Suzanne Treister

'NATO The Military Codification System for the Ordering of Everything in the World' Black Dog Publishing Ltd, London 2008.

Essay by Marek Kohn

Materiel World

'Imagine if you will that you have opened the door to your office and you discover a leak. To contain the drip, you go to the cleaners cupboard and borrow a shiny orange bucket to place under the drip. You decide that this bucket is a smashing piece of kit and you think it should be codified so that everybody in NATO can benefit from its exceptional water catching capabilities.'(1) The same procedure will apply for whatever you would like to share with NATO, be it a shiny bucket or a shiny cluster bomb. One of NATO's 56 codification bureaux will assign it a number and add it to the database of the things that NATO is made of.

It is a reassuring suggestion, in its way. After nearly sixty years, during most of which the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was articulated as a system of tripwires that would unleash the West's nuclear arsenal if triggered by a Soviet assault, a leaky ceiling is the kind of problem that springs to the NATO bureaucrat's mind. Invited to imagine life in this corner of the most powerful military alliance in history, one glimpses a cosy little office world of innocuous juvenile humour. Instead of straight-backed functionaries clattering out staccato bursts of serial numbers and cryptic military jargon, we have a civilian who could be lolling in front of any screen in any office anywhere, talking in a language anybody could understand. Military secrecy has been replaced by a banal transparency, its opaque jargon by morning television demotic.

A similar tone is struck by the website of NAMSA,(2) the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency, which speaks the language not of command but of commerce, competition and customers. Meanwhile every other truck on the motorway is labelled 'logistics', until quite recently an exclusively military term. A universal logic and language of organisations is emerging: enterprises, civil bureaucracies and the military all talk and act the same way. In the process NATO loses not only some of its distinguishing military character, but also some of its sense of itself as an organisation with a historical mission. Of course that remains present in its statements of purpose and its growing portfolio of international agreements, but the glimpses we get of what goes on round the back suggest no depth of field, just flat office grey. The supply chain is a business operation much like any other, moving boxes from suppliers to customers, and broadly indifferent to whether the boxes contain buckets or bombs.

The fact that glimpses are available itself serves to demilitarise the military - a process of mainstreaming that has also turned intelligence agencies into public-facing organisations, welcoming online visitors in an effort to build their brands and compete with commercial employers for bright young graduates. NATO writes documents in a public idiom and casually leaves stacks of them in the public domain. Building up a public image as if it were a commercial organisation, asserting its contemporary presence, NATO shrugs off the historical content that gives it meaning. It disenchants itself, dispelling the mystery, secrecy and tension that used to surround it.

And that is where Suzanne Treister comes in. Her NATO project is rooted in the early realisation that military and civil artefacts may share common functions or descent. For her eleventh birthday she was given a Marconiphone record player, identical to the one she has painted and located within NATO Supply Classification (NSC) 7730 - Phonographs, Radios, and Television Sets: Home Type. Associating it with the military brand later subsumed into BAE Systems, as noted in her caption to the Aerial Towed Decoy (NSC 1080 - Camouflage and Deception Equipment), she grew up with a sense of the family relationships between civil and military products. In this case the relationship is one of shared ancestry rather than parentage: the original Marconi company threw in its brand name when it sold its consumer division to RCA in 1929, leading to decades of misapprehension that the same enterprise was responsible for domestic Marconiphone radios and military Marconi ones. Civil and military products are also, and more frequently, linked by common components: thermionic valves, the electronic lamps that were superseded in the 1960s by transistors, could be part of the circuitry in record players for teenagers or radar scanners for air forces.

If one notices the names or becomes aware of the inner workings, most transport and signal-transmitting technologies look as though they have military potential. But instead of promoting disenchantment, by developing a mechanistic understanding of how things are put together, this raises the spectre of mystery: suspicion that there is more to familiar products than meets the eye; unease about the moral company that household items or consumer desirables keep; the prickle of paranoia - not necessarily a disagreeable sensation - about what is really going on.

