Brian Conley at The Boiler

Miniature War In Iraq… and Now Afghanistan

12 February – 21 March, 2010

Miniature War In Iraq…and Now Afghanistan | Press Release

In March 2007, artist Brian Conley brought his research-based and collaborative practice to a project with a group of historical miniature gamers at the Las Vegas Games Expo, whom he asked to play/fight recent battles from the war in Iraq. Working from Conley’s instructions, the gamers built a diorama that first represented a town in the Zarga region near Najaf, and later a Baghdad neighborhood. As play unfolded, an onsite Arabic-speaking research team investigated competing versions of the chosen events, culling information from the New York Times and Al Jazeera, militant Islamic websites, US military sources, and communication with Iraqi bloggers. Beginning from historically accurate circumstances and representing several sides in the conflict, their games were not reenactments. Events proceeded not only according to military strategy, but via rolls of the dice. Play thus yielded ahistorical outcomes.

Opening February 12, 2010, Miniature War in Iraq….and now Afghanistan comes to Pierogi’s satellite exhibition space, the Boiler, for a 45-day installation and a one-night performance. The installation will present the original game-table as it stood after the final Las Vegas game, video documentation of the Iraqi games in play, news materials gathered by the Arabic-speaking research team, and large-format photographic portraits of the miniature figures.

Then, on March 6th the diorama will be rebuilt, and members of the East Coast Historical Gaming Miniatures Society will play a new game in a live performance. Their scenario will derive from present-day events in Afghanistan. Working alongside the players, new Pashto- and Dari-speaking researchers will select and document instigating circumstances for real-time play.

Miniature War in Iraq….and now Afghanistan takes up Conley’s long-term interest in violence, communication, and group- and collaborative behaviors. In particular this project explores the collision of entertainment and suffering, immediacy and imitation, fiction and fact, via performance, installation, and documentation. Photography, video, print and online news-sources, eyewitness accounts, rumor, memory, and conjecture are intrinsic to the relay of facts in global culture, while the use of models, maquettes, and game-boards to plan military maneuvers and train soldiers goes back to early forms of chess. Thus, as the miniature war games progress and chance begins to influence events, conditions move not farther away from the reality of armed conflict, but closer to it. By assigning values to particular dice-throws, the gaming rulebook accounts for variables in ballistics, terrain, weather conditions, fatigue, injury, etc., a blending of computation and happenstance that speaks to the intensely technical and profoundly random conditions of battle. Gamers report that during play they enter a “magic circle” in which the diorama comes alive with the stress, elation, calculation, and uncertainty of combat. For Conley, it is in such volatile zones of reality and fantasy that collective violence can be explored and simultaneously questioned.

Conley is a New York artist currently living in San Francisco. From radio performance to sculptural, research-based, and collaborative installations, Conley’s artistic practice operates across the divides between science, art, and politics. His multimedia works inquire into biology, linguistics, and group behavior to construct new morphologies that humorously and provocatively challenge our perceptions of animality, violence, and consciousness. He has exhibited in Bitstreams at the Whitney Museum, Statements at ArtBasel, Becoming Animal at MassMoCA, and Insight/Out: Eight Americans at the Wanas Foundation in Sweden, as well as producing a commissioned work in residence at the ArtPace Foundation for Contemporary Art in San Antonio. Recent projects include exhibitions at Pierogi Gallery in Leipzig, Germany, and at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Conley is founding co-editor with Sina Najafi of Cabinet Magazine. From 2005-08, he was Chair of the Graduate Fine Art Program at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where he is now professor.