Catalyst: Contemporary Art and War at the Imperial War Museum North (until 23 February) is alone worth a trip to Manchester. The exhibition shows how artists living in the age of mass media have explored conflict in the age of mass destruction. The most successful works are not those that ‘make a statement’ but those which address the viewer, usually by embarrassing their indifference and inspiring empathy. Taysir Batniji’s ‘Gaza Homes’ is a set of mock estate agents’ particulars for bomb-damaged houses. Captions about ‘well appointed’ rooms, ‘airy living space’ and ‘beach access’ are a joke in bad taste. Yet Batniji’s satire is so much more effective than ‘Photo Op’ by kennardphillips: a clunking piece showing a grinning Tony Blair taking a ‘selfie’ in front of an explosion. Batniji, though, isn’t the highlight of Catalyst. See for yourself.
Meanwhile, IWM London’s photography shows (Mike Moore and Lee Craker, and Donovan Wylie (until 5 January) are conventional, but no worse for it. Craker’s simple black-and-white snaps of US servicemen edge towards sentimentality; but the proud officers unfurling the Stars and Stripes are real, which saves them from being caricatures. Moore’s subjects are Iraqi nobodies and buildings, memorable for his understanding of colour and light (‘Baghdad, Iraq’, March 2003, above). Wylie has spent much of his career photographing military outposts in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and the Arctic. These structures are supposed to project power; but Wylie exposes their vulnerability, with menace louring in every part of the frame. Soldiering looks a nervous, lonely business
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