Love in the Time of CNN

By Heather Webb


    And when I look at a history book and think of the imaginative effort it has taken to squeeze this oozing world between two boards and typeset, I am astonished. Perhaps the event has an unassailable truth. God saw it. God knows. But I am not God. And so when someone tells me what they heard or saw, I believe them, and I believe their friend who also saw, but not in the same way, and I can put these accounts together and I will not have a seamless wonder but a sandwich laced with mustard of my own.
                — Jeanette Winterson, Oranges are not the only fruit, 1985

        Yael Brotman’s series of drawings/paintings Love in the Time of CNN, produced during and in response to the U.S.-led war on Iraq, continues the artist’s ongoing investigations into the human condition. Drawing her imagery from a myriad of sources cultural artifacts, mass media, and the built and natural environments Brotman presents the viewer with a kaleidoscopic assemblage of fragmented images. A constant dialogue and paradoxical play between seemingly disparate objects and conceptual dichotomies gives the work its unsettling yet seductive quality.
        Given the subject matter that inspired this series, how easy, and with considerably less effective results, it would have been to take a straight-forward didactic approach. Integral to Brotman’s approach is the notion of ambiguity. Multiple interpretations, obscure or double meanings, difficult to classify; these are all terms that describe and inform Brotman’s work and wherein lies its strength. Although open-endedness and a non-linear narrative characterizes each work this does not mean that thematic underpinnings do not exist. Prevalent themes throughout the series include fragility, violence, human folly, culture versus nature, order/chaos.
        Rather than offering up conclusions, however, Brotman is concerned with questioning. In Chorus and Verse, notions of rhetoric and posturing are considered in relation to "official" and counter narratives operational during the war. Was this war about bringing liberation, democracy and peace to the people of Iraq or the elimination of a former ally turned enemy? Was it about disarming a dictator who possessed weapons of destruction or about gaining control of oil resources? What was the role of the media, were they merely the chorus to Bush’s and Blair’s verses? Concepts of propaganda and rhetoric also form the basis of the work Love in the Time of CNN, which shares the same title as the series, in which an unrehearsed moment at the Academy Awards is depicted alongside images of war ships and an 18th century floral textile pattern. In this work, Brotman examines the scripted nature of media coverage by drawing a correlation between Hollywood and the theatre of war. In Medal which specifically asks Who are the heroes? questions regarding historical interpretations and relationships of power such as, How is history constructed? Who is it written for? Who ultimately writes it? are also referenced.
        In viewing these works we are never certain that we have the whole story and that is exactly the point. Brotman has achieved a deliberate lack of resolve through the construction of complex pairings that mimic cerebral processes such as memory retrieval, dreams and information synthesis. Her works reflect our inner and outer realities where nothing is static or unassailable and we are constantly engaged in an ongoing exercise of ambiguity.