The NATO Codification System (NCS) amplifies such sensations by demonstrating that the military's interest in civilian items is already encyclopaedic - ashtrays, artworks, doilies, mannequins, velocipedes - and suggesting that it is indefinitely extensible. As a taxonomy it has its diverting eccentricities, such as the exclusion of dental floss from 8530 - Personal Toiletry Articles and Bibles from 7610 - Books and Pamphlets. The final category, 9999, is a dustbin class, Miscellaneous Items, but recourse to it is limited by the specification that it may include 'only those items which cannot conceivably be classified in any existing classes'. Bibles could conceivably be included in the previous class but one, 9925 - Ecclesiastical Equipment, Furnishings, and Supplies; but they aren't. This appears to leave the NSC with a system which makes provision for chalices and ecclesiastical statues but not for the founding text of the religious tradition dominant in 25 of NATO's 26 member states: military chaplains presumably have to provide their own. Treister works round the anomaly by depicting a Talking Bible under NSC 5835 - Sound Recording and Reproducing Equipment. This complete audio New Testament is available in a range of languages, of which only two, English and Spanish, are those of NATO members. With the possible exception of Russian, the rest - Bengali, Cantonese, Hokkien, Hausa, Mandarin, Swahili and Vietnamese - are a reminder that the long march of missionary evangelism into Africa and Asia is still in progress.

Treister includes a number of other images referring to regions outside the NATO area, including a Chinese frigate (NSC 1905 - Combat Ships) and Chinese 'aircraft carriers' - actually novelty fireworks (NSC 1370 - Pyrotechnics). Once upon a time, Western security against China was allocated to NATO's eastern counterpart SEATO, the South East Asia Treaty Organisation, while the turbulent belt of southern Asia between Turkey and Pakistan was to be covered by CENTO, the Central Treaty Organisation. Today only NATO is left, and with the end of the Iron Curtain it has lost its territorial definition. It is now operating in Afghanistan, and the fortunes of the city where CENTO was founded, Baghdad, is another well-known story. Treister reflects that one with two images of tanks (NSC 2350 - Combat, Assault, and Tactical Vehicles), a British one standing poised in the desert, and a Soviet-built Iraqi one collapsed like a stricken elephant. An earlier age, and the semblance of a timeless tranquillity, is evoked by a picture reworking an old cigarette card image of a guffa (NSC 1990 - Miscellaneous Vessels), a traditional rowed boat said to have carried much of Baghdad's trade along the Tigris.

NATO's codification system has also spread beyond its borders. Its 27 'sponsored' users just outnumber the alliance's 26 members. They include Russia, which sees itself as NATO's legacy target. While protesting loudly about the Baltic states' NATO membership, Russia takes part in conferences about codification. In public Russia vaunts her historic pride; back in the warehouse, she smoothes the supply chain to take advantage of the demand created when former Soviet-dominated states joined NATO and took their Soviet kit with them. It becomes a matter of moving the boxes efficiently, not where they are going. As corporations fall into using the system, the NCS may become a worldwide industry standard.(3)

In a word, NATO and its codification system are globalising. But without its original regional definition, marked by a line down the middle of Europe and a bridge across the Atlantic, NATO has seemed to drift. Although it has grown bigger and has taken up new missions, it is ever more exposed politically to questions about its purpose. In particular, it is vulnerable to criticisms from the United States that, like the United Nations, it is loath to fight for the ideals which the US identifies with its own national interests. Today NATO is a coalition of a couple of dozen national perspectives (the British one being effectively continuous with that of the US) instead of the simple strategic vision crisply expressed by its first Secretary-General, Lord Ismay: to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down.(4) Since the Berlin Wall came down the alliance has struggled to answer the question: what is NATO for?

