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"Catalyst: Contemporary Art and War" on view at the Imperial War Museum North
Angus Boulton, Cinema Mural, Krampnitz.

MANCHESTER.- IWM holds an unrivalled collection of twentieth and twenty-first century British art. Now, IWM North, part of Imperial War Museums, in Manchester is presenting the first major exhibition of IWM’s collection of contemporary art produced since the First Gulf War - placing more than 20 years of work by over 40 artists in this national collection on public display together for the first time.

The exhibition includes Steve McQueen’s Queen and Country, an installation of facsimile stamp sheets bearing photographic portraits of British service personnel killed in Iraq, and Photo Op, kennardphillipps’ very different comment on the war in Iraq, showing Tony Blair taking a ‘selfie’ in front of an explosion. This large-scale, free exhibition features responses to conflict since the First Gulf War by some of the most significant artists exploring war and conflict today - such as Langlands and Bell, Miroslaw Balka, Willie Doherty, Paul Seawright, Ori Gersht, Jananne Al Ani and Edmund Clark.

Catalyst : Contemporary Art and War reveals how war has been crucial subject matter for contemporary artists in the last two decades. Visitors will explore the rich, varied and moving artistic response to conflict in a media age. Hear from the artists themselves and discover what motivates people to create art about conflict. Explore the ways in which art can prompt us to think more deeply about current events, their immediate impact and their long-term implications.

Through more than 70 works, the exhibition shows the broad range of approaches artists use to explore this vast and complex subject. The exhibition showcases installations, photography, film, sculpture, oil paintings, prints and book works; varying from the highly moving to the humorous, philosophical or outraged.

In recent years the media has become an acknowledged weapon of battle. At a time when our understanding of war is increasingly shaped by the media and the internet, discover how art can prompt us to consider the way the media not only influences our current perceptions of conflict, but how it shapes the way history is written. Rasheed Araeen’s White Stallion explores the role of the media by questioning the nature of propaganda during the First Gulf War, while Paul Seawright seeks an alternative way of photographing war through his images of empty, but lethal minefields in Afghanistan.

Artists are often driven by their own experiences, political views or a desire to protest. Taysir Batniji’s series of estate agent details for destroyed homes in Gaza is a tongue-in-cheek comment on the situation in Palestine. Some artists aim to counter common opinions, while others explore the legacy of their own family history, or the long-term impact of conflict. Willie Doherty's photograph Unapproved Road, showing a rural makeshift roadblock, suggests a violent past event and reminds us of the significance of land and territory in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

Langlands and Bell’s interactive installation, The House of Osama bin Laden, where visitors perform an inconclusive search for bin Laden, or Edmund Clark’s photographs of Guantanamo, both reflect on points in time where the traditional boundaries and ethics of conflict are called into question.

Accompanying the work on display there are a series of new interviews, specially commissioned by IWM, with artists whose work is on display, including Langlands and Bell, kennardphillipps and Paul Seawright.

Catalyst: Contemporary Art and War presents a unique opportunity to view new and recent acquisitions to IWM’s Collections, including works by Taysir Batniji, and Edmund Clark, films by Kerry Tribe and Ori Gersht, and a print series by Miroslaw Balka. The exhibition presents some of IWM’s official commissions: Queen and Country, Steve McQueen’s response to the war in Iraq; Paul Seawright’s photographs of Afghanistan and Langland and Bell’s unnerving interactive installation: The House of Osama Bin Laden.

IWM North itself – designed by world renowned architect Daniel Libeskind to represent a globe shattered by conflict – is a contemporary response to war.

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December 16, 2013

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