Critical Distance: Aleppo Kids 1 + 2

The image on the left – of a young boy crouching and sheltering his even younger sister in Aleppo – did the rounds on social media a few months ago. It was soon outdone by the picture of the poor lad looking bewildered in an Aleppo hospital, but it it hit me quite hard. I have a younger sister and it made me wonder how I might have reacted in similar circumstances. I am grateful that I’ve never been tested in this way. It was soon followed by the image on the right of a shell-shocked child in an Aleppo hospital

Each drawing is 1.26 m x 1.26m, graphite on paper. It was a much quicker process to make these than previous large works. I edited the photographs in PhotoShop. In doing so each section became quite blurred and so when I was working it wasn’t clear what I was actually drawing. When assembled the image reveals itself.

When Chris Graham and I made the first Sans Terre/+ installation I printed out large pixellated versions of photographs of charred corpses. Seen close up, they didn’t make much sense, but from across a room the pixels coalesced to form recognisably human shapes. It struck us that this was a manifestation (it seemed to concrete to be a metaphor) of how drone-centred foreign interventions take place. From a long distance things seem simple and clear, but close up – on the ground, as it were  – it’s messier and less clear. Making this drawing in a fragmented unclear way that, when put together, re-enacts some of that experience. I’ll be honest, it’s very muddled at the moment, but there’s something very real about distance and comprehension. It’s usual to talk about ‘critical distance’ in contemporary art practice, but I wonder if we really know what that means. It’s easy to subscribe to an oppositional ideology that is unlikely to ever manifest itself.