A possible answer is to be found in the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 that brought the organisation into existence. The heart of the treaty is said to be Article 5, in which the parties agree that 'that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.' NATO has always been understood as an overwhelmingly military organization, founded upon a doctrine of collective self-defence. But Article 1 binds the parties to undertake to resolve conflicts by peaceful means; and Article 2 specifies means by which peaceful international relations may be developed: 'strengthening their free institutions', 'promoting conditions of stability and well-being', and economic integration.5 'Should the risk of aggression become less pressing than it is today,' Lord Ismay observed a few years later, 'it may be discovered that Article 2 is the real battlefield ... the contest between the free countries and the Communist totalitarian countries may be won by those who have been the most successful in solving their economic and social problems.'(6)

NATO quickly found in science a productive way of furthering these wider aims. Although today the programme is labelled Science for Peace and Security, the remit is wide enough to include discussions about food as a security issue, air pollution and cancer risk assessment, the latter related to the sequelae of the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine. Among the SPS's Blue Book series are two volumes on the conservation of historic stained glass windows. In a society increasingly organised around the management of risk, it is possible to imagine an indefinite expansion of NATO's scientific themes as one issue after another is assessed as a risk and accordingly categorised as a threat to security.

Some of the problems are of the military-industrial complex's own making. The series of nuclear power stations that form a chain of bastions in the middle of Treister's sequence (NSC 4470 - Nuclear reactors) are a concentration of security concerns: electricity supply, fuel resources, responses to climate change, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and indeed nuclear power plant safety. They also represent globalisation, the modern ones among them being the products of a small group of companies which promise efficiencies of operation and cost through standardised production processes. Identical Westinghouse AP1000s will be installed in Alabama, Zheijiang, and possibly East Anglia. But through their association with nuclear weapons (major class 11), and their symbiotic relationships with the state, for many they still represent the wrong kind of power.

Nevertheless, NATO's concept of itself suggests that Article 2 could be the way to go, and the NCS can be taken as an affirmation of its universal potential. Were procurement records for NATO's purchases of non-military items also publicly accessible, one might surmise they would show that NATO's use for art is as decoration for the lobbies of diplomatic premises (9915 - Collectors' and/or Historical Items), and that it has a similarly good explanation for the inclusion of costume jewellery (9910) in the NCS. Treister offers jewellery by Vivienne Westwood and works of art including Picasso's Guernica and a Malevich Black Square, the latter's caption noting its acquisition for the Russian state by the billionaire 'oligarch' Vladimir Potanin, as a reminder of how power works in Russia today. Even at its most absurd, Treister's ingenious and often playful choice of exemplars goes to show that NATO can fit almost any artefact in the world into its scheme of things. What could NATO be for? Treister's answer is that it could be for anything and everything.

For her purposes, though, it needs to have its third dimension restored. Modern global systems strive to maximise their extent across the two dimensions of the planet's surface, while seeking to minimise the extent to which they occupy the dimension of time. Efficiency means minimising the time between acquiring objects and delivering them to their destinations. In Treister's hands, the NATO codification system is landscaped to encourage it to do the opposite of what it was designed to do. By rendering the text with a paintbrush, she makes it impossible for computers to read, and thereby takes it out of global circulation. Technically, the replication of words and images is not of high fidelity, but making the signals noisier enhances their effect. Noise is background; background includes history; noise helps to conjure history up. In Treister's watercolours, depths of time become perceptible. This is their dominant theatrical effect, a sense of temporal space through which historical narratives can be imagined, followed and interwoven.

The trope is familiar from the Rosalind Brodsky projects, in which Treister's fictional character travels in time between the present century and the previous one. In 'NATO', the effect is again to make the past simultaneously present, and in particular to turn NATO's lifetime into a virtual form, like a constellation, within the space of the work. Beatles memorabilia (NSC 8510 - Perfumes, toilet preparations and powders) and an early David Bowie album (NSC 7740 - Phonograph records) are tokens of the relationship between NATO's lifetime and the artist's own. For somebody of Treister's generation, the relationship between the personal and the geopolitical is both fundamental and contingent. We are aware that we are what we are because of the shape of the world into which we were born, and that the world could have taken radically different shapes if history's deluges had flowed down different channels. In our formative years it was conventionally accepted that there were three worlds - people still sometimes speak of the Third - and widely assumed that other worlds were possible. From today's perspective, the world seems to have reached an inevitable condition, having resolved the historical aberrations of the twentieth century. Treister's assembly of items corrects that misapprehension, and allows the imagination to conjure hints of different constellations.

