Photographer David Birkin’s performance and discussion at HotShoe Gallery

© Marcin Dudek, detail David Birkin performance at HotShoe Gallery, 8 April 2010

To mark the end of the most recent show at HotShoe Gallery, one of the visual artists David Birkin, in collaboration with Vassilis Kantas and curator Louisa Adam, staged a performance followed by a discussion last Thursday. I was unable to stay for the duration of the event, but I offer a few thoughts and ideas brought up during the performance.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I sat down in the gallery. Birkin stood in one corner with his head and face bandaged. A copy of one of Phillip Jones Griffith’s iconic images, Civilian VictimVietnam, 1967, was taped to the gallery wall next to him. Meanwhile, Adam distributed a manila-coloured tag to each participant, on which she wrote the name of a dead Iraqi civilian, and ticked it off against a checklist before whispering the name to Birkin. My tag had the letters IBC written on it, followed by a number, k14718-kb1682, which corresponded to the name of a person who had been killed. In this case Hussein Majid Marbus. The tag referenced the one in the Jones Griffith photo. IBC stands for Iraq Body Count and is, according to their website, “an ongoing human security project which maintains and updates the world’s largest public database of violent civilian deaths during and since the 2003 invasion. The count encompasses non-combatants killed by military or paramilitary action and the breakdown in civil security following the invasion”.

© Marcin Dudek; HotShoe Gallery, David Birkin performance and discussion

© Marcin Dudek; David Birkin and Louisa Adam

When all the tags were distributed, Birkin unwound the bandage and told the audience that, to date, IBC has put the number of civilians killed at between 96,000 – 105,000 which is far higher than official military statistics. During the discussion a number of points were raised and debated. Amongst these, Birkin suggested that the act of covering and hooding resulted in an “erasure” of identity. However, I felt that identity could be viewed as having been concealed, rather than erased. The act of concealing, covering and obscuring all have different resonances. In the Jones Griffith image, which Birkin said he found “fascinating”, what was of particular interest is how the the civilian victim’s charred hand raised to the bandaged face obscures it, adding a further concealment of identity.

Birkin also showed images he had sourced from the internet as a result of putting the term “Burka” into Google’s search engine, as well as images from Abu Gharib, including one showing an Iraqi prisoner standing in a pose reminiscent of religious iconography wearing a pointed hood with eye holes cut out, similar to those worn in the Catholic Semana Santa processions and by members of the Klu Klux Klan. Further points of interest for me included questions concerning gender and violence (a huge topic in itself), as well as how the use of a blindfold prevents the person wearing it from looking out, as well as from being looked in the eye. This is seen in Paul Delaroche’s famous painting, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, which Birkin also showed. The use of a hood with the eye holes cut out allows the person wearing it to not only  look out, but also to be looked in the eye.

3 responses to “Photographer David Birkin’s performance and discussion at HotShoe Gallery

  1. Pingback: Photo News – Photographers Gallery announces FreshFaced and WildEyed finalists and The World in London project | HotshoeBlog: Fresh Perspectives on Contemporary Photography

  2. Pingback: Photo News – The Photographers’ Gallery announces FreshFaced and WildEyed finalists and The World in London project

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