The dehumanization of the other is a powerful ideological weapon employed by states during war—one that divides human populations into faceless masses identified only by terms like “us” and “them” or “axis” and “allies.” In his multimedia exhibition, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy: A Remembrance of Hiroshima 70 Years On, artist James Carman seeks to identify the forces that justify human annihilation with a Surrealist approach.
The Grasshopper Lies Heavy draws its inspirations from Butoh, a Japanese style of dance that supplanted Kabuki Theater after the Second World War. Butoh dancers perform in white body makeup, moving and contorting in slow, hyper-controlled manners, while depicting playful or grotesque imagery in extreme or absurd environments.
Carman works with these motifs to tell the story of collateral damage and suffering in war through photos, videos, and song. The artist’s visuals feature authoritative figures in black body paint—representing what he calls the “Nation Security State”—who menace a lone white figure, played by Butoh master Katsura Kan—representing Japan.
These black and white figures interact in seemingly separate plains. Kan struggles against forces he cannot see: writhing in pain, cringing in anticipation, or suffocating; while the “black” actors fill that negative space: physically choking Kan, surrounding him like monster-faced demons, or standing from afar to watch as they render violence. In the last example—a large digital print entitled After the Rain—the five men are superimposed over an image of flattened Hiroshima. Little Boy erupts in the background, and a single torii stands amid the rubble. The figures stand beneath their respective cultural symbols in a surrealist collage that distorts time and space into a cumulative and immediate historical moment.
Describing his art, Carman asks a powerful question: “How can we destroy entire cities without considering the human cost?” In places like Syria, Iraq, and Libya, he adds, “dehumanizing the enemy so that any type of violence is condoned allows the cycle of violence to be perpetuated over and over.”
“The rights of the enemies are never considered.”
The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is on view at PointB gallery in Brooklyn through September 11, 2015.