It’s Langlands and Bell like you’ve never seen them before! Those cerebral Turner Prize contenders in an action packed adventure.
‘The House of Osama Bin Laden’ is a diary of Langlands and Bells two week trip to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban.
Pages of video grabs, documentary photographs, a diary. There’s some art too: lists of acronyms of Non Governmental Organisations and stills of a computer model of Osama Bin Ladens house. It soon fills the book out, but not necessarily up.
The first impression is how out of place they seem. They seem like an artworld version of the Thompson Twins from Tintin, arriving amidst the rubble of Kabul.
Like any tourist, unsure of their immediate circumstance, they turn on their video camera – hoping the very act of recording will help make sense of it all.
Distance to subject matter has reduced too. Once exotic landscapes quickly become ubiquitous CNN news-scapes. But as embedded reporters demonstrated, being closer doesn’t necessarily mean having a better view.
Most revealing is their written diary, a mundane record of their activity which begins to show more than ruins: a story of looking around in the vain hope of finding some suitable subject matter.
It’s this absence that’s strange: Waiting for people who never arrive, visiting the site of the giant Buddhas dynamited by the Taliban to see a pile of rubble below two huge empty holes carved into the cliff face, visiting a house that Osama Bin Laden lived in but left long ago.
This absence is perhaps the defining characteristic of the war on terror. Adam Curtis’ excellent documentary ‘The Powers of Nightmares’ argued that the terrorist threat “is a fantasy that has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It is a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services, and the international media.” It explored the relationship between imagination and reality in the worldviews of the NeoCons and the Islamic extremists and traced the invisible forces of ideology, money and power that have sculpted meaning across Afghan geography. Afghanistan is the end of the line, where the stings of international politics have unravelled and frayed.
Deep at the heart of global conflict there is a great big void that occasionally erupts in plumes of emptiness: the absence of Iraqi WMDs, Bin Ladens phantom-esque liberty.
Langlands and Bell were an interesting choice to research this highly charged nothing-ness. Their art has always been seriously and deeply meaningless.
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