Shoot The Women First

8th February – 10th March 2018

The Breeder Gallery, Athens

Yasmina Reggad’s she refused to be what she was told she was (2018) will be performed on 8th February at 9pm.

It is accompanied by an essay by Professor Lisa Downing, Shoot The Women First – A Reflection on the Gender Politics of Targeting which you can download here.

Shoot the Women First was reputedly the direction given in the 1980s to members of West Germany’s elite GSG-9 anti-terrorist squad. It subsequently became standard advice offered by Interpol to other European agencies in the wake of the Baader-Meinhof, Red Brigade, IRA and other paramilitary attacks carried out by groups including female terrorists.

The paintings in this exhibition reflect on the role of women regarded by society as both perpetrators and victims of violence, questioning what it means to be both a menace and a target. The violence represented is not merely physical, but embodies a wider threat to society by those who exist on the periphery of mainstream politics and culture.

These works draw on a heterogenous range of historical, ongoing and future scenarios. Within the Greek context, they were shaped by the 2012 arrests of suspected sex workers in Athens, the forced HIV testing of these women, and the imprisonment of those suspected of intentionally transmitting the virus. The release of the suspects’ personal information by the police to the media led to further stigmatisation and terrorising of female sex workers. The ongoing imprisonment of Irianna under Greece’s questionable counter-terrorism law, albeit the evidence being in dispute is also an important point of reference. The unchecked use of guns against civilians by the police in the US has been another major influence, as have the recent social media campaigns drawing attention to the widespread and normalised sexual harassment of women on a global scale. In each scenario, forms of terrorism and bioterrorism mingle, and viruses and virality emerge as weapons.

The paintings reference several symbolic systems and languages, from the distinct shade of pink which demarcates the brothels of central Athens, to the brightly coloured shapes of ‘discretionary command’ training targets that abstract and standardize the human body as a series of points to be shot. ‘Discretionary command’ training requires the shooter to listen to commands and shoot the shapes and colours in a given order. This system complicates responsibility for the act of shooting: the person giving orders, or the person holding the gun. The paintings dramatise the impulse to standardize and control bodies that frighten or threaten the state, by abstracting and processing them as diagrams and targets.

Shoot the Women First is laid out across two floors in the style of a shooting gallery. Made up of three distinct sets of work, the materials of the paintings highlight the divide between that which is ephemeral and that which is permanent, and the corresponding value we place upon each. The works on cardboard (Bulk Targets 1-100, 2017) take their shape and number from the International Practical Shooting Confederation shooting target model, often sold in packs of one hundred. They are used once and discarded. In contrast, the works in Pink Discretionary Command I-XII and Grey Discretionary Command I- VIII are made on gesso panels, the traditional technique of icon painting, and share in the language of this sacred object, which is kept safe and venerated.

The wall painting that joins the two floors of the exhibition together is based on a standard forensic ruler: a tool used at crime scenes to assist forensic photography and provide scale and colour calibration for evidence documentation.

The exhibition is accompanied by an essay by Professor Lisa Downing, Shoot The Women First – A Reflection on the Gender Politics of Targeting which you can download here. Professor Downing’s writing has been a big influence on my work over the past year so I am thrilled to have this text as a parallel response to the subjects we have been talking about over the past few months, and are the backbone of the exhibition.