The main reason why President Obama decided not to bomb Osama bin Laden’s security compound in Pakistan was that it would have obliterated everyone inside. There would have been no definitive way of identifying bin Laden’s body. So it was decided that on May 2, 2011, armed Navy SEALs would helicopter into the compound to kill or capture the al-Qaeda leader and bring him back to the United States.
The bloody aftermath of that mission is the focus of Basir Mahmood’s churning and exploratory video work, Good ended happily, now showing at KINDL. Filmed on one single, continuously moving camera, the work provides a flawed and disordered reconstruction of the compound right after the US Special Forces operation. With blood-soaked bodies littering the floor and both American and Pakistani soldiers hurrying past the camera lens, this 13-minute film adds to the complexity and obfuscation that surround bin Laden’s death.
For the Pakistan-born artist, it was astounding that the US could “pull off such a technologically precise mission, in the night, with President Obama watching back at the White House”. The Pakistani government had no idea that the operation was taking place, but once they found out, then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani congratulated the US on its success. “He did not know what else to do!” says Mahmood. “But you can’t congratulate someone for invading your own land.”
America is good at building narratives. It is fascinating how they can make us believe certain things.
Mahmood said he chose the killing of bin Laden because “everybody knows it but it has no visual reference; the compound was completely destroyed afterwards and the US threw [bin Laden’s] body away in the sea.” That lack of footage or visual proof is one of the reasons why so many Pakistanis don’t buy Washington’s version of events, and why Mahmood is keen to “complicate” the narrative even further. “Because there was so much falsehood, there was talk that bin Laden was already dead but that it was hushed up, and finding him was just an excuse to invade Afghanistan.” As such, the film brings up pertinent questions about interpretation and the creation of new realities: “America is good at building narratives,” says Mahmood. “It is fascinating how they can make us believe certain things.”
Alongside Mahmood’s film, the group exhibition Ende Neu is also on show at KINDL. With the premise of looking at the transformative potential of destruction, the exhibition brings together 15 artists that take a “humorous and even poetic look at the subject”, says curator Magdalena Mai. Included in the show are Michael Sailstorfer’s sculpture ‘I Want You’, which has a drill piercing the walls of the gallery space, and Katja Aufleger’s ‘Love Affair’, a video work that shows a multitude of lights being smashed by unseen projectiles.
Destruction can create the space from which something altogether new can emerge, says Mai. “We started to think about how we’ve all learned to think of destruction as something that should be avoided,” she says, “but art provides a different framework. Destruction can be a catalyst for kicking off something new and setting free energy. It can be seen in a productive and even positive way.” Whether visitors will be in the frame of mind to see a show about the positive side of destruction remains to be seen, yet after the turbulence of the last two years, some levity might just be what people need.
Good ended happily through Feb 27 | Ende Neu Through Feb 6 | KINDL, Neukölln
Basir Mahmood in conversation with Hajra Haider Karrar, KINDL, October 20, 19:00
Want more art? Check out nine exhibitions to see this month