The dossier documents some provisional conclusions gathered from fact-finding, interpretation, hearsay and rumour: Its contents concern misguided attempts to critique and transcend normative hierarchies of image-power, and the failure of these critiques to acknowledge the idealisms they reinvigorate. How can any understanding of the image cope with a politics of the replaceable? The formal responses to the question of image-power witnessed and evidenced here, in reproducing images that represent instability – whether in a life that suffers towards death or a life that is dynamically propelled through nature as force – fail to respond to this problem adequately.
– This painting appeals to you?
– I like the look of agony.
– Because I know it is true.
Upstairs in the off-white classical domestic-institutional walls of the Berlin Altes Nationalgalerie there is a wooden bench upon which two men sit and speak to the metaphor of an organised schema of knowledge and power. One is a grey shifty-looking IBBC exec elderly; the bank’s ‘recon guru’ who gathers secret intel on prospective clients, enemies, and the other – ‘the consultant’ – the assassin who recently authored the death of Agent Sallinger’s friend. In front of them is a painting. The painting is an image of suffering, a pieta. This setting; the museum, the bench, the interlocutors, the painting is scene and prop for the conversation.
Tom Tykwer’s 2009 movie The International injects the 90s’ defining fable of rotten capitalism – the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International – with all the prerequisites of the political thriller: Lone protagonist Sallinger grapples with the tentacles of international commerce in an attempt to penetrate the black heart of a corrupt global powerbase (in the words of a Belgian police report on the BCCI, a ‘nebula’ that had reached ‘the fourth stage of money laundering, absolute power’).
– a former top BCCI officer
– a Manhattan investigator probing BCCI
A routine investigation, generic even: oriented towards an infinite power located in the dark recesses of political corruption, economic interests and fraudulent deals. As Agent Sallinger’s own personal motives and shadows of the past begin to cloud his judgment, the trail leads to Bank executive Jonas Skarssen. Skarssen becomes the ultimate target of Sallinger’s by now rogue operation, the face of the conspiracy. The last Russian doll, the centre of the unnamable operations of power, Skarssen figures the immobility of a resemblance which has nothing to resemble (Blanchot).
Watching unfolds the action … A friend assassinated in broad daylight. This lesion on the neck is how the poison was introduced into the bloodstream, percutaneously. The invisible needle out there in public. Outside the airport mixing with people traffic. Wet roads, grim skies, dark clothes. Procedural mystery. We know the rules: Cop without trust, badly scarred by semi-undisclosed past. No associations, no real connections. The job. Late night cop show junkies, the usual patterns, quick turnarounds, we know the form. Slush funds, black networks, intelligence on side with evil clandestine ops, accounts maintained through faceless transactions. Bugs, clicks, wires, missed opportunities, closed doors. The job: to take down Skarssen, piecing the portrait together, stopping at nothing cos you know what you want: to disclose the deals, to reveal the truth. Skarssen dies, it all comes down.
HEADLINE: BCCI: THE OPERA
Pete Montgomery, Common Cause Magazine, January 1, 1992
Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) investigation: hearing … (United States Congress House Committee on Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs, 1992).
The BCCI affair: hearings before the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics … (United States Congress Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations, 1992).
J. Beaty, S. C. Gwynne Beaty, The Outlaw Bank: A Wild Ride Into the Secret Heart of BCCI (New York: Random House, 1993).
CLOSE-UP ON THE PIÈTA
Scanning the Pièta, the old paths of power are rehearsed. The image speaks of extinction and apotheosis (return to abject material reality, and becoming one’s ultimate image).
Since, like Christ, it is and is not what it is, the pièta ramifies the power of the corpse-image: It is the most essential image, an image of what the image is. The entry of the eternal into history relayed by/as image-power.
A resolution of mind and flesh in the ultimate irresolution. The image has privileged access to another place, and here it can organise the meaning of mortality: death is a choice. It figures a new ideal of uncertainty and absence that, in being hypostatized as contradiction, condemns us eternally to fail before power, whilst maintaining power in place. ‘The immobility of resemblance which has nothing to resemble’ clings to the constraints of resemblance, routinising both image and power. The image is ritualized further. Power is mysterious and intimately familiar, touchable and untouchable. And we know it.
