Vision Machines
Peggy Ahwesh

Kunsthall Stavanger presents Vision Machines, the first survey exhibition in Scandinavia of the groundbreaking American artist and experimental filmmaker Peggy Ahwesh (b. 1954, Pennsylvania, USA). Featuring single- channel films and video installations made between 1993 and 2021 that explore the relationship between corpo- reality and technology, Vision Machines identifies key points in Ahwesh’s exploration of the representation of the body in the moving-image.

Exhibition Vision Machines
Artists Peggy Ahwesh
Curator Erika Balsom and Robert Leckie
Venue Kunsthall Stavanger, Norway
All images Courtesy by the artist and Microscope Gallery. Photo: Erik Sæter Jørgensen

Considered a pioneer within the fields of experimental film and video art, Ahwesh has questioned the politics of image-making for over four decades, forging a distinctive moving image practice in the ruins of originality and authority.
Whether by working with nonprofessional performers or by repurposing existing images—such as a decaying pornographic film, the video game Tomb Raider, or computer-animated news coverage—Ahwesh embraces improvisatory strategies that probe the critical potential of play. With keen attentiveness to the materiality of bodies and media technologies alike, her works articulate a feminist commitment to the marginal and the minor.
Even as Ahwesh rejects the notion of style as authorial signature, her concerns with sexuality, subjectivity, and troubling the boundary between the animate and inanimate have remained constant across the decades. Focusing on a selection of works that explore the relationship between the body and the technologized image, the exhibition at Kunsthall Stavanger spans issues and ideas as diverse as gender, climate change and war.

The main work in the exhibition—Verily! The Blackest Sea, The Falling Sky (2017)—is a two-channel video in- stallation that transforms animated news reports from YouTube into a personal story based on actual events related to the Syrian refugee crisis and other current global disasters. On adjacent screens, the video presents the sky and the sea as a broader framework for human tragedies, spanning ideas as varied as global warming, police violence, surveillance and the migrant crisis.

Re: The Operation (2019) focuses on two conflicting narratives about the military operation that “took out” Osama Bin Laden: the official American version vs. the one that appeared in investigation reports. Here, Ah- wesh explores the thin line between official history and myth-making in one of the biggest news stories of the post-9/11 era, which triggered strong reactions and conspiracy theories around the world. The work also considers the ways in which storytelling and video editing can be used as means to steer away from or ap- proach the truth.

In Ahwesh’s most famous work—She Puppet (2001)—we follow Ahwesh as she plays the video game Tomb Raider, which was a popular cultural sensation at the turn of the millennium. Here, Ahwesh brings the game’s cinematic aesthetics to the fore, thus escaping the pre-programmed “mission” of the heroine Lara Croft. The work is a feminist critique of Croft’s problematic identity, but also deals with how we as individuals live in an in- creasingly artificial world.


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