Disorienting Art

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Review of Observations, Christopher Stewart, Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool

Who watches the watchers? How mundane can a place of violence be? What does a politic of fear, in a war without end, look like?

These are the kinds of questions that are posed by Christopher Stewart's work. In his previous exhibition, Insecurity, were photographs of fleeting and nervous figures who were engaged in security practices which became their opposite, and where even the assassins appeared beatific while sleeping.

Now, in his latest exhibition, Observations, we see images of structures that, while devoid of figures, are deserted spaces which are not empty. If anything, they are overcrowded with our anxiety and our trepidation. In video format, his Levanter studies the cloud over the Gibraltar Rock. This is a place of surveillance, the site of the new Integrated External Vigilance System, for monitoring the movement of immigrants from Africa to Europe. This is a cold efficiency. It is as cold as the format that Stewart uses to represent this sentinel of Fortress Europe.

These exhibitions are studies of the rapidly expanding security industry in which private and public mercenaries lose their distinctiveness. We see the spaces that they occupy and that they stain. 'Kill House' is where the enemy is assaulted 'with extreme prejudice'. Its walls are scorched from multiple simulations. 'Kill House' is what the trainees call it. It is really there in the emptiness of Arkansas. But if the structure is located somewhere, its resonance today is carried with us in our imaginations everywhere.