Government, Conspiracy and Art Converge at SMoCA In COVERT OPERATIONS

Ahmed Basiony, 30 Days of Running in the Place (still), 2010/2011. Two-channel color digital video installation with two-channel soundtrack; run time and dimensions variable. Footage from the 2010 performance of 30 Days of Running in the Place and the 2011 Tahrir Square protests, edited by Shady El Noshokaty. Courtesy of the Basiony Estate. © Basiony Estate

Ahmed Basiony, 30 Days of Running in the Place (still), 2010/2011. Two-channel color digital video installation with two-channel soundtrack; run time and dimensions variable. Footage from the 2010 performance of 30 Days of Running in the Place and the 2011 Tahrir Square protests, edited by Shady El Noshokaty. Courtesy of the Basiony Estate. © Basiony Estate

Jenny Holzer, Ribs, 2010. Eleven LED signs with blue, red and white diodes, text: US government documents, 58 1/4 x 5 1/4 x 5 3/4 inches each. Courtesy of the artist and Cheim & Read, New York. © 2010 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Richard-Max Tremblay

Jenny Holzer, Ribs, 2010. Eleven LED signs with blue, red and white diodes, text: US government documents, 58 1/4 x 5 1/4 x 5 3/4 inches each. Courtesy of the artist and Cheim & Read, New York. © 2010 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Richard-Max Tremblay

Trevor Paglen, Untitled (Reaper Drone), 2010. Chromogenic print, 48 x 60 inches. Courtesy the artist and Altman Siegel, San Francisco; Metro Pictures, New York; and Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne. © Trevor Paglen

Trevor Paglen, Untitled (Reaper Drone), 2010. Chromogenic print, 48 x 60 inches. Courtesy the artist and Altman Siegel, San Francisco; Metro Pictures, New York; and Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne. © Trevor Paglen

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.

Kerry Tribe, Untitled (Potential Terrorist) (SMoCA installation view), 2002. 16mm black-and-white film; 30 min., dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and 1301PE, Los Angeles. © Kerry Tribe. Photo: Chris Loomis

Kerry Tribe, Untitled (Potential Terrorist) (SMoCA installation view), 2002. 16mm black-and-white film; 30 min., dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and 1301PE, Los Angeles. © Kerry Tribe. Photo: Chris Loomis

Jenny Holzer, Phoenix yellow white (detail), 2006. Oil on linen, seven elements, text: US government document, 33 x 25 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches each. Courtesy of the artist and Cheim & Read, New York. © 2006 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Jenny Holzer, Phoenix yellow white (detail), 2006. Oil on linen, seven elements, text: US government document, 33 x 25 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches each. Courtesy of the artist and Cheim & Read, New York. © 2006 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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.

Harun Farocki_Watson

Harun Farocki, Serious Games I: Watson Is Down (stills), 2010. Two-channel digital color video projection with sound; 8 min., dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali Gallery, New York. © 2010 Harun Farocki

Anne-Marie Schleiner and Luis Hernandez Galvan, Corridos (still), 2005. Interactive video game in arcade installation; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artists. © Anne-Marie Schleiner and Luis Hernandez Galvan

Anne-Marie Schleiner and Luis Hernandez Galvan, Corridos (still), 2005. Interactive video game in arcade installation; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artists. © Anne-Marie Schleiner and Luis Hernandez Galvan

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

David Gurman, Memorial for the New American Century, 2014. Bronze bell cast 1905 by the McShane Foundry, Baltimore, Maryland; SMS citizen reportage data from iraqbodycount.org; computer; custom software; MAX 5; Site Sucker; electromechanical tolling mechanisms; pulleys; galvanized steel cabling. Courtesy of the artist. © David Gurman. Photo: Chris Loomis

David Gurman, Memorial for the New American Century, 2014. Bronze bell cast 1905 by the McShane Foundry, Baltimore, Maryland; SMS citizen reportage data from iraqbodycount.org; computer; custom software; MAX 5; Site Sucker; electromechanical tolling mechanisms; pulleys; galvanized steel cabling. Courtesy of the artist. © David Gurman. Photo: Chris Loomis

Trevor Paglen, Five Classified Squadrons, ongoing. Five fabric patches, framed, 15 1/4 x 32 3/4 x 2 1/4 inches overall.  Courtesy the artist and Altman Siegel, San Francisco; Metro Pictures, New York; and Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne. © Trevor Paglen

Trevor Paglen, Five Classified Squadrons, ongoing. Five fabric patches, framed, 15 1/4 x 32 3/4 x 2 1/4 inches overall. Courtesy the artist and Altman Siegel, San Francisco; Metro Pictures, New York; and Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne. © Trevor Paglen

Hasan Elahi, Orb, 2013. 72-channel digital color video installation; three elements, 72 inches in diameter each; installation dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist. © Hasan Elahi. Photo: Chris Loomis

Hasan Elahi, Orb, 2013. 72-channel digital color video installation; three elements, 72 inches in diameter each; installation dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist. © Hasan Elahi. Photo: Chris Loomis

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