Magazine article Artforum International

1000 Words: Christoph Buchel and Giovanni Carmine Talk about Psyop, 2005

Magazine article Artforum International

1000 Words: Christoph Buchel and Giovanni Carmine Talk about Psyop, 2005

Article excerpt

The professional relationship between Basel-based artist Christoph Buchel and Zurich-based curator Giovanni Carmine started traditionally enough: Carmine commissioned a work by Buchel for the 2002 group show "Unloaded: Coming Up for Air," which used former Swiss Army bunkers as its exhibition spaces. The next year, Harald Szeemann asked Buchel to contribute to "G 2003: A Village & a Small Town Receive Art," an outdoor sculpture show in Ticino, the Italian-speaking southern region of Switzerland, and Buchel invited Carmine to join him as an artistic collaborator. The partnership yielded Operation Ex Voto, in which they attempted to transplant a chapel from Vira, a village in Ticino, to Iraq.

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"The invasion of Iraq had just begun and we read that looted Iraqi artifacts from the National Museum were arriving in Ticino," explains Buchel. "Our idea was to dismantle and reconstruct a Swiss chapel in front of the National Museum in Baghdad or beside a road leading to the capital, as a transfer of cultural assets from Switzerland to Iraq." But at a late stage, the owner of the chapel, which was built as an ex-voto during the Russian army's invasion and looting of Ticino in the late eighteenth century, backed out under sudden pressure from the village of Vira and its citizens.

Nonetheless, Operation Ex Voto caught the attention of the curators for the Sharjah International Biennial, held last April in the United Arab Emirates. There, Buchel and Carmine unleashed their project PSYOP--Capture their minds and their hearts and souls will follow. Highlighting the US Army's psychological-warfare operations, the duo created a fake classroom in the Sharjah Art Museum where they screened a 1968 army training film to which they added Arabic subtitles. Filing cabinets in the room contained thousands of facsimiles of propaganda leaflets dropped during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and the current conflict in Iraq. These were available free to visitors, along with copies of a book that contained reproductions of 124 leaflets and translations Buchel and Carmine found online, such as "Coalition Forces support a brighter future for Iraq!" and "Who needs you more? Your family or the regime? Return to your home and family."

Christoph Buchel: Propaganda is a weapon. Since the 9/11 attacks, the United States--led coalition has dropped millions of leaflets on Afghanistan and Iraq, and they are still doing it. Physically, it's a rain of paper across the landscape. It's all about weakening and dissolving the unity and beliefs of the "enemy," destroying their sense of "reality" with a new "reality" that falls from the sky. Information designed to have a certain authority is dropped into a territory with the goal of undermining the local authority. Just the idea of information exploding from the sky, like manna from heaven, has a mythical side.

Giovannl Carmine: After we decided to develop the psychological-operations (psyops) theme for the Sharjah Biennial, we began to collect examples of military propaganda, like radio messages and leaflets. On the official CENTCOM [United States Central Command] website there were a lot of leaflets that had been removed, but we found them via different Internet links. Most of those sites, like psywarrior. …

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