Temme Barkin-Leeds


My recent work deals with how technology impacts the way we perceive war. It was made for the exhibition “Gloria Victis” (Glory to the Vanquished) at the Mason Scharfenstein Museum. My work is particularly relevant for this combat-themed show since, for the last 5 years, I have used “shooter” video games as both background and source for my paintings and sculptures in order to reflect the absurdity of using war as a game.

To make my point, I undermine the intention of the game makers to make a “real” image --they even used scenes of actual battles from the war in Afghanistan--by transposing images of real life into the scenes, painting abstract or flat painted portions into the landscape, and/or introducing pop culture icons like Adele, Taylor Swift, and others into game scenes. Some contain images of current commercial establishments like the Apple Store and Whole Foods placed on the game’s battlefield. One commentator called my work “Stephen Colbert made visual”.

I flatten and make images more abstract because I want to create an arena that is more about painting and halting action instead of creating a fake “reality” or visual motion as the games purport to do. My overlaid flat geometrics supersede any original narrative, and thus, I impede the original intent of the source. Unlike a shooter video game which moves, I make paintings and sculptures to arrest the action and thwart the game’s existence in its original form. The colors can be similar to the game colors and seductive as they are in the games; on the other hand, they can be bright and acidic, further undermining their original appearance.

In opposition to the shooter video game “Drone Shadow Strike”, my clay drone shadows are intended to make war itself appear absurd. I use shadows of actual drones to make clay shapes and decorate them with out-of-place floral designs. While they resemble simple embellished shapes, they are an antitheses to what actual war drones destroy, the “collateral damage” of innocent civilians. My clay mug with gun handle is filled with orange liquid to raise awareness of “drinking the military Koolaid”.

From the first images of the Vietnam War on television, to cable tv, to the military’s use of shooter video games to desensitize the military, to today’s 3-D printed Perdix micro-drones, which fly autonomously and can communicate with one another, technology has been influencing how we view war. In the coming year, a video game called D.R.O.N.E will allow the player to “build” their own drone and landscape within the game and use “advanced damage systems”. Now, in this time of “real” vs “alternate facts”, my work asks the question of what is our truth, as opposed to my work’s providing answers.