Staging Abu Ghraib
Security is a booming business. In Iraq, there may be more money in security than oil. Privatized armies, like Blackwater Inc., that are not accountable to nation states, are a corporate and global phenomenon.
This inflationary bubble of security did not happen overnight. At the end of the cold war, with the downsizing of the military industrial complex, California, for instance, went into a recession, and unemployed aerospace workers took low paying jobs as private security guards for wealthy gated communities or in the newly proliferating prisons.
Like any business, security needed to expand its markets, and thus the agenda of security morphed from a delivery of safety into a production of fear. The ideal consumer of security is immobilized by anxiety. Border crossings are no longer limited to the edges of the nation state, but operate at every park, civic building, bus station, airport, school, and hospital door. In short, security is at the core of our everyday life.
Staging Abu Ghraib critiques the inversion of “security” from safety to fear by appropriating the gestures of the Abu Ghraib photographs and importing them into security dramas staged here in the homeland. In this case, industrial in-between spaces become the training grounds for fantasized security situations. Suitcases act as bodies, societal “baggage”, and vessels for the things we carry. Multiple modes of transportation create borders everywhere so that citizens are in a constant state of vigilance against transgression: the train station, the bus depot, the airport. The dramas are staged as tableaus, the minimal movement within the frames literally arrests the viewer and forces attention to the fundamental questions: What is security? Who is it for? What is it that really threatens us?
Stephanie Ellis is an interdisciplinary scholar who teaches studio as well as cultural studies seminars at the San Francisco Art Institute and CCA. Her seminars examine the ethics of knowledge production and dissemination. The agenda is to investigate how visual relations exclude or ignore what does not fit into ideal categories and she encourages students to ask what intellectual feats produce such erasures. Ellis’ MFA and PhD in the Theories and Practices of Visual Culture are from the University of California at Davis. She is a recipient of the UCD Skowhegan School Scholarship and the UC Intercampus Arts Program Grant. Her writing has appeared in journals such as parallax, Feminist Studies, and Architectural Design. She is also a curator (Work/Space, a nationally traveling exhibition on corporate culture) and an artist (Bad Girls West). Several of her seminars offer new models of collaborative mentoring that cross studio and theory as well as graduate and undergraduate programs.
Serena Wellen was born in Oroville, California in 1966. Raised in Los Angeles and Orange County, California, she earned a B.A. in communications and international relations from Stanford University in 1988, and graduated magna cum laude from the University of San Francisco Law School in 1992. After starting her career as a trial lawyer, she began studying photography, on her own and at the California College of Art in Oakland, California. She completed a Master’s degree in Fine Art at the San Francisco Art Institute in San Francisco, California in 2007 and currently works in both video and photography. Although she stopped practicing law in 2003, she has continued her legal career and now works for the legal publisher, LexisNexis.