Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sensory Ethics

Xu Zhen’s “Impossible is Nothing” exhibition at Long March Gallery in Beijing poses a fundamental moral dilemma.  What are the ethics of turning a subject into an object?  The Starving of Sudan consists of an artificial environment constructed to look like a barren African landscape. Inside of the environment, an African child is placed in the gallery space on a daily basis. The exhibition is intended to question degrees of observation in an image-mediated world. Is it somehow unethical to observe an African child in a gallery space while we are observing the same scene on the nightly news on television? In fact, the main difference between the two is that one is real life tragedy happening before the camera and the other is simulacra. Before we are to criticize the moral implications of Zhen’s piece, we must call into question how we already do turn subjects into objects in our daily life. The very act of photographing follows the same process, and in a world where photography has been engrained so deeply into our cultural psyche, it could be said that we turn ourselves into objects as a way of being. Zhen obviously intended to shock his audience, and that he did. But his very intention was to test the limits of boundaries and to call into question our own practices. Zhen asks: What is the difference between lived and observed reality? Perhaps the answer could be that there is no difference anymore. 

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