After the War – review

After the War (parts one and two)
A review of Anja Carr’s installation at Fincken, Bergen

By Emily Ward, 29th September 2008.

Anja Carr’s After the War (parts one and two) completely dominates the upstairs space in the Fincken pub, showing the aesthetic strength and presence the work has. The series is solely wall mounted and occupies very little three-dimensional space. There is a clear separation between parts one and two provided physically by a dividing wall and the contrasting use of media.

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Part one is an initial impressions; the more dominate half of the installation. On display are a series of grotesque, malformed heads; mounted in line on two walls of the room, well above reachable height, I might add! This is also a reference to the decorated deer head displayed above the bar downstairs. In the corner, interrupting the series of heads halfway is a full sized sculpture constructed in a similar style. The room is reminiscent of medieval chauvinistic grandeur; trophies and a suit of Armour as perhaps would be expected in a stately home. The falcon was also a symbol of status in the medieval male hierarchy, nobles were only allowed specific birds dependent on status.

Discovering the title of the piece enhanced this impression for me, the human race has an ongoing and eternal desire to show its dominance over both the animal world and ‘lesser men’. The filmed atrocities allegedly committed by both sides in ‘The War on Terror’ are contemporary examples of this. The fact that the heads are mounted like trophies implies the losers of this war were not perceived to be sentient beings but mere animals. Or perhaps we are merely returning to previous habits when the decapitated bodies of traitors were publicly displayed as a deterrent and show of power.

The full size dimension of the heads and use of organic materials create a distorted, warped sense of reality. Personally, I find the use of multi-tonal human hair has a similar effect on my senses as fingernails being scraped down a blackboard. If the heads were not so cartoon-like in their horror, this room would be a truly terrifying place to be! The sculptures retain elements of humour and western pop culture, I cannot help but be reminded of aliens from the Mos Eisley Cantina bar in Star Wars. The tears, however, do not sit right with me. They feel awfully twee, but perhaps this is the intention? Obviously it is hard to judge the success of this room when viewing it empty, with no bands, dancers and in stark daylight with no blacklights….

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Part Two is a more subtle installation yet has more power than Part One. The large heavily framed photograph draws the viewers’ attention, I found it very absorbing, the gaze of the figure is almost hypnotic. It is a very feminist, strong piece with inescapable religious connotations (as was discussed on Thursday). The small side table beneath the main photograph leads the imagination to an altar to the dead. The series is much more serene than part one, it is more melancholic; a memorial rather than a monument. The figure is, to me, a martyr, with the baby pink dress suggesting innocence lost.

Although After the War is not strictly site specific (it does not rely on the space to exist) it relates well to the club and its surrounding culture. The sculptures are flamboyant and grotesque; aesthetic comparisons to Leigh Bowery costumes are unavoidable. There are also more obvious references to contemporary artists, the Chapman Brothers and Sara Lucas. It is very disappointing to hear that members of the lesbian cliental feel so strongly against the piece, especially as the work has such a powerful feminist concept behind it. But, to paraphrase Romunde, a strong message tends to provoke a strong response against it. At least Anja can be confident in the knowledge that her work has provoked fierce debate, which is perhaps the most important purpose/effect of art.

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