). The artist himself is fully aware of the political function of art and its importance in the age of the spectacle.
“We are living,” he writes, “in the age where materialism has finally triumphed.
The world has been purged of fairies, elves, witches, angels, enchanted castles
and hidden treasures.
Dreaming and fantasizing is nowadays considered a chemical imbalance in
the brain of the child. For reasons of national security there are no realms of
imagination anymore in which to escape—children are held in the merciless
headlight of the adults level-headed, common-sense-madhouse: a world of
stock-markets, war, rape, pollution, television-moronism, prozak, prisoncamps,
miss universe-competitions, genetic engineering, child pornography,
Ronald McDonalds, Paris Hilton and torture” (Helnwein, n.d.).
Importantly, for Helnwein, art responds to the violence of the world by
raising the right type of questions and not colonizing the imaginary with
fixed interpretations. Helnwein’s Disasters of War 13  is a compelling example
of this. This unsettling and provocative image depicts a blood-soaked, innocent,
white young girl. Given the artist’s definition of the function of the
work, we might ask what questions this image raises? Consciously disrupting
familiar representations of casualties of war, the questions we might hear
arising from the work echoes: What if it was your child? What if this was
your daughter? What if this was your neighbor? What if this was you, or
what if it were I? This is not about shocking the spectator into submission.
Nor is it simply the mirroring of experience to bring about certain empathy
 or produce a shallow and sensationalist response. It is to bring about a forced
assimilation with the unassimilated, to face the intolerable, so that it viscerally
registers as such.

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