With contributions by Abbas Akhavan, George Antheil, Gregory Bateson, BBC, Walter Benjamin, Lene Berg, Black Cat Systems, Sir Anthony Blunt, Mel Bochner, Bertolt Brecht, Adam Broomberg + Oliver Chanarin, Bill Burns, Canadian Army, Raymond Cass, Center for Land Use Interpretation, CIA, Gordon Matta-Clark, Dana Claxon, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali, Jan Dibbets, Encounter Magazine, Arthur Erickson, Harun Farocki, FBI, Coco Fusco, Hezbollah, Douglas Huebler, Israeli Defense Force, Yves Klein, Joseph Kosuth, Hedy Lamarr, Alfonso Laurencic, An My Le, Libyan Minister of Culture and Ethnic Affairs, Lucy Lippard, Mark Lombardi, Simon Menner, Lee Miller, Richard Mosse, Sang Mun, NSA, Trevor Paglen, Palestine Arab Delegation, Roland Penrose with David Sherman, Queen’s Press, Walid Raad, Fabian Reimann, Steve Rowell, Peter Paul Rubens, Raul Ruiz, Ed Ruscha, Paul Ryan, Joshua Simon, Robert Smithson, Hito Steyerl, Deborah Stratman, Tamas St. Turba, Ubisoft, US Army, Paul Virilio, Edward Wadsworth, Eyal Weizman, Wikileaks, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Amir Yatziv, Philip R. Zimmerman, and others.
DO keep in the shadows, and remember the shadow moves.
- Canadian Army, Training Pamphlet No. 1, 1940
During WWII, Sir Anthony Blunt was a spy who worked for the British counterintelligence Ministry of Security Service popularly known as MI5. After the war he was knighted and given several prestigious positions including Surveyor of the Kings Pictures, Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art, and consultant for the National Gallery of Canada, acquiring for the latter the early 17th C. painting Augustus and Cleopatra by Nicholas Poussin. However by the 1970s, cracks started publically surfacing in the dual identities of Poussin’s painting and Blunt’s persona—constructions that both hid a secret Ant(h)ony: that of the excluded Marc Antony in the painting and the secret life of Anthony Blunt outside of the painting. First in 1971, the National Gallery of Canada revoked Blunt’s attribution of the painting to Poussin relegating it to an unknown Italian painter—a decision never conceded by Blunt who maintained his original 1938 diagnosis to the end of his life. The crisis of identity doubled in 1978 with the parliamentary pronouncement by Prime Minister Margret Thatcher when she revealed to the public that Sir Blunt was a double agent working for the Soviets since the time he started his profession as an Art Historian at Cambridge, thus casting a dual blow to the legitimacy of both his “intelligences.” The British intelligence community already knew for decades that Blunt was part of the Cambridge Spy Ring, but Blunt had strategically negotiated immunity and secrecy in exchange for revealing information as a gambit that ultimately proved politically useless. In the end, Blunt has remained an enigma and his exposé posed more questions than answers: specifically, the question remains whether he was such an ambitious curator because of his passion for art, or whether his superlative professionalism was the perfect cover for his intelligence career; and generally, his narrative questions straightforward notions of agency, authorship and attribution that resonate beyond his particular circumstances. What appears at first to be a rare story in the art world reveals after some investigation a pattern of secret crossovers between two parallel worlds.
CounterIntelligence, a project by Berlin-based artist Charles Stankievech, contemplates the intersection of art and military intelligence communities, gleaning historic examples ranging from a 1930s anarchist double agent who designed Spanish torture cells based on Surrealist and Bauhaus aesthetics to a civilian bookwork circumventing the NSA’s control of encryption. Instead of focusing on the mechanics of propaganda or questioning the power of the image in today’s media saturated Military Industrial Complex, this exhibition explores the hidden gestures and strategic deceptions of a shadow world, covering a spectrum of work from historical military artifacts to contemporary artwork. At the core of the show lie the concepts of the double agent and the secret, specifically where a historical figure or artifact appears to serve one community but also functions in the realm of another. Strategically, the exhibition counterpoints maneuvers-of-circumvention alongside artwork-as-ciphers expanding the field of interpretation through poetic connections such as black sites vs. non-sites, interrogation vs. performance, field manuals vs. bookworks, decoy vs. readymade. Methodologically, CounterIntelligence questions the contemporary role of the exhibition as caught in the no man’s land between the didactic museum and the conceptual gesture. Much like camouflage, appearances can be deceiving and surface meanings often misleading when tactics such as double agents and ‘security through obscurity’ are executed with the explicit intention not ‘to make the invisible visible’ as Paul Klee would say, but rather to use the image to hide what matters most.
Charles Stankievech (born 1978, in Okotoks, Canada) has exhibited in venues such as Palais de Tokyo (Paris), International Symposium on Electronic Arts (ISEA2010, Germany), dOCUMENTA 13 (Kassel), Xth Biennale of Architecture (Venice), NGBK + HKW (Berlin), ISSUE Project Room (New York), Musee d’art Contemporain Montreal, Canadian Centre for Architecture and MASSMoCA. In 2011 he was the West Coast/Yukon finalist for the Sobey Art Award. In 2012 he was artist-in-residence at Flaggfabrikken (Norway), MARFA Fieldwork International Research Program (Marfa, Texas). He has also held residencies with the Canadian Forces Artist Program, MuseumsQuartier (Vienna, Austria), Nodar Artist Residency Center (Portugal), Waterpod (NYC), Atlantic Center for the Arts (Florida), Banff Centre for the Arts, and artLAB San Servolo Artist Residency (Venice). His writings appear in academic journals such as Leonardo Music Journal (MIT Press) and 306090 (Princeton Architectural Press), as well as experimental texts in art publications. Since 2011, he has served as co-director of the art and theory press K.