The Baltimore Museum of Art is presenting new work by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, the first exhibition of the provocative duo’s work in a U.S. museum. In their new series, as in nearly all their collaborations dating back to the late 1990s, the South African-born, London-based artists examine the subject of power: who wields it and how. Though they work with photography and video, they have clearly demonstrated their skepticism about photography and its role in protecting existing power structures. In their book War Primer 2, for example, they remade the poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht’s 1955 War Primer, covering Brecht’s collages of propagandistic photos from World War II with news images of the American War on Terror. (The book won the Deutsche Börse Prize in 2013.) In “To Photograph the Details of a Dark Horse in Low Light,” they examined how the chemistry and use of film stock from the 1970s favored Caucasian skin tones over darker complexions.
The theme of the show, on view until September 11 in the Front Room of the Baltimore Museum of Art, is war. The centerpiece is “Rudiments,” their 12-minute film about young cadets being trained to drum and march in unison at a military camp in England. The training is disrupted by a “bouffon,” a dark jester who mocks their drills. The exhibition also features still lifes showing tools of war. Large prints depict what look like lumps of rock but are in fact bullets, found after the U.S. Civil War, that had collided and fused in midair. A series of images show prisms, tools that, like cameras, can alter rays of light, but in this case were adapted for use as scopes on rifles during World War II. The contrast between the lumps of lead and the gleaming, polished prisms marks two points in the mechanization of warfare: from close-range fighting between combatants who could see each other’s faces to long-range, deadly accurate killing. Broomberg and Chanarin include in the show some diagrams of the prism designs etched onto small copper plates. The photos are simple and straightforward, yet they bring home the materiality of the mechanisms used to kill. It’s a rare opportunity for U.S. viewers to see Broomberg and Chanarin’s brand of thoughtful provocation up close. —Holly Stuart Hughes
Broomberg and Chanarin Win 2013 Deutsche Borse Prize (For PDN subscribers; Log in required)