THE BEST COPY OBTAINABLE IS INCLUDED IN THE REPRODUCTON OF THESE DOCUMENTS. THE PAGES THAT ARE INCLUDED THAT ARE PALE, LIGHT, OR DIFFICULT TO READ ARE THE RESULT OF THE CONDITION OF THE ORIGINAL DOCUMENT. NO BETTER COPY CAN BE REPRODUCED.
Here, before the scene of suffering, the Blanchotian formalism supplies the awful logic of the image and its consequences: delimiting what power can be, whilst in fact unconstraining what existing power can do. Enthralled by the corpse … The constitutive default of the image binds us into the vacuous routine of the mystery, proffering an ultimate intimacy with power whilst deferring it unto death.
DOCUMENT INSERT No. 1
Eyes Only: re. Subject known as ‘Headgear’. Subject’s intensive operations in the field, his ‘concernful engagement’, left no time to ‘grasp entities thematically’; his gaze excluded the ‘theoretical’ – a ‘mere looking’ or ‘staring’ at outward appearance (Aussehen) that would jeopardize the implication of himself and his equipment in the network – in favour of ‘seizing hold of’: Tool always ready-to-hand, routines of a typical hard case: ‘the less we stare at the Hammer-thing, the more we seize hold of it and use it, the more primordial does our relationship to it become’; ‘no matter how sharply we just look at the “outward appearance” of things in whatever form this takes, we cannot discover anything ready-to-hand’.
Subject insists however that this operational engagement ‘is not blind’, not ‘sightless’ (sichtlosigkeit): He claims his MO ‘has its own kind of sight’, that of ‘circumspection’, whereas looking ‘with method’, ‘theoretical behaviour’, is ‘just looking, without circumspection’.
Subject’s activities became conspicuous only ‘when an assignment had been disturbed’; a contingent equipment failure. Suddenly the whole picture became clear (The damaged tool ‘becomes its image’ and ‘no longer disappearing into its use, appears.’ [Blanchot]). The whole operation compromised, the network began to unravel, revealing deep background of projects in which the subject was implicated, but whose full significance was never disclosed to him. Subject therefore unable fully to grasp the gravity of his situation though it was ‘constantly sighted beforehand’ in a circumspect manner; speaks of a “vague sense that something bigger was going on”. Handled with care, his failure could expose the ultimate power-base; but he’s weak. All we have are the images.
Offer subject the chance of redemption, tell him we can deliver him definitively from his bonds, join us on the outside, blow the whole game, lead us to the kingpin. We need this.
Coming face-to-face with Skarssen will change everything.
THE IMAGE TALKS
For Sallinger, the end of the chase, the termination of Skarssen, offers no redemption: Skarssen’s corpse, broken tool of international capital, is simply cast off like a snake’s skin by the administrative mechanisms it has served, which in turn are revealed to be part of a system in which Sallinger himself is a participant:
– Justice … is not possible … Because, Agent SalIinger, your idea of justice is an illusion. Understand the very system that you serve and protect will never allow anything to happen to Skarssen or the bank. On the contrary. The system guarantees the IBBC’s safety, because everyone is involved: Hezbollah. CIA. The Columbian drug cartels. Russian organized crime. Governments of Iran, Germany, China, your government. Every multinational corporation, every one. They all need banks like the IBBC so that they can operate within the black and gray latitudes. And this is why your investigative efforts have either been ignored or undermined, and why you and I will be quietly disposed of before any case against the bank ever reaches a court of law.
– So, what are we all supposed to do? We just supposed to give up and accept that this is the way of the world?
At this point we encounter the impossible double-bind of either continuing with the futile mission to unveil the face of power, or resigning ourselves entirely. Response: Moral indignation (there’s nothing complex about cold-blooded murder) / Resignation (We just supposed to give up and accept that this is the way of the world?)
Transcript phone conversation VERBATIM
Unknown source US Justice Dept.
There is a feeling that somebody in Washington is trying to cut a deal on BCCI; they really don’t want to use the US Attorney’s offices to actually return indictments because that would compromise their ability to do some kind of overall package deal.
