Zsolt Asztalos’ piece, Fired but Unexploded, at the 55th Venice Biannual is a most thought provoking expression of war and precarious life. Asztsalos’ work is a video installation of unexploded bombs. The exhibit features multiple videos of unexploded bombs playing on television screens. The image of the unexploded device alongside the stark minimalism of the overall exhibit invites a thoughtful observance and anxious reverence of the subject. There is a two-fold precarity to consider in this exhibit, that of the explosive devices themselves and of the people and structures targeted.
Asztalos’ piece gives the subject the opportunity to take an anxious look at the différend and of war and the precariousness of daily life. The artist invites the notion of precariousness over the entire exhibit with the various television screens composing the piece. Why are the bombs not present in the room? The bombs themselves are precarious devices. Any wrong move might set off an explosion. Perhaps, the image of potential destruction creates the air of anxiety in the exhibit. The image of the bomb creates a certain affect that beckons one to consider the possibility of destruction.
Tracing along this same line of precariousness, the image of the unexploded bomb might lead one to think of the symptom of the dormant device: the lives and structures not effected by war, death or destruction. There is a certain notion of anxious grace that accompanies the malfunctioning bomb. On the one hand, those who were to be bombed are grateful that the bomb malfunctioned. Yet, those same individuals and communities continue to expect explosion. The unexploded bomb is not simply precarious, but also warrants a subjectivity of anxiety. The presence of the unexploded bomb creates the affect of fear, terror or anxiety among individuals and communities. Among buildings, apartments, trees and flowers one may stumble upon the unexploded bomb: an anxious reminder of war.
The exhibit mainly shows video of older bombs found in Hungary dating back as far as WWII, however the event of the explosion has only become more prevalent. The idea of the bomb as a launched device has largely been coopted by the state as a legitimate means of warfare. However, a more insidious and ad hoc explosive device inhibits the psychic space of explosion contemporaneously: the IED. The IED, or improvised explosive device, a crudely fashioned weapons used in guerrilla tactics. Like the explosive devices in Fired But Unexploded, The IED shares a similar pattern of precarious life and use. Where they are different lies in the legitimation of technique and violence. Militias, terrorists and guerilla forces assemble the IED. The IED is not fired-but-unexploded; rather it is buried and always has the possibility of explosion.
These two symbols of warfare and domination offer up an interesting interpretation when juxtaposed. The unexploded mortar shell or the bomb dropped from aircraft is representational of the legitimized violence of the state: the fired-but-unexploded. The more precarious IED of the desperate military assemblage: the always-awaiting-explosion.
Specialists with the right tools and training produce the fired-but-unexploded. The state sanctioned forces drops the bomb on the intended target and most often destruction and death ensues. The state has the luxury of time and resources to make these devices. If several bombs are defected and do not explode, the state is not concerned. Only a few among many may fail.
The desperateness of the IED, the always-awaiting-explosion, does not have the luxury of malfunction or misfire. The production of the IED is a desperate and clandestine act. The device itself exudes the same precarity as the one who constructed it. The life and mission of the militia or other assemblage is anxious and desperate: always-awaiting-explosion. Like the IED, the militia never knows or has the luxuries provided by the funding and resources of the legitimate state entity: always-awaiting-explosion lives in a desperate anxiety of possible explosion.
Although, fired-but-unexploded is a fluke, a misfire or malfunction it still serves a hegemonic purpose. The entity that drops the bomb that malfunctions can stand the cost of a few bombs. Fired-but-unexploded, casts a hegemonic shadow over the enemy and over a people. “We can do without this one. You’re safe, for now.” Asztalos’ piece continues to demonstrate the shadow of state legitimized violence. In representing fired-but-unexploded, one can see that even now in the bourgeoisie place of art critique, we too are only safe for now.