"When you see a dangerous animal don’t you react out of memory, out of
  experience? – Perhaps not your personal experience but the racial inheritance
  that says ‘be careful.’ But why don’t we act equally efficiently when we see
  the danger of nationalism, of war, of separate governments with their sovereign
  rights and armies?"
  J. Krishnamurti, Amsterdam, May 10, 1969

At Roger Smith Gallery, artist Mick O’Shea presents (of) Field and Fyce, a large scale diorama that represents an unusual battlefield. O’Shea approaches war in a very different way from his predecessors in Modern Art. His installation embodies neither the mechanistic spectacle that fascinated Marinetti, nor the angst and grief of Picasso’s Guernica. Rather his war reflects the sensitivity of a Madison Avenue art director – it is designed to please. Tanks are painted in warm, festive colors, and a conflagration is stylized into speed flames that might decorate a 1950’s roadster. But even the painted flames do not remain hot for long, dissipating into bubbles the higher they go.

Mick O’Shea’s installation divides the Roger Smith Gallery into two spaces separated by a partition of metal joists. These upright joists support a checkerboard pattern of flames (of inlaid formica) and rectangular vases filled with plastic floral arrangements. In opposition to the checkerboard of panels and vases is open space so that from either side of the room the viewer can see what’s going on behind the enemy lines. The floor is divided into a checkerboard of formica and pastel colors. On the near side, model tanks, personnel carriers, and scud missile carriers make their way through a flaming aperture in the partition. The models are labeled sequentially like illustrations in a textbook of military strategy, but the battlefield has a surreal, beatific quality not unlike landscapes featured in advertisements for Prozac or Zoloft. Wooden boxes on the field lay sidelong spilling plastic flowers onto the ground. A plastic swan with a prize ribbon around its neck implacably surveys the field. To complete this surreal warscape, water drips fountain-like from a hose into a bucket from which it is siphoned into another bucket and so on and so forth.

In this age of technological sophistication, violence becomes increasingly remote, softened like the colors of Mick O’Shea’s installation. Indeed, real battles seem little more than videogames that children play for fun and soldiers play for training. It was different in Vietnam. After the broadcast of a South Vietnamese police chief summarily executing a prisoner by shooting him in the head, Americans were aghast. Today our volunteer army suggests, “leaving war to the professionals.” War has even become something of a distraction from everyday cares to be viewed on the evening news.

What makes (of) Field and Fyce so timely is the saccharin coating it applies to the pill of war. As we enter the gallery we become a part (albeit passive) of the struggle. We don’t see the battle up close but through the almost rose colored glasses of O’Shea. Unlike Fox Network News, O’Shea lays bare motivations that range from self aggrandizement to strategic advantage. In this age of easy fixes, malleable digital images, and techno music, war becomes another part of the medium. But I fear that the seductive forms, colors, and sounds (of) Field and Fyce may be leading America down a treacherous path of least resistance.

© 2003 Daniel Rothbart. All rights reserved.