Her choices are guided by an eye attuned to the aura of associations that surround certain objects and sites. Space flight is one of her favourite themes, a hobby also put to use in the catalogue of stamps used as sources for her imagined spacecraft in the Brodsky 'Operation Swanlake' project. It is also a phenomenon with Cold War roots, made possible by the development of rockets that could send nuclear warheads from one continent to another When the Soviet Union sent the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into orbit in 1957, it proved itself to be a superpower. For the next few years, during which the division of Europe was completed by the Berlin Wall, and the two superpowers came close to the brink of nuclear war in the Cuban missile crisis, NATO faced the possibility that it might meet its match. And it was during this period that Vostok 1 (NSC 1810 - Space Vehicles) took the first human into space, carrying Yuri Gagarin once around the planet. Gagarin's orbit and safe return was a new humiliation for the United States, still struggling to catch up with the USSR four years after Sputnik 1. This was the peak of Soviet achievement, the one moment where it unquestionably led the world, and a pivotal one at which to impress the new nations looking for a patron as they emerged from colonial rule.

Gagarin's role is not noted in Treister's caption, but the craft itself seems to have an anthropomorphic quality. This is not just because it has a round 'head' atop a cylindrical trunk, but because of the exhibition arch to which it points. The arrangement bears a fortuitous resemblance to the well-known and widely reproduced 'Flammarion Woodcut', in which a man bursts through the vault of stars at the edge of the world, entering the heavens beyond. Like Treister's work, the Flammarion illustration conveys a strong fictive sense of temporal depth. Although it was published in a book by Camille Flammarion in 1888, its style suggests greater antiquity, and its content plays to the mistaken belief that pre-modern Europeans believed the Earth was flat. The ghost of the Flammarion picture connects the space vehicle with Treister's 'Alchemy' project, in which she turns newspaper front pages into alchemical drawings. Occult magical beliefs are also represented by a camera claimed to be able to photograph human auras (NSC 6720 - Cameras, Still Picture) and a selection of witchy candles (NSC 6260 - Nonelectrical Lighting Fixtures) from an online pagan boutique. These threads lead back to the Rosalind Brodsky Hexen 2039 project, whose fantasy storyline about a military occult project was based on the cult history of the American military's susceptibility to magic masquerading as science.(7)

America's fear of aerial threat began not with the advent of intercontinental missiles, but with the deployment of long-range Soviet bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The image of the Nike rockets (NSC 1470 - Guided missiles), lined up as if on parade at their launch site in the San Francisco Bay Area, symbolises how NATO wanted to be seen those days: prepared, technologically advanced, protective. Rockets never looked more like rockets than in those days; graceful darts with narrow-angled fins, miniature heralds of the machines that, science fiction enthusiasts were sure, would one day propel men around the Solar System. The Nikes, however, could get no more than about 75 miles out over the Pacific. Later versions carried nuclear warheads: San Franciscans would have heard a rush of thunder, and then seen the lead of the Bay sky turn to gold.

Although this image represents the crux of the matter - what NATO really was for; what might have happened, but didn't - it is near the horizon of Treister's imaginative geography. The central zone of the project is in Europe, to the east; but there is no sense of homeland. Two packets of cigarette papers (NSC 9920 - Smokers' Articles and Matches) made in a Polish town early in the last century are miniature icons of 'Zion', a fata morgana of a city shimmering above a desert. These disposable charms were a vision of a future beyond Europe and on a higher plane. (The medium was not entirely inappropriate, given the similarity between cigarette paper and Bible paper. Cigarette papers, used for smuggling messages, were known as 'bibles' among Polish political prisoners in the 1980s.)

