The film Prometheus – on view at The Showroom, London – suggests that power, whether hard or soft, lies not in what is visible, but in deciding when to shed light
Haig Aivazian’s first solo UK exhibition consists of a 40-minute loop of two films, Prometheus (2019) and All of your Stars are but Dust on my Shoes (2021). Both works are constructed by splicing and overlaying found footage from a range of sources, including VHS tapes, YouTube videos, cartoons and recordings from Aivazian’s phone. The clips act as self-contained arguments feeding into a larger discourse on the power dynamics embedded in a set of interlinking binaries: light and darkness; visibility and obscurity; the watcher and the watched.
Prometheus presents an origin story for a new era of broadcast media, and ultimately surveillance: continuous live transmission. It showcases America’s cultural, political and technological dominance at a specific point in time through two events: the games played by the US men’s Olympic basketball ‘Dream Team’ on its way to winning gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, which, in a first, were aired live and in their entirety by NBC and Cablevision; and the 1991 Gulf War, the first armed conflict live-broadcast as part of the 24-hour news cycle popularised by CNN. The sound of artillery jars with uplifting instrumentals and voiceovers from members of the Dream Team. At other points, ambient noise or narration is artfully superimposed over the found sound, and distinct clips transition almost seamlessly. Flitting between footage including Olympic award ceremonies, airstrikes and notably dark heatmaps of the CIA and NSA headquarters, the work suggests that power, whether hard or soft, lies not in what is visible, but in deciding when to shed light.
Less linked to a particular time or place, All your Stars are but Dust on my Shoes meditates on the history and continuous development of surveillance practices in tandem with opposition to it. The footage alternates between examples of surveillance apparatuses and instances of individual and group resistance, most of which are seemingly shot on mobile phones. Among them is a striking recording of a woman lying in a hospital bed as she speaks out in Arabic against government officials. It ends with her saying, “We will take our revenge with our own hands.” This, an exemplar of the film’s overarching themes, resonates as a call to resist surveillance by recreating it on one’s own terms – to make visible what states and other powerful entities would rather leave in the dark.
Haig Aivazian, All of your Stars are but Dust on my Shoes, The Showroom, London, on view until 19 March