This body of work is appropriated from a propaganda video released by ISIS showing the hand, hammer, and power tool-driven destruction of Assyrian and Hatrene sculptures at the Mosul Museum in northern Iraq. The video presents ideological contradiction; professing iconoclasm while generating and disseminating new images of a previously seldom-witnessed collection of objects. The video-makers include nearly two minutes of exposition shots to introduce their audience to the objects in the collection- in several instances removing tarps that had been draped on them by the fleeing museum staff- before destroying them. The majority of the world is therefore introduced to these sculptures in the narrow context of their imminent demise, creating a dissonant overlap in spectatorship between education and sensationalism. As Ömür Harmanşah explains in ISIS, Heritage, and the Spectacles of Destruction in Global Media the sculptures in the Mosul video serve as stand-ins for the humans who have suffered worse fates under the insurgency. By sharing ISIS’s propaganda video and citing it as proof for the destruction of these objects, our social media journalism plays into the group’s hands as we widely disseminate a more a palatable version (object destruction versus human execution) of displays of power against a people.
I appropriate several shots from this video using software and techniques learned as an American artist who freelances in the visual effects industry (ISIS undoubtedly uses some of the same software now). In earlier works from the series, I digitally painted out the perpetrators of the destruction to generate looped moments of ambiguous agency where sculptures appear to be tearing tarps off themselves. Given the complicated conditions of the collections existence upon ISIL’s arrival, with many sculptures living as plaster replicas whose original forms sit in Western museums, I transitioned to removing the sculptures themselves from the clips of their destruction. This object removal highlights the awkward theatricality of the terrorists’ repetitive motions while relieving the decimated sculptures of their role as propaganda bait.
The 3d-printed sculptures are built using only the pixels supplied by the video through a photogrammetry process. The accuracy of each replica (corresponding to a destroyed sculpture) is based on its allotted screen time and the stability of the footage (how much does the camera shake, are there objects masked by foreground elements, etc).