Unwilling or unable to settle within the continent, the project is drawn to a marginal zone, the Baltic, where the land and the political domains contesting it run up against the sea. A group of lighthouses (NSC 1925 - Special Service Vessels) picket the island of Rgen, a longstanding German seaside resort. The older ones are the stuff of tinted postcards, whimsical and jolly. The newer ones are brutal and sinister: the tower at Prora, built in 1987 near the site of an unfinished Nazi holiday complex, links the pre-war and post-war periods of totalitarian recreation. It looks like a watchtower to prevent holidaymakers from fleeing the first workers' and peasants' state on German soil, rather than a beacon to keep ships safe. The series is extended east with two lighthouses on the Polish coast: the German captions note the old German place-names, even though the more recent of the pair was built in Gdansk forty years after the city ceased to be Danzig. Between the wars it was a free port, suspended by an uneasy balance of international forces outside the mosaic of nation states.

The morose Baltic is also the depth in which is to be found one of the most symbolically and narratively concentrated objects in Treister's collection. When she chose the Polish submarine Orzel to represent NSC 1905, Combat Ships and Landing Vessels, she had no idea that she had lit upon a vessel of national myth and a skein of ravelled history that traces an arc across the Baltic and the North Sea, from Russia to Scotland, and across three eras, before, during and after the Cold War. In sports, this is what is known as the luck of champions: the kind that favours an exercise already on course for success.

Orzel, Eagle, seems an incongruous name for a submarine, especially one whose form, as Treister's painting shows, readily suggests a whale. But the white eagle is the Polish national symbol: there could be no more fitting a name for a vessel with a unique distinction in the history of Polish resistance to foreign assault. Its record has been commemorated by the naval tradition of making the name an inheritance. The boat in Treister's painting is the third ORP, Ship of the Republic of Poland, to bear the name; and the Republic of Poland it now serves is the third Polish republic to have had a submarine Orzel flying its ensign. The first served the Second Republic, which came into being after the First World War; the second belonged to the pseudo-independent People's Republic that followed the Second World War. The third, built in Leningrad and classified by NATO as a Kilo class boat, now belongs to the post-communist Third Republic.

The first Orzel not only symbolised the Polish nation but was bought by the Polish people, servicemen and civilians, whose contributions covered most of the price agreed with its Dutch builders. After two weeks of combat operations against German forces in September 1939, her commander made for the Estonian port of Tallinn, where he intended to disembark on grounds of ill-health. When Orzel arrived, it was impounded by the Estonian authorities, who began to remove its armament. Another officer took command and led the crew in a break-out, taking two Estonian guards with them. According to Soviet reports, the guards were killed; according to the Poles, they were dropped off in Sweden with money to cover their journey home: 'Remember that when one returns from the underworld,' the new commander is said to have told them, 'it doesn't do to travel anything less than first class.'(8)

The Soviet claims were part of a forceful diplomatic and propaganda intervention against Estonia. The Baltic republic's foreign minister was summoned to the Kremlin, where Commissar Molotov accused Estonia of imperilling Soviet security by allowing the Orzel to escape, and demanded that Estonia enter into a defence treaty with the USSR. During the talks, Molotov reinforced his point by announcing that an unidentified submarine had sunk the Metallist, a Soviet merchant ship, in the Gulf of Narva.(9) The submarine responsible is now identified as Soviet, and the incident as a staged provocation, in The White Book, an account of 'Losses Inflicted on the Estonian Nation' by the Estonian State Commission on Policies of Repression.(10) At the time, Soviet pressure forced Estonia to enter the Soviet military orbit, and to allow thousands of Red Army troops onto her territory.

By October, the Orzel was the only Polish military unit still active against German forces. The rest of the navy's fleet had been sunk, interned in Sweden, or sent to safety in Britain. Orzel's arrival at Rosyth in Scotland inaugurated a legend, not unlike that of Dunkirk in British history, which came to the assistance of both Polish and British morale during the early setbacks of the war. The boat was lost, however, to a British mine.

