CINDY WEBER: ‘I am an American’

New Sciences of Protection Conference: Exhibition on the theme ‘Designing Safe Citizens’ by Cindy Weber.

On 21 September 2001 – ten days after 9/11 – the Ad Council in the United States launched its ‘I am an American’ advertising campaign. The exhibition unsettles the Ad Council’s smooth presentation of post 9/11 American patriotism through interviews with those for whom, very recently, US citizenship has been anything but ‘safe.’ These include the son of undocumented immigrant Elvira Arellano, Greg and Glenda Avery, Hurricane Katrina evacuees who became ‘internally displaced’ refugees, and James Yee, a US army Muslim chaplain wrongly accused of being a terrorist spy. The pieces show how the fantasy of unity, wholeness and security pedalled by the designers of safe citizenship in the US remain just that, fantasies. The exhibition disarticulates and rearticulates what it means to be a US citizen in a post 9/11 context, enactments neatly summed up in Cindy Weber’s provocative reversal the US motto “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of many, One) to read, ‘out of one, Many.’
The original Ad Council release

Greg and Glenda Avery: We are americans

James Yee: I am an American

Thank you to our fabulous Joseph Rigby for this great summary

Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Strange Culture: An introduction by Jackie Stacey

“Seduction” (1986), a photograph from a series by Ms. Hershman Leeson called “Phantom Limb.”

As part of the ‘New Sciences of Protection’ conference a screening of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Strange Culture was arranged. Jackie Stacey, RICC, University of Manchester, introduced the film…

Lynn Hershman Leeson has been making visual investigations of the integration of the human body and the machine and of fantasy personae for 50 years now. In particular, Leeson has been fascinated by deception, artifice and the fluid boundary between secure and insecure identities. Long before the current anxieties about security and safety, Leeson explored the technologies of the self that meant that we could adopt other people’s identities or even make up fictional ones and get people to believe in them. One of her early pieces of work involved Leeson developing a persona, Roberta Breitmore. She appeared as a performance, when Leeson took up this identity as a disguise herself, wearing a blonde wig, costume and make-up; Roberta also appeared in photographs. Roberta’s existence was substantiated when she got an apartment, employment, a psychoanalyst, a driver’s license and credit cards. When Roberta put an ad in a San Francisco newspaper for a roommate/companion, it prompted dozens of responses. Roberta agreed to meet each person (mostly men) three times only to avoid too much intimacy, and each of these meetings was recorded in surveillance photographs and tape recordings. More recently in Leeson’s exhibition of her work in the virtual environment Second Life, Roberta has re-appeared, and we hope that Lynn will be joining us here at the Dukes after the film screening through her Second Life avatar, Roberta, to discuss some of the ideas in Strange Culture on the director’s behalf.

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Strange Culture: miniclip

Strange Culture at the Designing Safe Living conference

Next month during the Designing Safe Living conference in Lancaster, director Lynn Hershman-Leeson‘s film about the artist Steve Kurtz called ‘Strange Culture’ will be screened on Friday, July 11th. Lynn will then be giving an interview live on Second Life after the screening.

Strange Culture examines the case of artist and professor Steve Kurtz, a member of the Critical Art Ensemble (CAE). The work of Kurtz and other CAE members dealt with genetically modified food and other issues of science and public policy. After his wife, Hope, died of heart failure, paramedics arrived and became suspicious when they noticed petri dishes and other scientific equipment related to Kurtz’s art in his home. They summoned the FBI, who detained Kurtz within hours on suspicion of bioterrorism.

As Kurtz could not legally talk about the case, the film uses actors to interpret the story, as well as interviews with Kurtz and other figures involved in the case. Through a combination of dramatic reenactment, news footage, animation, and testimonials, the film scrutinizes post-9/11 paranoia and suggests that Kurtz was targeted because his work questions government policies. At the film’s close, Kurtz and his long-time collaborator Dr. Robert Ferrell, former chair of the Genetics Department at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, await a trial date.

As of late May, 2008, the Buffalo Prosecutor has declined to reopen the case within the 30 day window in which he was allowed to do so. So, Steve Kurtz is free.

Film series: CRASH

Crash by JG Balllard
CRASH by David Cronenberg

On 26th November, Bruce Bennett from Lancaster University introduced the screening of Crash (Cronenberg, 1996) at Dukes Cinema as part of the NSOP:DSL film series.

Crash is the 1996 film adaptation of a 1973 novel by British writer JG Ballard. It was directed and adapted for the screen by Canadian director David Cronenberg who is a particularly appropriate director as his films share Ballard’s preoccupation with the way identity and experience is shaped by modern technological society. His films are also marked by an impassivity and formal restraint that neatly parallels the emotional coolness of Ballard’s writing.

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Film series: SAFE

SAFE by Todd Haynes

On October 16th, Cindy Weber introduced the film ‘Safe’ directed by Todd Haynes and released in 1995. It is the first film in the program of films co-sponsored by Dukes Cinema and IAS program year New Sciences of Protection: Designing Safe Living. (see film schedule here>)

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