The OPF, looking south-east. Image by: Jonathan Gardner, CC BY-NC 4.0. 2012.
Please join us on Thursday, March 23rd at 18h15 at the Villa Vassilieff for a reading group organised by current AWARE: Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions researcher-in-residence Alexandra Symons-Sutcliffe. The reading group will be held in English.
Thursday, March 23rd, 18h15-20h15 at the Villa Vassilieff
Writing on the absence of images of acts sexual violence carried out by soldiers in the aftermath of war, the theorist Ariella Aïsha Azoulay stated “When we speak about conditions of systemic violence, we should not look for photographs of or about systemic violence, but explore photographs taken in such zones of systemic violence.” Meaning that evidence may not illustrate or prove an event, but it does not mean it did not happen and that its effects cannot be felt and accounted for. Azoulay calls for a turn away from a forensic conception of the documentary image and towards a participatory and performative understanding of photography as a political and social apparatus.
Lingering on the idea of the missing image and archival absence as a site of intensification of interest not a form of disinterest, this reading group pairs Azoulay’s essay with a section from Ian Sinclair’s aural history of the London borough of Hackney. Hackney That Rose-Red Empire records the author’s attempt to stabilise an image of Hackney’s left-wing counterculture of the 60s, 70s and 80s, through interviews with people who were there. Tales of political action and criminality are laced throughout the record of artistic and cultural production. The book includes a cast of mythic figures who appear and disappear though the chapters, none more elusive than Astrid Proll, a member of the West German terrorist organisation the Red Army Faction, who lived in hiding in London in the mid-1970s, where she was embedded within left-wing and feminist political circles.
In Sinclair’s interview Proll recounts her relationship to photography, a keen photographer, and later a magazine picture-editor, her time in London was threaded through with a fear of being photographed in case it led to identification and arrest. Proll occupies a unique position in twentieth-century history, a member of a terrorist group who rose up in violent protest against the complacency of a nation that wishes to move on from the crimes of National Socialism, her life maps onto and yet runs against the formation of the post-war German identity. Unlike many of the Red Army Faction, Proll has lived and worked in re-unified Germany and seen the fulfilment of the post-war liberal ideal.
Azoulay’s text is centred in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, when Allied and Soviet troops are estimated to have carried out up to 2,000,000 rapes against German civilian women. In 1945, the idea of German innocence was impossible, and against the backdrop of the Holocaust, the crimes committed against these women were not spoken of.
This reading group does not in any way seek to compare or contrast these crimes or adjudicate on the validity of political violence carried out by the state or terrorist citizens but brings together two texts which clearly demonstrate the moral ambiguity of the victim/ perpetrator dichotomy. And in doing so presents an argument for documentary and photography as a technology which frames ambivalence as much as it proves innocence or guilt.
We will read in advance, ‘The Blue Fence’ in Hackney That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report’ (2009) by Ian Sinclair and The Natural History of Rape (2018) by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay. Please register to rsvp and receive PDFs of the text. As indicated in the title of one of the texts, the reading and conversation will deal with sexual, as well as political violence. The session will start with an informal presentation by Symons-Sutcliffe on her current research into photography and visual culture that link British and German left-wing politics of the 1970s.
Alexandra Symons-Sutcliffe is an art historian who writes and curates. She is currently a PhD candidate at Birkbeck University, London where she is completing a dissertation on British documentary photography from the 1970s and 1980s. She has organised and contributed to exhibitions and events programmes at organisations including Halle für Kunst Lüneburg (DE), Four Corners (UK), MayDay Rooms (UK), Gallery 44 (CAD), Cabinet Magazine (DE), The Kitchen (US) and the Whitney Museum of American Art (US). This event is the first public outcome of her AWARE: Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions residency for research on women and non-binary photographers and video artists. A further public presentation will follow in April, and will be accompanied by a research article for the AWARE website.