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Commission: Craig Ames, Other Theatres

Posted on: 27 March 2024

Commissioned by NEPN in partnership with Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art for The Social festival.

Other Theatres is a multimedia installation of related works concerned with the commodification of contemporary warfare, the pursuit of varying forms of simulated combat by different social groups as a leisure activity, and the application of immersive digital environments by military institutions to drive recruitment initiatives.  Alongside this, the collective works also serve to draw attention to the inevitable separation between the virtual combat experience and the actual reality of conflict.     

 

The installation consists of three pieces of work, plus supporting elements.  The first piece, ‘Modern Warfare’ is an audio/visual projection that utilises screen recordings of digitally simulated multiplayer combat missions created by members of the on-line gaming community using various military simulation software programmes.  Posted on forums and shared with a growing number of first-person simulation gaming enthusiasts, the scenarios are often based upon, or inspired by, contemporary conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Working in collaboration with a British Army veteran, the visual accounts of these multiplayer activities are constructed around the spoken testimonial of one soldier’s traumatic account of war.  

 

‘Kill Zones’ is a series of photographic landscape images of ‘mil-sim’ (military simulation) gameplay arenas in the UK.  Unlike paintballing, mil-sim players are fundamentally concerned with creating ‘authentic’ combat experiences, often based upon the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This is achieved, in part, by using highly detailed replica weapons, wearing authentic military uniforms and employing real-world military tactics.  ‘Kill Zones’ explores mil-sim’s fluidic relationship with reality and fantasy and how, in turn, pockets of the British landscape have been transformed in order to become theatres of recreational conflict set in distant, contested lands.    Presented in LED lightboxes, the images are accompanied by a replica British Army assault rifle (SA80) and a number of embroidered militarised morale patches that are available for sale in the UK for players to adorn their uniforms.  Both these installation components are set against counterfeit MoD desert camouflage material.   

 

The final piece of work, ‘Next Gen: the Battle for Hearts and Minds’ is a one-off interactive, e-book that re-presents appropriated material sourced on-line from various US military websites and web-based recruitment campaigns and enrolment initiatives.   Accessed via a touchscreen tablet, the multimedia work offers a rich, interactive parody of the US military’s current recruitment campaigns – strategies that have been developed to appeal and engage their target demographic: technically savvy, video game playing teenage boys.  

 

Commissioned by NEPN and Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art and supported using public funding through Arts Council England.

 

Exhibited in You Are the Company in Which You Keep at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art during The Social: Encountering Photography.



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