Investigating the Known Unknowns
Covert Operations’s rich conceptual themes include secrecy and disclosure, violence, power, subterfuge, surveillance, territory, geography and the visible versus the hidden. Subjects range from classified military sites and reconnaissance satellites to border and immigration surveillance, terrorist profiling to narcotics and human trafficking, illegal extradition flights to nuclear weapons. The thirteen international artists featured in Covert Operations: Investigating the Known Unknowns use legal, traditional research methods and resources—including the Freedom of Information Act, government archives and insider connections—to collect and reveal unreported information. Complex artworks with often ambiguous conclusions will be presented by artists such as Ahmed Basiony, Thomas Demand, Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0, Jenny Holzer, Taryn Simon, David Taylor and Kerry Tribe.
The exhibition title is a direct reference to Donald Rumsfeld’s eerie insight into our post‐9/11 landscape. In 2002 he commented to the press corps: “[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—there are things we do not know we don't know.” His assertion, although obfuscatory, is both logical and rhetorically accurate. Covert Operations presents works that directly address citizens’ constitutional rights and the vast expansion of federal power. Many of the artists examine the complicity of both governmental and individual actors in human rights violations. Others investigate the “black world,” or the hidden institutional structures and economy of the United States intelligence community. Other subjects include Black Ops and Black Sites, geographic sites of clandestine governmental operations. Still other artists testify to personal discrimination in the name of national security. The power of bearing witness is one reason why a visual art exhibition can be a potent vehicle for shedding light on the complicated relationship between freedom and security, individuals and the state, fundamental extremism and democracy. As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis observed, “Sunshine is said to be the best disinfectant.”
Covert Operations will include works by thirteen multidisciplinary visual artists and collaboratives: Ahmed Basiony (Egypt), Thomas Demand (Germany), Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0 (United States), Hasan M. Elahi (Bangladesh/United States), Harun Farocki (German-annexed Czechoslovakia/Germany), David Gurman (United States), Jenny Holzer (United States), Trevor Paglen (United States), Jenny Perlin (United States), Anne-Marie Schleiner and Luis Hernandez Galvan (United States; Mexico), Taryn Simon (United States), David Taylor (United States) and Kerry Tribe (United States).
Organized by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Curated by Claire C. Carter, Assistant Curator. This exhibition is made possible by an Emily Hall Tremaine Exhibition Award. The Exhibition Award program was founded in 1998 to honor Emily Hall Tremaine. It regards innovation and experimentation among curators by supporting thematic exhibitions that challenge audiences and expand the boundaries of contemporary art.
Available for travel February 2015 – February 2017
David Taylor, Fence Breach, New Mexico, 2009. From the series “Working the Line.” Pigment print, 29 ½ x 36 inches. Courtesy of the artist and James Kelly Contemporary, Santa Fe, New Mexico. © David Taylor