On the night of May 1, 2011, an image was transmitted throughout the world that is now considered a milestone for image politics, and has entered the collective memory of the U.S.’s campaign against al-Qaida and the war on terror. It shows a focused and tense president sitting among his national security team, as they stare at a large screen outside the image. President Barack Obama sits temperately on a chair in the corner of the Situation Room, next to him Vice President Joe Biden and Brigadier General Marshall B. Webb. On the right, Hillary Clinton clasps her hand to her mouth. Beside her sits former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, leaning back with his arms crossed. On the table there are open laptops, documents and photo prints that have been blurred. To-go cups may testify to a long night. Live footage of the assault on the archenemy of the U.S., al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, is broadcast live to the White House, but no photographic evidence is leaked to the public. The scene in the White House Situation Room, appropriately documented by official photographer Pete Souza, would come to represent and publicly symbolize this crucial moment in the history of the U.S.: the carrying out of Operation Neptune Spear.
By means of a sophisticated composition of the cleverly staged scene, the U.S. government breaks with the long historical and cultural-political tradition of publicly displaying the slain war opponent. The days of “seeing is believing” are over. Obama asked the public to believe without seeing. Because seeing in this case would involve catastrophic risks and dangers – as the president publicly stated.
For his work May 1, 2011, Alfredo Jaar adapted this omnipresent media image and juxtaposes it with a white screen, which symbolically represents the absent images. The non-image occupies the position of the invisible screen, on which all the imaginative imagery called forth by the press icon can be projected. The caption to the right of the photo of the White House identifies all political figures in the press image, while on the left side next to the white screen there is no one to be identified. Jaar’s work reflects a deep mistrust of pictorial representation and the political presentation of images. (Text courtesy of Leonie Radine, 2011.)
Alfredo Jaar is an artist, architect and filmmaker who lives and works in New York. His work has been shown extensively around the world. He was a Guggenheim fellow in 1985 and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur fellow in 2000. In 2006 he received Spain's Premio Extremadura a la Creación. More than 50 monographic publications have been published about his work. These include La Politique des Images (2006), with essays by Griselda Pollock, Jacques Rancière, Nicole Schweizer and Georges Didi-Huberman and It Is Difficult (2008), featuring essays by Gabi Scardi, Paolo Fabbri, Paul Gilroy, Bartolomeo Pietromarchi and Nicole Schweizer. Jaar joined SCAD Savannah this year as part of the Distinguished Visiting Faculty program.