CONFLICT AREA / COUNTRY OF REFERENCE: AFGHANISTAN
The Empathy of Strangers,
Photographic Series, Video and Installation Works
© Artraker CIC 2014
My work is a reflection on the experience of being an eye-witness to the aftermath of conflict. Spending time observing casualty treatment in Helmand and subsequent visits to the northern provinces of Afghanistan and care-pathways in the UK presented a challenge to my perceived understanding of mediated truth. My initial responses to casualty chains in Helmand led to later work focussing on the profound challenges of transcending superficial engagement with exoticised experience and landscape. For the past five years my work has been influenced by my first unsettling experience of observing conflict.
Our familiarisation with the standard methods of portraying and documenting conflict makes us vulnerable to an inadvertent failure of empathy. I am intrigued by the fact that in a world saturated with photography, film and audio representation, that war is still palatable to contemporary politicians and their electorates. As we in the Europe continue to watch televised armed struggle, it seems incredible that we are able to intellectually isolate ourselves from the tragic reality of violence. My work reflects on the distance of the observer to the observed and the empathetic failure that enables organised violence to perpetuate.
David Cotterrell is an installation artist and Professor of Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University. Travelling as an observer, he witnessed the trauma-care undertaken in a tented military field hospital in Helmand province during an accelerated period of violence in late 2007. Cotterrell lived amongst military doctors, soldiers and marines; hosted by the Royal Army Medical Corps and later by the Royal Marine Commandos. He had been sent to this strange and contradictory environment with the support of the Wellcome Trust with an agenda to explore the ethically challenging relationship between war and medicine. He returned as a civilian to the North of Afghanistan with support from the RSA in May 2008 and subsequently, over a period of six months in 2009 the Department of Health enabled Cotterrell to visit and document the continuing care pathway at Selly Oak and Headley Court.