Today, the third Orzel takes part in NATO Baltic exercises, as do Estonian ships: to Russia's unease and indignation, the Baltic states have become NATO members. Estonia's airspace is defended by the Baltic Air Patrol, in which other NATO air forces take turns to cover for the Baltic republics' lack of fighter aircraft. The Luftwaffe does its bit, as does the Polish air force, which uses its Soviet-built MiGs. Treister's imaginative transpositions across the old Cold war lines, reflecting wryly upon what NATO used to mean and what it may mean now, echo the transpositions of alliance, materiel and power acted out by the Orzel submarines and the ebb and flow of military manoeuvres in the Baltic.

In choosing a poster produced by the Solidarity trade union (NSC 3690 - Miscellaneous Printed Matter) for the first genuinely contested elections held in the Soviet bloc, Treister offers a reminder of a phenomenon that was readily categorised but less readily recognised for what it was. To communists and their fellow-travellers it was an anti-socialist organisation that was doing by subversion what NATO could not achieve by force; it was that to many conservatives also. From farther left, it looked like a miraculous manifestation of workers' self-organisation - with a programme of workers' self-management to go with it. To the devout, it was a vast congregation arising, guided by the Pope and the Virgin Mary. To Poles, it was the Polish nation. All these views had a significant purchase on the truth.

It was certainly an agent of immense significance in the process that ended the division of Europe into blocs. By 1989, however, it was not the impassioned movement that had surged into being nine years before. The process was completed at a remove from the people, who had largely resigned from political activity. Treister's painting represents a poster that urges an exhausted people to vote 'so that tomorrow they' - the children - 'could be proud of us'. The Polish phrasing admits a sense of uncertainty, almost foreboding, that would be unimaginable in a modern, professionally managed election campaign. It is truer to the spirit of the time than the clever bravado of the better-known 'High Noon' poster, depicting Gary Cooper as the sheriff armed with a ballot paper for the showdown with the Reds.

Treister's image takes history back to one of the crossroads moments at which its paths are chosen. The children pose the question: what happened to them? A little arithmetic suggests the answer: they are working abroad, quite likely in 'the [British] Isles', or thinking about it. And are they proud of their parents' political efforts? Probably not: they want to be free of the past, and of Poland's squabbling and compromised politicians. Like their contemporaries around Europe, they can do without history.

Most of Treister's collection enjoys the space to play that arises from NATO's distinctive historical position as a force that never fought the war for which it was assembled. The history of classic NATO, as a marketing department might call it, is of a possibility that did not come to pass. NATO's classification framework, as manipulated by Treister, is a machine for the imagination of lesser and more esoteric possibilities; actual, fictional or arguable.

At a number of points, however, it refers to wars that NATO has fought, all of them in the period following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. Several of these images are the most problematic element of the collection, pitched in a different register from the rest and forming a subversive cell within the work. All of them are taken from the former Yugoslavia, in which NATO mounted two air campaigns. The term accurately describes the nature of the actions and indicates their limitations, which kept NATO forces off the ground in order to minimise casualties among their personnel. It under-acknowledges their contributions to ongoing wars, though. The first intervention, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, turned the tide of the war against the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb republic, allowing forces loyal to the recognised but beleaguered Sarajevo government to gain ground. In the second, NATO attacked the sovereign state of Yugoslavia, and effectively provided the insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army with an air force. NATO's wars have been militarily limited, but politically, diplomatically and morally complicated.

They figure more simply at several points in Treister's work, serving as a defence against the possibility that the work as a whole is seen to evade the truth of military violence. One image, taken from a press agency photograph, shows shoemakers (NSC 8430 - Footwear, men's) working by candle light in Belgrade, which suffered power cuts as a result of NATO's air raids. As an example of Treister's ability to cast historical shadows it is particularly striking. Shoemakers smack of the middle ages, and here was NATO taking them back in that direction. As propaganda it serves the Yugoslav cause splendidly, letting those historical shadows play upon honest craftsmen carrying on under the bombs, in just the same vein as the ordinary Britons who are seen in images of the 1940 Blitz against London. A second image from that conflict also opposes advanced technological bombardment and traditional ways of life, in a rendered version of a press photo showing soldiers and villagers trying to rescue a cow (NSC 8810 - Live animals, raised for food) from the ruins of a stable hit by a NATO missile. A third, also based on a photo from the Reuters agency, shows tractors burning in another bombed village. The caption reinforces the message of NATO's brutal effects by quoting a reference to Serbian claims of a hundred civilian deaths; and the image itself also prompts recollections of the terrible incident in which a NATO aircraft mistook a tractor ferrying Kosovar refugees for a Yugoslav military vehicle.

