Bare Life Study #1

Performance | 2005

Premiere: VideoBrasil Festival of Electronic Art and Performance, Sao Paolo, September 2005.

This piece explores US military prisons as sites of intercultural encounters. In the age of info-war and smart bombs, the last “theatre of combat” between America and its “others” is occurring in the prisons where “enemy combatants” are being held around the world. For many American soldiers the prisons are the only places where they actually meet the enemy face to face. And precisely because these prisons are not considered combat zones, many women in the US armed forces are assigned to them, since women are barred from engaging in combat.

Some of the most controversial images of the war on terror have emerged from these prisons. They are depictions of ritualized humiliation of “enemy combatants,” usually taken by the soldiers who operate as agents of sovereign authority. These photographs, together with various testimonies by soldiers and interpreters who have witnessed acts of excessive cruelty, shed some light on the uses of spectacles of subjection inside these prisons as disciplinary conventions.

The detail I focused on for this group performance is the act of cleaning the floor with a toothbrush. Reports have surfaced that American soldiers order prisoners to clean their cells with toothbrushes for hours at a time. I staged a street performance in front of the US consulate in Sao Paulo.