Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Demand's Niger Embassy

So the word I get form Venice is that it is "POLITICAL". And so as luck would have it a few stories on a piece by Thomas Demand are circulating around the web today. The above is Demand's homage to the Niger embassy - infamous generator of a forged smoking gun that not only led to the Iraq war but also the ruination of CIA covert agent Valerie Plame. I've long been a fan of Demand and this is the perfect subject for him. Forgery on forgery so to speak and endless other paper cliches.

From the Fondazione Prada:

The Fondazione Prada is presenting a project by the German artist Thomas Demand, curated by Germano Celant at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice. The proposed work consists of two large installations; Yellowcake, composed of a series of new photographs, exploring a place in Rome which was instrumental to US intervention in Iraq.

For the exhibition presented at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice, Demand has developed two large installations. The title Yellowcake refers to its technical meaning: “yellowcake” denotes a concentrated form of uranium, which when enriched may be used to make nuclear weapons. This word recently emerged in mainstream political discourse because it was the fulcrum of President George Walker Bush’s famous accusation in his State of the Union Address in 2003, in which he stated: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of Uranium in Africa”. The evidence was paperwork supposedly stolen from the Embassy of the Republic of Niger in Rome and passed on to British and American intelligence by SISMI, their Italian counterparts. The documents were supposed to be a contract for the sale of hundreds of tons of yellowcake to the Iraqi authorities, which soon turned out to be obvious forgeries.

Demand’s work consists of a series of photographs about the location where the trail leading to this ‘smoking gun’ originated. Usually, the artist bases his works on existing photographic sources, but with Yellowcake there were no images available: no one covering the story had gained access to Niger’s Embassy in Rome. It was thus a story that had yet to be illustrated. Lacking photographic evidence, it remained unanchored to its site. Demand’s first step, then, was to try to gain access to the Embassy. By entering the apartment-cum-embassy he also crossed an extra-territorial frontier between Italy and Niger (and Europe and Africa). The meeting yielded nothing much, but while there, Demand was able to memorize the site and begin a conversation with the embassy’s staff.

The information he gathered from these visits was the basis for a life-sized reconstruction of the very same place, built over a period of months in his studio and, subsequently, the large photographs that constitute the finished work and are presented at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini. So the infamous story that has been named “Nigergate” has finally received a pictorial representation of some kind.

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