Beyond iconophrenzy- image destruction as a tool
In 2001 the Taliban ordered the elimination of all non-Islamic statues in Afghanistan marking the onset of the contemporary cultural image wars. They began with blowing up the 2000-year old giant Buddhas carved in the cliffs of Bamiyam. Soon after, the cultural symbol of America’s wealth and power, the Twin Towers fell. That same year photographer Thomas Hopker filed a complaint against artist Barbara Krueger for defacing his 1960 picture with Krueger’s overlaid text ‘It’s a small world, but not if you have to clean it.’
French theorist and anthropologist Bruno Latour reminds us that the gesture of image destruction has always coexisted with image-making. He called this cycle of eradication and production of cultural narrative, history and ideology Iconoclash. Like Latour, the artist Angie Eng analyzes the destruction of political monuments of the past three decades as a necessity for social transformation. She observes in the digital age of over-documentation, many are blinded by the spectacle of destruction. A tourist gaze fixates on the death of old ideas and the frenzy of demolition, rather than a critical eye that examines future narratives.
In contemporary art, as in the case of Krueger, creative iconoclash is referred to as remix or appropriation and is also met with resistance and legal battles. Critics of this creative strategy compare it to denigration, stealing, and even cultural colonization. A round table discussion on appropriation and remix will be held on August 14th at 2pm, discussing when the destruction of images is a tool and/or a weapon.