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'Probe': Work by Blazo Kovacevic
At Gallery Espresso through March 2

MODERN technologies often have their origins in scientists’ philosophical or even playful experiments.

They are almost immediately taken over by State institutions – for example, photography became very quickly in the 19th century used for police records and military reconnaissance. The airplane, growing out of a human obsession with flight, became almost immediately a useful weapon to be used against civilian populations. Similarly, X-ray scanners began with their use in medical applications; in our surveillance society, they have advanced to top position as security devices.

For the last few years, the old-fashioned metal detectors that passengers had to walk through have been replaced in airports throughout the world with X-ray scanners. It is actually an electronic strip search, as these photographs record all the details of the body under investigation. And there have been some complaints by passengers who feel humiliated and are worried about the later use of these photographic images.

But many people remain supportive, believing that anything the government does to protect them from whatever threat the government tells them they are under, is well taken. But perhaps we should consider that a security threat is not the true reason for these precautions. Their value may lie in the harassment and resulting sheep-like compliance of the citizenry, which is infinitely useful to the State in managing all other aspects of the social structure.

These are the questions that are raised by Blazo Kovacevic’s exhibition. He uses irony and wit in these mixed media works on canvas. All take as their theme the question of the use of scanners as security measures.

In “Lady Bag,” “SKB Case,” and “Violin Case”, we are shown the x-ray view, which presents the outline of the case with various little metal items: hair pins, keys, etc., along with a large knife (perhaps in a sheath). In other words, every passenger is carrying a knife.

In “Radiation Detected,” two X-ray images of different views of the cab of a truck are shown in a split screen; the top is a monochrome yellow and the bottom is a monochrome blue. Perhaps this references the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) color codes, as both yellow and blue are the colors of “caution.”

The bottom view of the diptych shows a computer screen presumably scanning the truck image. A message on the screen reads: “Alert! Radiation Detected.” -- which is not surprising since it has just been X-rayed.

But the most startling images in the show are the body scans. Kovacevic has downloaded these and the other images from internet sites. “Before and After”, a split-screen image of two figures, along with “Yellow Figure”, demonstrate the three types of body scanned images that are in use. They show how people are asked to stand – one with arms raised, one with hands by the side while holding onto rails and one simply facing forward. They also vary in the detail shown: a simple outline of the body, a detailed nude figure and a deep X-ray version showing skeleton and organs.

In defense of the use of these body scans at airports, it has been widely reported that the X-ray is basically harmless as it uses such a low level of radium. However, we should be wary of the assurances given to the general public now by businesses and government agencies.

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), a scientist who worked on X-ray development, warned the scientific community about its biological hazards. And what would a “low level” of radium amount to for the “frequent flyer”?

For about 100 years, artists have been concerned with the social role of art. In other words, how do visual artists involve themselves in the debate on social issues? The difficulty lies in the use of the image. Because, it is clear that, unlike the writing of prose, an image can always be read in various ways. For instance, I can write a polemic against body scanning.

However, a scanned image itself tells us nothing about the viewpoint of the artist concerning the issue of body scanning. The contemporary artist knows that any image is only representation. Thus, the artist who wants to make a statement finds he must resort to irony.

Kovacevic is a conceptual artist and he often does interactive installation or computer works. In line with this, his original concept on this theme was to have an exhibition in which there would be an empty gallery and a body scanning machine. Those visitors who gave their permission would then have their bodies scanned and these images would immediately be adhered to the wall, creating the show.

So far, due to the problems of renting such a machine, he has not yet been able to realize this. In a gallery setting, without coercion, body scanning would become a playful game. The context does matter greatly.

Kovacevic is, in fact, taking back the X-ray from its repressive use by the State, to a more playful and experimental context. cs


Mixed media by Blazo Kovacevic

When: Through March 2

Where: Gallery Espresso, 234 Bull St.