This work received an honorable mention from the VIDEONALE.19 award jury.
For many generations of artists, questions concerning the use, power, and efficacy of images have been a subject of reflection. However, since the so-called visual turn, which refers to the shift away from language and toward the visible, the question of what images are capable of has become more important than ever. The political impact of the visual on both individuals and societies is a central theme of Alaa Mansour’s work. Her films revolve around the history of violence and the effect of images in the age of necro-politics.
With her haunting video work THE MAD MAN’S LAUGHTER, Mansour critically reflects on the formation of the image of the universal ›terrorist‹ enemy known for its ›Arab features‹ in the aftermath of the so-called War on Terror. During her thorough and extensive archival research, she immersed herself in the world of ubiquitous surveillance and simulations this war has spawned. Her video takes us on a journey across visual and text-based archive material produced by our contemporary image regime, material with which we form, reform and, by extension, also distort (our image of) ›the Other‹. In her film, Mansour combines official material from the U.S. government with interviews with guards of Abu Ghraib, videos of weapons being demonstrated, and propaganda films by the militant Islamist Daesh. These are interspersed with clips from a videogame of the military entertainment complex, in which fictitious entities with ›Arab features‹ perform as the enemy. Particularly poignant is the voiceover that tells the viewer about the rich history of the silk road and the city of Baghdad, which was once known as the birthplace of civilization and a center of art, science and commerce — an image that has radically changed for the worse.
THE MAD MAN’S LAUGHTER concludes with a completely distorted virtual image produced by an AI machine. It reminds us that digital images are fundamentally machine-readable, which has enormous implications. It allows for the automation of vision on a vast scale and along with it, the capability of exercising power on a dramatically larger scale than ever before. Thus, »our imagination is to an increasing extent under occupation«, says Mansour. With her work, she examines the subversive potentialities of montage. The collision of image and narrative sequences become a tool that produce transversal knowledges beyond the colonial-militaristic image. Mansour occupies the image in order to decolonize our mind. (Nathanja Van Dijk)
Commissioned by TBA21
Supported by Ashkal Alwan
Images: Alaa Mansour, The Mad Man's Laughter, 2021 © Alaa Mansour & VG Bildkunst