Russell Chapman

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With some trepidation but also excitement

I have mentioned before that I am going to be involved in a research project in the sense that I will be the subject being researched. The effect of war on artists and their art. This is not something I usually talk about but since I have agreed to be a part of the project I should give some more information. A good friend, Johanna Fassl, is an art historian, who is well recognized in her field, and she has a project in development and I am to be a part of that project. Below is the synopsis of the proposal. It feels strange putting this out there because it is the first time I will be talking in public about my experience and how it has effected my art.

Johanna Fassl
“Missed Encounters in Wars Without Bodies: Investigating the Art of Veterans
from Iraq and Afghanistan”

This paper investigates the photography of young veteran artists from Afghanistan
and Iraq with a particular attention to the artists’ optical unconscious. It is part of a
larger project, conceived as a documentary film, informed by the idea that (visual)
stories are a way to make sense of our experiences and responses to catastrophe are
extraordinarily diverse.
Focusing on the most recent works of Russell Chapman, a UK-born
photographer who served in both wars, the paper discusses them as examples of a
perpetually ‘missed encounter’: “Past lives are with me every day, and, at the end
of each day, I still have pictures of the war in my mind. I want to create images to
the opposite of what I saw, and yet, everything that I do brings back memories of
dead bodies buried under the rubble.” Trauma essentially only exists in the Real
after it has been established in the Symbolic and thus the veteran’s camera, in the
classical sense of the Benjaminian optical unconscious, brings to light aspects from
the strata of the soul normally invisible to the human eye. The photographs are not
the restoration of a fictional integrity or subjective plenitude; what is assimilated in
these images is the miss itself. The ‘missed encounter’ with the catastrophe can only
be reconstructed in retrospect and this reconstruction-as-belated-experience then
becomes the ‘truth’ of the event.
Concentrating on what is absent or misrepresented, the paper challenges the
validity of the signifier in veteran art. At the same time, it also tries to move beyond
the deconstructionist claim that trauma resides beyond the limits of representation.
Seen through the lens of a transdisciplinary model, constructed through theories of
representation, psychoanalysis, and trauma studies, veteran art reveals itself as both
an enchantment with the present as a way out and a deep engagement with the
horrors of the past in form of ‘missed encounters’.

Short Biography:
Johanna Fassl is an assistant professor of art history and visual communication and
department chair at Franklin College Switzerland, in addition to being the co-director
of the Center for Sustainability Initiatives (CSI) at Franklin College Switzerland; and
the director of Casa Muraro, Columbia University’s Study Center in Venice. She
received her PhD (with distinction) from Columbia University and has since been
the recipient of a Mellon Fellowship and Getty Postdoctoral Fellowship for her
research. Her areas of specialization include the art and architecture of Venice;
her book on Giambattista Tiepolo with Peter Lang was published in 2010. Current
research projects include notions of visuality in Enlightenment art, science, and
philosophy with respect to Newton’s discoveries of white light, space, and gravity.
She is also engaged in a study titled “Body Obsession: Stuffed Animals, Plastinated
Bodies, and Other Observations on the Body in Contemporary Art and Culture,” and
a comprehensive research project that concerns the visual culture of disasters, in
particular investigating the art of young veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.