Virtual Exhibition: It Might Be Nothing, But It Could Be Something

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Tamara Kametani: Failed Monuments

The UrbTerr research team and Eastside Projects are delighted to announce that our collaborative (In)Security exhibition has now launched as an online gallery with Stream. The various projects that make up the It Might Be Nothing, But It Could Be Something exhibition constitute a multi-disciplinary approach to questions of (in)security and terrorism in modern urban spaces, and propose to examine new forms of surveillance and technologies, crime prevention and the use of public space, responding to the differing ways in which these inform our perspectives of urban safety. Using Birmingham as a case study, the project seeks to encourage critical conversations about counter-terrorism measures by exposing and challenging prevailing assumptions about what – if anything – can make us feel more secure in urban spaces. Whilst we will be opening the exhibition in the physical gallery space as soon as we are able, we encourage viewers to take a virtual tour of the space and to explore each artist’s contribution on the interactive website. On April 15th at 1pm, Eastside Projects will also be hosting a lunchtime conversation with the artists and academics involved in the project: tickets for this event are available free from Eventbrite.

The first installation on the virtual tour is Faisal Hussein’s sculptural work: on the front of the gallery building itself, Faisal has created an illuminated sign which reads “stop colonising our futures”. Inside the exhibition space, his illuminated street bollards guide the viewer’s route around the gallery. These works incorporate, isolate and re-present academic reports analysing the PREVENT/CHANNEL de-radicalisation processes, bearing words such as “insecurity proves itself” as well as the title of the exhibition, “it may be nothing but it could be something”. These bollards, in Faisal’s work, stand to represent the reordering of cities for the supposed protection of their inhabitants, and the font chosen for the text evokes emotive responses and questions the terminology and often racialized nature of such legislation. Faisal’s sculptures ask whether these measures do indeed make Birmingham’s citizens feel safer, or if they exercise a more paradoxical effect, instead inspiring feelings of fear or terror.

The virtual tour also includes an audio element: this is Chloe Sami’s contribution to the project, an operatic recording which plays on a loop throughout the space. As part of her research for the (In)security project, Chloe interviewed a group of women living in Birmingham about their feelings around personal safety and terrorism in the city, in order to understand their own personal experiences and perspectives. Through these interviews it became evident that terrorism was much less of a concern than the perceived threat from men in the day-to day experience of walking around the city. A trained opera singer, Sami used four of the interviews to create an operatic score, setting fragments of each of the women’s interviews to music in rondo form. The four individual parts of the score ask various questions about safety and gender – for example, “would a man not go there at night?” – encouraging the listener to interrogate the relationships between gender, security, surveillance and the difference between issues of counter-terrorism and personal safety. In between each story, the piece repeats the ostinato “shall we ever see the end of all this?”, which serves to link each interviewee’s own outlook with the shared underlying emotion experienced by women in the city.

Rebecca Huxley‘s work for the (In)security project comprises a live research website at www.gt.lightdark.space. This research explores how darkness and safety are related and understood, and are constructed through our own social, cultural, geographical and historical experiences. Her work examines what kind of knowledge these experiences produce, by experimenting with an adapted methodology for ‘ground-truthing’ during Covid-19, which combines data analysis, image processing, storytelling, archival practices and field studies. Her work also asks how these collective processes also contribute to creating alternative practices of care and ontologies for addressing considerations on darkness and artificial light at night (ALAN), and their impact on both human and more-than-human. The website will be continually updated throughout the exhibition as Rebecca continues to collect new information, responding to recent events and data, to environmental and location-based constraints, assembling and juxtaposing as situations evolve.

On the right-hand wall of the online exhibition stream, the viewer will also see Alejandro Acín‘s Duty or Freedom, a video installation which explores the  malleability of the definition “terrorist” in UK legislation as something vague, broad and widely criticized by experts, courts and academics. In his work, the law becomes a metaphorical knife which can be used as a tool but also as a weapon to shape historical narratives or slice civilian rights with problematic counter-terrorist measures: the work explores the borders of public discourse on terror, counter-terrorism and security, examining both state terror and “terrorism from below”. Using text, sculptural objects, photography and video to highlight certain gaps, silences and blind spots, Alejandro juxtaposes cases of state terrorism in the UK, such as the Iraq war, where state actors are distanced from culpability and accountability, with current counter-terrorism measures imposed by the UK government; in particular the ‘Stop and Search’ programme, which has been widely criticised for its racial bias. In contrasting these situations, Alejandro’s work interrogates the definition of terrorism and the power behind such an act.

Tamara Kametani‘s work, Failed Monuments, also takes the form of a video installation, from which the image header used in this piece was taken. The piece was informed by ‘Project Champion’, a security programme paid for by  the central government’s counter terrorism fund in 2010 which installed over 200 CCTV and ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) cameras in two predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham. This project was presented as a means of combating crime and improving the safety of the area; however, the project’s actual purpose was not disclosed to the local council and was subsequently met with severe backlash from the community. Tamara’s visual and audio work reflects on the language and the peculiar methods used in the aftermath of this surveillance crisis, employed as an effort to undo the damage and regain the trust of the community.

Tickets for the informal lunchtime Q&A with the artists on April 15th are available for free from Eventbrite.

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