ZOOM OUT ASKEW – FIXED GEOMETRY IN PLAN VIEW
Equal-opportunity smuggler, global racketeering, a smorgasbord of services, young beauties from Lahore, missiles, secrets, the chilling effectiveness of targeting the corruptible – and bribing the rest. No-one talks, extreme purposive disarray, an elaborate corporate spider-web, a bank that could move money anywhere and hide it without a trace, a corrupt core of middle management with the latitude to do what they pleased.
$1 billion loan to Nigeria
secret accounts in the Cayman Islands
clandestine control in three American banks
building lobbies are graveyards for small-timers
bought virtual control of customs officials
Cassian: If there’s no way out, the best thing is to find a way further in.
ACTION DEFINES SPACE
Sallinger’s world is transformed, as he perseveres with this mission through this now more complex world. The fantasy of the centre of power is no longer possible. The fantasy of transcendence is taken down by the omnipotence of ruthless capital. No constructing an outside now. Everyone is involved becomes the framework for any decision.
RECOUNT THE SCENE – OBSERVED PHENOMENA
Picture: The consultant and the recon guru.
Location: Guggenheim Museum, Upper East Side, Manhattan, NY, USA, view of the park, pretzels, rain, white sky.
Power is rearticulated and so is the image.
A multi-screen video work stretches the Guggenheim’s disorientating architecture. Images of people moving through sci-fi style industrial workspaces, artists’ studio style domestic scenes, ethnic cultures, cacti, flowers; more screen montages in small video monitors stacked together on plinths, other video screens in portrait format hung over the central atrium with bodies spinning in a fake centrifuge. The spiral of the Guggenheim ramp is echoed and extended in the architecture of video.
The two men sit in front of a split-screen video work:
Recon Guru: We all begin better than we end.
Assassin: What would you prefer your ending to be?
Recon: More purposeful, and certainly more climactic.
Recon: A Finale.
Assassin: Circumstances can always be arranged.
Recon: As much as the thought appeals to me, I’m afraid your consideration is needed elsewhere.
Assassin: Who’s this?
Recon: Sallinger. The method and manner is entirely up to you. Your principal would simply like him to vanish without a trace.
Assassin: Any other provisions?
Recon: No mistakes.
DOCUMENT INSERT No. 2
COLLATED REPORTS 12.06.01 – 15.09.02
Life is being towards death, the experience of mortality as the fact of life that lacks meaning and purpose. The Agent of Death constructs the meaning of life through the image of spectacular finitude. To vanish would be meaningless. Identity-as-death is paramount.
MULTIPLE AS WHOLE
As we move through the scene, the tensions between the fact of death without image and the choice of death with it are wiped out by the circumstances of the characters: what they know and don’t know, how they act and the location they act within.
The architect and voyeur of death—the assassin—now faces his own death. Shot through his bulletproof vest. Where is the ambiguity ‘between death as understanding’s possibility and the death as the horror of impossibility’ (Blanchot), between the fact of death and its fiction? The neutrality of the image, between absence and presence, had been identified as the catalyst for choice; a ‘primal double meaning’. But in the dynamics of the image-action of the here and now in the assassin’s demise, all of this is eradicated. Witness:
1) The hit mentality: Organized murder that ties the spectacle of death’s mastery to the mastery of its image, coagulating the categories of image/suffering—suffering/image. Only when we give it a face can such ambiguity be administered to the image. This image is tragic.
2) Death as action in the delirium of participatory phenomena.
Confronting death in action: There is no ‘face’ of death, because the possibility of choice simply isn’t available. Rather, this suffering is written as a struggle to survive, without resemblance, without reflection, without a theory of its image, and without the consciousness as to what this may mean to him or us. The thirst for survival that values life itself has no time to waste on such reflections.
Rewind slightly: They split, the assassin walks away, one of the videos breaks before looping – and in the empty frame, he sees Sallinger’s reflection. The gallery shoot-em-up begins, and intensifies as Sallinger and the assassin, in the name of survival, fight a set of bad-ass euro-villains. Figures move with guns at the same pace as the figures in the video work, staking out the spiralling ramps and recesses of the Guggenheim.
