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Art In and Out of the Age of Terror

In this essay on Hans-Peter Feldmann’s Die Toten, Dieter Roelstraete considers the ways in which contemporary art has tried to come to terms with catastrophe and terrorism…If mass-scale terrorism truly is the defining political obsession of our times – whether its perceived danger or urgency is a self-perpetuating illusion or not is a question that must remained unanswered, for now – it is definitely one that contemporary art continually struggles to come to terms with. The spectral, faceless nature of present-day terrorism (that of 9/11, of course, as well as that of senseless sectarian violence in post-Desert Storm Iraq, not to mention that of the state-sponsored military-industrial variety) has proven to be a rather arid source of inspiration for contemporary art. Indeed, when it comes down to dealing with this new brand of terrorism, the first decade of the twentyfirst century has so far produced surprisingly little in the way of convincing artworks; we need only invoke the well-meaning but ultimately lacklustre example of Robert Storr’s Arsenale exhibition in the 52nd Venice Biennale to prove our point.