Covert Operations: Investigating the Known Unknowns, curated by Claire C. Carter, recently opened at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art(SMoCA), occupying the museum’s four exhibition spaces with intense focus. Encompassing digital media works, large scale photography and interactive installations, the exhibition questions what we know and what we think we know.
SMoCA writes: “Covert Operations: Investigating the Known Unknowns is the first major survey of a generation of artists working in the violent and uncertain decade following the 9/11 terrorist attacks to collect and reveal previously unreported or under-reported information. This group of international artists includes Ahmed Basiony, Thomas Demand, Hasan Elahi, Harun Farocki, Jenny Holzer, Trevor Paglen and Taryn Simon. They use legal procedures as well as traditional research methods and resources such as the Freedom of Information Act, government archives, field research and insider connections. The thirty-seven artworks included in Covert Operations employ the tools of democracy to bear witness to attacks on liberty and to embrace democratic ideals, open government and civil rights.
The exhibition title is a direct reference to Donald Rumsfeld’s eerie insight into our post 9/11 landscape. In 2002 he commented to the press corps: “[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” His assertion, although obfuscatory, is both logical and rhetorically accurate. Covert Operations presents work that directly address issues ranging from classified surveillance to terrorist profiling, narcotics trafficking to ghost detainees, and nuclear weapons to drone strikes.
The artworks in Covert Operations explore the complicated relationship between freedom and security, individuals and the state, fundamental extremism and democracy. Covert Operations demonstrates how visual art can be a platform for questioning and understanding the complex state of our post-9/11 world. These artists have each undertaken a weighty responsibility: make the invisible visible.
Covert Operations, funded in part by the prestigious Emily Hall Tremaine Exhibition Award Grants, is on view until January 11, 2015. For further info on the exhibition and engaging programming surrounding it, visit smoca.org