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FRONTLINE is an exploration in documentary journalism. A virtual reality installation intertwines the documentary and the fictional in representations of warfare, challenging promises of realism in both documentary practice and virtual reality technology. The work combines uneventful video documentation of frontline positions in East Ukraine with audio and video recordings of performers generating spectacular battlefield sounds in a movie foley studio in Paris.
In March 2017, artist Dani Ploeger and journalist Catherine Chapman will travel to Donbass, Ukraine, to document the frontline. A month later, they will work at Cinephase Studios in Paris to generate a war soundscape in collaboration with sound engineer Shelly Baron.
Since the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris in 2014 and 2015, an increased militarization of public space has taken place in Western Europe, both in terms of the prominence of smuggled military weapons in acts of terrorist violence, and the deployment of armed soldiers dressed in combat uniforms on the streets. The artistic research project GUN ROUTE, by Dutch media artist Dani Ploeger and Canadian journalist Catherine Chapman, examines the broader cultural implications of this development in the context of advanced networked society.
In March 2017, Ploeger and Chapman will make a journey across Europe that follows the pathway of illegal trade in military assault weapons from its origins in current and recent armed conflicts in Eastern Europe (former Yugoslavia, Ukraine) to some of the places where these weapons have ended up in the hands of terrorists and criminals: Brussels, Paris and London. Throughout the journey they will generate documentation material and collect objects related to the broad variation in attitudes towards the representation and handling of firearms in different places in Europe, especially in relation to the co-existence in contemporary Western European public space of advanced smart technologies and low-tech firearms for conventional warfare.
Ploeger’s Virtual Reality installation, FRONTLINE, which juxtaposes elements from places at the geographical beginning and end points of this journey, forms a central component of the project. The work thematizes the dread of boredom and impending danger in the everyday reality of warfare in Eastern Ukraine – an aspect which is virtually absent from news media representations of this and other armed wars – and relates this to the creation of spectacular media images of warfare, as well as the problematic popular imaginations of VR technologies as facilitators of experiences of unmediated reality.
Dani Ploeger is an artist working with computer programming, electronics hacking, cultural theory and performance. His work investigates and subverts the spectacles of sex, violence and waste in techno-consumer culture. It has been shown at festivals and venues including transmediale (Berlin), Dutch Design Week (Eindhoven), WRO Media Art Biennale (Wroclaw), Victoria & Albert Museum (London), and Arse Elektronika – a festival of sex and technology (San Francisco). Reviews and features of Dani’s work have appeared on VICE Motherboard, The Creators Project, ARTE television, Deutschland Radio, and in the Times Higher Education supplement, TDR (The Drama Review), and La Libération, among others.
Catherine Chapman is an independent journalist based in London (NBC, VICE, formally INYT) working between the realms of news, art and culture, an eclectic beat that often leads her to VR, surveillance and disenfranchised communities. Her previous academic research has focused on the relationship between media and intelligence services and, separately, addiction in the time of the internet.
Shelly Baron is sound editor and re-recording mixer at Cinephase Studios in Paris and has worked on numerous major international movie productions.