In 2008, a group of international participants, young curators, and lecturers of the Postgraduate Programme in Curating at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) generated a set of questions on the Aesthetics of Terror exhibition. Originally planned to be shown at the Chelsea Art Museum, New York, the show was pulled by the curators Manon Slome and Joshua Simon following ‘institutional demands’ that would have compromised the integrity of the project. After this cancelation, which was shortly before the scheduled opening in November 2008, Slome then resigned from her position as chief curator at CAM.
Following these incidents, the curators: Olaf Arndt, Moritz von Rappard, Janneke Schönenbach, Cecilia Wee, in their exhibition Embedded Art (Akademie der Künste, Berlin 24.01.2009 - 22.03.2009;), offered “virtual asylum” to Aesthetics of Terror, inviting curators Manon Slome and Joshua Simon to present their exhibition through Embedded Art’s video projection programme. Through this inclusion, Slome and Simon introduced the selected works in Berlin and the “Aesthetics of Terror” weekend was the only occasion for visitors to view these works as an entire installation before they were drawn together as a book project, released with Charta Books in 2009.
The Postgraduate Programme in Curating also exhibited the project at the White Space, in Zurich as a slide show with images from the Berlin show and other documentation, together with a list of questions on the context and meaning of the project. This was accompanied by workshops and talks with Joshua Simon, Friedemann Derschmidt, Karin Schneider, Tal Adler.
Terror is, in and of itself, an image making machine. The very point of terror is a spectacle that plays endlessly in the media. In the events of 11.09.2001, thousands have died, but billions of people watched the attack and the falling towers endlessly until those images were etched into the global psyche. While terrorism and its representations have been widely discussed ever since the attack, very few of these contemplations have tackled the issue of specific formal qualities and pictorial strategies of terrorism.
The exhibition The Aesthetics of Terror tries to do exactly that; namely, it investigates certain visual characteristics of the spectacle of terror and its echoes in contemporary art. The exhibition employs the distinction made by artist Roee Rosen on the principle gap between representations of underground terrorism, produced by terrorist groups, and images of State terror - this is the gap between figuration and abstraction. The representational apparatus of State terror, says Rosen, is based on the blurring or erasure of central figures, exchanging it for abstraction: Smart Bombs’ aerial views of bombardments, for example, or the blocking of visibility by grids or satellite type images that obscure rather than illuminate. On the other end, representations of underground terrorism strive for a central, powerful figure or symbol – the portrait of a suicide bomber, collapsing skyscrapers and the icon of bearded Osama Bin Laden with his golden gown and triangular composition - “this is an icon in the religious sense: a human, semi-divine person whose very appearance defies the divide of life and death,” Rosen claims (Western (Maarvon) – New Film Magazine, Issue 1, Dec. 2005, p. 59).
The works in The Aesthetics of Terror map the relationship between abstraction and technology; colour and violence, pixilated images and sovereignty, saturation and contour, authenticity and resolution. The Aesthetics of Terror, suggests an emergence of an artistic sensibility. This has been informed by the imagery and politics of terrorism in the media.
Manon Slome is founder and chief curator of No Longer Empty, an organization which engages new audiences for contemporary art through site specific exhibitions in non traditional spaces. Since the organization was formed in 2009, she has curated some 14 exhibitions which have been accompanied enriching cultural and educational programming that have sought to leave a legacy for the community. She was Chief Curator of the Chelsea Art Museum from 2003 -2008 where she worked with such artists as Leon Golub, Mona Hatoum, Jose Parla, Federico Uribe, Mimo Rotella, Michael Bevilacqua, Miwa Yanagi and Shu Lee Shang.Group shows she curated include“Dangerous Beauty,” “Such Stuff as Dreams are Made on” and “The Incomplete.” At the Guggenheim Museum, (1995-2003), Slome organized Africa: The Art of a Continent, China 5000 Years and the Art of the Motorcycle.
Slome has curated exhibitions internationally and has published and lectured widely on contemporary art. She was also a curatorial consultant to the Annenburg Space for Photography for the exhibition, Beauty Culture. She is a recipient of the Helena Rubinstein Curatorial Fellowship at the Whitney Independent Study program. She earned her Doctorate at the University of Sussex, England and pursued post- doctoral studies at Columbia University, New York. She is currently working on an exhibition for the affordable housing project in Sugar Hill designed by David Adjaye under the auspices of the Broadway Housing Community and working on a book, “Running on Empty” which covers the first five years of No Longer Empty.
Joshua Simon is director and chief curator at MoBY – Museums of Bat Yam. He is co-founding editor of Maayan Magazine for literature, poetry and ideas, Maarvon (Western) – New Film Magazine, and The New & Bad Art Magazine, all based in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Simon is a 2011-2013 fellow at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, The New School, New York, and a PhD candidate at the Curatorial/Knowledge program at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Simon is co-editor of The Aesthetics of Terror (Chrata books, 2009), and the editor of Solution 196-213: United States of Palestine-Israel (Sternberg Press, 2011). His book Neomaterialism came out earlier this year (Sternberg Press, 2013).