The image no longer figures the universal-singular power; the components of power are replaceable, power is unfixed, and the conditions of the image also move to embody this fact. It is live and alive. Action moves from the image of suffering to the destruction of art and architecture, as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim and the art in it are spectacular participants in the frenetic pumped-up bloodbath shoot-em-up. Kinetic replaces static. Narrative takes a back seat as the spectacle ramps up into annihilation and pure violence. A barrage of machine gun fire assaults the streamlined curves of the Guggenheim’s interior, deep gunfire pockmarks hollow out the skin. Sallinger, our moral obsessive, wins out in a mixture of skill and luck.
DOCUMENT INSERT no. 3 20.12.09
STANDARD REPORT (PROVISIONAL)
ART’S PRIVILEGED ACCESS TO THE REAL IS ALWAYS BANAL WHERE THE WORLD IS MADE IN A MONOLITHIC DYNAMISM, OUR OWN PRIVATE DYNAMISM.
THE IMAGE IS SECURITIZED IN ITS PRODUCTION OF THIS ONTOLOGY.
NOTE ON THE MOVIE AND SET CONSTRUCTION
The Guggenheim was constructed for such freedoms: A theatrical model for the scene, complete with fake art work, the manufacturing of a discrete space by movie special FX teams to host the action (the exterior of the Guggenheim, under renovation during shooting, digitally recreated). This theatre harbours a mobile world of fragments and disorientation. This construction of ‘world’ presents the ideal correspondence between art, politics and subjectivity. The reproduction of this dynamic architectural space speaks beyond this fiction to the Guggenheim as real space. The art world invests in similar fantasies and inspires such mimesis. Art, in both cases (Pièta/delirious architecture) as manifest subjectivity struggling against the image’s illusory potential – or surrendering to it as the only reality it knows.
NO LONGER IS THE IMAGE THE SPACE OF DEATH—THE IMAGE IS SPATIAL VIOLENCE THAT CONSTRAINS WITHIN ITS BORDERS.
ART INDICATES NOTHING—LEAST OF ALL ITS OWN FREEDOM FROM REPRESENTATION.
ITS UNTENABLE FANTASY IS THAT OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE.
THE MACHINATIONS OF NEO-LIBERAL CAPITAL DEMONSTRATE THE FALLIBILITY OF THESE TWO THEORIES OF IMAGE-POWER
A WORLD UNTOUCHED
Conceiving the image as participatory phenomenon leaves the question of its politics suspended. The ‘way of the world’ is maintained by the system that seeks to out-manoeuvre it: Made stronger and more consistent through dialectic opposition, or through avoidance of the issue altogether. In apparently breaking with the tradition embodied in the Pièta, in supposedly ‘critiquing’ its static nature, the ‘dynamic’ use of media in fact only reiterates the fantasy that art is a mediator to power.
But, as Sallinger discovers, this indefinitely-replaceable, non-subject-oriented Power cannot be accounted for in a politics nor an art that thinks death is always ‘mine’ and irreplaceable; for it is not subject-orientated, is not ‘mine’ (or anybody’s) … The image is not a mediator to power in either a positive or negative sense.
An informant who has produced reliable information in the past advised that the black network was a natural outgrowth of BCCI’s dubious and criminal associations. The bank was in a unique position to operate an intelligence-gathering unit because it dealt with such figures as Noriega, Saddam, Marcos, Peruvian President Alan Garcia, Daniel Ortega, contra leader Adolfo Calero and arms dealers like Adnan Khashoggi. Its original purpose was to pay bribes, intimidate authorities and quash investigations. But according to a former operative, sometime in the early 1980s the black network began running its own drugs, weapons and currency deals.
The informant further advised that they not only financed arms deals that one government or another wanted to keep secret, they shipped the goods in their own ships, insured them with their own agency and provided manpower and security. They worked with intelligence agencies from all the Western countries and did a lot of business with East bloc countries.
HEADLINE: BCCI: THE DIRTIEST BANK OF ALL
Time Magazine, July 29 1991
AUTHORS J. BEATY AND S. C. GWYNNE NEW YORK; CATHY BOOTH/MIAMI, JAY BRANEGAN/HONG KONG AND HELEN GIBSON/LONDON
Article details the investigation and ongoing international inquiries into the illegal activities of the now shut down BCCI bank. Article further indicates that investigations are progressing slowly possibly owing to internal government cover-ups at a global level.
MAURICE BLANCHOT The Space of Literature, 1955.
MARTIN HEIDEGGER Being and Time, 1927.