Endless War (WORK IN PROGRESS) - YoHa with Matthew Fuller (2012)
NATO forces invaded Afghanistan on October 7th 2001. At that point a system for reporting every interaction between NATO and local people started up. On 25th July 2010, WikiLeaks released a document set called the Afghan War Diary, over 91,000 (15,000 withheld) reports covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010. The reports, written by soldiers and intelligence officers, are mainly short descriptions of military actions but they also include intelligence information, reports of meetings with political figures, and other details.
This document was used by a group of newspapers to generate articles, many of which gave new kinds of insight into the prosecution of this war. The full data set however is rarely seen, and access to it is blocked in many territories around the globe. As a full document it is 108MB of text. It gives unique insight into the futile nature of the war in Afghanistan but also the ontology of contemporary war as it is carried out on the ground. Just as an algorithm is an ‘effective procedure’, a series of logical steps required to complete a task, the Afghan War Diary shows war as it is computed, reduced to an endless permutation of jargon, acronyms, procedure recorded, cross-referenced and seen as a sequence or pattern of events.
Endless War is not a video installation but a month-long real-time processing of this data seen from a series of different analytical points of view. (From the point of view of each individual entry; in terms of phrase matching between entries; and searches for the frequency of terms.) As the war is fought it produces entries in databases that are in turn analysed by software looking for repeated patterns of events, spatial information, kinds of actors, timings and other factors. Endless War shows how the way war is thought relates to the way it is fought. Both are seen as, potentially endless, computational processes. The algorithmic imaginary of contemporary power meshes with the drawn out failure of imperial adventure.
As a writer, you meet a subject that challenges preconceptions you didn’t know you had and raises emotions you didn’t expect to feel. Confusion. Paralysis. How do you start? Then where do you go? Is where you go “art criticism?” Is “art criticism” a bigger thing than you thought? Reflections on writing about Africa by Holland Cotter, co-chief art critic and senior writer at the New York Times, and winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.