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Terrible Beauties

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Bernadette Buckley


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"Terrible Beauties" is one of sixteen peer-reviewed texts selected for publication in 'Art in the Age of Terrorism'. It was co-edited by Professor Maurice Owen (Director of Southampton Solent University's Centre for Advanced Scholarship in Art and Design) and Dr Graham Coulter Smith (Post Doctoral Research Fellow at CASAD). Taken as a whole, the publication sets out to respond to the so-called 'war on terror' as declared by President Bush in the wake of the attack on 9/11 on the WTC. From within this perspective, the chapter 'Terrible Beauty' has a dual function. Firstly, it sets out to explore how art and art theory can use visual languages to remodel and critique existing debates around 'terrorism'. Secondly, it functions as a means to re-form these very debates and, by so doing, to find new ways of voicing 'the unspeakable' through the 'aesthetic'. To date, there are no comparable texts which deal with the relationship between contemporary art practices and terrorism. Specifically, 'Terrible Beauties' has two overall aims. Firstly, it aims to question the validity of 'Art and Terrorism' as a conceptual/ aesthetic framework; and secondly, it aims to interrogate (for the first time) the connection between 'aesthetic' and 'terroristic' practices as occurring in the wake of the 'war against terrorism'. The over-arching aims of the essay are extrapolated out in the following ways. For example, the essay asks 'What are the 'aesthetic' consequences for creating an intellectual framework within which 'art' is tied to 'terrorism'?' What dangers are inherent in artworks being 'used' to address the conditions of their own practice, solely by way of their responses to 'terrorism'? Within this intellectual framework, the essay has three specific objectives. Firstly, its objective is to deconstruct, not just the terms 'terrorism' and 'terror' but also the so-called 'aesthetic dimension' of terror - i.e. the notion of the 'sublime' as variously produced by the enlightenment critic Edmund Burke and the post-structuralist writer, Paul Virilio. Secondly, its objective is to conduct a rigorous interrogation of the term 'terror' - from etymological, historical, art historical and political perspectives. Consequently, the essay reveals the elasticity and ambiguities inherent in any definition of the term 'terrorism' and demonstrated the absurdity in dubbing one particular historical period as an 'age of terrorism over and above any other historical age. Thirdly, the essay closely examines a number of contemporary artists' practices - those conceived precisely in terms of their interrogation of 'terrorism'. In so doing, it brings together for the first time, a group of contemporary art practices as considered precisely from the perspective of their use of and/or connection to 'terrorism'. For example, the Guerrilla Girls, and to a lesser extent, the work of Ronald Jones and Hakim Bey, have all been critically evaluated in recent decades. However, never before have such practices been explored precisely from the perspective of their being connected with 'terrorism'. Neither have they been re-grouped into a constellation of practices which incorporates also the work of younger artists such as Oreet Ashery, Runa Islam and The Cultural Terrorist Agency. The essay has two principle methods for addressing the aims and objectives above: on the one hand, its methodology is a critical-deconstructive one and on the other, it is case-specific and rooted in relevant selected art practices as itemised above. From a critical-deconstructive perspective, this method exploits the writings of the contemporary critics Nicolas Bourriaud and Paul Virillo in order to discover whether or not the overall intellectual framework of 'art and terrorism' has the effect of portraying the 'aesthetic' from the position of its already having been overcome by the 'political'. However, in tandem with this critical-reflective methodology, the essay also takes a ‘practical’ approach, conducting a number of close examinations into pertinent art practices from the Ashery to the Cultural Terrorism Agency. By way of conclusion, this essay finds that the nature of the 'aesthetic' has been re-invented in the early 21st century. Far from existing autonomously in some isolated sphere outside of politics and societal change - 'aesthetics' in the 21st century is here proposed as precisely that which enacts a synchopation between the one-time separate realms of 'aesthetics' and 'ethics'. Word Length: 6400 words

Publication metadata

Author(s): Buckley B

Editor(s): Coulter Smith, G., Owen, M.

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: Art in the Age of Terrorism

Year: 2005

Pages: 244

Publisher: Paul Holberton Publishing

Place Published: London

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9781903470411