Let’s face it: society as a whole has never been more desensitized towards gruesome media, an uncanny result of the never-ending stream of media we consume. Videos and images of war are a prime example of this. Seeing horrifying footage of the Syrian Civil War, to many, is less shocking than it is banal, like traces of distant suffering within a foreign, almost invisible conflict. But Pakistani artist Asad J. Malik, known by his alias 1RIC, is tackling our indifference to the war with a mixed reality experience called Holograms from Syria.
The project uses Microsoft Hololens to alter a viewer’s surroundings, bringing the grisly carnage of war into a familiar context. The latest iteration of Holograms from Syria was on view at Bennington College in Vermont, with ghostly apparations of Syrian victims and assailants invading the campus’ Visual and Performing Arts Center. The body of Alan Kurdi, the Kurdish child found washed up on a Turkish beach, appears on a red couch. An armed soldier climbs the steps of the building, scarily reminiscent of a school shooter on his way to commit an act of violence.
Recontextualizing these images in distant lands and in spaces deemed safe by viewers unmasks their innate horror. The effect is a sense of guilt, causing the viewer to re-evaluate their position as a global citizen once they realize that lack of immediacy shouldn’t be synonymous with a lack of action or empathy.
While 1RIC is aware of the effect that his project induces, it wasn’t necessarily his priority. “Certainly a sense of productive guilt is what most viewers, including me, feel when they try on the project. Although it was a clear expected outcome, inducing guilt in the viewers wasn’t the primary intention of the project,” he tells Creators. “I simply wanted to explore this idea of war in our current day and age, especially in the US, being a simulation.”
“It’s an interesting dynamic that people living in this country are economically so directly involved in war, but their experience of it has been reduced down to images of a handheld display,” he adds.
Though this might be the first mixed reality experience of such a nature, 1RIC’s project is immediately evocative of Martha Rosler‘s Bringing the War Home , a series of collaged images of Vietnam War scenes placed within opulent home interiors culled from advertisements. 1RIC acknowledges the influence of Rosler’s project, believing that Holograms from Syria builds on but also departs from the concepts dealt with in her work.
“Martha Rosler was bringing two worlds together through her collages: beautiful homes that Americans desired and images of the Vietnam War; the familiar and desirable juxtaposed with the unfamiliar and undesirable. Holograms from Syria builds on the idea of bringing images of war directly to your reality,” he explains. “It departs from Rosler’s work by creating a stronger focus on how these images alter the meaning of your own reality.”
“A lot of viewers told me that it was hard from them to look at the space in the same way again.”