MTB [MILITARY TRAINING BASE]
Essay by Richard Grayson
Suzanne Treister's MTB installation outlines a landscape where military operations have shifted from the edifices that we usually identify as theirs - fortifications barracks and training bases - to occupy other buildings and organisations normally considered to be outside, if not opposed to, the dictates and logics of armed offense and defence - archaeological sites, museums, gardens and Academies, the constructions of culture. We also discover other, rather stranger architectures and organisations in the cartographic landscape painstakingly delineated on the wall in front of us, buildings that house 'global consciousness projects' and training modules for Jim Channon's 'First Earth Battalion' project, the 'Institute of Militronics and Advanced Time Interventionality', and a museum of sex.
Were it not for these more fantastical architectures we would read Treister's installation in terms of the reach of the 'Military Industrial Complex' (beloved of oppositional critique of the sixties and seventies) into our everyday world, especially the presence of IBM, Halliburton and KBR buildings. But the presence of other hallucinatory constructions un-anchors this simple political reading to float us into stranger and more complex spheres that imply that the drawing in front of us is mapping subjective worlds as much as an objective one, and furthermore one that might lie in a (delusional) future. It becomes something fantastic, a fiction, like a novel, a computer or role-playing game.
John Gray talks of war in terms of play, and locates play as lying outside the rationalist agendas of aspiration and improvement. In Homeric Greek, he points out, the word agon signifies the rivalry of sport and the mortal combat of war. Both were games and, save for the glory that came with triumph or death, neither had an end beyond itself. Artistic and cultural production is often seen as somehow operating in terms of 'play' and Treister's work here overlays and combines these possible expressions.
This dark convergence is given additional resonance in the work through the illustrational, hand-drawn quality of the landscape, recalling pre-Renaissance paintings, maps found in fantasy books such as 'Lord of the Rings' as well as the detailed worlds that often constitute outsider readings and descriptions of the universe. These narratives are analogous to the digital spaces that increasingly generate and describe our contemporary (and future) universes: actual and imagined, and which constitute the Virtual (a realm that increasingly seeps into what we might consider as actual). Co-incidentally Treister's installation opens to the public in the same week that the immersive 'first person shooter' computer game 'Call of Duty; Modern Warfare 2' was launched, a war and terrorist game described by the Guardian Newspaper as 'an epic that take the games industry to a new level'. It was launched in a Leicester Square Cinema complete with cast members walking down a carpet mobbed by paparazzi.
The works invites us to consider how such complex contemporary worlds are dependent on the platforms of technology, developed from, and central to, the operations of modern Military State. However it also suggests worlds against which such technological resourcing (increasingly) has little or no agency, those that are generated and exist in the realms of the personal and subjective, the visionary, the mystical, the theological and the revealed.
Richard Grayson 2009