One image does qualify the exclusive representation of NATO's combat missions through its civilian victims. The picture of girls laying flowers to commemorate the 1995 Markale marketplace massacre during the Bosnian Serb siege of Sarajevo, when 37 people were killed by mortar fire, serves as a necessary reminder that there are more than two terms in the equation of NATO's violence. A similar attack had occurred a year before, but subsequent changes in the military and diplomatic landscape allowed the August 1995 massacre to serve as the trigger for NATO's air assault upon the separatist Bosnian Serb forces, the decisive intervention which led to the Dayton peace agreement.

To avoid an accumulation of memorials at the end of the sequence, an indirect consequence of the NSC's progress from weapons (major class 10) to coffins (9930), the picture is classified under 8730 - Seeds and Nursery Stock - Includes: Cut Flowers. Its companion is a botanical illustration of a military orchid - Orchis militaris in the Linnean system of taxonomy, to which reference is obligatory in a work which invokes the tradition of watercolour in natural history illustration.

Between them these two paintings express the remarkable capacities that Treister has developed, exercising licence that is sometimes absurd but never undue, within the NATO Codification System. The marketplace confirms that the work is, after all, as capable of representing the complexities of actual conflict as it is able to support complex patterns of imaginative association. The orchid is a claim upon the vegetable portion of the natural world, all wild animals being covered by a literal interpretation of 8820 - Live Animals, Not Raised for Food. And the potential she has unlocked echoes the potential evident in the real world for the NCS to organise not just military materiel but material objects in general. In her own idiosyncratic way, Treister has identified the one part of NATO that looks capable of adapting to the changed conditions which may well lead to the Alliance's demise. The NCS may well be running the world when NATO has become nothing more than history. In taxonomic terms, it would be a successor species.

 

1 'The Screening Process', Ministry of Defence, http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/AboutDefence/WhatWeDo/EquipmentandLogistics/UKNCB/TheScreeningProcess.htm
2 'NAMSA's Business', NAMSA, http://www.namsa.nato.int/About/business_e.htm
3 'RNZAF - Codification Bureau', http://www.airforce.mil.nz/operations/airforce-news/89/codification-bureau.htm
4 Lind, Michael, 2006, The American Way of Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life, Oxford University Press, New York.
5 'NATO Official Text: The North Atlantic Treaty', http://www.nato.int/docu/basictxt/treaty.htm
6 Ismay, Hastings L., 1954, NATO: The First Five Years, 1949-1954, Bosch, Utrecht, http://www.nato.int/archives/1st5years/chapters/14.htm
7 Grayson, Richard, 'Waiting for the Gift of Sound and Vision', in Treister, Suzanne, Hexen 2039, Black Dog Publishing, London 2006; http://ensemble.va.com.au/Grayson/texts/Hexen2039.html
8 'The Polish Submarine Orzel: Legend of WWII; part 3: Patrolling in the Baltic Sea'', http://bartelski.pl/crolick/orporzel/story3.html
9 'Minutes of 1939 Estonian-Soviet Negotiations', http://www.singingrevolution.com/cgi-local/db_images/files/uploads/27-filename.pdf
10 Kangilaski, Jaak et al., The White Book: Losses Inflicted on the Estonian Nation by Occupation Regimes, 1940-1991, Estonian State Commission on Policies of Repression, http://www.riigikogu.ee/public/Riigikogu/TheWhiteBook.pdf , 8.

© Marek Kohn 2008

 

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