Isabel Rocamora

Body of War
Film S16 mm to HD
© The artist, 2010. Courtesy of Galeria SENDA

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Body of War is the central work of a video trilogy on war and violence, themes which are explored in a representation whose aesthetic impact is powerful and disturbing. Based on a long period of time spent in the company of a group of British soldiers, the artist Isabel Rocamora studies the military training practices that turn a man into a soldier, “from a human being into an agent of death”.

The video begins with an encounter between two men in which the sound and the filming in real time give the impression of an almost animal-like primal instinct. As in an opera, this overture presents the central theme of the whole work, the principle of the essence of violence: the actual moment of the encounter/clash between two soldiers, each aware that one of the two will inevitably succumb and the other will survive.

The artist’s main focus of interest is hand-to-hand combat training, a military practice based on the mnemonic learning of sequences of moves with which to take on the enemy. In the unfolding of the scenes, Rocamora stresses the repetition and unending reiteration of the movements that are the basis of the training. The artist creates a “choreography”, deconstructing the combat through the elaboration of a calibrated build-up of rhythmic and temporal sequences. The artist thus transforms the violent movements into a sort of dance that also suggests iconographical themes in the history of Christian art, from the Pietà of the dead Christ to the “danza macabre”. The music of the Kanon Pokajanen (Canon of Repentance, 1997) composed by Arvo Part takes up this idea, emphasizing a strong emotional involvement and referring explicitly to the theme of remorse and repentance.

The work functions on various levels of representation. The most immediate is that of the visual performance, the re-enactment of combat, which is contrasted by a voice-over with fragments of interviews of soldiers expressing their thoughts and personal experiences, that very dimension which military training attempts to remove. Another significant aspect is the setting, the landscape of Normandy where the scenes were filmed: military structures of the Second World War, now devoid of any function and slowly but inexorably disintegrating, contrast with the beauty of the boundless horizons surrounding them, becoming a symbol of isolation and solitude.

The artist’s premeditated and conscious construction aims at a sense of sublime beauty which emerges from the contrast between the content of what we observe (an exercise of violence and death) and the aesthetic stylistic rendering. Rocamora seems to apply the transformational principles of classical Greek theatre: mimesis and catharsis. She works by deconstructing a scene from reality on which her gaze has alighted, purifying and reducing it to its essential principles. This culminates in a final synthesis that transform the initial subject into another “reality”, this time an abstract aesthetic elaboration profoundly removed from documentary-style representation.

Isabel Rocamora (1968, Barcelona; lives and works between London and Barcelona) is a British-Spanish filmmaker artist whose work considers the performative language of human gesture and its relationship to individual and cultural identity. She trained in film and performance at Bristol University, UK, and in cinematography at Maine Workshops, US. Her practice developed through performance works (1993-2003), some of which were commissioned by national institutions such as the Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and which toured worldwide, often under the British Council. Winner of several international awards, such as IMZ Award―the Hague, DCW Media Honor―Los Angeles, and Jumping Frames Award, Hong Kong, her work can be seen in filmothèques and museums worldwide and has been broadcast on art programs on Channel 4 (UK), TVE2 (Spain) and Arte TV (France/Germany). She has been widely invited to give artist talks in the context of her exhibitions, including: the Whitechapel Gallery and the Architects’ Association, London; the Royal Art Circle, Barcelona; Minshar and Hamidrasha Schools of Art, Israel, The British Council, Palestinian Territories. Her solo exhibition The Intimacy of Violence premiered in Barcelona at Galeria Senda and Arts Santa Monica in May 2011. Her recent collective exhibitions include: (2012-2013) Shifting Sands: Recent Video from the Middle East, Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts, The University of Texas, El Paso, Texas; Vidéoformes 2012, Clermont-Ferrand, France; Supertemporal, Kulturhuset, Stockholm; The Eye of the Collector, Villa delle Rose, Bologna, Italy; Delimitations, Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, Israel; (2011) Video(S)torias, Artium, Basque Museum-Center of Contemporary Art, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain; (2010) Remote Viewing: Best of Loop, Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles, and Arts Santa Monica, Barcelona.

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