Nancy Davenport’s “The Apartments”: Art After 9/11 and the Performance of Terrorism

Just got an art history paper of mine up on the site, here.

A 747 jet flies low and close to the top of an apartment tower. On a balcony, a person poses with their arm in the air, pointing a gun at the plane.
Nancy Davenport, 747 (image description in alt-txt)

Five days before the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, 2001, the Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery in New York City premiered The Apartments, a series of digitally altered photographs in which artist Nancy Davenport simulates terrorist attacks on white-brick-wonders not unlike the modernist façades of the Twin Towers. With titles such as Terrorist 2Sniper, and Revolutionary (day), revolutionary fighters wave red flags like occupying armies, snipers aim rifles from balconies, and missiles bank toward bland apartment blocks. The series appropriates photojournalism images from the 1970 Kent State shootings, the 1982 Siege of Beirut, and the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre, as well as iconic performance art, positioning The Apartments in a liminal space between photojournalism and performance.

Were it not for September 11th, The Apartments might have succeeded as a show about misplaced political idealism, “failed modernism” (Yenelouis), and the problem “of photography as an objective medium to capture reality” (Davenport, “The Apartments”). Some of Davenport’s images might even appear comical in the absurd futility and clichéd gestures of her “revolutionaries.” 

Read the rest in link at top! Unfortunately, it’s missing my footnotes, but maybe that’s for the better.

Some further thoughts:

Despite being tough on Davenport in that paper, I am a huge fan. My Parallel Stress series is, in part, a response to her re-enactment of Oppenheim’s iconic work (referenced in the paper), through digital manipulation as opposed to physically rigorous performance. I was intrigued by the concept as “accommodation,” and yet, I knew to make the points I needed to, I could never make my images that way. In a way, Davenport’s Parallel Stress neutralizes the bodies because they are not really performing physically, and I took a leap from there.

But I was also influenced by Davenport’s Weekend Campus, for a piece I am doing that creates a reverse animation of my brother’s crime scene photos. As I wrote in my PHD statement of purpose:

“In a similar vein, I have been thinking about Barthes’ “horror of the anterior future” as applied to crime scene photography when the photographic subject is a dead body. I am collaborating to create a backwards animation of the photos from my brother’s crime scene, inspired in part by the work of Nancy Davenport in Weekend Campus.”

The thing about Barthes’ “horror of the anterior future” is that it requires a photo of a then-living person who is now dead. As Barthes wrote: “He is dead and he is going to die…”

It’s a paradox.

But what is the horror of the anterior future when the subject of the photograph is a dead body? Because I experienced that horror with the crime scene photos of my brother, and he was dead. It comes down to modes of storytelling in forensics, the way investigation works backwards from death to life, a reverse process of decay. There is no anterior future because it, too, has come to pass in the photo, and yet, we have to figure out what happened. We have to discover and witness it. In a way, until that is done, it hasn’t come to pass. We have to be complicit in the death, in a sense, creating our own anterior future–and our own horror of it.

So I’ve been at work on a series of photographs that walk through the various versions of my brother’s death, backwards, in a choppy sort of animation, inspired in part by Nancy Davenport’s “Weekend Campus,” in which she uses a rudimentary animation of “panning” as if in film. It’s her homage “to the great French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 film Weekend, which is famous for an eight-minute continuous tracking shot in which Godard catalogues all the dominant types of persons who made up French society of the time.”

Mine is not relying on panning and not a tracking shot; I’m interested in the concept of time in forensic storytelling — and as such, it’s more about animating actions with so many “missing” sequences. Investigators and survivors create “movies” from these janky, jumpy, glitchy sequences, making a story from disconnected and singular images. Even the investigation of the crime scene is disjointed, out of sequence, no concept of a starting or ending point …

Part of this project involved re-creating the Google Maps image of the apartment house where my brother died:

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Today is the 11th anniversary of my brother Greg dying & we went out and did the first reproduction of the Google maps photo of the apartment house where his body was found days later. . . I’ve been obsessed with the toddler pushing the empty stroller at the edge of the frame in the Google maps image (2nd photo) & what he represents to me about the house, how Google captured this hidden history in a way but nobody knows it unless they know. There is an entire semantic memory there for us & nobody else … and yet it appears in the visual, “objective” map. . . I’m dressed in the costume I always wear when playing Greg: the red wig, the skirt printed with his police booking photo, something Army green … and I’m pushing my pink wheelchair instead. . . It’s part of a project in which I’m inserting myself into certain landmark google maps images like this … doing my Parallel Stress pose. This shoot is part of larger project overall, one I pitched in my PHD apps: . . "In a similar vein, I have been thinking about Barthes’ “horror of the anterior future” as applied to crime scene photography when the photographic subject is a dead body. I am collaborating to create a backwards animation of the photos from my brother’s crime scene, inspired in part by the work of Nancy Davenport in Weekend Campus." . . Cutting in a series of images of me re-enacting the different accounts of my brother’s death, to played backwards from the actual crime scene photos, which have a strange ordering all their own as well. . . Alan had a super wide angle camera with us and we also took iPhone images like this cause: Instagram. 🤷🏼‍♀️

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Which seems strange, right? Why should this be part of the sequence? I kinda explain here.

Anyway, if you are interested in Davenport’s art & how it intersected with 9-11, click the link at top & enjoy.