Under Fire is an ongoing art and research project that explores contemporary militarization and political violence. It delves into the structural, symbolic, and affective dimensions of contemporary armed conflicts: the organization, representation, and materialization of war.
At the first level, Under Fire foregrounds the structural conditions of violence. It addresses issues of economic production, territory, and operations of power. It looks to the history of the western military-industrial complex and its expanding network of extraterritorial enclaves and infrastructures. It looks at the rise of the privatized military industry and the global commercialization of arms, espionage, security, and military force. It looks at the production of militant or militarized space and its geometries of conflict. Understanding acts of violence not as isolated phenomena but as symptoms or effects, it situates cycles of conflict within the modalities of a global system. In this way it probes the nature of contemporary power and its resistance. Yet it also understands the intersection of space, system, and power in terms of realist ontologies — incorporating recent theories of emergent organization and ontogenetic form drawn from the physical sciences, philosophy, and science studies.
At the second level, Under Fire looks at the representation of violence and the role that images play as complex registers of symbolic meaning. It seeks to decode media using the tools of semiotic analysis, focusing on the social and cultural construction of knowledge. In this way it furthers the development of a critical spectatorship. Yet at the same time, it explores non-linguistic networks of interpretation, where representation is understood less in terms of a discrete visual artifact and more in terms of a dynamic, processual assembly: an increasingly malleable, reproducible, and reframeable event, generated by a multiplicity of human and technological actors, which operates at the symbolic, imaginative, and affective levels. Such a media ecology involves not only perception but sensation. It necessarily incorporates material, affective realities that resist symbolization, but which nonetheless play a powerful role in shaping consciousness and the belief systems that motivate action.
Following from this, at the third level, Under Fire does not simply focus on meaning but on the affective and motivational realms of human experience. These include the embodied qualities, sensations, magnitudes, and textures that form the substrata of communication, argument, and judgment. In other words, on par with the content of a particular message, equal attention is given to the quality of embodied resonance it engenders. Under Fire explores the ways that affects are harnessed and molded — through drill, routine, and symbolic ritual — in the training technologies of war, marketing, and religion, and therefore the role they play in the determination of collective identifications, aggressions, and “militarized subjectivities.” It therefore explores the politics of affect — whether in terms of the politics of fear, desire, or otherwise — and positions the affective realm as a biopolitical frontier. It seeks to understand how power operates at the level of the affective, and, in turn, how the affective becomes political.
This leads to important questions regarding the way that politics is constituted in this space between affect and discourse — or in other words, between ineffable states of embodied expression and larger rhetorical strategies. This session of Under Fire asks: When is expression or action rendered intelligible as a political force, instead of just turning around itself? What are the operations of power that determine its legitimacy? When does violence become political? How are new political spaces opened or invented? And in turn, how is subjectivity constituted therein — in terms of self-affectivity or discursive construction? Embodied enaction, “individuality,” or insertions into the field of the social?
Addressing these and other related questions, Under Fire explores the possibilities of a performative politics that can incorporate a multiplicity of somatic and symbolic registers: a performative politics not simply based on ideology alone but filtered through the lens of cultural fictions, rituals, imaginaries, intensities, and arts of the self. A performative politics that has the potential of inventing a new form of public speech and existence.