“Consuming Subjects and Soldiers-Turned-Artists: Objects of the Aestheticized Homefront”

So looking forward to ASA this year!  Wendy Kozol and I are presenting more work from our book project-in-progress on a War and Peace Studies Caucus panel about militarizing the domestic and domesticating the military.

Here’s the abstract:

What happens when creative practice smudges the line between the military and the domestic? In this paper, we explore the affective politics of two artistic projects—Lisa Barnard’s photographic series “Care Packages” and the Combat Paper Project—that oscillate between militarization and domesticity, between violence and care, brutality and recovery.

“Care Packages,” features close-ups of the banal but poignant contents of the care packages that the Blue Star Moms send to deployed soldiers overseas. Shot against black backgrounds, the close-ups provide detailed views of these items—the ordinary consumer products of domestic life like toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, pencils, hand warmers— encased in zip-lock bags. By their inclusion in the care packages, these objects are militarized; as the objects of Barnard’s camera, they are aestheticized. This double recontextualization ironically reveals the meticulous care of the mothers for their distant children even as the domestic fails to offset the difficulties of deployment or protect these beloved soldiers. Witnessing the entangled relations of domesticity and militarization, this project also abstracts the violence of war by reducing the soldier’s body to a consuming subject like any other. Since 2007, the Combat Paper Project has organized workshops for veterans, teaching them to pulp their uniforms for the manufacture of handmade paper, which then becomes a canvas on which these “soldiers-turned-artists” can record, though image and text, their stories, memories, and traumas. Emphasizing the importance of collective witnessing, the CPP promises both a healing experience for veterans and a forum for the reconsideration of shared responsibility for militarized violence. Reliant on the significance of the material transformation of the uniform and the expiating power of confessional narrative, the CPP raises thorny questions about agency, survival, guilt, trauma, and recognition.

These projects, which hinge on transformations both symbolic and physical, have in common their aesthetic critiques of militarization and simultaneous privileging of care for the soldiering body and psyche. These projects necessarily foreground the vulnerability of the soldier, but at what cost? In what ways does the reliance on the domestic (both in the form of domestic comforts and the domestication of militarized violence) occlude other forms of suffering?