Baden Pailthorpe has produced some thoughtful and quite beautiful visual mantras using video game assets.
A straightforward interpretation would accept his patterned abstraction of the symbols of warfare as an articulation of how war and death are like wallpaper. It’s like making pretty pictures out of blood. The implication being that society is sociopathic, maybe… the banality of evil and all that.
But there’s something else that renders the movement of the soldiers in his works more graceful - ecstatic even. So as well as a critical approach to the normalisation of war, there’s also a subversion of that norm in the portrayal of the soldier as an expressive, emotive, artistic figure. A dancer. Which is quite at odds with any idea of combat that we might have. Or maybe not? The visual associations with mandalas, inkblot tests, altars, totems all imply some sort of higher focus, that there’s a kind of sublime state of conflict that these figures are involved with. Is war that fundamental? Is it a human trait? Is it noble?
Taking another approach, perhaps the piece is about disempowerment or disarmament.The works emasculate a number of very male figures, turning them into ornamentation. Ornamentation is passive, removes threat and practical purpose.
It reminds me of a funny habit I have. Like many people, the presence of an authority figure has a curious effect on me. For example, just walking past a police officer is enough to reinforce my superego (for want of a better word) and prompt me to examine my actions (‘have I done anything wrong?’ I ask myself). Meeting the eye of a police officer is something I still have trouble with (what if they take that as a sign of guilt?). My way of fighting this subtle oppression is to be a pervert and look at their crotches and arses. If I check them out and objectify/fetishise them as sexual objects then I can somehow retain a position of power, even if it is only psychological. Maybe Pailthorpe’s 'dancers’ have undergone a similar process? Maybe he’s fetishising these overtly male figures as malleable ornamental figures and enacting a form of conceptual disarmament?
Or I could be talking shit again. Reading the blurb on Pailthorpe’s site gives a little more insight into how these figures were created. Nicked from military simulations it seems. I wonder how he got hold of them?