Victims’ Symptom, media and traumatic perception

Victims' Symptom

“I went back home, but I couldn’t keep calm. I went down the street and started running, fast, faster and faster [ … ] I felt as if I took all the blood I saw on the ground back, lost as from a tap open to break the knob, I felt it in my body” (Roberto Saviano, Gomorra, 2006). Could we consider Roberto Saviano, the Italian writer who grew up near Naples and started writing about the Camorra because of his anger, revealing disturbing secrets about it and now living under escort, a victim? While the average reader, safely far from the author’s world, can’t help feeling like a “war tourist”, Saviano could easily be either a case study or one of the theorists participating to Victims’ Symptom (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Culture). This project, commissioned as a special initiative to mark LabforCulture one-year anniversary, analyses the meaning of a victim who has survived a traumatic event, becoming both a witness and a suffering subject. The aim is to move forward the notion of PTSD from psycho-traumatic diagnosis to a symptomatic term in media studies. The Victims’ Symptom project is based on Ana Peraica’s text “War profiteers in art”, a critique of the biennialisation and commodification of images of victims in response to Robert Storr’s exhibition at the Venice Biennale this year. The full project, accompanied by critical texts, documentation, commissioned artworks and reflections by the curator will be online in April 2008. The commissioned artworks approach the topic in specific ways. Indeed, there are key thought provoking questions artists and theorists involved are asked to answer and commissioned artworks will serve as triggers. The meta-archive “Landscape 1995″ by Marko Peljhan, for example, investigates the strategic and tactical battleground on the Bosnia and Herzegovina fronts from 1992 onward, with a special focus on one of the largest European massacre after World War II – Srebrenica – where victims were used, though not supported by the media, and which was even denied by some theorists. Colombian artist Mauricio Arango presents “Day After Day”, a cartography of victims as reported by several international online news media outlets. It consists of a world map showing the usage of the word “victim” in news from around the globe. Andreja Kulunčić’s project – “Bad News” – is focused on our relationship with bad news as the media broadcast it daily. Olia LIalina’s net.art classic “My Boyfriend came back from the war” is revisited in a web 2.0 version by Alejandro Duque building a specific and individual storyboard of collateral victims, with the help of a psychotherapist, prove that victims are not just numbers, but individual stories. Moreover Martha Rosler’s “Dust of the Office” is a collection of HTML documents and
supporting media focusing on the global biopolitics of control. Among the theorists, Stevan Vuković writes about reliable witnesses (PTSD and victim), confronting us again with the Srebrenica massacre. Adila Laïdi-Hanieh, reflects upon how to reconstruct a victim individual story, starting from its base number status in the media. An article by Sezgin Boynik researches how activist e-mailing networks influenced the production of the Kosovo art scene in the late nineties, while Geert Lovink addresses the issue of blogging as therapy. There will be the opportunity to comment on and discuss these texts in a live debate with their authors in spring 2008.

Valentina Culatti