Phillip Toledano, Abu Ghraib Bobble-head figurine, 2008
This item is atrocious isn’t it? The worst possible taste – a toy figure celebrating a photograph of torture. Its creator, Phillip Toledano, made it as part of an installation on the disasters of the Bush presidency, now thankfully behind us:
“AMERICA THE GIFT SHOP is an installation project that reflects the foreign policy of the Bush/Cheney years through the fun-house mirror of American commerce. My palette is the vernacular of retail tourism.”
It’s a satirical piece that dared to target both the presidency and our capacity to commercialize almost anything. And if you think torture could never be commercialized, just remember that Jesus Christ got similar treatment and the Church has been selling trinkets of it ever since (many of them sado-masochistic nudes!) You can see the complete installation of this project at www.americathegiftshop.com.
The original image of the Iraqi torture victim is an example of the potency of single photographs to scorch our memory – perhaps the word ‘brand’ would be more accurate. It was so deeply shocking that you can never forget it, like the shots of the Twin Towers. What is it about the phenomenology of the photograph that it burns us so deeply, in ways that paintings do not?
The figurine also is an example of photography metamorphosing into sculpture, of the 2D extruding itself into 3D. It is a curious instance of species cross-breeding, the giant sculpture of the Iwo Jima soldiers raising the flag is a further example. Normally a particular medium, photography, sculpture or painting, is distinct and the attributes of one are not found in another. But a sculpture made out of a photograph? It’s a strange and magical thing, like a fish with feathers or a chicken with gills.