If you happen to visit Tate Modern in London, make sure you don’t miss The Level 2 Gallery. It’s a small gallery, by one of the exits, you could easily pass by it without noticing its existence. That would be a pity because the current exhibition, The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one’s own, is dedicated to one of the latest projects of Michael Rakowitz. Yes, he’s the Rakowitz of the paraSITE shelters.
Coming Soon – The Moon, The Stars and The Sun 2009
The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one’s own uses drawings, artefacts and sculptures to weave an unexpected network of connections between western science fiction and military-industrial activities in Iraq during and after Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Saddam Hussein’s fascination with the iconography of Jules Verne’s novels and the Star Wars films is at the center of the project but the whole narrative is far more complex. Almost too complex to absorb in just one visit. Rakowitz will drive you to the Battle of Fleurus, Hulk Hogan‘s hours of glory, Gerald Bull‘s superpower artillery, the caricatures and inventions of Paris wonder boy Nadar (that’s actually where Rakowitz got my philandering attention back, Star Wars and US military are a bit too Americano-exotic for me), the adventures of Sputnik and of course the war, the invasion, the politics.
Michael Rakowitz, The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one’s own, 2009. Installation view at Lombard-Freid Projects, NY. Courtesy of the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects
The key element is the Swords of Qādisiyyah monument in Baghdad. This triumphal arch, otherwise known as the Hands of Victory, commemorates Saddam Hussein’s declaration of victory over Iran in the Iran-Iraq war. The invitation card for the opening ceremony back in 1989 featured the heroic proclamation, “The worst condition is for a person to pass under a sword that is not his own or to be forced down a road that is not willed by him.” Rakowitz recreated the arch in the gallery space. His version of the monument is tackier than the original which in turn -i’m sorry to say- is even tackier than a Star Wars poster. The sculptural pieces is made of plastic toy soldiers, wood and pages strip from Sadam’s own books. The red and green of the sabers echo the colours of the Iraqi flag. The plastic soldiers are not any toy btw. They are G.I. Joe, the figurines introduced in the ’80s to capitalize on the success of Star Wars action figures and popularize the American military. See? I told you it was a complex show. Your mind keep bouncing back from a slice of history to Hollywood entertainment and back again.
Michael Rakowitz, Victory Arch 2009. Installation view at Tate Modern. Courtesy of the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects
In this and other aspects of the project the artist explores how powerful contemporary mythologies derived from popular culture have informed the collective unconscious.
The Lord, The Homeland, The Leader 2009. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects
Sgt. Slaughter 2009. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects
The exhibition is shock full of information you can count on to impress your guests at dinner parties (not sure yet whether it’s a good or bad thing to write):
-in 1991, on the eve of the first Gulf War, the Star Wars theme music played as Iraqi soldiers marched underneath the monument for TV cameras.
The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one’s own, 2009
Installation view at Tate Modern. Courtesy of the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects
– Hussein’s eldest son, Uday Hussein shared his father’s fascination for Star Wars fan. He had the design of Darth Vader’s helmet copied to complement the uniform worn by his agents responsible for assassinations and intimidation.
– rumour has it that on the occasion of his execution, Saddam’s smiling face, complete with beret, was sighted on the moon.
Man on the Moon, Part II 2009. Courtesy the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects
The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one’s own, curated by Ann Coxon and Rachel Taylor, runs at Tate Modern until May 3, 2010.