This, the final exhibition of a series from the art collection of the British Council, focuses on art made in response to conflict and war. The Swedish curator, 26 year old Theodor Ringborg, won an international competition to do the job.
Ringborg said of his choice of works, “From the perspective of someone from Sweden, a neutral country for 200 years, it is striking how much of everyday life in Britain is populated by references to conflict and war, from museums to public memorials. This is substantially reflected in the British Council Collection, where you can see a powerful tradition of ‘war art’, developing from the early 20th century through to the present day.”
While this contrast between countries like Sweden and Britain, with its centuries as a powerhouse of imperialism, is never overt it remains implicit in the exhibition. Ringborg refuses to choose work that gives nuance or analysis to the distinction between terrorist violence and the violence of war and their interrelationship. The psychological experience of conflict is laid bare rather than any political framework. There are lithographs from 1918 – produced from sketches of the front line at Ypres – through to works inspired by photographs of the 2004 school siege in Beslan, Russia.
Some themes draw on the anxiety and uncertainty of the aftermath of war and others address the subject of remembrance and memorial.
These give the images depicting the reality of war more directly a wider context and narrative, without which some of the exhibition would feel bare and museum-like.
There is also an engagement with arguably more contemporary aspects of conflict, for example exploring the climate of fear that dominates popular media and culture and its impact on modern reportage and protest.
While a sense of tragedy is often employed by warmongering politicians to silence critics and promote nationalism, Fall Out leaves viewers with an angry and poignant sense of war as a horror that ordinary people experience. But what is most significant about Fall Out is the people largely absent – those who remain safely removed from the realities of war – the ones who take us into them.
Fall Out is at the Whitechapel Gallery until 30 May
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A pick of the highlights