How can we make visible the violence that is happening around us and at the same time address the ethical questions that arise from the portrayal of violence in the mass media? This is exactly what artist, philosopher and programmer Leonardo Aranda makes visible in his project »Gore Devaluation Tool« for the web residencies by Solitude & ZKM on the topic »Violent Consumer Media« curated by Dani Ploeger. Aranda asks how technology can become a political gesture to problematize the circulation and valorization of these types of images and to seek methods to counter them. In our interview with the artist we talk about the relationship between technology, theory and art in addressing the aesthetic, ethical, and political values of our consumer media.
Schlosspost: In your proposal you refer to the term »Gore Capitalism« as described by the philosopher Zayak Valencia. Could you explain more about this term and your thoughts on it?
Leonardo Aranda: The term Gore Capitalism is used to describe one of the current facets of capitalism in which death itself becomes an integral part of the processes of reproduction of capital. That is, where the body and the destruction of bodies becomes merchandise. In this sense, the term is close to Achille Mbembe’s term »necrocapitalism,« but goes beyond this, arguing that extreme violence and its crudeness is not something in conflict with the logic of neoliberalism or modern state, but it is an integral part of these, since the theatricalization of violence supports the processes of financial market speculation and justify new forms of political control. At the same time, this position points to the construction of particular forms of subjectivity of this form of capitalism, which Valencia calls »enraged subjects,« which are characterized by being immersed in an episteme of violence, where work, social belonging and the possibility of social ascent are subsumed to a logic of violence.
From my point of view, Zayak Valencia’s proposal is one of the most interesting in understanding the type of violence in which Mexican society has been submerged in the last decade, since it shows the absurdity of the official narratives that try to explain violence as the result of a confrontation between the state and the drug cartels, where the victims are collateral damage; and on the other hand, it assumes the challenge of understanding this phenomenon without moral overtones that explain violence in terms of barbarism or through the mythification of criminals. In this sense, this term provides conceptual tools to understand violence from the systematics in which it is produced and reproduced, also giving the possibility of locating it not as a local phenomenon, but as the result of global processes of advancing neoliberalism and its new forms of value production.
»For the current project, the challenge has been to find ways to counteract the dominant forms of representation of violence, as well as its circulation, which makes use of highly graphic content to feed consumption while generating cultural forms that perpetuate such violence.«
SP: Your work touches on this very sensitive subject, the visualization of torture, executions, and how the mainstream media is used as a tool to publish these images. The power of the mainstream media in this sense is the increased circulation, reaching out to a wider audience and spreading fear. How did your thoughts on this issue originate, and how does your proposal respond to this?
LA: The issue of how to show violence has been at the center of several of my works, through the tension that appears between the importance of making visible the violence that happens around us, while addressing the ethical issues that emerge from showing violence directly, in relation to the desensitization of people, the commodification of violence, the spread of fear, and the revictimization of people affected by such violence. Put in other words: I do not want to numb myself to violence, but at the same time, I don’t think seeing the image of a corpse every time I pass a magazine stand or open a social network provides information or tools to better understand what happens around me. In this sense, in my recent projects I have been exploring ways to make violence visible without resorting to its reproduction. In Monument to the disappeared [www.monumentoalosdesaparecidos.cc], for example, I work with an archive of around 35,000 missing persons, who are represented by voicing their names, in a search to combat abstraction and oblivion, but at the same time looking for alternative forms of representation that dignify these people. Another strategy that I have used in this sense is cartography, so for example in The war is not against drugs, is against people [http://medialabmx.org/leonardo/guerranarcomorelos.html] I seek to make violence visible while challenging official narratives about it.